20 things in no particular order that made this year livable (in addition to all of the stuff from previous years – Lester I’m talking about you here)
1. Joss Whedon
There are those who wear t-shirts that read “Joss Whedon is my Master.” I won’t go that far, but I’m more than willing to watch anything Whedon offers. Season 9 of Buffy is much closer to the original spirit of the series (I did like season 8, but…) and I’m still digging the Angel and Faith book. In addition we got two fine cinematic releases. The long overdue Cabin in the Woods and the Avengers. Both thoughtful extremely watchable films in genres not usually noted for either of those qualities. And next year a SHIELD TV series and it’s not on Fox!
2. A Game of Thrones /Song of Fire and Ice
A co-worker told me she and her partner actually stopped the DVD and watched it frame-by-frame just to make sure Ned Stark did die. They couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t either, and I’d already read the book. And then the next, and the next. OK, OK, it’s a sprawling epic which makes more sense if you’ve read Richard III, and it’s great stuff. A few friends of mine who’ve read it argue that the earlier books are better, but I like the shift away from the war of the five kings to the larger conflict between fire and ice. Winter is coming.
3 The Wire
For some years I’d heard about the Wire, but never got around to seeing it. I’ve now seen the first three seasons, and I understand when people speak of it being the best TV show ever. Like the Sopranos before it, we grow to care about vicious sociopaths cable of tenderness but also savage violence. We despair about cops who seem more interested in their pensions than their job, and we thrill when it all comes together for compelling TV. Onto seasons four and five.
4. Ed Brubaker
There are a few writers that I will read simply because their name id on the thing. Brubaker is one of them. I read his Winter Solider and Criminal stories anyway, but even something the dystopian Deadenders is worth a look. Brubaker writes in a way that is gritty, but at the same time funny.
5. Quebec City – Went there with the kids for a few days in August. My French isn’t very good, but I tried. (I was somewhat dismayed when on one occasion I responded “bonjour” and the person switched to English – was my accent that bad? While the old town is a little tourist-y, it’s truly a beautiful city. But don’t bother going to the Bee Museum.
Straddling the ground between left liberalism, Marxism, culture and politics, the New Initiative is an on-line journal (you can subscribe for $2 an issue) which has lots of interesting things to read. I like the idea of a monthly magazine (most of the magazines I read come out only once or twice a year). gives me just enough time to read one before the next arrives.
7. Thai One On
The dreadful pun notwithstanding, it’s a pretty good Thai restaurant, and more often than not our Friday night stand-by. It’s gotten to the point where when we call in the order they don’t need to even look at our previous order history – we always order the same stuff. But for under $20 you get a mountain of excellent food.
I almost put down the Royal Ontario Museum (of which I am a member). Still, i think I’ve been to the AGO more often of later. I saw a fantastic Chagall show, and more recently a terrific Picasso exhibit. Tomorrow, I’m going to see the Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera show. A great place to kill a few hours surrounded by the peak of human creativity. The only thing that sucks about the AGO is the restaurant, but never fear, Village by the Grange with its amazing food court, is only steps away.
We took the kids in the summer when cousin and family visited, so for his birthday, my son wanted to go again. Sometimes I think people have kids to relive or try for the first time things from childhood. I’m not keen on paintball, but laser-tag is oodles of fun.
10 Kensington Market
The one in Toronto. I used to live near the market. From approximately 1990 to 1994, I went to the market almost daily to buy fresh fruit and vegetables on my way home from work. But it wasn’t just food. You could buy books, records, used clothing, trinkets, hats and so much more. And there were lots of nice restaurants and more. I live in the suburbs now, and i don’t get downtown as often as I would like, but when I do I still marvel at how the market has changed, yet still retained its character.
My dad taught me to play chess. Now, I was an OK player, never a great one, but this fall, I taught my son to play. And I confess I’d forgotten how much I used to like the game. It’s very absorbing. Now I know Lenin felt he had to put the game aside to concentrate on other matters, but hey, I’m not Lenin am I?
