Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Year of Bests '09

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / August 31, 2009)

An unexamined life is not worth living. ~ Socrates
Periodically, my mother would repeat the above quote to me. At the oddest times, too. Usually, after I caught her just... looking at me. For the record, I'm pretty sure my brother was on the receiving end of this, as well - probably more so since he lived with her longer. Although, I could never accuse my mom of playing favorites (like my grandmother... her mom). Anyway, these days I find myself doing much of the same and just staring at my own kids... and thinking. So, I guess it'd be no surprise to anyone that the one with the nostalgia gene would take stock at year's end. And since I have a blog, plus a demented sense of entitlement to judge what I like, I choose to look back at those things that I found myself drawn to, intrigued by, or that I just plain enjoyed during the year 2009.

For the leading photo of this post, I selected one of the L.A. Times', from their Best of Times photography. The shot of some young men watching the Station Fire this past August from a hill overlooking Tujunga has a terrible, stark and ghastly beauty within its image. There was nothing good in the flames, though. Started deliberately, 2 firefighter lives taken, 18 homes lost, and more than 160,000 acres burned. I marveled at the picture, nonetheless. Ironically, the month before I re-read the Robert Crais novel, Chasing Darkness. Its foretelling start was more than appropriate for our fires of August:
Beakman and Trenchard could smell the fire--it was still a mile away, but a sick desert wind carried the promise of Hell.
So, in no particular order, the following brought me enjoyment and I thought they were worth noting (I resisted the compulsion to call this The Boomers Awards). Without further ado, these were the best things in my year:


Back in April, blogger/writer/novelist Nordette Adams wrote in the Examiner New Orleans, Walt Whitman, and Leaves of Grass for National Poetry Month. Equally, I've grown to look forward to any of her posts that include her own poetry. Also, I find myself regularly drawn to her insightful posts and the diversity of the subjects she chooses to write about.

On September 11th, while I sat along Avalon harbor on Santa Catalina island waiting to meet the boat that carried my wife and kids, I read a remarkable review by J.D. of the Paul Greengrass' film, United 93. Additionally, his recent review of, in the Sam Peckinpah tribute, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia took me back in a way I hadn't expected, as well. Plus, he may have ended the year on a high note with his wonderful look back at When Harry Met Sally.

Writer/blogger Patricia Abbott and her Friday's Forgotten Book series was one of the best things discovered on the web.

If there's anything I learned that my wife will also appreciate, it's that I want to travel like Herb & Laura.

Author John Kenneth Muir wrote a stirring examination for the underrated, but hauntingly memorable, film Carlito's Way by Brian De Palma. His cult review of Tron brought unexpected and enjoyable insight to that film. And a short while ago, this writer posted a wonderfully in-depth interview with Chris Carter (of X-Files, Millennium fame).

Jen Forbus started the You Have The Right to Six Words memoirs in the Spring of the year, and carried it through to December to become my favorite series. Luckily, it's returning in 2010. And she is the one I have to thank for introducing me to Gregg Hurwitz (literally, at the Mystery Bookstore)--plus, her interview with the author was very good, too.

Dennis Cozzalio's consummate film blog always has something for his readers. But the readers, and their answers, were the highlight on the blogger's triumvirate of movie quizzes this year: Prof. Peabody's Hysterical, Historical Wayback Spring Break Film Quiz, Prof. Severus Snape's Sorcercer-tastic, Muggalicious Mid-Summer Movie Quiz, and Prof. Russell Johnson's 'My Ancestors Came Over on the Minnow Thanksgiving/Christmas Movie Quiz.

Corey Wilde out of the clear blue sky came up with his first (and hopefully not last) Watery Grave Invitational short story contest (and he managed to introduce this reader to some fine stories and authors). His recent book review of The Gentlemen's Hour hopefully will get the word out to people that they should discover the talent that is Don Winslow. Finally, his Drowning Machine blog expanded to include writer Naomi Johnson (and whose short stories are worthy reading). Recently, this blogger caught my eye with his fresh new blog template and clean layout.

Across the pond, film blogger Livius has been building up an impressive archive of reviews. I discovered his splendid review from last year of Walter Hill's underrated western, The Long Riders. In 2009, Hard Times, Charlie Varrick, and The Stalking Moon made my day.

Distant relative Poncho's James Bond survey was more than fun (click here for translation)

Lesa (She-Who-Reads-Unbelievable-Amounts) found a perfect gift book (which he loved) for my son's birthday in September with her review of the Almanac of the Infamous, the Incredible and the Ignored by Juanita Rose Violini. And it was through her influence, I came to believe that Never Smile At A Monkey would be a book my daughter would appreciate (she did).

