Dilettante's Diary

A Toast to 2012

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Highs 'N Lows of 2014
Dec 19/14
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Aug 22/14
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March 21, 2014
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Sept 23/13
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.

And so...a fond look back at some of the high notes of 2012. Note that not all of the things listed here burst upon the world in this past year. Some of them are ones that I first experienced in 2012, The dates of the pages on which they were reviewed in Dilettante’s Diary will be given in brackets.

The cultural highlight of the year for me was the Met Opera’s HD Live Transmission of La Traviata. (Reviewed on a page of its own, listed on the navigation bar between May 4th and April 21st.) The modern, minimalist production by Willy Decker stripped the piece of all the 19th century frippery and luxuriance, making it a rivetting story of a contemporary woman facing her premature death with courage and nobility. Thanks to the superb acting and singing of Natalie Dessay in the role of Violetta, this was an emotionally devastating experience.

Nothing could compare with an artistic high like that, but I encountered lots of good stuff this year. It will be listed below according to genre.

Movies

In terms of sheer entertainment, Ben Affleck’s Argo does it best. (Oct 23) The amazing thing is that, even though you know the outcome, the suspense is almost unbearable. In a more thoughtful mood, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln comes a close second, its only flaw being that it’s a little too literary and pretentious at times. (Dec 4)

Probably the best foreign film we’ve seen in a long time was A Separation (Feb 11). It looks into the lives of Iranians who are facing some of the deepest and most complicated issues that can crop up in human communities.

The Deep Blue Sea (May 4) remains in my mind as a quietly pleasing "little movie" with a certain old-fashioned British tone to it.

A couple of movies that you might have thought would be too crass and crude for us here at Dilettante’s Diary proved to be very enjoyable for just that reason: 21 Jump Street (Apr 6) and Ted (Aug 26).

Catching up on DVD versions of some movies we missed in the theatres, Moneyball (Aug 26) turned out to be very good inspite of the subject – baseball. A Romanian movie that I’d heard a lot about, Police Adjective (Jan 7) is a marvel of realist, gritty story-telling in a way that’s so under-stated that it’s almost revolutionary.

One of the weirdest movies to come along in quite a while is the French Holy Motors (Dec 16). I’m still trying to figure out what it means, if anything. The significant thing is that the artisty involved is of such a high calibre as to make you want to puzzle it through. Maybe the point is that you’re supposed to make up your own meaning....???

At this point, I should probably speak to the fact that you don’t often see reviews of really bad works on Dilettante’s Diary. That’s because nobody’s paying me to review things that don’t look promising. I only take on books, plays, movies, etc that seem as though they would appeal to me. Still, some of them disappoint in notable ways.

Such as these movies:

  • Wes Anderson’s Moonshine Kingdom looked like one of those movies that are appreciated by people who like the kind of movies that I like. I do admire the attempt here to do something imaginative and slightly off-key. Sad to say, though, there’s something about the fey, whimsical quality of this one that I just can’t get. (June 28)
  • Hugo (Mar 22) – I don’t understand how people see any charm in this contrived, fanciful fairy tale.
  • The Artist (Jan 15) – This homage to black and white silent movies would have been ok at an hour or less – like the originals – but it wore thin as it dragged on far too long.
  • Great expectations for A Late Quartet (Dec 19) were dashed by a script that condemned fine actors to soap opera.

Books

For a fun read, nothing could surpass Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. A young woman has disappeared and, in alternate chapters, we get her husband’s account of the search for her, and excerpts from a journal she left behind. The book combines an excellent mystery with an intriguing study of characters, relationships and societal trends. (Oct 4)

Probably the most impressive book of the year for me in terms of its literary qualities was Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory. (Fall Reading) It’s easy to see why it won the 2010 Prix Goncourt, with its vast canvas that includes, not only acute insight into character, but also aspects of our contemporary world such as business, manufacture, art and travel.

A book that also has a strong impact, although in a more narrowly-focussed way, is Zadie Smith’s NW (Oct 23). The utterly original style and structure of the book can make for difficult reading but it gives you an unforgettable view into the lives of two young women who have grown up in immigrant communities in a blighted part of London.

In spite of a central character who appears quite odious at first, Next by James Hynes gets better and better as it goes along, leading to a conclusion that stuns you. (Fall Reading) Another novel that glows, despite a not-very-likeable central character, is Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz. (Jan 15) Even if you don’t approve of the narrator’s choices, you can’t help being swept along by her compelling account of passionate love.

It’s not just because of the title that I’m praising Richard Ford’s Canada. It tells the very engaging story of a young American who, because of a crime committed by his parents, is forced to flee to a small Saskatchewan town where he lives with an eccentric relative. (July 14)

Penelope Lively is a British novelist whom we’ve admired for many years and her How It All Began – all about how an elderly lady’s life changes when she fractures her hip in a fall – is a fine example of those small, sensitive novels that women like Ms. Lively turn out so well. (May 20)

Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary offers a startlingly unique and original take on the well-known gospel story. (Fall Reading)

A novel that dazzles with its brilliance in many ways – even if the whole may not quite hang together – is Jamie Popowich’s innovative and experimental Metraville. (Jan 7)

As for non-fiction, we can’t overlook Mortality, in which the famed contrarian, Christopher Hitchens, serves up his final and emphatic observations on life, while facing the prospect of his rapidly approaching death from cancer. (Fall Reading) Escape from Camp 14, by Blaine Harden, tells the harrowing story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a young man who was born to slavery in a North Korean prison camp but who became one of the few people to escape. (Summer Reading) One of the best of many memoirs I’ve read recently is Sad Sayrafiezadeh’s When Skateboards Will Be Free. (May 20) With remarkable restraint and a plangent tone, it recalls his growing up, the son of two committed Communists, in Brooklyn and Pittsburgh in the 1970s, with his hard-working mother after they’d been virtually abandoned by his attractive but unreliable father.

