30 December 2015

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Part I, Books

Earlier this year Susie (Boygirlparty) introduced me to Spritz, which is a speed reading app. I didn’t end up using it much but did take a series of speed reading tests. Surprisingly, I found that I read with more comprehension than I assumed, and at a pretty fast clip. I’ve been accused of skimming too much and I thought that was becoming a problem. I always knew I was a fast reader but now it’s mathematically true! The average reading speed is 300 wpm and I think mine was around 500, which is roughly the average college students i think. Still, despite all this, it was as dark dark year for books.

My big comeback to reading was derailed by, well, I don't know. I guess it's time to face facts: I am no longer a reader. After successive years of not getting to fifty books a year, I thought I could find the motivation to get my numbers back up. Instead, I went from twenty-six books read two years ago, to twenty-two last year, to a whopping eleven in 2015. That's a downward trend if I ever saw one.

I mean, technically I will "finish" fiftyfifty this year, but mainly because I teamed up with my cousin Cleo, who finished with a tremendous 100+ books read — which will combine nicely with my movies watched for this year’s version of fiftyfifty.me, +BUDDIES. But I'm not trying to win this challenge through a technicality. Three times a failure equals out of the club! Luckily, fiftyfifty has a "no kicking people" out policy so I can still stick around for another go.

Anyway, with barely double digit numbers of books read this year, I can reel off the recommendations pretty quickly. Here they are: We Were Liars by E.Lockhart and You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman. Those were my two five star books for the year. Basically all of E.Lockhart's books are great and I've already talked about how much I like Kleeman's writing, and her debut novel was as brilliant as I knew it would be.

Somehow I've met more male readers in my short time in Taiwan than I have in many years back home. The bartender at Taipei's R&D Lounge is a voracious reader and he told me to get behind The Forever War. Joe Haldeman's a huge name and influence in "hard sci-fi" and after reading Forever War I can see why. I've been reading derivatives of Forever War for years and just never knew it. Also, if you were like me and didn’t know, hard science fiction is "characterized by an emphasis on scientific accuracy or technical detail or both."

Also, a brief take on Crazy Rich Asians, the book that took the U.S. by storm last summer -- where I wasn't residing and thus I had no idea what it was. "I hate Kevin Kwan." There, I said it. It's sheer professional jealousy but still, I hate him. It's all the salacious things that I would put in a book but didn't think about doing. So yeah, anyway, Mr. Kwan, congratulations on getting everyone addicted to your book (and its sequel). And I hate you, in the most admirable way possible.

So that's my pathetic tale of books read in 2015. Most of all I need to read the Ferrante's Neapolitan series next because I feel like they could set my life on fire and get me hooked on something.

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Part II, Movies

Listening to: Dean & Britta, “Mistress America.” Saw the movie, loved it, and this soundtrack is killer too. I could listen to this first song forever.

Having spent most of the year in Taiwan, I felt like I missed a lot of the big hitters this year. But looking over the final movies watched list, I guess I managed to see a good amount and ended up with lots of A and B grades. Here is the list of no hesitation recommends, A or A- grades: The One I Love, Wild, Whiplash, In a World…, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Mad Max: Fury Road, Magic Mike XXL, Amy, Tangerine, Mistress America, The Martian, Sicario, Spotlight.

Then again, as I was watching David Ehrlich's "The 25 Best Films of 2015: A Video Countdown," I realized I saw most of the mainstream stuff and missed almost all of the indie ones. (Thanks to Slate Cultural Gabfest for the link to Ehrlich though.)

If I had to pare that list down to my favorite movies of the year, I'd go with The One I Love, Mad Max: Fury Road, Tangerine, Mistress America, and Sicario. Mad Max and Sicario were just pure adrenaline rushes and both are imminently rewatcheable and so brilliant. It's criminal to not watch either in the theater but I guess at this point you don't really have a choice if you missed them.

Mistress America was Noah Baumbach's second film to come out in 2015, but the only one with Greta Gerwig's fairy dust. I’m basically ready to declare that I’m over solo Baumbach but when Baumbach teams up with Gerwig I’m all the way in. I loved Mistress America so much, and need to give it some time to see how it fares against Frances Ha in my heart. The One I Love was the first movie I saw in 2015, and it actually released in 2014, but it's stayed with me all this time, both for concept and execution. I mean, what couple wouldn't want to meet the version of themselves that first got into that relationship? I love Elisabeth Moss and respect the hell out of Mark Duplass and this movie was just fantastic.

And then there's Tangerine, which was just, well, everything you’d want in a quirky movie. I recently rewatched it with a group of friends, not really knowing their movie tastes, and it passed the smell test. Funny, crazy, unexpected, plus diverse and shot on an iPhone 5, with quotable lines aplenty, Tangerine was probably my favorite movie of 2015. But not the most fun, for which I'd suggest Magic Mike XXL. The sequel gave up all pretensions of being a movie movie and just let Channing and crew dance and have fun. Somehow I have friends who didn't love XXL but I've de-friended those people already, so no matter.

As for most disappointed movies, the list runs to Dear White People, Beyond the Lights, While We’re Young, My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, and Ex Machina. Too much hype, or just not good period. And I can’t even talk about the new Star Wars, which made me almost yawn in boredom midway through.

You'll notice a real dearth of Taiwanese, even though I said that I would try to dive into some Taiwanese stuff. My friend gave me a list of essential Taiwanese movies, such as Millennium Mambo, but I've been handicapped by very slow Internet, so that has curbed my ability to download this stuff. So I saw a handful of Taiwanese/Chinese movies in the theater but didn't get far beyond that.

As a year ender, I'll drop this for you, a short film recommended to me: Gang by Stuart Winecoff. It's pretty great.