Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013: My Year in Review

2013: My Year in Review

The year has finally come to a close. It was a busy  year for my cat hospital.  We're less than ten clients away from a pretty neat milestone:  5000 clients. We added two new employees to our hospital staff – Gill and Zoe.  We treated a million cats and had some very interesting cases.  This blog post, however, is going to skip all the veterinary stuff.  This is the end-of-the-year blog post where I talk about the fun things I managed to partake in. 

At the top of the list are the books I read.  I'm an avid reader, or at least I try to be.  Last year I read about 26 books.  This year, I read 24.  That averages to about 2 per month.  Not bad, really.  Here's what I read, with my little capsule reviews:


1.    Love Goes to Buildings on Fire by Will Hermes – the first book I read in the new year. This was one of the best music books I’ve read, on par with Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming. It covers five very important years in the New York music scene, and how these years were instrumental in the development of several important music genres.  I found the punk and rock tales most interesting, as these are my favorite genres, but the stuff about jazz, salsa and hip-hop were also compelling, because they are as much of a chronicle of New York as they are about the music.  I was living in NYC at the time (1973 to 1977), and though I was unaware of the salsa, jazz and hip-hop scenes, the writing about the punk and rock music really resonated.  *****

2.    Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee.   A well-written, totally engrossing book that delves into the peculiar world and mindset of people who compulsively hoard stuff. The individual case studies cited in the book are super-interesting, and of course the details about what the people hoard, and how their homes have become overrun with stuff have a voyeuristic appeal for the reader.  But the authors really delve into the psyche of people who hoard, and the way they look at the world and attach importance to things that seem so trivial is fascinating.  *****

3.    By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham – my first fiction book of the year, and it was a great one.   The story involves a married couple living in Soho, and the familiar references to the downtown streets and the Chelsea art galleries made the book come alive even more than usual.  The writing is amazing; Cunningham really gets into the main character’s head.  The protagonist, an art dealer named Peter, seems ready to throw his life away in similar fashion to the main character in J.M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace”.  Last year I read too much non-fiction.  This book reminded me how much I like a really well-written novel.  I read this one in just a few days. I couldn’t put it down.  *****

4.    Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer – The blurb looked pretty promising, but I ended up not liking this book as much as I expected to.  The author tried not to just focus on the medicine. He incorporated the patients’ back story, often tracing it back to their country of origin and how their upbringing and their country’s ethnic or political strife shaped their patient’s world and, often, their illness.  He chose 12 individual cases.  His writing is all over the map, though, and some of the cases weren’t very interesting, I must say.   I’d have preferred more medical drama, frankly.  I’m a New Yorker, and some of his New York references rang pretty true, but on the whole, I wasn’t too keen on this book.  **

5.    My Lives by Edmund White – Edmund White is an excellent writer and he’s led an interesting life.  He’s lived in Italy and France, was one of the founders of GMHC, authored the seminal gay novel “A Boy’s Own Story”, and wrote the definitive, award-winning biography of Jean Genet.  I admire him immensely as a writer. His autobiography is definitely the most honest, unselfconscious account of one’s life you could ever hope to read.  That’s the problem.  I don’t know if you can be too honest in an autobiography, but if it’s possible, then this is a primo example.  I’m no prude, but I found some parts of the narrative absolutely gross and disgusting, and his contemptible whiny dependent behavior really pathetic.  I do admire his attitude of “this is who I am, accept me, warts and all”, but sheesh!  His self-loathing, his lack of self-esteem, his degrading obsessions with so many men.  I dunno… the book is interesting, but ugh.  Hard to believe such a brilliant writer is such a mess.  ***

6.    The Chris Farley Show by Tom Farley Jr. and Tanner Colby – an interesting but tragic chronological accounting of the rise and fall of Chris Farley’s life and career.  Farley was extremely well-liked by everyone, and was by all accounts incredibly talented.  There are lots of stories from family members, and great observations from colleagues like Tim Meadows, David Spade, Alec Baldwin, and Lorne Michaels.  Fans of SNL will come away with a clear understanding of what a kind-hearted and caring guy Farley was, making the outcome of the story – his tragic, untimely death – even more depressing.

7.    The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst – this book started out slow, but got progressively better, as the author takes us through the family history of the Sawles, a distinguished British family, beginning with the magical weekend when future-famous poet Cecil Valance visited Two Acres, the Sawle estate.  Every section of the book advances the story by an entire generation, starting just before World War I. A lot happens during Cecil’s visit, and the events of that weekend acquire mythical proportions as the story gets revealed over the years.  As I said, the book starts off slow and stuff, and then really sucks you in. ****

8.    The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande -  Dr. Gawande is a surgeon and writer who had dedicated himself to figuring out why some things go wrong, and how to make things better. He’s written three books.  I really enjoyed his last book, “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance”, so I was happy to see this new one.  The premise of the book is that mistakes used to mainly occur due to ignorance; science had only given us a partial understanding of the world.  Today, the problem seems more to be ineptitude, i.e. not applying the knowledge consistently and correctly.  The way to make sure that the knowledge is applied correctly? By using a simple checklist.  It sounds basic, but this simple concept, when implemented consistently, saves more lives that ever imagined.  An interesting and eye-opening book. ****

