The White Book (of the Year)

Can I be honest? Up to December, things were looking quite bleak for a possible winner of Book of the Year 2017. It wasn’t because I’d read less: Goodreads, a site to keep track of your reading history, told me I’d read more than in most years of this decade. Still, not much jumped out – most books had been awarded three or four stars, so my taste hadn’t gone off either.

Before announcing the winner – not a real surprise given the picture on the left (yes, I found a way to add new pictures) or the title of this piece – let’s briefly mention the runners-up. The Familiar by Mark Z. Danielewski is a book project of 27 volumes (hopefully) and last year volumes 4 and 5 were released. To be honest, Hades wasn’t my favourite book in the series, but volume 5 (Redwood) reads a lot faster than youd’d expect from the 880 pages of each volume has. A reading experience with a unique look, the book is experimental in look and lay-out, The Familiar is not as tough a read as some might expect.

Honourable mention n°2 is It’s not me, it’s you by Stephanie Kate Strohm. Highly enjoyable! Student Avery Dennis has to do an oral history project about something that happened in modern history and interview some eyewitnesses. Avery has a peculiar pick: recently dumped by her boyfriend just before the prom, Avery decides to find out why she can’t keep her boyfriends (even though she’s usually the one to end the relationships). And so she decides that her project should be about her dating history. What makes Strohm’s book such fun, is the way it’s written: like a word per word account, a tapescript occasionally interrupted by an author’s note in italics (the author being Avery and not Ms. Strohm, as you clever readers would’ve understood without this bracketed addition, without any doubt). Sure, the plot is quite obvious (the prom problems will get solved and near the end Avery will understand that geeky friend who’s accompanying her all the time is boyfriend material), but it’s the way to the climax that makes It’s not me… such a nice read. Trouble is, when looking at the author’s biography, we found another novel written in the same style (of tapescripts with notes) and that made us enjoy this book just a bit less.

But once December reared its murky head, along came a book that did tick the buttons: four stars, but also somewhat different from the rest. And that is how Han Kang‘s The White Book earned the award of book of the year.

To begin with, it’s not easy to categorize the book. The texts look more like poems than a novel, but poems, they are not. Perhaps, the best description would be musings. A collection of musings. Which is how the book starts: the narrator lists a series of white things. Objects or events that she links to the colour white. From sugar cubes to the bandages wrapped around a newborn child.

Later in the book, we discover the baby connection is not that random and that the narrator tells the story of an older sister, who only spent a couple of hours on this planet and of her mother, who was desperate to keep the baby alive. Had it not been for the death of this infant and another baby that didn’t survive, she would never have been born, Kang tells us. And thus the book tells us of the fate of this older sister, while at the same time being a dialogue with the unlucky baby.

The White Book isn’t told chronologically and the story is occasionally interrupted by pictures (see left – picture by Connor). The musings are brief, often less than a page. And because the next story always begins on the right side of the book, there is a lot of white in the book. (Hence the link some people make with poetry.) And while that slows down your reading, it also makes you savour the text more. Makes you think about the colour white and the many associations.

Han Kang won the Booker Prize in 2016 with The Vegetarian. This book is quite different from that award-winning book or Human Acts, but that is what makes it stand out. We have read and bought a lot of literature, poetry and books about poetry, but we didn’t have a book like The White Book. Another gap filled and, because of that, another award given. Book of 2017 is Han Kang’s The white book.

And if you excuse us, we have lots of Black Mirror and movies to catch up on.

Film 2011… and the winner is…

Nothing left of 2011 but a couple of memories and some of them included movies. In a year where I wasn’t able to catch a lot of films selecting a Top 10 is without a doubt an even more subjective affair than in ‘regular’ years, but does that stop us? Of course not. The idea that we might not have even watched two dozens of recent movies proved wrong when compiling the list (however, what does it say if you can’t recall what you’ve just seen?). Choosing a winner proved to be a piece of cake, it’s the rest of the top 10 that was trickier to rank. Some serious shoehorning later, this is the result:

And the winner is… oh yeah, you already know. “Because Jennifer Lawrence, Ree in the movie, has a doe-like quality that […] wonderfully clashes with the toughness of her character and the film’s setting. They say nature can be relentless… well, so are the people who have to live in the woods. The movie is also excellently shot and almost every scene where the nature settings are present are small tableaus, but one where beneath the soft blowing of the wind danger seems to loom.” Full review: here

