I developed an appreciation of spindly sculptures at the Giacometti retrospective at the Tate Modern. I confess to not understanding the significance of some of the works (and to finding it strange that they crammed so many items in, when being able to see fewer pieces properly would have been preferable). However, everything was made worthwhile by the inclusion of Disagreeable Object (1931). I doubt a piece of art has ever been given a more apt name.
I also saw lots of ancient goodies while on a tour of Israel / Palestine this autumn. Some of the historical and archaeological sites are truly stunning. But of the exhibitions, the most striking must be the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The entire book of Isaiah forms the centrepiece, but lots of fragments of these ancient scrolls are on show. Above ground the themes of light and darkness, so important to the Qumran community, are represented by a white dome and a black wall. There’s a lot more to say about the trip, which I took with Oak Hall Expeditions – I have written up four highlights from Israel / Palestine on the Oak Hall blog.
I’ve had more cinema trips than normal this year. But nothing to write home about. La La Land? Overhyped. Lego Batman Movie? Fun but not earth-shattering. Murder on the Orient Express? Weirdly self-indulgent of Kenneth Branagh to put himself in every single scene. Beauty and the Beast? Stick to the cartoon.
However, I do have one reason to be grateful for the Beauty and the Beast remake: it gave me one of my day-out highlights of the year. The Kensington Hotel created an afternoon tea dedicated to all things Beauty and the Beast, and I spent a very happy afternoon there back in May. Tale as Old as Time afternoon tea was much more enjoyable than the film itself.
This was the year that I got Netflix. My TV habits have totally changed. I’m no longer working my way through bad teen dramas one episode a week… now I can watch them all in one go! (At this point, my review of the year becomes more of a public confession.)
My stand-out series was Playful Kiss, a Korean rom-com that runs to an impressive 16 hour-long episodes. Based on a Japanese manga, It’s a will-they/won’t-they love story where the girl is an extraordinary ditz and the boy is a cold-hearted, emotionally manipulative genius. It sounds unpromising; it’s absolute gold. I loved so much about this – mainly the fact that you kind of hate the guy but are totally rooting for the relationship to work out. Under the surface, though, it’s got a lot to say about friendship and family relationships. It’s bizarre but brilliant.
I watched 13 Reasons Why, which was rightly controversial but exactly the kind of provocative programming Netflix is doing so well at the moment. Riverdale seemed to lose its soul for the 2nd series. If you think you might like a crude spoof true-crime programme, you’ll love American Vandal. I caught up with Arrested Development, which really was ahead of its time when it was new. I binge-watched 3 seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and absolutely loved the sparky dialogue despite being bored by what passed for plot. Frankly, I’d watch 3 seasons of this back-to-back just to hear the amazing Songify theme song:
While I was still subscribing to the BBC (i.e. had a TV licence) I enjoyed the third and final series of Uncle. It’s a massively underrated sitcom about a deadbeat uncle who bonds with his socially awkward teenage nephew. Really, it’s a programme about friendship. A lovely line at the end of the series helps to wrap it up as a quirky coming-of-age story: “You’re my best friend and that will never change, but I’ve got some friends my own age now. And I might need to start hanging out with them more. For sociological reasons.”
The world has been waiting for what a post- One Direction world would sound like. More miss than hit from the other four, but Harry Styles has put out a genuinely good album. It’s called Harry Styles.
I also discovered some other albums that I shouldn’t like but do. Fragile by Frankie & The Heartstrings has some really powerful moments alongside a generally good-to-listen-to set of songs. It’s cheesy, but Hope by the Strumbellas is packed with big sounds that I haven’t been able to get out of my head all year. And finally, even more low-brow but possibly all the better for it, I discovered 5 Seconds of Summer. Sounds Good Feels Good is a good album, whatever the critics said.
I watched Le Tour de France and La Vuelta a España. Nothing much to add, except that it’s sad how cycling is still focused on pharmaceuticals rather than the sport itself.
Three times in its history (1966, 1945 & 1943) the Carnegie Medal was not awarded because the judges felt no book published that year was worthy of the honour. I am sure many fiction books are worthy of mention here, but I haven’t read any of them this year.
The most gripping non-fiction book I read this year was the Most Human Human by Brian Christian. In essence it’s a book about what it means to be human, but it’s framed around artificial intelligence. It provoked me to think more deeply about the nature of humanity than any Christian or theological book I read this year.
Of those theological books, though, I’d have to pick John Stott’s The Contemporary Christian. To my shame, I’d absorbed its influence without actually reading it. It’s subtitled “an urgent plea for double listening” and I feel it needs to be heard afresh at this present moment. One quote sums up so much of what is good here:
I often say to our students at the Institute for Contemporary Christianity in London [nowadays, LICC] that we are not in the business of ‘breeding tadpoles.’ A tadpole is a little creature with a huge head and nothing else besides. Certainly there are some Christian tadpoles around. Their heads are bulging with sound theology, but that is all there is to them. No, we are concerned to help people to develop not only a Christian mind, but also a Christian heart, a Christian spirit, a Christian conscience and a Christian will, in fact to become whole Christian persons, thoroughly integrated under the lordship of Christ.