9.    I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell – I’m a big punk music fan, and I was really looking forward to this autobiography by Richard Hell.  I went to an in-store appearance by him after the book came out and got him to sign the book, before I had read it.  I’m glad this occurred  before I read it, because  I was pretty disappointed.  Despite his reputation as being a great poet/writer, I didn’t find the writing in the book to be very good, unless you revel in detailed descriptions of every apartment in New York that he’s ever set foot in.  I also thought that for a guy who’s supposed to be so enlightened and introspective, his descriptions of women and sex were frat-boy crude and embarrassing.  The events surrounding the formation of Television, The Heartbreakers, and the Voidoids were interesting, but I think the book makes it clear that much of his success was simply being in the right place at the right time.  My appreciation of the book ended up being more because of what he did and where he did it, rather  than who he is and what he thought. Disappointing. **

10.    Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi – An interesting book about the genetic diversity seen amongst humans, and the multitude of ways in which things can go wrong.  As a scientist, I found the book fascinating, although it does get bogged down in scientific jargon in various sections (which I didn’t mind, but I’m sure it would bore the layperson.  The book makes many references to the Vrolik Museum in Amsterdam, which houses the world’s largest collection of human mutation specimens.  I visited the museum with Brad in September and was both amazed and horrified. ***  

Arnold and Brad at the Vrolik museum next to some mutant babies in jars

11.    My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard – I’m not sure what it is about this autobiographical novel that sucked me in, but once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop.  This is volume 1 (apparently this goes on for 6 volumes), and it reveals all the thoughts, hopes, and fears in the mind of author Karl Ove, as he chronicles, sometimes in crazily minute detail, the events of his life.   The book became a literary phenomenon when it came out and was translated into over 15 languages. It’s just the ordinary thoughts of an ordinary guy, but somehow, it’s amazingly readable.  I’m looking forward to Book 2 (and beyond). ****

12.    American Savage by Dan Savage – I’ve always liked Dan Savage, and I knew that with this book, he’d just be preaching to the choir as usual.  But I’m a happy member of that choir, and it was a foregone conclusion that I’d agree with everything in all of these essays.  And I do.  His thoughts on all things gay and liberal are exactly in line with my   own, but he says them much better than I ever could.  Don’t ever change, Dan.  ****

13.    Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris – I’m not sure if it’s him or me, but it seems to me that David’s best writing days are behind him.  I find that every one of his new releases are just a tad less interesting, and a lot less funny, than the book before it.  (Although his last one, Chipmunk Meets Squirrel, was so bad that there was nowhere for him to go but up.  Barely.)  There were a few laughs, but overall, I was definitely disappointed. **

14.    Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan – another very well written book by Ian McEwan.  I’ve read his last six; he’s become one of my favorite authors.  While this book was very well put-together and impeccably researched, it just wasn’t as compelling as some of his others, especially his last one, Solar.  It became a page-turner for the last 30 pages or so, but the book was a bit heavy on some not-so-interesting politics, and it made some sections a bit of a chore to get through.  Still, the writing is always so flawless that I enjoy his books no matter what.  ***

15.    My Husband and My Wives by Charles Rowan Beye – I’m not sure what I was expecting with this book.  I was hoping for more insight, given some of the parallels with the author’s life and my own, but there was too much focus on sex (and what I found to be some boorish behavior, which I found distasteful).  The author’s academic career and his opinion of the different universities were interesting enough.  The most interesting aspects, I thought, were his descriptions of discovering his sexuality in a place like Iowa, in the 1940s.  I do think his constant focus on sex (this guy never said no to anyone, and did it anywhere and everywhere, with everybody on the planet, it seems. ) It was a little too much.  His life was interesting, but not enough to sustain an entire book, in my opinion.  **

16.    The Happy Atheist by P.Z. Myers – not as good as I was hoping.  Mostly a glorified re-working of his blog posts.  I was hoping for something more akin to Christopher Hitchens and/or Richard Dawkins, but these columns were more petulant and less intelligent than I expected. **

17.    Taipei by Tao Lin – really, this is the most idiotic, stupidly written book I’ve read in a long time.  The insufferable protagonist is supposedly a published author who travels from book-reading to book-reading, taking handfuls of mostly prescription drugs non-stop, and engaging in the most mind-numbingly vapid conversations with his friends and girlfriends, if you can even call them conversations.  They’re like texts, or tweets, written by 14 year-olds.  Some of the sentences are endless, with millions of commas, and “quotation marks” randomly placed around words for no discernible reason.  If this is the future of literature, we’re in big trouble.  *