Ultimately, what at the time seemed a flaw, has won us over. This may not have been the most logical film by the Dardennes, but life isn’t always easy to explain. For no apparent reason whatsoever, a woman takes a boy into her custody. Add some small time crooks and a huge amount of personal problems and you’ve got yourself a movie that is almost poignant as Rosetta, but easier to watch. (Original review here)

Which movie should become the runner-up, CSL or Gamin? That was the hardest decision of this top 10, but this one finally bowed its head. Because for some reason a lot of movies with Ryan Gosling popped up in 2011? Because this blog shares a nationality with the Dardenne brothers? Possibly and no. Because the period at the end of the title is getting on our nerves? Perhaps… (welcome to the only blog where interpunction may cost you a spot) Fact is that this is one of the very few recent comedies that has no problem standing in the same pantheon as classic screwball comedies. And it would be a couples of bridges too far to rank Emma Stone‘s comment on Gosling’s six-pack (“Seriously, that’s not photoshopped?”) next to “Because I just went gay all of a sudden”, but it is one of the few movies that manages to pull off two climaxes, one of which is a teary-eyed Hollywood cliché book, but one with a nice twist at the end. (Full review)

How to take revenge at the school kids who’ve killed your daughter? Well, if you’re a teacher, it’s easy: confess you’ve spiked their milk with HIV-positive blood and enjoy the aftermath. Includes beautiful slow motion scenes and a couple of twists. A burning look at the human condition until the very end. Read more about it here.

The mid-section of this top 10 is very much the cheeriest thing you’ll have read: if you’re not pleased with mentally torturing the murderers of your child, you may want to watch how a relationship dissolves. Blue Valentine might have ended up higher in the list, but the interweaving of how the relationship ends and the happier times didn’t grip us as much as it should have done. Starring Michelle Williams and a debuting actor called (wait, we’re looking this up) Ryan Gosling.

And what if we could tie the death of a relationship to the end of the world? Step forward Lars von Trier and Kirsten Dunst. There was something about a press conference on this film at some film festival where someone said something that didn’t really go down well with the rest of the world, but we forgot the details. Meanwhile, the mysterious 19th hole (a.k.a. the part where reality doesn’t make sense or ceases to exist) as well as the review itself were the most read and sought after items at the Avenue. We’ve already mentioned that this featured Dunst in great form, but we shouldn’t forget that the slow motion prequel to the movie were extremely beautiful to watch. Not the best film of the year, but the one with the most beautiful shots. (Full review: here)

More relationship joy? Polanski’s play on film ended up on the seventh spot. Why not higher? “Because the film was written by Yasmina Reza and it was based on her play Le Dieu de Carnage. And this film is very much a film version of a play. Is that bad? No, but throughout the film I wanted to see the reactions of the other people while someone was having a dialogue or monologue and here – by definition as it’s a film (unless you count experiments like Timecode by Figgis) – you’re bound to watch what’s happening through the vision of the director.” (Original review)

We really should take some happy pills: more psychological destruction, but this time it’s self-inflicted. You all know about this Darren Aronofsky film starring Natalie Portman, so why bother with a lengthy review? Let’s just say this wasn’t as fulfulling as we’d hoped, but while this wasn’t the case, it didn’t disappoint enough to keep it out of the top 10.

School outcasts, a mysterious disappearance, the nineties and a soundtrack by Sonic Youth. “Cult fans (especially those who’ve watched a giallo or two) will not be surprised that it isn’t always the most likely suspect who’s responsible for a (possible) crime. If that worries you, Simon Werner says more about you than about the 1990s. There’s lots of gossiping in the film and eccentric or asocial characters are just ready to be served as scapegoats. (Just like Alice seems born for the role of femme fatale.) And that is the true story behind Simon Werner’s disappearance. A simple whodunit, this is not. Good movie, good soundtrack and a fair bit of nostalgia for the previous century. Are we content? Yes, we are.” (Read more here)

After fifteen minutes you find out the couple that has just moved in don’t have a boy and a girl, but two girls. Gender confusion galore as Laure (Zoé Héran) pretends to be Michaël. Things don’t improve when Lisa falls in love with “him” and after a fight Laure’s mother thinks the best option to show everyone Michaël doesn’t exist is by forcing Laure into a dress. The second movie written and directed by Céline Sciamma, whose Naissance des pieuvres (Water Lilies) we still fondly remember.

