Gents by Warwick Collins
This was the year I started to read (and write) blogs, one of which was Me and My Big Mouth. Scott Pack was kind enough to send me a copy of this slim novel and what a gem it turned out to be. The deceptively simple plot revolves around three West-Indian men working in a public toilet, but this is a novel which contains so much: Racial and sexual prejudice, relationships between and amongst the sexes and some of the most sharply observed dialogue I have ever read. So sharp in fact that when two actors approached Collins about turning this into a film they were surprised to find that he himself wasn't West-Indian.
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
I have felt at times that I was the only person in the UK who had read Johnson but I have since discovered a few who share my passion and this year saw the publication of his first novel in seven years. And what a novel. A vast Vietam war era epic with a huge cast of characters, huge themes and the National Book Award as reward for his efforts. It has its flaws but the ambition and scope are enough to put it right at the front of my mind when thinking back on this year. Hopefully it may introduce him to a wider readership.
Honourable mentions: The Devil's Footprints by John Burnside, Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont, Men In Space by Tom McCarthy
Not-book-of-the-year: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Sorry everyone, I don't get the fuss.
In Rainbows by Radiohead
Not only was this Radiohead's best music in years but the method of its release managed to cause a huge stir throughout the music industry. That has always been the potential power of this band and it was gratifying to see them wield it and get away with it. As for the album itslef Thom Yorke has said that they called it In Rainbows 'Because it was the desire to get somewhere that you're not'. After the protest of Hail To The Thief this was the sound of a far more positive band and a more personal approach lyrically from new Dad Thom.
Boxer by The National
The National are one of those bands whose adherents speak passionately about their music. 2005's Alligator was a real highlight that year and whilst Boxer felt similar at first it has revealed its subtleties over time. Matt Beringer's distinctive vocals lend the dramatic playing real gravitas. I saw them live at this years Latitude Festival and I'm sure they won some new fans that day.
Honourable mentions: The Reminder by Feist, Neon Bible by Arcade Fire, You Follow Me by Nina Nastasia and Jim White
Not-album-of-the-year: Myths Of The Near Future by The Klaxons. The Mercury jury triumph again.
I knew I hadn't been to the cinema much this year when it turned out that the two films I picked (Casino Royale- making Bond brilliant again and Apocalypto- a stunning, visceral experience) were actually released in 2006. Ooops.
Don't worry about whether this film is the revolution in film musicals some have called it just revel in its unabashed romanticism. It's rough around the edges and all the better for it and charts brilliantly and painfully what it feels like to fall in love.
Honourable mentions: The Lives of Others, Little Miss Sunshine.
As I have written here this was the year I did The Sopranos. All of it. In one go. Wow. One of the most enjoyable experiences in my life. Where on earth do I go from here?
I have found this year that the stuff on telly that's making me tune in is comedy. Another series of Curb Your Enthusiasm in the States showed Larry David having more fun than ever, Flight of The Conchords was a real surprise hit making me giggle like a child, The Mighty Boosh returned with their best series yet and Gavin and Stacey showed that British Comedy wasn't the oxymoron it used to be.
The return of Saturday night
The Family night-in returns better than ever. Doctor Who continued to re-capture the hearts of the nation and even showed some of the more subversive images on TV. Best of all however is Strictly Come Dancing. Now I'm not a huge fan of reality TV especially not the celebrity variety but Strictly combines charm, the learning of a real skill and the raising of money for charity into one gorgeous bundle. There is always something to talk about from Bruce's declining presenting skills and Tess's wardrobe to dubious scores and the voting of the great British public. Sometimes the dancing even gets a mention. Reading this blog about it all has made it even more entertaining.
Not-TV-of-the-year: X-factor. Just rubbish, in every way imaginable. Have you no self-respect?
I didn't see nearly enough theatre this year and what I did see tended to be disappointing. Ian Rickson's production of Pinter's The Hothouse was ok, Kwame Kwei-Armah's new play Statement of Regret was interesting but let down by a poor production and the biggest disappointment of all was Punchdrunk's Faust at Wapping. Yes, it looked stunning and was certainly an experience but as I wandered the huge warehouse with my mask on I felt I wasn't the only one wondering where the show was and if it wasn't all a bit 'emperor's new clothes'. Must try harder to get out to more next year (like that's easy with a new baby!)
Didn't do much art this year either but there was one piece you couldn't fail to see if you walked around London towards the end of the year. Anthony Gormley's sculptures watched over us all from various vantage points around the city and it was fascinating to spot new ones every now and then. The sensation was uncanny, almost like catching a possible suicide in progress or some kind of alien landing. Brilliant public art, I was sad to see them go.