My favorite writer in Los Feliz (with the moniker of Mr. Peel) had three more of my favorite film examinations in the year with The Shootist, S.O.B., and Inglourious Basterds.

Steve Hart, a journalist and freelance writer, posts on a number of subjects. One series of his (from last year) summed up a unique and foremost aspect in film action: The Best Sword Fights of All Time.

October and Halloween were more fun in '09 because of Steve's All Nighter, and J.D.'s month of scary movie reviews.

The book review by Pop Culture Nerd for Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer was singular. We read the book almost at the same time, and her's was the only one that put words to what I felt afterward. Of course, without her posts covering the Cops & Crooks in California Panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, I never would have discovered her (well... I have writer Naomi Johnson to thanks for pointing me her way).

The 2009 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, ...Image via Wikipedia

Blogging Tools
After blogging for more than a year now, whatever writing I do, its workflow, and how it looks on screen (the quality of content is another matter, entirely) was helped enormously by three free pieces of software. Some bloggers use standalone applications for their blog composition tasks. But, I found the Firefox browser, with its extension capability, and two add-ons to work fine for me: Scribefire and Zemanta. And, even though I use a Mac, all of these are cross-platform and work with various blogging platforms like Blogger and Wordpress (did I mention they were free?).

Books (includes Audiobooks)

Robert Crais for Chasing Darkness (re-read) and The First Rule. Sean Chercover for Big City Bad Blood and Trigger City. Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein, Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer, Shades of Blue & Gray by Herman Hattaway, The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty, We Were Soldiers Once... And Young by Harold G. Moore & Joseph L. Galloway, The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty, Small Crimes and Pariah by Dave Zeltserman, Tonight I Said Goodbye by Michael Koryta, Whirlwind by the late Joseph R. Garber (re-read), Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Head Games by Craig McDonald, and last but not least, Don Winslow for The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Dawn Patrol, and The Power of the Dog. (and the yet to be published in the U.S., The Gentlemen's Hour)
Audiobook Narrators (Performance)
Paula Christensen (Fifty Grand), Joe Barrett (Big City Bad Blood, Trigger City), William Roberts (Chasing Darkness), George Guidall (The Cold Dish), Guerin Barry (Whirlwind), Tom Stechschulte (Head Games), Ray Porter (The Dawn Patrol, The Power of the Dog).

Movies (from the ones I've seen)

James Cameron's Avatar movie posterImage by cineypantalla01 via Flickr

Avatar, Up in the Air, Invictus, Public Enemies, The Proposal, The International, Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline, Inglourious Basterds, Watchmen, Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Trick 'r Treat, Good Hair, Splinter, Taken, The Blind Side, The Hangover, The Hurt Locker, The Princess and the Frog, 2012, Zombieland, Drag Me to Hell, Julie & Julia, Let The Right One In, Toy Story 3-D, Toy Story 2 3-D, Sherlock Holmes
What A Year For Them
Sam Worthington (Jake Scully in Avatar, and the best thing in Terminator: Salvation), Zoe Saldana (Neytiri in Avatar, and Uhuru in Star Trek), Stephen Lang (Colonel Miles Quaritch in Avatar, Charles Winstead in Public Enemies, and Brigadier General Dean Hopgood in The Men Who Stare at Goats), George Clooney (as the Fantastic Mr. Fox and Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air), Meryl Streep (Julia in Julie & Julia, Jane in It's Complicated, and her Mrs. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox), Sandra Bullock (Margaret in The Proposal, Mary in All About Steve, and Leigh in The Blind Side), Johnny Depp (John Dillinger in Public Enemies, and Imaginarium Tony #1 in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus).


Come To The Darkside...There's no place like home


The women in my life continue to expand my musical tastes. My wife has had that affect on me for over 20 years (plus I have her as my blogpost muse, especially when she gifts me with things like The Beatles Remastered Stereo set). And my daughter has only just begun her influence upon me--plus, she cracks me up sometimes with her reactions to my car radio surfing (her snide "What the hell is that?!?" retort to my landing on to this Duran Duran song was priceless). All the while, my son continually inspires me by his unmitigated joy in listening to music (and driving his sister crazy with his singing). Among other things this year, discovering blip.fm, the absolutely great music video-dance start of Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz's wedding over the summer, Laura Fygi and her The Lady Wants To Know album (especially for her version of that Michael Franks title track, and Franks accompanying her with a duet of Tell Me All About It), and the musical tastes from online friends Moondancer, Corey, Jen, Naomi, Poncho, Herb & Laura, pattinase, Nordette, and Steve, which continues to bring a well of revelation and motivation to all proceedings.

