Dilettante's Diary

Highs 'N Lows of 2014

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Highs 'N Lows of 2014
Dec 19/14
Dec 2/14
Nov 10/14
Oct 29/14
Fall Reading 2014
Sept 17/14
Summer Reading 2014
Aug 22/14
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May 28/14
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March 21, 2014
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Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
Sabbath's Theater by PHILIP ROTH
July 18/13
Summer Reading 2013
June 19/13
May 30/13
Spring Reading 2013
May 10/13
Apr 18/13
Mar 29/13
March 14, 2013
The Artist Project 2013
Feb 25/13
Winter Reading 2013
Feb 7/13
Jan 22/13
Jan 12/13
A Toast to 2012
Dec 19/12
Dec 16/12
Dec 4/12
Fall Reading 2012
Nov 17/12
Nov 6/12
Art Toronto 2012
Oct 23/12
Oct 4/12
Sept 28/12
Summer Reading 2012
Aug 26/12
Aug 8/12
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2012
July 14/12
June 28/12
MIMC
May 27/12
May 20/12
May 4/12
La Traviata: Met's Live HD Version
Apr 21/12
Apr 6/12
Mar 22/12
Mar 9/12
The Artist Project 2012
Academy Awards Show 2012
Feb 26/12
Feb 11/12
Jan 23/12
Jan 15/12
Jan 7/12
Dec 20/11
Dec 12/11
Nov 27/11
Nov 18/11
Nov 7/11
Art Toronto 2011
Oct 22/11
Oct 17/11
Sept 30, 2011
Summer Reading 2011
Aug 11/11
July 28, 2011
July 19/11
TOAE 2011
June 25/11
June 20/11
June 2/11
May 14/11
Apr 29/11
Toronto Art Expo 2011
Apr 11/11
March 24/11
The Artist Project 2011
March 11/11
Feb 23/11
Feb 7/11
Jan 21/11
HIGHS 'N LOWS OF 2010
Jan 17/11
Dec 21/10
Dec 6/10
Nov 11/10
Fall Reading 2010
Oct 22/10
Summer Reading 2010
Aug 9/10
Aug 2/10
TOAE 2010
July 16/10
The Shack
June 27/10
June 3/10
May 5/10
April 17/10
Mar 28/10
Mar 17/10
The Artist Project 2010
Toronto Art Expo 2010
Feb 22/10
Feb 3/10
Notables of '09
Jan 11/10
Dec 31/09
Dec 17/09
How Fiction Works
Nov 24/09
Sex for Saints
Nov 11/09
Housekeeping
Oct 22/09
Oct 6/09
Sept 18/09
Aug 23/09
July 31/09
July 17/09
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2009
Toronto Fringe 2009
Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate
June 28/09
June 6/09
Myriad Mysteries 2009
May 10/09
CBC Radio -- "The New Two"
April 14/09
March 24/09
Toronto Art Expo '09
March 1/09
The Jesus Sayings
Feb 8/09
Jan 26/09
Jan 10/09
Stand-outs of 2008
Dec 24/08
Dec 4/08
Nov 16/08
Oct 27/08
Oct 16/08
Sept 26/08
Sept 5/08
July 21/08
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 08
July 5/08
June 23/08
June 4/08
May 18/08
May 4/08
April 16/08
March 26/08
Head to Head
Feb 26/08
Feb 13/08
Jan 30/08
Jan 17/08
Notables of 2007
Dec 30/07
Dec 8/07
Nov 22/07
Oct 25/07
Oct 4/07
Sept 18/07
Aug 29/07
Aug 8/07
Summer Mysteries '07
July 20/07
June 28/07
June 8/07
May 21/07
May 2/07
April 14/07
March 23/07
Toronto Art Expo 2007
March 8/07
Feb 16/07
Feb 2/07
Jan 24/07
Notables of 2006
Dec 27/06
December 11/06
November 28/06
Nov 8/06
October 14/06
Sept 22/06
Ring Psycho (Wagner on CBC Radio)
Sept 6/06
August 12/06
July 18/06
June 27/06
June 9/06
May 23/06
Me In Manhattan
May 2/06
April 12/06
March 17/06
March 9/06
Feb 16/06
Feb 1/06
Jan 11/06
Dec 31/05
Dec 12/05
Nov 25/05
Nov 4/05
Oct 24/05
Sept 7/05
Sept 16/05
Sept 1/05
Aug 10/05
July 21/05
Me and the Jays
July 10/05
June 15/05
May 18/05
April 27/05
April 18/05
April 8/05
March 21/05
Feb 28/05
Feb 21/05
Feb 4/05
Jan 28/05
Jan 19/05
Jan 5/05
About Me
Dec 20/04
Dec 5/04
MOVIES
BOOKS
RE-READINGS
MYSTERIES/CRIME books
VIDEOS and DVDs
PLAYS
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

