Year in Review: 2014

My daughter was born in February. That’s notable, right? But her arrival meant many of the things I did this year involved poo and sick and probably don’t make for interesting reading.

I did a charity firewalk, speed-walking over 20-feet of burning wood. I knew it wouldn’t be that dangerous, but I expected to feel some heat on my soles. The embers felt cool (torrential rain might’ve helped), which made the event slightly disappointing. Still, I didn’t know how it would feel until I’d started, so I take some pride in getting myself to that point.

After years of wanting to try it and months of failing to match up with the class schedule, I finally went to my first Parkour class, with visions of it becoming my new hobby. I enjoyed it, but I never went back. I tell myself that autumn isn’t the best time of year to try something best suited to warmer, drier weather, and maybe I’ll return to it in the spring, but for reasons I still don’t understand I’ll probably never go back. I could go outside right now and Parkour my little ass off, I don’t have to go to classes. But I won’t.

Things of the Year

*Note: release date is unimportant, this list is based on what I read/watched/humped in 2014*

Books

Book of the year: Antifragile by Nassim Taleb
The definition Taleb uses for the word ‘fragile’ is ‘harmed by stressors’. He realised there’s no word for its opposite (‘strengthened by stressors’), hence inventing the book’s title. Taleb illustrates where fragile and antifragile states exists in our lives, nature, and elsewhere. If you’re an entry-level employee in a big company, your position is fragile, and you should realise how easily you could fall victim to downsizing. This isn’t a self-help book, but it encourages you to examine your life (which is never a bad thing).

As with his previous (awesome) work, The Black Swan, Antifragile is about more than just its central premise. Taleb’s writing wanders off on tangents, to him blaming his phone for him falling off rocks, to the Lindy Effect, to what types of fruit he eats and how much he can deadlift. He’s aggressive, confrontational, and borderline arrogant, which somehow makes the book more enjoyable instead of less so. A genuinely life-altering work.

The Disaster Artist, by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.

A hilarious and touching account of Sestero’s time filming awful cult film The Room, and of his general attempts to work in Hollywood. The book makes The Room’s writer/director/producer/star/resident-weirdo Tommy Wiseau seem even weirder. Yet Wiseau also comes across as pitiable, and Disaster Artist will make you want to hug him while simultaneously pushing him away.

I’m familiar enough with Tom Bissell’s work (he’s my favourite writer) to recognise his style. It’s not all that obvious in Disaster Artist—Sestero is a genuine co-writer, not just the person who told the story Bissell wrote.

Catch Me if You Can, by Frank Abagnale

I’d seen the film of this book years ago and it was mostly forgettable. Yet the book is phenomenal. Abagnale has lived an incredible life, one so amazing that there are a number of moments in the book that seem perfect for Hollywood pieces but never made it into the film. I had to keep reminding myself I was reading a work of non-fiction. Abagnale is jaw-droppingly audacious

Think Like a Freak, by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt
Maybe it’s the recency effect at work as I just finished this book, but every time I though of writing about my books of the year, I couldn’t avoid this one.

A recent interest of mine is in how to make better decisions. So this was right in my ballpark. Or wheelhouse. Or whatever. The Freakonomics guys ask you to think harder about questions and give you a framework for doing so. And as with Freakonomics, their abstract discussions are woven through with concrete examples. An entertaining book that also provides much to think about.

Films of the year

I only watched 10 films all year (#hadababy). Wolf of Wall Street was good, though not the classic many believe it to be. I need stakes and peril to fully enjoy a story. I can’t fault Wolf for not providing that, as it clearly wasn’t interested in doing so, but for that reason I was often unengaged. Man with the Iron Fists is underrated, a hilariously over-the-top, fun action film, Rza going for less-cerebral Tarantino and in some ways succeeding. World War Z worked for me despite its faults, one of those films I could see the flaws in, but they didn’t prevent me from enjoying it. And now, onto my top two (I couldn’t decide on a clear winner).

Interstellar
Again, perhaps the recency effect is at work again, as I only saw this film a week ago. It’s flawed, but it’s the epic we’d expect from Christopher Nolan. As a middle-aged father with an interest in space, Interstellar is right in my space-park.

Looper
Fun, well-told, well-paced. JGL and Willis are on top form, and Pierce Gagnon is tremendous (and worryingly mature for a five-year old) as Cid.

TV of the Year

After years of failing to properly start it, I finally finished Rome, and it jumped into my top-ten shows of all-time. True Detective was good but hyped-up beyond belief. Almost Human was better than I expected, and I’m saddened it only lasted a single season. Boardwalk Empire season 4 was one of the best seasons of any show ever. Season 5 wasn’t as good but still very strong, and it was with a heavy heart that I watched the final episodes and said goodbye to Nucky, Van Alden, Chalky and Al Capone. I’ll miss the hell out of that show. I’m not going to pick a clear favourite. Because I’m mental, me.

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