12. The Velvet Underground.
Over 40 years since they broke up, and their music is still thrilling and challenging. I find myself in possession of all of the original albums, but several different mixes of a couple. In addition, the now officially released bootleg of demos, and several live albums of varying quality. The Velvets, I’ve said before, are really like no other band. In most cases, when a band releases their debut, you can listen and say, ah ha, they’ve been listening to X, Y or Z, and hear the influence. With the Velvets they sprang fully formed, sounding like nothing else. There are some who date modern music to that first record. And I’d be hard pressed to name another band which released four albums in four years none of which sound anything like each other (those of you yelling “The Clash” be quiet – with the Clash you can see an evolution. The Velvets savagely mutate). Stunning.
13. Pocket watch
Got this at Fan Expo last summer. When I got this, I immediately realized why the wrist watch was invented. Convenience. But that pocket watch with its chain, its windup screw, it’s case, and its little moving gears is certainly cool. And I had mine before Looper came out.
14. Derby Hat
“The mailman comes in/he’s wearing a derby hat,” sang Bob Dylan in “Outlaw Blues.” I made the trek to Big It Up and now I own one too. It’s funny how a little thing like a hat (I said HAT, not a baseball cap) can make a difference. It makes you feel cool. (Whether I am is another matter). But if you want to make an impression. Wear a hat!
15 Toronto Comic Arts Festival /the Beguiling
I’ve been going to Fan Expo for a couple of years now, but this year was the first time I went to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival co-sponsored by the Beguiling. The Beguiling is a comic book show up near Bloor and Bathurst which seems dedicated to the proposition that comic books need not just be super-heroes, but are a legitimate form of art. No arguments here. At the festival this year I went to the opening night to hear Jeff Smith (Bone) and Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon speak. Afterwards Smith autographed a copy of Bone for my son adding a lovely doodle. Ba and moon did likewise with their books. Great event.
16. Trainspotting – Irving Walsh
Watched Shallow Grave again this year. Then Trainspotting. Then got the book. It’s a bit of challenge following Walsh’s prose – his characters speak in thick Scottish accents (and if you think Mike Myers in Shrek, think again), but it’s worth it. The book is funnier than the movie, and uglier too. It’s not easy in form or content, but it’s worth it.
17 Temple Run
Sure I like Angry Birds, but there’s something about Temple Run. Maybe it’s the Indiana Jones knock off, maybe it’s that there’s no end to it, maybe that it’s that my nine-year old is so much better at it that me. Well, I’ve wasted a lot of time on this one. No regrets here.
18 The Toronto Anarchist Bookfair
This is the third time I’ve done the new Toronto Anarchist bookfair, and although it doesn’t yet rival Montreal, it gets better and better. This year i hosted a workshop with Richard St. Pierre of the Internationalist workers Group on left communism. Sales get better, crowds get larger, conversations more interesting. Cheers!
Oh, I sneered at my kids increasingly pathetic cries for an i-pad. “don’t need one” I said. Even after we bought the thing, it took me about a week to pick it up. Then gradually, gradually, it won me over. Really, it;s just a quicker way to get on the internet, but therein lies the appeal. Plus all the goofy games and such make it an enjoyable waste of time. Yeah, it won’t run flash, but hey nothing’s perfect. I’m still not getting an I-phone though.
20 The Class Struggle
A fitting quotation from Rosa Luxemburg to end the year.
The leadership has failed. Even so, the leadership can and must be recreated from the masses and out of the masses. The masses are the decisive element, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were on the heights; they have developed this ‘defeat’ into one of the historical defeats which are the pride and strength of international socialism. And that is why the future victory will bloom from this ‘defeat’.
‘Order reigns in Berlin!’ You stupid henchmen! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will already ‘raise itself with a rattle’ and announce with fanfare, to your terror: I was, I am, I will be!
“Order reigns in Berlin”, Collected Works 4