I had fun last December listing my favourite things of the year, so I thought I’d do it again in 2017. Here’s what I enjoyed over the past 12 months
Books I read for the first time in 2017
A brilliant piece of science fiction. An imaginative and thought provoking premise (what if women suddenly developed the power to hurt and kill others through electric shocks, reversing the power balance with men?), followed carefully through to its conclusions.
Another piece of sci-fi, though a rather different one. This one is set in a totalitarian state which exists to obviate risk and protect the health of its citizens above all else, where a glitch in the system leads to an outbreak of dissent. Where other dystopian fiction tends to focus on world building to the neglect of its characters, The Method comes alive in the cat and mouse dialogue between its two leading protagonists, one on the side of the government, the other coming to resist it. If you liked the bits in Brave New World where Mustapha Mond argues with John, this is basically a book full of that.
Robert Gordon is famous for suggesting that US growth might be “over”. This book tries to advance that argument by describing the unprecedented confluence of factors that drove rapid productivity growth from the 1850s to 1950s (such as mechanisation, electrification, urbanisation and public health), and claims that this unlikely to be repeated ever again. That argument is important, but the book is fascinating in its own right as a historical work, meticulously documenting the dramatic changes in how people lived in the late 19th century, in terms of their diet, accommodation, health, travel and consumer goods among other things.
ARTICLES AND ESSAYS
Published in 2017
Explores the fascinating phenomenon of young men working less to play video games more, without succumbing to excessive hand-wringing. I discussed it here.
Aging, economically depressed coastal cities like Blackpool are often seen as the ‘left behind’ periphery of Britain’s economy and society. In a fantastic piece of reporting, Sarah O’Connor documents the multiple crises afflicting the town, including debt, economic decay and ‘shit life syndrome’.
An outsider’s look at the weirdness and wonderfulness of the effective altruism community, concluding that the two are interdependent: the eccentricity of the EA community fuels its radical thinking.
Released in 2017
Jon Ronson explores the consequences of the widespread availability of free pornography, for performers, consumers and society at large. A fascinating story in its own right, but links to wider issues regarding technological disruption, emotional labour and media autonomy, and does so with great empathy and humanity.
2. Love + Radio
A podcast specialising in stories told in the first person with minimal input from interviewers. Tends towards the salacious sometimes, but regularly engrossing: highlights include the man who collects pictures of SpongeBob drawn by serial killers, or the man who sold ‘shares’ in his life and put all his major decisions to shareholder votes.
Its ethics have been questioned, but this is a gripping portrait of a picaresque character: an eccentric clock restoring liberal conspiracist railing against his Alabama hometown (trying really hard not to give anything away here).
Released in 2017
1. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright is ace. The premise of a main character who constantly listens to music to drown out his tinitis is a nice gimmick for a film that stylishly combines heists, car chases and even sandwich making with its soundtrack.
2. Wonder Woman
Well made, as superhero movies go, but included here as much for its broader social significance.
Suffered a bit from the lack of resolution inherent in being a middle film, but developed plots and characters well with some nice set pieces (like the chase through Canto Bight, the Montecarlo of the Star Wars universe).
Shown in the UK for the first time in 2017
1. Nathan for You Season 1
Nothing made me laugh as much as this show did. Though it’s into season 4 in the US, it finally arrived in the UK this year. In a parody of shows like Kitchen Nightmares, ‘business expert’ Nathan Fielder tries to help real-life enterprises turn their fortunes around with absurd, hilarious and surprisingly effective suggestions. The opening segment below, where Fielder advises a frozen yoghurt shop to list a poo flavour, sums it up.
2. Rick & Morty Season 3
Overall, I thought this was the weakest season of the sci-fi comedy (though still excellent!). But I was blown away by episode 8, the Ricklantis Mixup, which was the bets 20 minutes of TV I saw all year: the sheer imagination of a planet of Rick & Morty clones, the expertly executed spoofs and underlying social commentary.
3. The Good Place Seasons 1-2
An inventive premise – a woman dies and finds herself in heaven rather than hell because of a clerical error – that leaves the viewer guessing until the big TV twist of the year at the end of season 1. But here mainly because a lead character is a philosophy professor.
Released in 2017
I didn’t think my favourite album of the year would be emo-jazz, either, but People Like You combine lovely melodies, intricate guitars, bright brass and ever shifting percussion to create a distinctive sound I really enjoyed in 2017.
REM + Sleater-Kinney = Awesome.
A beautiful, mournful country song. A bit Lurleen Lumpkin, but that’s no bad thing in my view.
1. Barcelona 6-1 Paris St Germain (6-5 on aggregate)
Having put Liverpool’s three goals in 30 minutes against Borussia Dortmund top last year, I have to admit that this surpasses that. Reversing a 4-0 deficit with a 6-1 win, with three goals in the final seven minutes is beyond extraordinary.
This Cricinfo article is the best place to understand why this triumph was so incredible:
So the No. 8-ranked team, with three of their squad not here, lost the first game to India by a million runs. They had to face up against the No. 1 team in ODI cricket in a knockout game straight after. They were seven wickets down against the team with the worst record and they practically had their bags packed and were contacting the airline, asking for an aisle seat. They had to play a semi-final against the favourites of the tournament, in the favourites’ home. And then after all that, slaughter, rain, chance and skill, they then had to front up against India in the final
It’s Benevento’s first ever season in Serie A, the elite league of Italian football. They’ve lost each of their first 14 games. It’s the last minute of their 15th match, and their losing that one, too, to the historic giants AC Milan. And then their goalkeeper scores. With a diving header, 12 yards out.
PLACES I ATE
Restaurants I visited for the first time in 2017
Sleek but friendly French restaurant where I had delicious scallops in beurre noisette, as good as anything I ate all year.
Excellent modern Indian restaurant, specialising in Goan and Keralan food.
Mexican restaurant, serving specialties such as tamales, flautas and jaladas, and using ingredients such as quesa fresco and cuitlacoche, that can be hard to find in London.
THINGS I COOKED
Dishes I made for the first time this year
1. Hara Paneer Tikka (from Meera Sodha’s Fresh India)
A nice recipe for paneer kebabs, livened up with mint and coriander. A lovely barbecue dish for the summer.
A great Sicilian almond and tomato pasta sauce
A hearty, warming Middle Eastern dish of rice and lentils, topped with crispy onions, reminiscent of the khichdi I grew up eating.