Ten movies and between four to six to remember. Probably more, but time wasn’t on our hands, so for now, we’ll have to do with just the reputation of Rundskop, Never Let Me Go and The Artist. Maybe next year?

Two movies that didn’t make it into the top 10, but deserve a mention:
Easy A
The Ides of March

Winter’s Bone

If you’re the sort of person who thinks a top 10 focuses too much on the number 1 and not enough on numbers 2 to 10, then you’re in luck. This year the Avenue reveals the number 1 one post before the rest of the Top 10 and the winner is… Winter’s Bone. No surprise (because we already revealed that in the title) and quite possibly a surprise because it might have been a 2010 film in your country. Not in Belgium though (release date: 19 Jan 2011) and since that’s where this blog is coming from, it’s a 2011 movie.

And it’s by Debra Granik, whom we’d never heard of. Not that amazing, given that this is only her second feature-length movie. In Winter’s Bone we follow 17-year-old Ree on her trail for her lost dad. Either the man shows up for his parole or Ree’s family may end up evicted. Given that the family exists of Ree, her two younger siblings and her sick mother, that isn’t much of an option. Soon it becomes clear that those who might know where her father is don’t feel like sharing information. Not too bad because Ree is a tough cookie. Bad because the neighbourhood is at least equally tough.

So why did this get Film of the Year? Because Jennifer Lawrence, Ree in the movie, has a doe-like quality that not only works magically with the Dutch language (the Dutch word for “doe” is “ree”) but also wonderfully clashes with the toughness of her character and the film’s setting. They say nature can be relentless… well, so are the people who have to live in the woods. The movie is also excellently shot and almost every scene where the nature settings are present are small tableaus, but one where beneath the soft blowing of the wind danger seems to loom. And this time we’re not talking about bears. Talking just causes witnesses, the tagline explains and that is very much true: the voluntary silence seems to become the actual protagonist of the film and it’s nearly as lethal as a gun. Occasionally unpleasant to watch, but never below good, the best film of 2011 is: Winter’s Bone.

Best of 2011: part one – the book

It’s 3 January and time for a bonus update. Not only that but also a chance for me to wish all of you a wonderful 2012: Happy New Year! Back to business: it’s the annual tradition of picking your favourites and the Avenue will tell you which were the best liked books, films and music of the year. Today: part 1.

Picking a book of 2011 sounds like an odd thing. Alright, several years ago I was studying literature at the university, so it wasn’t that exceptional I managed to read 108 books in 12 months (my record, so far). 2011 was a bit of an abysmal year compared to that: I clocked off on a tenth of that number (didn’t manage to complete that 11th book). Worse even, my book of the year is one I glanced through but didn’t get the time to read in full (yet – yes, 2012, you know what’s in store), but I’ve decided to label this as my Book of the Year 2011 for two reasons: 1) none of the read books jumped out anyway and 2) I’m already looking forward to reading the rest of this book and I know I’ll like it.

In an earlier post (In time) I already mentioned the British satirical magazine Private Eye existed 50 years. One of their writers made a wonderful book about it and the best reason not to have this on your coffee table is that the thing might collapse. The book is far more than some of the other Private Eye book publications, which were sometimes nothing more than a “best of”. This book features a lot of covers and jokes which were published in the magazine as well as give a detailed A to Z of the past 50 years. The book is stylish and informative and even if you haven’t heard of the magazine (or are not a big fan) you’ll like reading the book – unless you’re Piers Moron.

Furthermore, in a year that was so warped, a satirical non-fiction book might be the most deserving of our crown Book of the Year. Especially in the UK, where superinjunctions and the phone-hacking scandals domineered the headlines, 2011 was very much a year of the press anyway.

So Private Eye: the first 50 years – an A-Z by Adam MacQueen is our book of the year and here’s the writer himself on Canadian television to tell you more about it:

Next up: the movies of the year and you’ll read more about those on 10/01.

Best of 2010 (part 2)

Regular readers of this blog may remember that earlier in the year a severe virus destroyed both my computer as well as my laptop in just under ten hours. At that point the Democratische 99, my annual “best of” for music, was nearly finished.
It took over four months to get my computers working again (on Linux) and there was a non-official list (compiled by the songs that were played on Radio Kurtodrome), so this site decided that compiling a list based on all the rough material would be too much work. This makes 2010 the second year without a definite D99. Given that the first list was compiled in 1994, that’s saying something.

