2012 Entertainment Year in Review

I haven’t blogged much this year, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to share my Top picks for 2012. Instead of sharing a few posts, I’ve combined all into one action-packed review post <images coming>. Share your thoughts!

Top Movie: The Hunger Games

hungergames-1I’ll probably receive some criticism for this one, but I’d read the trilogy in anticipation of the movie,  at the

beginning of the year, and since the story was so fresh in my mind, I was excited for this one to come out. Thankfully, compared to the book, this one did not disappoint. Of course there were some parts that were taken out that I believe should have been left in, but overall it was exciting, well acted/written and visually appealing. A must see if you haven’t already (but read the books first).

Runners up: Comedies come close to taking the top title this year with 21 Jump Street and Ted. If you haven’t seen these, prepare to be in pain from laughing as they are ridiculously hilarious.

Top Book: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleLike I note every year, my top books aren’t necessarily books that came out this year. As I wrote in my review, I didn’t have any expectations when I started reading this one, but it eventually pulled me in and became a book I didn’t want to put down. Jeannette Walls has a great writing style and I’m excited to read more from her in the future.

Runners up: This hasn’t been a great year for picking good books, and the bulk of my favourites happened at the start of the year. My #2 book was The Hunger Games Trilogy and ROOM.

Top Album: The Killers – Battleborn

Killers- BattlebornThis album felt like it was a long-time coming – four years in fact, since Day & Age was released. From the moment I started listening to it, I couldn’t stop. As a group, these guys are consistent and put out music they know their fans will love. It’s a solid album that I’ll probably be listening to years down the road.

Runners up: This was a tough year as the two runners up – Metric – Synthetica and Dragonette – Bodyparts – could have easily taken the #1 spot.

Tina Fey’s Bossypants lacks juice

BossypantsI’m not one for reading gossip magazines or finding out about the dark and dirty secrets of celebrities, but when I started reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants I expected a bit more of an interesting story, from someone of her comedic writing calibre.

What I took from the book were stories that shaped Tina to become the woman she is today. We’re introduced to people like her father and events like when she first started improv comedy. As I read her stories, I wasn’t invested in her stories like I usually am, reading other memoirs.

The one positive takeaway I have is that she has done a lot to succeed in the “man’s world” of comedy and even become a powerhouse in television and movies to some extent.

I realize I probably am not the intended audience for this book (at one point she even called out that a guy wouldn’t likely be reading this), but I still feel that she could have connected more emotionally with the stories. I give Bossypants a 2/5.

If you’ve read the book, and are a fan, do you think I’m way off? What made it click for you?

The Book Thief and the power of words

The Book ThiefWhen you start a book and the narrator is the voice of Death, you know you won’t be reading a happy book.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak definitely wasn’t the happiest of tales – it takes place in a small German town during the heart of the Second World War after all. Through Death’s eyes, we’re introduced to Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is seeing her young brother die as she rides on a train with him and her mother. At the next stop they find a grave yard to bury him, and this is where Liesel finds her first book,The Grave Digger’s Handbook.

We find out that Liesel and her brother were being sent to foster parents as her mother escaped persecution for her and her husband’s alleged Communist leanings. Liesel, alone, is raised by Rosa and Hans Hubermann who appear to be the most opposite of people. Rosa is crass, loud and always calling everyone a Saukerl or “Pig” and Hans is a gentle painter who plays the accordion and has a personality that draws Liesel in and helps her open up to her new surroundings.

Throughout the rest of the story, Death, though admittedly busy during those years, takes a keen interest in Liesel’s life as she attends school and grows into her teen years, stealing more books along the way and learning to read them through the help of her foster father.

What I found interesting about much of the book was that Zusak focuses on the lives of the characters as war is happening around them, but since it’s through the lens of a young girl (as relayed by Death), it doesn’t go into too much detail about explaining the politics of the time. We find out that Hans doesn’t support the Nazi party, but still hangs a flag whenever a parade passes through; Liesel and her friend Rudy Steiner are forced to steal food because of rationing throughout the country; And, Rosa’s laundry businesses that she runs from home begins to suffer as the wealthier neihbours become unable to afford her services.

It’s not until Hans answers a promise made long ago by taking in a Jewish man by the name of Max Vandenburg that the story becomes truly serious. Max is extremely malnourished when he arrives, but soon he establishes a close bond with Liesel. The two have frequent nightmares about losing loved ones and also enjoy storytelling. Their bond grows as Max shares his stories with her.

One of the stories spoke of how Hitler rose to power, not with his fists or guns, but with words. Zusak often brings up the power of words and what they can do to people, both good and bad. When bomb raids began approaching their town, they congregated in a local basement and Liesel began reading to everyone there. The words calmed everyone and made them briefly forget that at any moment, they could die.