18.    A Dead Boy’s Tale from the front lines of punk rock by Cheetah Chrome – an excellent autobiography from the guitarist of the Dead Boys.  Chrome’s highly detailed recollections of the events of those heady days in New York at the height of the punk movement are very entertaining.  The subtitle, “from the front lines” is pretty accurate.  He really makes you feel the excitement of the times.   Given the amount of abuse he did to his body (his drug and alcohol intake is mind-boggling), it’s amazing he’s alive to tell the story.  He’s more intelligent than you’d probably realize, and he really tells it like it is, all with a nice degree of humility.  There are some incidents in the book that are disturbing, but Chrome pulls no punches and lays it all out on the table, which makes it the great read that it is.  One  of the best rock memoirs I’ve read. ****

19.    Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s by Dan Epstein - I really LOVED this book.  I was a huge baseball fan in the ‘70s, and this book captures all the excitement of those days, all put in the social context of the times.  It was great hearing the names of players I had long forgotten about, and reliving some of the memorable incidents of that very wild baseball era.  A true treat for big baseball fans. ****

20.    Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan.  A detailed account of the authors battle with a rare disease that seriously affected her brain. The disease could have killed her if it were not for a particularly skillful doctor who recognized that the signs of mental illness that the author was experiencing were due to an inflammatory disease rather than a psychological disorder.  The book reads like a real mystery novel for the first half of the book, but become less riveting once the book shifts into descriptions of her recovery.  **

21.    Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  More quirky, interesting revelations about the world. Always thought-provoking, but this volume isn’t as interesting as their first one, Freakonomics. ***

22.    Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and The Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright - Man oh man, those Scientologists are absolutely insane. This book blows the lid off of just how completely NUTS L. Ron Hubbard, Tom Cruise, and the entire “religion” is.  Crazy theories about intergalactic invaders…  total insanity.  Hard to believe that people fall for this stuff.  Truly scary. *****

23.     David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell - Another well written, thoroughly researched collection of tales that illustrate his main point, i.e. what might seem like a disadvantage at first, often turns out to be an advantage, and vice versa. ***

24.    Why are Faggots so Afraid of Faggots: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform, by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.  An eclectic collection of essays on a variety of topics dealing with many gay subcultures.  Most of the essays challenge the ideas of gender conformity and address some of the perils of assimilation.  Some are very well-written and powerful.  A few are really atrociously written and idiotic. A mixed bag, but very honest and in-your-face. ***


I am a Netflix subscriber, and by my count, I rented about 85 movies this year.  I did see a few in the theater, including a couple at MOMA, where I'm a member.  All in all, it came to just about 100 movies this year. 

Out in the Dark
More than Honey
Good Ol' Freda
The Way Way Back
Bus 174
The Hunt
What Maisie Knew
The Iceman
Simon Killer
I'm So Excited
The Conjuring
Europa Report
Pacific Rim
The Heat
Stuck in Love
Computer Chess
The Great Gatsby
Drug War
My Brother the Devil
Laurence Anyways
The Hunter
The Company You Keep
The Host
Ginger and Rosa
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Star Trek: Into Darkness
The Road
From Up on Poppy Hill
Lost:  all six seasons
In the Family
A Separation
The English Surgeon
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Not Fade Away
Romantics Anonymous
Zero Dark Thirty
War Horse
Jack Reacher
Silver Linings Playbook
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Seven Psychopaths
Oslo: August 31
Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Stage Fright
Witness for the Prosecution
The Defiant Ones
All in this Tea
Still Walking
The Master
The Other F Word
The Human Resources Manager
How to Survive a Plague
The Lonliest Planet
October Country
This Must Be the Place
Rust and Bone
American Radical
Premium Rush
Searching for Sugar Man
Killing them Softly
Bobby Fischer Against the World
The Other Son
The Black Cat
The Night of the Hunter
Les Miserables
City of Life and Death
This is 40
Source Code
A River Changes  Course
Lost Season 1 and 2 and 3
World War Z
Not Fade Away


As the years go by, I tend to see fewer and fewer concerts, but this year there were a few artists who came to town that I just couldn't miss, like Dave Davies (guitarist from my favorite band, The Kinks) and The English Beat, one of my faves from the '80s.
The Who and Elvis Costello
Steve Reich
The English Beat
Nick Lowe
Tribute to Edith Piaf
Ian Anderson
Dave Davies

I usually see a few Broadway and off-Broadway shows every year, and this year I managed to attend a nice baker's dozen.

Fuerza Bruta***
The Dance and the Railroad *
Old Hats*****
The Mound Builders**
The Assembled Parties ***
Orphans ***
Murder Ballad ****
The Nance ***
A Night with Janis Joplin***
Nothing to Hide ****
No Man’s Land**
La Soiree *****

As for traveling, I had a busy year, going to six countries!  In mid year, I headed to Scandinavia, checking out Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Estonia.  Midyear, I enjoyed a few days in Amsterdam (my third visit.  Definitely my favorite European city), and over Thanksgiving, I took a short but sweet trip to Lisbon, Portugal.  Not sure what's on the docket for next year, but hopefully something exotic like Africa or India. 

That's it for now.  Here's hoping that my cats, my clients, my patients, my readers, and I stay healthy.  Looking forward to an adventurous and productive 2014.

Missy, being productive.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...