Anyway, had there been a list, who would have made it to the top? This weekend we look at the five tracks that would have made it to the top…

Continue reading

Best of 2010 (part 1)

2010 is almost over – I literally hear the sound of fireworks being tested for tonight – so high time for the first of my lists. Today we’ll take a look at my Book of the Year and Best of Radio Kurtodrome 2010.

Book(s) of the Year 2010

This year two books stood out and, luckily for me, one was in Dutch and one in English. As most of you aren’t fluent in Dutch – wat wordt bewezen met dit onbegrijpelijk stukje – there’s hardly any point in doing more than briefly mentioning Het Konijn op de Maan, the latest novel by Belgian author Paul Mennes. Mennes was somewhat of a Flemish counterpart in the 90s, before going on a long sabbatical. It took him eight years to finish his next novel. His latest offering, Het Konijn op de Maan (The Rabbit on the Moon), is a sequel which stands on its own. Belgian Samuel Penn moves to Tokyo with his girlfriend Miduki and feels very much like E.T. on Earth. The Japanese seem to have incomprehensible habits, an obsession with “Engrish” T-shirts and rabbits. Phone home?

Next up and very much English, it’s The Hell of it All by Charlie Brooker. In his typical acerbic style, Brooker collected his Guardian columns. As he did with his earlier books, he doesn’t avoid adding columns where time proved him wrong, adding an italic post script stating he was wrong (or how something vitally important like Big Brother ended).
Brooker has grown older, which doesn’t mean softer, but less puerile. He also moved from writing only tv columns to columns on television and the rest of the world, which allows The Hell of it All to be more resistent to time than Dawn of the Dumb or Screen Burn were.

Both Brooker and Mennes walk away with 8 out of 10. (And yes, The Hell of it All was published in 2009, but for books it doesn’t seem to be such a problem to pick a book that’s been out for more than 12 months. Also, my diet of reading one or two columns before bedtime made me finish the book only this year. And if you still think that’s cheating, learn Dutch and read Paul Mennes.)

Best of Radio Kurtodrome 2010

Onwards and upwards, time for music. Part one, that is. This is not my annual Best Of list. That’s still to come (due to many deadlines: probably in two weeks’ time). This is what happens if you take all the most played tracks of my radio station (every week I compiled a top 50) and add up all the scores. Older songs and newer songs back to back, this is what the audience liked most from July to December.

2 THE AMERICAN ANALOG SET – Come home, baby Julie, come home
3 KRAUSE – Soaring through the starlight
4 THE KNIFE – We share our mother’s health
5 BLONDE REDHEAD – Not Getting There
7 CRYSTAL CASTLES – Not in love (ft. R. Smith)
8 MASHA QRELLA – I want you to know
9 MOMMY AND DADDY – The Meeting
10 TOM TOM CLUB – Wordy Rappinghood
11 ZERO 7 – Distractions
12 FEVER RAY – Dry and dusty
14 SUFJAN STEVENS – Heirloom
15 IDA MARIA – I like you so much better when you’re naked
16 STEREOLAB – Miss Modular
17 DANGER MOUSE & SPARKLEHORSE – Little Girl (ft. Julian Casablancas)
18 FEVER RAY – Mercy Street
19 THE NOTWIST – Consequence
20 MEMORY CASSETTE – Asleep at a party
22 COCOROSIE – South 2nd
23 LALI PUNA – Move on
24 BELLE AND SEBASTIAN – Lazy Line Painter Jane
25 UNDER BYEN – Den Her Sang Handler Om At Få Det Bedste Ud Af Det
26 HOLY FUCK – Lovely Allen
27 UNDER BYEN – Det er mig der holder traerne sammen
28 THROWING MUSES – Counting Backwards
29 SOAP&SKIN – Marche Funèbre
30 DUM DUM GIRLS – Jail la la
31 ARCTIC MONKEYS – Leave Before The Lights Are Out
32 LYKKE LI – Get some
33 LITTLE BOOTS – Meddle (tenori-on version)
34 SOLEX – Low Kick and Hard Bop
35 HARRY’S GYM – Old Man
36 CAMILLE – Home is where it hurts
37 LOGH – Yellow lights mean slow down
38 COCOROSIE – Rainbowarriors
39 SILJE NES – The card house
40 KATE NASH – Caroline’s a victim (Tapedeck Revised Remix)
41 MORCHEEBA / KURT WAGNER – What New York couples fight about
42 WOODBINE – Neskwik (radio edit)
43 SOUTH SAN GABRIEL – Smelling Medicinal
44 CIBO MATTO – Know your chicken
45 LALI PUNA – Micronomic
46 ENON – Disposable parts
47 GIRLS AGAINST BOYS – Disco six six six
48 THE RAVEONETTES – Love in a trashcan
49 SMOOSH – Make it through

