With 2011 now hurtling to a close, I’m finding myself increasingly thinking back on the year that was. All the New Year’s resolutions I didn’t keep (write a diary, wear less black, look up ‘pulchritude’), the various skills acquired (baking kanelbullar, learning how to pronounce Colm Tóibín, managing my chronic fear of shop assistants), the books I read (never enough), the films I saw (too many) and the other various, wondrous things that occurred in my life.
And because I’m something of an oversharer, here are some of the cultural highlights of my year. With Oprah out of the way (bless), it’s time for Hannah’s Favourite Things of 2011. Cue the hysteria.
On the Telly
In recent years I have acquired a Welsh-and-Irish family, who, besides teaching me to ridicule the English and imbibe vast quantities of lager, have introduced me to bacon butties with brown sauce; words such as ‘mewlin’ (disgusting, gross), ‘cwtch’ (a cuddle, cosy – as in ‘I’m all cwtched up’) and ‘lush’ (delicious, cute, wonderful); pickle-flavoured Monster Munch; and the glories of UK television.
Thanks to my Welsh cohorts, the internet and DVDs posted by relatives still stranded in Old Blighty, I’ve been introduced to the comic genius of Gavin and Stacey, the slapstick of Miranda, the oh-so-wrong-yet-brilliant twattish group of teenage boys in The Inbetweeners, the deft wit of Graham Norton, the skilfully-written spookfest that is The Fades and the misadventures of Father Adam in Rev. Many of these shows have been around for a few years, but most premiered here only this year, and some have not yet even reached our southern screens. For anyone who is already a fan of Skins, The Office, Extras and any number of fantastically addictive UK series, I urge you to seek out these ‘newbies’.
In the past she’s been primarily thought of as Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live sidekick – the Hillary Clinton to Fey’s Sarah Palin – but since 2009, with the release of Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler is getting a lot more recognition for her comic ingenuity. And rightly so. The NBC series follows the endearingly optimistic mid-level bureaucrat Leslie Knope (Poehler), as she battles red tape and local-government apathy in her attempts to make a difference. Unsophisticated, trusting and prone to getting herself into ridiculous situations (fighting for the rights of gay penguins, losing a miniature pony, shooting her boss), Leslie is one of the most appealing comic characters to have come out of the US in recent years. Season four, which premiered in 2011, was the best yet.
On the Radio
I am a long-time admirer of this shy songbird from England. I wrote much of my novel manuscript with her second album, I Speak Because I Can, on repeat in the background, both for its absorbing melancholy and for its lyricism, which I hoped to similarly absorb and transfer to the page. 2011 saw the release of her third album (three albums and she’s only 21 years old!), A Creature I Don’t Know. While less reminiscent of the dark nights of the soul, cups of tea, anxious lovers and Hardy-esque scenes of pastoral idyll featured in her previous work, A Creature is exquisitely crafted, and full of the haunting lyrical genius Marling fans love her for.
2011 was also a good year for Marling’s nu-folk ex, Charlie Fink, and his band Noah & The Whale, whose third album Last Night on Earth was released to great acclaim. Other recent albums that have been getting a lot of airtime in my house include Florence + the Machine’s Ceremonials (particularly good for those times when you want nothing more than to run around a paddock in chiffon and lace), Boy and Bear’s Moonfire, Adele’s 21 (I dare you to watch this and not be moved), Bon Iver’s self-titled album and Example’s dubstep Playing in the Shadows (surprisingly suitable for domestic chores).
On the Shelf
It’s a wonderful thing when you discover a writer whose work enchants you so much that you are immediately compelled to read everything they have ever written. Earlier this year I read US author Ron Rash’s novel Out of Eden in preparation for a Kill Your Darlings interview (Rash later contributed a short story to Issue Seven of KYD), and was so impressed by the precision and beauty of his prose that I then read all of his other books one after the other. Then, significantly, I gave his books to my friends and family to read. For someone who has nightmares about beloved books being lent and never returned, this is truly an indication of how highly I value Rash’s work – my desire that others read and love his writing overrode my fear of the novels being lost, or returned with spines so badly cracked they look like they’d been a chiropractor’s guinea pig.
I first encountered UK author Jill Dawson when I read her novel Fred and Edie (2000) for my PhD research. Fred and Edie took the real-life story of Edith Thompson, who was hanged in 1923 in Holloway Prison for her role in the murder of her husband, Percy, and treated it with such insight, imagination and pathos that I was immediately hooked. It remains one of the few books that have made me weep in public (I finished it on a train).
This year I also read Dawson’s The Great Lover (2009), a beautifully rendered representation of the life of poet Rupert Brooke; and her newest and seventh novel, Lucky Bunny (2011), a romping tale narrated by Queenie Dove, a fictional East-End thief, which touches on everything from the Bethnal Green tube station disaster of 1943 to the shady Soho nightlife of mid-twentieth century London. Queenie’s voice is one of the most compelling I’ve encountered all year; its authenticity is testament to Dawson’s prowess as a novelist.
… and others
At the beginning of each year I promise myself that I will read at least a book a week, and each year I fail. This year I read approximately thirty-five novels, some of which were classics I ought to have read a long time ago (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Middlemarch, Moll Flanders); others were damn fine debuts (Amy T Matthew’s End of the Night Girl, Rohan Wilson’s The Roving Party, Kalinda Ashton’s The Danger Game, Bernie McGill’s The Butterfly Cabinet), while yet others were horrible works I should never have even considered reading (Skins: The Novel – just don’t … ). There were also a variety of books I picked up when I should have been doing work (Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, Jay Griffith’s Love Letter from a Stray Moon).
My bookshelf is still crowded with unread novels, my bedside table stacked with half-read tomes pocked with dog-ears and bookmarks, and I know that despite my best intentions, I won’t get to half of them in the new year. But never mind. Half the fun is knowing that they’re there, waiting for me, once I’ve finished chortling at YouTube clips of Leslie Knope.
Hannah Kent is Deputy Editor of Kill Your Darlings.