I read it back in July, but I really need to highlight here just how much I enjoyed reading my old friend Matt Alt‘s fantastic deep-dive into Japanese pop culture of the decades following the end of the WW2. Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World is a ridiculously good read, and I found myself reading it in a couple of days because I couldn’t put it down. Each chapter focuses on a different topic (karaoke, anime, the Walkman, Hello Kitty, etc.), and it’s so satisfying to really dig into every single one of them in so much detail. I was expecting to enjoy more the chapters that touch on the 80s and later, but the context that you get from learning about what happened during those early post-war years — like the production of tin toys — was just so fascinating.
This is what you call a real page-turner, and sure, I’m of course partial to all things Japan and pop culture, but I can’t imagine someone not enjoying this.
At the start of last year I wrote a post about wanting to read more books. As I wrote at the time, although I do a lot of reading, when it comes to getting through books proper, that was something I found myself not doing much of anymore. So I gave myself a pretty ambitious goal of getting through a couple of books a month, which I also set in my Goodreads account. Did I make it? No, but I’m still quite happy at how many books I did read (11, about to finish a 12th one as the year ended), which for me not only made me feel good about doing what I set out to do, but more importantly, also got me back in a book reading groove.
I’ll also say that I probably would have gotten closer to my goal if I hadn’t hit a couple of books that slowed me down (and that I ended up putting down) in the summer, as it then took months to get back “on the wagon.”
So what’s my goal for 2020? I’ve set it to 18, which I think is very doable — it’s just 6 more than last year, and I’m already about to finish my 2nd book this year (L.E. Hall’s book about Katamari Damacy, following Ian Fleming’s Moonraker). I also think that my plan to mostly alternate between fiction and non-fiction worked well, and so I’ll probably continue to do that.
Below, a list of the books I read in 2019, with a short write-up.
Forever and a Day (Anthony Horowitz) This was the Bond novel I was reading as the year started, telling the story of a young Bond as he becomes a 00 agent, and it was quite a good read. As with other recent Bond novels, I like that they are set in the years that Fleming wrote the original Bond novels, instead of just a modern take (which I already get out of the film series).
Maigret et le corps sans tête (Georges Simenon) I quite like murder mysteries, and it’s a genre you’ll see me revisit a lot, but I had never read a Maigret novel, and so figured it was finally time to do so. I really enjoyed this, and I like that it’s a quick read, which was good for me while I was trying to get back into the habit of reading. I definitely plan on reading another one this year, if not more. I read it in French, but I’m sure there are English translations.
Peyo l’Enchanteur (Hugues Dayez) This is a biography of Peyo, the creator of the Smurfs, and I found it to be a fascinating chronicle of his life/career. I’m sure I’ve read pretty much all of the series he’s created, but I liked finding out more about the context of when these were created. Again, this was a book I read in French, and I don’t know if it’s available in English.
The Moai Island Puzzle (Alice Arisugawa) This is one of my wife’s favorite Japanese mystery authors (and one of her favorite novels), and I’ll say that I enjoyed it immensely as well. Highly recommended if you like “closed room” mysteries — and I also enjoy the strong meta feel of the book (lots of references to the genre). One of the best mystery novels I’ve read.
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Soji Shimada) Another Japanese mystery novel, by an author who marked a big shift in the genre in Japan at the start of the eighties (he writes a great intro for The Moai Island Puzzle, in which he talks about this shift). I read a French translation, but it’s also available in English. I enjoyed Moai more, but this is still a fantastic read, and a fascinating puzzle to get though.
Final Fantasy V (Chris Kohler) I quite like the Boss Fight Books series, and have already read quite a few of them (and as I mentioned earlier, I’m currently in the middle of the Katamari Damacy one). Chris is a great writer, and this is a fantastic look at a game I’ve never played, but a series I know of-so-well.
Good Luck Have Fun: The Rise of Esports (Roland Li) I read this around the time I took on my new role at Ubisoft, and found it to be a great read on how we’ve gotten to what we have now when it comes to the world of esports. A good read if you want to know more about competitive gaming, and the major players (not necessarily current major players, but the people who helped define the scene).
Live and Let Die (Ian Fleming) About a year ago I picked up what I think is the entire Bond series in paperback form through a sale (except for Casino Royale, which wasn’t available anymore), as I figured that it’s about time I read all of these books. Yes, as much a Bond fanatic that I am, that’s always been on the movie side, and I’ve only read a few of the books over the years. So I’m reading them in chronological order, with Live and Let Die being the second Bond novel. It’s of course quite different from what we got in the movie, and there is a lot of unfortunate vocabulary that is used that certainly hasn’t aged well, but I still found myself enjoying it.
The A.B.C. Murders (Agatha Christie) Even though I haven’t read many books in recent years, I have read a few Agatha Christie novels here and there, as I discovered that I quite enjoy them. I pretty much just jump around when it comes to the one I’ll read next, selecting the ones that are considered her best. This was indeed a great read, with a great ending.
