To ring in the New Year on the Recorder, we look to our recent past and ask “What new thing (or things) that you discovered in 2012 has become one of your favorites?”
Like Alex, it is nigh but impossible to limit myself to just one thing. But it becomes even trickier in my case because I’ve already written at length on the Recorder about many of the greatest experiences I had this year, including developing my obsession with the Grateful Dead (and by the way, the concerts in the Spring 1990 box, all of which are available online for free, contain some of the most inspired, heartfelt, and really damn fun rock/country/blues/folk music you will ever hear, much the same way Alex feels about bluegrass), and the 31st/5th season of Doctor Who (although this too may be surpassed by the current 33rd/7th season and the pairing of Matt Smith with Jenna-Louise Coleman, if “The Snowmen” is any indication). But besides having to use so many parentheses, who wants to hear my repeat myself, especially when I do so a lot in real life?
But in looking back, I found that the sheer limit of time and space kept me from celebrating everything which made 2012 such a delightful cultural year, more so than 2011 even, and I found three things in particular.
Even more nineteenth-century novels
After devoting 2011 to only books published during my lifetime, I went back to devouring plenty of the old masters whom I had not yet experienced and discovered a wealth of great and still vital literature: besides rediscovering War and Peace, I was introduced to Nikolai Gogol’s brilliant and sadly unfinished Dead Souls, the writings of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, of which Crime and Punishment was my personal favorite, some minor Anthony Trollope classics, especially his comedy of changing mores and manners The American Senator, and Henry James’s The Ambassadors, a novel as constructed and meaningful as a great symphony. But above all, finally reading Honore de Balzac’s “The Human Comedy” was to be in the presence of greatness, to see life in all its detail and passion and brilliance and stupidity. I dove in with Eugenie Grandet, History of the Thirteen, Pere Goriot, and Cousin Bette, and all of them just made me want to keep reading more. And for those of you who’ve never read Balzac, of all these writers he might have been the most ahead of his time: just read “The Girl With the Golden Eyes” and wonder how something like this got published even before 2000.
The Nerdist Podcasts
My paean to Chris Hardwick back in July focused on his personal attributes and not so much on what Nerdist Industries offers in terms of content. Although I did let loose with this one description:
“The Nerdist Podcast becomes a compelling experience with each episode because Hardwick is one of the finest listeners in the entertainment industry. His interviews are deep, revealing, sometimes moving, and always funny, because he genuinely delights in giving exceptional people [with a sense of humor] the chance to speak their minds more so than usual.”
That and the pitch-perfect rapport between Hardwick, Matt Mira, and Jonah Ray, whose continuing three-way conversation in the Hostful episodes has made me feel as thought I know them as well as some of my own family, make The Nerdist Podcast one of the most consistently entertaining programs of any form available. But the other podcasts at nerdist.com have their own excellent value: Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon not only make people care about video games and other aspects of geek culture they might not always enjoy on The Indoor Kids, but also may be the funniest couple in the industry.* Pete Holmes’s epic conversations with fellow comedians on You Made It Weird are always a hoot, Sandra Daugherty’s Sex Nerd Sandra offers a refreshing, honest, and entertaining look at intimate relations, Janet Varney’s The JV Club should be all but mandatory for young women with its tales of growing up and embarrassment transformed into empowerment The Thrilling Adventure Hour sends up old-time radio with panache, and even nine year-old Gil Dominguez hosts a marvelous show in The Mutant Season. Plus, Hardwick produced Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s web series, marvelously bowled against the casts of Breaking Bad and Doctor Who among others, and inked a deal which will bring The Nerdist to national television in 2013. His empire is a lovely place to be.
*Hardwick and his own significant other Chloe Dykstra are no slouches either…the titular moment of “Airport Intro” is bizarrely great.
Charles Pierce’s blog at Esquire.Com
In a year which saw me get a big-time political awakening, Charles Pierce, Bostonian, Catholic, and major fan of sports, films (he even defended Russell Crowe in Les Mis and I had to pay attention), and classic rock, is a writer who cares about the America our Founding Fathers envisioned and five days a week produces the most informed commentary on how the government usually screws that vision up with flawless prose, the right doses of humor and dead seriousness, and an array of wonderful catch phrases—“God save the Commonwealth,” “Willard Romney,” “that zombie-eyed granny-starver Paul Ryan,” etc. But what I love about Pierce is that for all his liberal views and distaste of the Republicans, he is no partisan…some of his greatest columns are his utter slams of Obama’s foreign policy. And when he leaves humor aside, as in his reflections on the duty of self-government and his obituary for Levon Helm, he speaks to the American soul more than anyone.
Finally, this will probably be a longer post in itself, but 2012 also gave us two truly Great American Epics: Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which Travis wrote about already in a piece all of you should read, and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, a film which mixes a startling realism, a glorious new take on classical three-act structure, and the ethos of David Lean and Robert Bolt’s masterpieces (David Poland’s comparison, not mine) to produce a challenging and moving piece of epic cinema. Either one could win Best Picture and I’d be delighted. But Oscars are also needed, no argument or exception, for the Pantheon-ready performances of Daniel Day-Lewis and Jessica Chastain. There could never have been another Lincoln or Maya.