We have to remind ourselves that words matter. They can persuade you to do anything from buying a product to persecuting an entire race of people. The Book Thief does an excellent job of getting this point across and as a communicator for a living, I can appreciate his message. If you’re a lover of words, then I recommend reading this one. I give The Book Thief a 4/5.

My review of Room by Emma Donoghue

ROOM - Emma DonoghueImagine growing up in a world that’s limited to an 11 x 11 room. All you know is the objects that you have, and your Ma who raised you.

Room is told from five year old Jack’s point of view, which definitely took some getting used to. Throughout the first half of the story we repeatedly get to experience Jack and Ma’s routine Room. Ma, who has been in Room for seven years, religiously makes sure Jack is fed, has his (limited) exercise, learns his math and reading, and watches one hour of TV each day.

Ma is a good mother, given her situation. You can tell she’s emotionally damaged from her ordeal, but she does everything to make sure Jack is as educated and healthy as she can. With the TV in the room, she attempted to protect Jack by created a fantasy world, where everything in Room was real, and everything outside was TV. She also physically protected him, from the man who visited every night.

Old Nick, as Jack calls him, is the man. He brings food, Sunday treat, and stays for the night. When he comes, Ma makes sure Jack is already in Wardrobe. Before sleep each night, Jack counts the number of creaks in his head. Old Nick makes Jack’s Ma upset.

It wasn’t until the second half that I really became enthralled with the book and couldn’t put it down. I felt like I was really in the head of Jack, and at times was frustrated like he was when things didn’t go his way, or seemed completely foreign to him. At the same time, I felt Donoghue did a fantastic job of conveying what was happening to the two of them through things like Ma’s behaviour and Jack’s innocent observations.

My biggest qualm with the book would be the sometimes inconsistent writing style. It seems Donoghue tried too hard to capture the vocabulary of a five year old, mixing ridiculous word combinations with amazing vocabulary. Jack was relatively well-educated by Ma, and had television to teach him proper sentence structure as well, but so often he would essentially come up with jibberish – maybe chalk that up to his living situation, I don’t know, but it made the reading experience very choppy at times.

If you’re looking to pick this one up, be patient and you won’t regret it. While the basic premise is something we’ve all seen in news headlines, it’s a unique take on writing and you have to give it to Donoghue for attempting it. I quite enjoyed Room and the story really stuck with me – so much so, I had to take a few days afterward to get my mind right to write this post and even pick up another book. I give it a 4/5.

Review of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm GladwellThe basic premise of this book my Malcolm Gladwell is that people, or Outliers, are successful for a number of different reasons, on top of the fact that they’re skilled at what they do.

Some of the examples he looks into say:

  • Success can be determined based on when you were born
  • Put in the work (10,000+ hours) and you’ll be a master at your craft
  • Just because you’re smart, doesn’t mean you’ll succeed
  • Timing is everything
  • The behavior of generations past keep us in its grasp

Obviously Gladwell looks at data that helps him prove his points. The case studies he examines are interesting, well told stories, and in all of them I found he made arguments, backed by expert research, that made sense.

If not necessarily true for all cases, it’s a good eye opener that shows those who are successful aren’t just so because of some talent they were born with, but that skill was gained through a lot of hard work or an opportune upbringing/family history. There are of course exceptions to the rule, and Gladwell seems to say successful people are who they are because of these reasons, but doesn’t look at the examples that prove his point wrong.

Nowhere in the book, outside of the small samples he looks at, does it show overall rates of for example, hockey players who were born outside of the first quarter of the year. The theory he looks at is that the earlier in the year you’re born (Jan/Feb/Mar), the more successful you’ll be because you’re months ahead of players born in the later part of the year, development-wise. Curious, I took a look at the roster of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. While some players have moved, it’s still noteworthy to see that of the 24 players on the roster, only 5 were born from January to March. (Others: Detroit = 13; Toronto = 7; Vancouver = 5).

While the hockey analysis may not hold up, I learned some eye-opening information. One was the reason why students have summer vacations is due to research from the 1800s saying that over-study leads to mental illness; it’s based on this that people aren’t willing to put kids through school in the summer. Another interesting tidbit was that the way Asian numbers are formed makes it easier for them to memorize and therefore learn math quicker than western kids. They were some small but interesting tidbits in the stories, but they stuck with me.

As with most of Gladwell’s work, Outliers is easy to read and presents an idea or belief that you may think is simple, and opens it up to examine the psychological or sociological reasoning behind it. There’s something about books that deal with the how we think or act that get to me. Though close, this one isn’t quite on the level of The Tipping Point or Blink but I really enjoyed the book and I can’t wait for his next one – whatever the random topic may be. I give Outliers a 4/5.

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