This marks my tenth year doing this annual reflection on my favorite media of the year, which means you can also easily see what my favorite media through the decade was (see 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018). As always, this is a look at the media released in 2019 that I was able to consume this year that I enjoyed the most — it’s not a “best” list, and of course it doesn’t include all of the things that were released this year that I haven’t yet had a chance to check out, and that might have made the list if I did. Instead, take it as a big ol’ recommendation list of stuff that came out this past year that I liked, and so you might like it too. Each category kicks off with an alphabetical top 5, and then I include a few honorable mentions if there are other things I would like to highlight.
Favorite Games I feel like I don’t have as many games in this category as in past years, but I think this is also a reflection of me spending more time playing fewer games. That’s especially the case with Destiny 2 — I could have listed the Shadowkeep expansion to indicate a 2019 release, but instead, I’ve decided to include a “live” game for the first time in my year-end list, since that’s how I’m consuming it (playing through the seasons, etc.) Sayonara Wild Hearts is included here and not in mobile because the best experience of this game for me was through Apple TV with a controller. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe for me was such a revelation because it was the first time I played a Mario game completely in co-op (with two colleagues at work), and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a Mario game.
Destiny 2 (Stadia)
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch)
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch)
Sayonara Wild Hearts (Apple TV)
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
Honorable Mentions: Death Stranding (PS4), Far Cry New Dawn (PS4), Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch), Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch), Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 (PS4)
Favorite Mobile Games This is a category that comes and goes, as some years I see myself barely playing anything on mobile (and the stuff that I do play is usually on iPad, although my new iPhone XR has me enjoying playing games on a phone again). This year of course marked the introduction of Apple Arcade, and that got me back into playing mobile games in a big way. Below are my favorites so far, but there are still loads of games I haven’t had a chance to properly play yet.
Assemble with Care
LEGO Builder’s Journey
What the Golf?
Honorable Mentions: Card of Darkness, Guildlings, Rayman Mini, Sky: Children of the Light, Steven Universe: Unleash the Light, Tangle Tower, Yaga the Roleplaying Folktale
Favorite Board Games I introduced this category last year — following my re-entry into having a board game collection (after the purge I did when I left Japan) — and again, I include games from 2018 (that I didn’t include last year) and 2019, since I feel like board game releases are a bit of a slower thing, especially with the way Kickstarter is used.
Architects of the West Kingdom
Detective: LA Crimes
Magic: The Gathering
Honorable Mentions: Hokkaido, Raids, Tower of Madness
Favorite Movies Since I spend so much time watching older movies, I do tend to have more trouble coming up with movies that are new releases — and even for this list, six of the titles included I ended up watching over the past week, as I tried to play catch up with 2019 releases. As a bonus, I include my top 5 of movies released in 1989.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The Art of Self-Defence
Honorable Mentions: Alita: Battle Angel, Avengers: Endgame, John Wick 3: Parabellum, Joker, Klaus, Midsommar, Missing Link, Ready or Not, Us
Favorite Movies of 1989
Dead Poets Society
Do the Right Thing
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Patlabor: The Movie
Favorite TV No big surprise, but this year was again a fantastic one for TV. And yes, for the time I’m including a wrestling show — this year marked my return to wrestling fandom in a big way, thanks to the new AEW league, which is absolutely my favorite thing to watch on a weekly basis (and the only one of these shows I watch live).
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
What We Do in the Shadows
Honorable Mentions: Black Mirror, GameCenter-CX, Game of Thrones, Fleabag, Jack Ryan, John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, Killing Eve, Love Death + Robots, Patriot Act, Russian Doll, Saturday Night Live, Shameless, Star Trek Discovery, Stranger Things 3, The Boys, The Twilight Zone, The Umbrella Academy, The Witcher, Watchmen
Favorite Web Series This is another category I introduced in recent years, and this year I feel like my consumption of web shows/content really did explode. And yes, wrestling content takes up a lot of space, with both the AEW and NWA weekly web shows in my top 5, as well as the Being the Elite series, that I binged to completion this year as I played catch up, and then a couple of more channels I follow regularly included in the honorable mentions.
Favorite Music This is a really weird year in music for me. I did listen to a lot of new stuff, but I didn’t really spend a lot of time with most of those records, and so didn’t develop a lot of “loves.” I think it’s telling that according to Apple Music, my top 20 of most played tracks was entirely composed of hard bop — it’s definitely what I listened to the most this past year, and I continue to do so. And in the lead-up to my trip to Japan in November, I spent a month or two pretty much listening exclusively to my old Shibuya-kei favorites (Pizzicato Five, Cornelius, etc.) One of my new year resolutions is definitely to spend more time taking in new music.