This past year, I didn’t manage to pack in quite as much cultural fare as in previous years. (Partly due to health issues and to the fact that Dilettante’s Diary took a mini-sabbatical from October 2013 to February 2014.) Of the 122 items I reviewed in 2014, some great ones stand out in memory, along with a few disappointing ones.

Movies

Ok, I didn’t get to see Boyhood. It’s such a long movie that the timing, combined with the problem of theatre locations, never worked out for me. I will eventually get to see everybody’s fave on DVD.

For me, the outstanding movie was Locke, starring Tom Hardy (reviewed on DD page June 16/14). I walked in, having no idea what to expect, and I was riveted for the duration. Not a movie for everybody, definitely a sleeper: a single actor in a confined space but the tension builds inexorably. Excellent acting and writing.

In the more popular vein, Philomena and The Dallas Buyers Club (Feb 11) were very well done. HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, about Liberace’s love affair with his young chauffeur, is a superb bio-pic that makes you feel sympathy for a celeb who sometimes seemed something of a parody of himself (Feb 11). Pride is an excellent example of one of those finely-crafted British offerings that combines comedy and social isssues (Nov 10). For sheer buffoonery there was 22 Jump Street (Aug 8).

In terms of more artistic or high-brow accomplishment, there was A Master Builder, Wallace Shawn’s adaptation of the Ibsen classic (Aug 22).

The great disappointment in movie terms was The Great Beauty (March 13). All the critics raved about this Fellini-esque offering, but I found it over-wrought, too self-consciously arty to be engaging, in spite of a few touching moments.

Written Word

Fiction

As you know, our reading here at Dilettante’s Diary isn’t restricted to books published in any one year. For me, then, the knock-out novel was one published in 1965: Stoner by John Williams (Feb 11). This novel was originally published to not much acclaim but it’s being re-discovered in recent years. It’s a quiet little gem that reveals the inner life of an ordinary man with such depth that you begin to understand why any of us wants to keep living.

In a more contemporary mode, Ben Lerner’s novel 10:04 gives you the heart and soul of a young US writer, a character who is named Ben Lerner and who happens to bear a striking resemblance to the author (Fall Reading 2014).

Among other remarkable novels, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry uses the in-your-face narration of an irrepressible character to make unexpected connections between terrorism and the world of high fashion (March 13). The Story of My Assassins by Tarun J. Tejpal functions as a real eye-opener, in that it takes you on a fantastic ride through the teeming, tempestuous world of contemporary India (Summer Reading). In I Am Abraham, Jerome Charyn pulls off the formidable feat of showing us what it might have been like to be inside the mind of the man who was Abraham Lincoln (May 28).

Richard Yates, considered by many to be one of America’s great writers, came as a recent discovery for me. I read three of his books this year: The Easter Parade (Apr 16), A Special Providence and Young Hearts Crying (Apr 30). I can appreciate the clean, flawless prose but I find the writing a bit cold. The author observes his characters with meticulous scrutiny but he seems to lack compassion for them.

A big disappointment for me was Andr Aciman’s Harvard Square (Feb 11). It was hard to accept that this one came from the author of two such excellent books as Call Me By Your Name and Eight White Nights. Mr. Aciman’s attempt to recreate the heady days of student life at Harvard in the 1970s left me with the feeling: I guess you had to be there.