Happy New Year

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  1. Oh this was so fun to read!! I love it. I'm listening to TRIGGER CITY right now and I LOVE Joe Barrett for a P.I. voice. He also did Don Winslow's A COOL BREEZE ON THE UNDERGROUND. I'm not sure if anymore from that series are on audio, but that was all I could get from my library.

    The L.A. Times FOB's was a best for me this year because we got to meet! Oh yeah, and I got to see R.C. ;) Can't wait till we can get together again...hopefully April!

    And for anyone reading comments, I'd like to add that Michael's series on his job at the theater has been one of my favorites this year. I just love seeing that he has a new post any time because he never fails to make me laugh with his wit and creativity. But I had a special connection with the theater pieces and it was cool to feel like we had a cosmic link! :)

    Happy New Year, my friend!

  2. Thank you so much for the very thoughtful words and compliments. It is your encouragement that inspires to continue to crank out articles on my own blog.

    Also, thanks for such a wealth of links to explore! So much to check out.

    This is a really great idea and maybe I will do the same on my own blog...

  3. Hi le0pard13,

    That is a haunting image. I remember the riots of '68 in Chicago and buildings burning; it was so all consuming and terrifying. I cannot imagine living in an area where fires (of this magnitude) routinely occur.

    You've provided ample sources to peruse in the coming year. Nordette is already one of my favorite bloggers.

    Since you mentioned travel, I wanted to leave you with a quote on that topic by Hillaire Belloc: "I have wandered all my life and I have traveled; the difference between the two is this - we wander for distraction but we travel for fullfillment."

    Happy New Year my friend!


  4. I'm with Jen. Fun post! And, I was interested in the movies section. LOVED The Blind Side. Planning to see Up in the Air later this week. I'm not a big movie goer, but anyone interested in popular culture has to keep up on these things!

    Loved my new title (She who reads an unbelieveable amount), but even more, I'm happy I reviewed books that were popular with your kids. Thank you!

    Lesa - http://www.lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com

  5. That photo is a perfect image for the reading of Chasing Darkness. Also it made me mentally sing Bad Company's 'Burnin' Sky.'

    I am amazed and awestruck by how many films you've seen, and continue to see, as well as by the sheer number of blogreading you do alongside the audiobooks and regular reading. Plus living a life with wife and chilren, whom you clearly appreciate. I'm not being snide or snarky when I say it's guys like you who are the everyday heroes that keep the world from being an unbearable place to live.

    And your movie theater series was stellar.

  6. Thanks for pointing me/everyone toward Nordette Adams's blog. One of the many things I enjoy about your blog is that, besides having excellent taste, you share your best finds with the rest of us.

  7. I appreciate the nod. I guess all is forgiven RE The Beatles!

  8. GREAT post. You're always so informative and generous. Thank you always for the kind words you throw my way. And, like Corey, I wonder how you do it all.

    Here's hoping the new year will bring you joy, good health, prosperity and loads of blogging fun!

  9. Jen: sadly, it seems A COOL BREEZE... is the only Neal Carey book in the series to have an audiobook.

    J.D.: I very much enjoy your writing. If you post a Best, rest assured I will read it.

    U: that is a fabulous quote, my friend. And, I've already promised myself that Chicago is the city I MUST visit, and soon.

    Lesa: your posts, and new title, are well earned and appreciated.

    Corey: I am very much humbled by your words, my friend.

    Naomi: this proves it. All the people from Ohio are the best folk I know.

    Adrian: you were never on the list [hmm... maybe I was ;-)]. Either way, I enjoy your writing, sir.

    PCN: sending compliments your way is easy, and well deserved.

    Thank you all for your kind and very thoughtful words, my friends.

  10. Thanks for the shout-out. And thanks for helping make the blogworld more interesting.

  11. I take that as a high compliment coming from a blogger- & writer-of-note, Steven. Thank you for the kind words and for stopping by. You're always welcome here.

  12. We are dusting off the passports. Stay tuned..............

    I'll say it again,

    Happy New Year.

  13. Passports, huh? I'm already looking forward to the travels you guys will be taking in 2010! I hope you post the pictures often when you're away and about ;-). Happy New Year.