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