(For this list, artists were limited to only their two best tracks. If this hadn’t been the case, “Obsessions” by Marina and the Diamonds and “Here Sometimes” by Blonde Redhead would’ve been in the list as well – occupying spots 18 and 31)

Listen to the top 30 on Radio Kurtodrome (all times CET):
Tuesday 4 January, 17.00-19.00
Thursday 6 January 21.00-23.00
Friday 7 January, 02.30-04.30
The Top 30 tracks are also added to the playlist, which loops at random in between shows.

Democratische 99 (2009)

We interrupt the regular programming to alert you to the Democratische 99, the annual music list by the Kurtodrome site. The 99 best songs of 2009 aren’t just posted, links have been found for all the songs in the list. That’s one download and 98 links to YouTube. And as you can see from this glorious picture, it’s Marina and the Diamonds who reigns supremely.

All there is for me to say is: here’s the list!

Let The Right One In

Hello and welcome to 2010! On this very first day of the year it’s custom to do two things, pondering about the future (all the best from me and the others behind DV) and looking back at the year we’ve survived. If the media reviews are anything to go by, 2009 was pretty gloomy. Maybe the Mexican flu was even the jolliest thing of the year. Looking back at my film top 10 of 2009 (the list appears next Monday), two things became apparent: on the one hand 2009 was the year Sweden boomed (three films in the top five), on the other hand young girls were not always what they seemed. One film combined both factors and is my deserved number one: Let The Right One In.

Yes, it may surprise you, but this is the first review of this film here at DV, despite appearing in most of our lists. I can’t vouch for the others, but I had the wicked plan to save the best for last. And no, nothing seemed a better number one than this one. True, it is overhyped, but it’s a great film that does deserve the attention. It even managed – and this is quite rare – to be liked by people who generally don’t like horror, which is quite an achievement. Even the Lord of the Rings trilogy (excellently directed by Peter Jackson) still struggles from convincing people who hate sci-fi, fantasy and horror to watch it. For some reason, Let The Right One In manages to fill the gaps.

The film introduces us to Oskar, a young boy who’s bullied by a couple of classmates. In his anger, he takes a knife and stabs a tree, imagining the tree is the bully. He’s observed doing this by a young girl, who’s just moved in next to Oskar’s mother. The girl is Eli, possibly even more of a loner than Oskar and adamant Oskar won’t be allowed to become her boyfriend. Eli has a good reason for that, as we’ll find out later in the movie.

Actually, I don’t know why I’m still hiding the plot of one of the most talked about movies of 2009, but at least we’re still sticking by the rules. So why is this a horror movie? Well, it’s actually a good point: despite involving vampires and the occasional spontaneous combustion, Låt den rätte komma in (to use its original title for once) adds as much drama to the film as there are horror elements. It looks as if this film was the breakthrough film for director Tomas Alfredson (°1965), whose next project will include Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman (whose botox overdoses have made her a horror genre of her own). And even though Kåre Hedebrant was quite convincing as the badly plagued Oskar, there’s no denying Lina Leandersson makes quite the startling debut as Eli.

Above all (and this does perhaps explain why it’s so popular) Let The Right One In chooses beauty above gore, a more uncommon approach. The film benefits from its snowy environment, but even in the other scenes the director paid a lot of care to how the movie would look on screen. Gore is there, but hardly ever is it emphasized (quite a welcome exchange to the thousands of recent horror movies which believe they’ll be so much better because they use gallons of fake blood).

So there you have it… people who didn’t like horror already had their vampire film to cherish (Twilight, starring the allegedly yummy Robert Pattinson), but now there’s a horror film horror fans can show to horror haters: the name is Let The Right One In and it’s my n°1 of 2009.

Death in Vegas – Dirge

A couple of days ago, I posted a compilation of my favourite songs of the past fifteen years. The best song of 2000 was Dirge by Death in Vegas, which saw its reputation grow as the naughties progressed. Most people know it from being used in the Last House on the Left remake, but it’s also a song that inspired a couple of people to make their own video to. This one, made by giampib73, features a lot of clips from classic movies. Six minutes of classic heroines, here is my Christmas treat for you.