[Note: I’ve read some really good books in the genres of Science and Ideas this past year but haven’t yet had time to post reviews of them. Watch for reports soon on the likes of Susan Cain’s Quiet, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, and Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jeth.]

This year, I’ve started a section for "Books I Couldn’t Finish". It first appears on the Fall Reading page. In most cases, the books there are ones that sounded good when recommended but turned out to be not for me. However, a few, including some that I did finish, were disappointing in particularly surprising ways.

  • Canadian author Louise Penny appears to have legions of devoted fans. Good for her. But I couldn’t see much to like in her latest mystery, A Trick of the Light. There wasn’t much excitement or intrigue to the mystery and Ms. Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache strikes me as a female fantasy of the ideal male. Maybe you have to be a regular reader of the series to appreciate the interaction among the characters who appear to be very familiar to each other. (Mar 22)
  • A much more renowned author, Stephen King, is someone whose work never looked as though it would interest me, apart from some writing he once published in The New Yorker about the consequences of the near fatal accident he suffered some years ago. But I heard him talking on the radio about his latest book and I thought it would be interesting to see how he imagined the world might have turned out if President John Kennedy had not been assassinated. Alas, 11/22/63 turned out to depend a lot on hokey time-travel shtick. I couldn’t bear to read beyond 230 pages of the more than 800 in total. (May 20)

Short Story

Of many excellent ones read in the past year, the one that remains most vivid in memory is The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Daz. The irrepressible, in-your-face voice of his narrator makes you hang in with his tale and you find yourself beginning to feel some sympathy for a guy you might despise if you met him socially. (Aug 8)

 

Articles

Ian Parker’s The Story of a Suicide examines the terrible tragedy in which Tyler Clementi, a gay freshman, killed himself after his roommate posted on the web video of Tyler making out with another man. The most remarkable thing about the article – at least from my perspective – is that it shows how terribly complex the whole case is, and that it’s not as easy as some people think it should be to determine causes and assign blame. (Feb 11)

Transfiguration, a New Yorker article by Raffi Khatchadourian, describes the ordeal of Dallas Wiens, a man who received a complete face transplant after being electrocuted. The title of the article hints that it wasn’t just his appearance that changed. His character went from that of a somewhat truculent trouble-maker to a near saint. (Apr 6)

You might not have thought anything further could be written about the assassination of JFK but Robert A. Caro’s article Transition offers a fascinating look at the way Lyndon Johnson, in a matter of mere hours, metamorphosed from a more or less lame duck Vice-President to an imposing Commander in Chief. (Apr 6)

 

Humour

Paul Rudnick is my favourite writer of short humour pieces in The New Yorker (David Sedaris would be my fave when it comes to longer pieces) so it’s with great pleasure that I report that he’s at the top of his form in My Man, a hilariously sacrilegious riff on a news item about the finding of an ancient manuscript which suggested that Jesus might have been married. (Oct 24) Ian Frazier’s Cranial Fracking, narrated by a guy who has discovered inexhaustible deposits of natural gas in his brain, is a splendid example of how a subject gets funnier and funnier as the gruesome details are laid on in a totally deadpan style that manages to sneak in some sly touches of social satire. (Sept 28)

On the other hand, it’s sad to report that, on the evidence of Not A Creature Was Stirring, such a great humourist as Woody Allen, a man who has contributed so much to our society’s treasury of wit, can offer up a complete dud. (Sept 28)

 

Theatre

We didn’t see a lot of theatre this year, but the best production was unquestionably All In The Timing. (Feb 11) Admittedly, we have a family connection with a cast member, but that’s no reason for eliminating it from this listing. It was a delightfully crazy and inventive script performed with great panache and skill.

 

Art

I saw so much good art this year that it would be impossible to comb through my reviews of all the shows in order to pick out the many artists who deserve special mention. But one who comes immediately to mind, as a new discovery for me, is Teodora Pica (Nov 17). This artist has a distinctive voice that demands attention.

 

Music

Other than the production of La Traviata mentioned in my opening remarks, the musical high point of my year was my attendance at the first two rounds of the Montreal International Music Competition which, this year, featured singers. I disagreed with some of the jurors choices but nobody could begrudge the Canadian bass baritone, Philippe Sly, his first prize. It’s wonderful to see such a gifted young man – handsome and charismatic, with a great voice and tremendous stage presence – receive such recognition at the early age of twenty-three. I was disappointed that tenor Yuri Gorodetski, from Belarus, didn’t receive one of the top prizes. His passionate and seemingly effortless singing should have catapulted him to the first rank of the competitors; however, one can hope that the exposure in this competition gave his career a significant boost. An even greater disappointment – in fact an incomprehensible development – was that the marvellous Canadian soprano Jennifer Taverner didn’t make it to the finals. Not just her singing, but her whole performance and presentation were perfect in every one of her selections. (The MIMC is on a page of its own, listed in the navigation bar between June 28 and May 27.)

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com