Not many mysteries please me these days but one that did – enormously – was Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (March 13). Ms. Hartt has received a lot of acclaim for her more recent The Goldfinch but it’s hard to imagine anything that could be better than The Secret History.

Almost any of the short stories cited in Dilettante’s Diary could be singled out as exceptional, because I only mention ones that have something special about them. However, among a few favourites from this past year, there’s Last Meal at Whole Foods by Said Sayrafiezadeh in which a son talks about the monotonous, even banal, aspects of spending time with his dying mother (Aug 15). In The Referees, Joseph O’Neill gives a funny and yet touching account of how a contemporary young man finds out what his supposed friends really mean to him when he’s down (Summer Reading). The Relive Box by T. Coraghessan Boyle uses a weird sci-fi concept to say a lot about feelings of loss and regret (March 21). The reason that A Sheltered Woman by Yiyun Li had such an impact on me is that the author takes me into a world I know nothing about and helps me to understand a character unfamiliar to me: a Chinese immigrant working as a nanny in San Francisco (March 21). What’s loveable about The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Dennis Johnson is that a sixtyish ad man talks to you in a quiet, confidential tone, about the many ways that his life seems to be falling apart around him (March 21).

Probably the short story that affected me most, was Jack, July by Victor Lodato – possibly because the central character, a crystal meth addict, seems such a hopeless, despicable excuse for a human being and yet the author makes you feel tremendous compassion for the character. (Fall Reading)

I’m not a big fan of graphic novels but Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant won me over with it’s droll humour on the subject of parents who are in denial about ageing and death (Aug 8).

Non-Fiction

This year, my reading didn’t include a non-fiction book that was as amazing as last year’s Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman, or Quiet by Susan Cain. However, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn provided a lot of fascinating information that helped to fill some big gaps in my historical consciousness (Apr 30).

There’s no question that the stand out memoir was Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle. One of the best memoirs of all time, it tells a rip-roaring story full of adventure, comedy and pathos – all of it told in superb style (Fall Reading).

Other favourite memoirs include Edna O’Brien’s Country Girl, a beguiling stroll through the reminiscences of a writer who matters a lot to 20th century literature (Fall Reading). Stuart Hamilton’s Opening Windows is a treasure trove for anybody who cares about the opera world, particularly the Canadian branch (Apr 30). Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982 sparkles with wit and charisma, although there is too much talk about bands for my taste (Feb 11).

The biography that made the strongest impression was Breakfast With Lucian, by Geordie Greig. There are structural problems with the book but this bio of the painter Lucian Freud (grandson of Sigmund) bowls you over with the outrageous carry-on in the upper echelons of the art world and the aristocracy, as well as in the criminal underworld.

For me, the outstanding magazine article was Sixty-Nine Days by Hctor Tobar. It describes the ordeal of the thirty-three miners who were trapped underground for over two months in Chile in 2010. I’d been keen to get that story ever since the event happened and Mr. Tobar satisfied my curiosity – almost completely (Apr 8).

Theatre

Most of the theatre that I saw this past year involved family members or close friends. None of those productions, then, would be eligible for a "best of" or a "most notable" list. Of the other shows that I saw, the most memorable one stands out for the wrong reasons. I’d been looking forward very much to Arcadia, reputed by many to be Tom Stoppard’s best play. The production by the Shaw Festival at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre was polished and professional but there was an off-putting theatricality to it that prevented my becoming engaged with the somewhat abstruse and complicated argument of the play (Dec 2).

Opera

Of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD broadcasts that I saw, Cosi Fan Tutti was the most enjoyable. Not that it was flawless, but it was bright, colourful, well acted and superbly sung (Apr 30).

Visual Art

The most exciting artistic discovery for me this year was the British painter Paul Wright. His cityscapes, done in broad strokes, are bursting with colour and vitality (Oct 29).

Top Three

In short, the high points of my cultural year were Locke (movie), Stoner (novel) and The Glass Castle (memoir).

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com