Flamagra (Flying Lotus)
I Know You Like It (Shinichiro Yokota)
Reward (Cate Le Bon)
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (Billie Eilish)
Honorable Mentions: Beat Tape 09 (Eevee), Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police (Juliana Hatfield), Ladytron (Ladytron), Outer Peace (Toro y Moi)
Favorite Comics For the first time, I don’t include any honorable mentions in my comics list, and that’s telling. My interest in BDs (bandes-dessinées, or French comics) continues to eclipse my interest in comics, and I’ve seen my weekly reading list go down and down throughout the year. The absolute highpoint is Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X series, my favorite comics in years (at least since Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and Avengers). Dawn of X refers to all of the separate Hickman-curated titles that have launched in its wake (X-Men, New Mutants, X-Force, Excalibur, Fallen Angels, Marauders), which I’m not as enthusiastic about, but still find them to be quite enjoyable (most of them).
Dawn of X
House of X/Powers of X
Peter Cannon Thunderbolt
Silver Surfer: Black
Favorite BDs My rekindled love of BDs (as of last year, when I started going to my local library) continues, and has grown, with this year being easier to include a lot of 2019 releases — although there are still some late-year releases that I’m sure would be included here (like the new Thorgal and XIII) but that I haven’t read yet. I do spend more time reading older releases (reading through a series) than new ones though.
Amazonie – Épisode 4
La Jeunesse de Thorgal – La dent bleue (7)
Renaissance – Interzone (2)
Retour sur Aldébaran – Épisode 2
Stern – L’Ouest, le vrai (3)
Honorable Mentions: Alix Senator – Les Spectres de Rome (9), Carthago – Le Pacte du centenaire (9), Katanga – Dispersion (3), Lefranc – Lune Rouge (30), Soleil Froid – L’armée verte (3)
Favorite Podcasts My rekindled love of wrestling is also evident here (what can I say, I’m hooked), as is my rekindled interest (since the Ayrton Senna era in the 80s) for Formula 1 — ignited by the excellent Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive (which got me excited about watching races again).
Pop Culture Happy Hour
The Chris Van Vliet Show
Honorable Mentions: All Songs Considered, Monocle 24: The Stack, On Margins
Great, a post about resolutions, just what everyone needs.
Love ’em or hate ’em, the start of a new year is indeed the time to think about resolutions, things you’d like to try doing — or doing better — and for me it’s reading. Don’t get me wrong, I read constantly, but it’s usually limited to magazines, comics, bandes-dessinées, and tons of stuff on the web. I’ve been trying to get my book reading habit back up and running for years now, and it’s a constant struggle.
I don’t know when it happened exactly, but I lost the habit of reading books — whether fiction or non-fiction — a great many years ago, and even though I’ve started plenty (and I mean plenty), rare is the book that I’ve actually finish. I don’t know if it’s some sort of late blooming attention deficiency or what, but I have such a hard time sticking with books I start, and I don’t like it.
So, and this isn’t the first time I’ve kicked off a new year with this in mind, I’m trying develop a book reading habit, with the goal of getting through at least a couple of books a month — probably one fiction and one non-fiction. I’m including books that I started in the past and never finished, so I think it should be doable.
My current serving is made up of Forever and a Day (a new Bond novel by Anthony Horowitz that is set directly before Casino Royale, and sees Bond becoming a 00 agent ) for which I’m about halfway through now, Significant Zero, a games industry memoir that I started a while back and am now getting back to, and on the educational side, The Product Manager’s Survival Guide — my direct manager is a Product Manager, and so it’s to better understand what she deals with.
At the same time, I’m actively going through all those long reads that I have saved in Pocket, since for so long it’s almost felt like a graveyard — where articles go to die. I’ve been pretty good so far at clearing up things (either reading, filing as a bookmark elsewhere to reference later, or simply deleting).
Storybundle did a Haikasoru book bundle a while back that I bought (Haikasoru is Viz’s imprint for Japanese sci-fi novels), and this time it’s Humble Bundle with a differnt selection. I have a horrible track record when it comes to reading books (I spend too much time reading comics and magazines), but I’m still going to pick this up, and add it to my book pile of shame.
Craig recently shared a new essay that talks about the process he went through in putting out Koya Bound — as with all of his essays, it’s as informative as it is entertaining to read. I’d also point you to the latest edition of his Roden Explorers newsletter, in which he describes in detail what he experienced during a meditation retreat he attended earlier this year.
Although it was released a couple of years ago, I just came across Nicholas Hogg’s Tokyo novel, which appears to be quite good — I think I’ll pick it up. On the promotional site for the book, there’s also a great short video by Samuel Cockeday, a mesmerizing time-lapse of the city.
I find The Art Of Computer Designing: A Black and White Approach by Osamu Sato to be pretty fascinating. Released in 1993, it’s an intriguing look at ways to produce art on computers, by someone who has created pretty trippy games (Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong-Nou, LSD: Dream Emulator). Read more about Sato and the book here, and you can download the whole thing here, courtesy of Archive.org. Via Simon Carless.
My buddy Ian has just produced a new lovely little handbook called Cannibals, which he describes as “a handbook of dubious exercises, tips, and rants about becoming a designer how teaches.” I loved his Start Somewhere handbook, and am very much looking forward to reading this one.