It was so cold that the air reached out and bit you when you opened the front door. Oregon had just survived weeks of flood level rain. Sinkholes had opened in the earth. Children had been trapped in flooding cars. Now the clouds that wrapped Oregon like a blanket had vanished, taking with them the last vestiges of warmth that even the flooding provided.
The whole week had been at freezing or below and I had been stuck in a large drafty house. I had not been entirely alone. My comrade, fleeing from the evils of meth, had been lodging in the spare room, washing dishes for elderly people by day, and by night feeding our joint addiction, Prison Break. On an uncharacteristically snowy morning we had instigated a small fire in the fireplace, burning half a dozen egg cartons and as many matches in the process.
"We should work on our blog posts," said my comrade. I had previously been attempting to write a "top five books of 2015" list. As my sum total of blog posts before this one could attest, I had not been successful. My curse was the introductions. I knew that no one read introductions to listicles, and I could not bring myself to write something that I had no interest in. (Writing things that no one wanted to read was, of course, no hardship, but my specialty.)
Halfway into a cup of chai tea we were typing away into the quiet. The crackling of the brave little fire lent a predictably peaceful ambience. I had just come to that sleepy realization that I would have to get up and attend to it momentarily, when I simultaneously realized that I had not yet begun the important part of my blog post. The fire began to die, and I clicked over to Goodreads to pick the five most significant books I'd read in 2015. Three of them, unsurprisingly, were fiction.
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”
I had been missing this book my whole life. It felt so familiar, as if a piece of my soul had been hiding between the pages. This was how I wanted to write, but until then I did not know it existed in the real world. Fitzgerald's prose is magical, his conclusions achingly hopeful. It's short, one hundred and eighty pages of sparkling wit and genius. The book reads like fireworks on a perfect summer evening, or like that moment when you first see your house decked out in Christmas lights. The ordinary is transformed into something beautiful. Light and color dance into darkness.
2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”
Four chapters into this book I began to pull clothes out of my closet. The majority of my clothes growing up had been bought from thrift stores, and I had fallen into a rut of buying things simply because they fit and were cheap (and not always the first one.) I felt as if I didn't have enough, but I didn't like much of what I had. This book's simple challenge ("only keep what sparks joy") felt like the last piece in a puzzle I had been trying to solve for a long time. I cleared out more belongings than I knew I owned.
3. The Moonstone by Willie Collins
“We had our breakfasts--whatever happens in a house, robbery or murder, it doesn't matter, you must have your breakfast.”
I did not know a detective novel could be written this way. While still living the poet of my soul, T.S. Eliot, recommended this book (to the general public, not to me personally.) Brilliant, twisted, tense, it's narrated by a handful of characters who all have vastly different voices. I feel now as if I should never attempt writing in first person until I've read this book at least twenty times.
4. I, Robot & The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
“It's your fiction that interests me. Your studies of the interplay of human motives and emotion.”
Isaac Asimov is, at heart, a mystery writer no matter the genre. His writing style is plain, his characters aren't overly complicated, and his conclusions not necessarily deep but his plots are fantastic. Every one of his stories contains a puzzle that needs to be solved, and its this that carries even his most technical stories on at a brisk pace till the end. Asimov demands his own blog post.
5. My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers
“Never look for justice in this world, never cease to give it.”
My comrade wanted to buy me this devotional and I, knowing myself, asked her to get me a bad copy. It came with scuff marks on the cover and bent pages, which inspired enough courage in me to write notes in it. I have never consistently followed a devotional, for one reason or another. Often times I find them too fluffy. Not this one. I disagree with some of Chambers' conclusions, which is an ideal way to formulate my own opinions. His inspiring insistence on total conformity to Christ has certainly begun to shape my thinking.
I prodded a dry log with the poker until it upended the burning log above it. The fire sputtered weakly back to life. "I can't think of another movie I watched this year," said my comrade, breaking the silence.
"Wind That Shakes the Barley," I suggested. We had watched quite a few films together in 2015. My most memorable were fairly varied.
1. Man From U.N.C.L.E
The way it understands the spy genre is refreshing. The way it understands color and setting is breathtaking. Also, I secretly wish I were Illya Kurayakin. The strength of a giant, the honor of a Russian, and an outlet for all that uncontrollable rage...
2. Red Lights
Two words. Cillian Murphy. Brilliant director Rodrigo Cortez shoots this psychological, visually uncluttered, mind-bending, satisfying thriller. Cillian Murphy's anguished eyes do no small service to the film. I adore the ending.
Just fantastic. Makes me want to write stories, just the genius way the narrative is constructed so that we understand the world the way he would. The conclusion is sinister, but in a right way.
Merely makes the list because it's the most I've laughed in a theater in a long time. Wasn't particularly new or original. But I did love Luis.
5. In the Heart of the Sea
Most optimistic I've felt coming out of a movie theater, which thoroughly surprised me. I had been expecting a depressing tale about the greed of man but instead I was treated to a story that was uplifted by the presence of a Herman Melville angsting about writing, Good stuff.
"I did a whole section for movies and then one for visual experiences," said my comrade, who had clearly been working on this longer than I had, even though I had the idea first (#classic).
"Why don't you come sit by this nice fire I've been keeping alive?" I asked, in a desperate attempt to distract her in order to get ahead myself.
Due to the failing film industries inability to finance anything other than franchises, I had watched a great deal more TV than movies this year. My top five TV series were as varied as my films.
1. Agent Carter
A TV show that solidifies my need to write action. An action show done well, with a courageous, realistic, and interesting main character, and surprisingly interesting side characters.
I spent a few weeks of late nights watching this show. Gripping, insightful, creepy, cathartic, the kind of show that makes me want to write.
For a long time I have been avoiding this show because I knew how much I would like it. One day, sick in bed, I caved and became thoroughly addicted. After blowing through three seasons I'm taking it at a slower pace. House is just my kind of character. He's horrible and an addict, but he's a tortured genius and no matter how much he whines he gets things done.
Ioan Gruffud is generally good in anything he does but this show is smart, funny, and so excellent. It was cancelled after only one season because TV producers don't get paid to recognize genius; just popular appeal. That's legitimate. They have to make money. I'm glad this gem of a show got to exist for the short amount of time it did.
5. Prison Break
This isn't last because it's least important. It's the show that's been ruining my life for the past two months. I spent the first five episodes trying to suspend my disbelief, sure. The characters are so endearing that I was sucked in. Michael Schofield is exactly my kind of character; sensitive, skinny, genius, rescuer type. The brother dynamic is good too. What this show lacks in realism or cutting dialogue it more than makes up for in suspense and character. I feel like these people are my friends now which is hard when some of them make bad choices (coughALEXMAHONEcough)
"Don't forget Charlie Leduff," my comrade had admonished. Of course, I could not forget him. As I threw a new log on the fire I thought about all we had been through together. Charlie Leduff is the larger-than-life genius reporter who has made his city of Detroit his mission. Those brave souls who wish to experience him for themselves should consult these videos.
"I'm going to start the soup," I said, rising from the fireplace. The snow had begun to ooze into grey puddles along the road, but the air outside was crisp. It drew a sharpness into your body like the promise of a wild but uncertain future. Like a New Year.
"No, I'll start the soup," said my comrade. "You can read my blog post and tell me if there are any errors."