I’ve been a huge fan of Rekka and Devine’s — better known as Hundred Rabbits — adventures sailing around the world over the past few years, following them through their various posts, tweets, and especially videos that they would share as they sailed from Vancouver, down the coast to Mexico, then to New Zealand, before reaching Japan and then back again. But despite all the following I was doing, it’s reading their book Busy Doing Nothing that gave me the best understanding of what they were actually experiencing and going through as they made those multi-week crossings. From the mind numbing to the fear-for-the-end-of-your-life, the book is an extended log of the 51 days it took them to sail from Japan back to Vancouver, and it’s a fantastic read. As much as I admire what they achieved, there’s no way in hell that I could put myself through something like that, but Busy Doing Nothing at least gave me an intimate look at what they had to endure, both physically and mentally. You can read the raw logs on their website, but I recommend picking up the digital book, as it expands on the entries, with additional info and details, as well as all of the recipes that kept them going through those long days and nights. I can’t recommend this enough.
At the start of 2019 I gave myself a goal to read more books (in an effort to rekindle my inner bookworm), and this past year saw a continued growth in the number of books I read, which makes me very happy. Following the 11 I read in 2019, I got through 16 this past year, which falls just short of the goal of 18 I had given myself, which is close enough for me. I did hit some dead spots throughout the year where I didn’t read any, and a few (like Ametora, Pure Invention, and Killing the Business) I ended up reading in 1-2 days. That said, I’m raising my goal for 2021 to 20 books, which I think is very doable, as long as I manage to be more consistent throughout the year — and I think the lesson here is to not feel bad about dropping a book if I’m not really enjoying it. Below, are a few thoughts on everything that I read in 2020, which again saw me mostly alternate between fiction and non-fiction.
Moonraker (Ian Fleming)
This past year I continued to make my way through all of Fleming’s Bond novels. Despite being a huge Bond fanatic, this obsession has always entered around the movies, and I’ve never actually read all of the books (some here and there, but I don’t really remember which ones). This was one of my favourites so far — and it’s nothing like the wacky Star Wars-inspired spacefest that we see in the movie adaptation.
Katamari Damacy (L.E. Hall)
I’m a big fan of the Boss Fight Books series — each one focuses on one game. I usually end up reading 1 or 2 each year, and this one was as enjoyable as they generally are — and it covered a game I’ve always loved. After reading this, I ended up with the multiple soundtracks of the game series on heavy rotation.
Agent Running in the Field (John le Carré)
Despite my love for Bond and spy fiction in general, surprisingly, this is the first novel by le Carré I read. I really enjoyed it, and although it may be weird to start by reading his final novel, it did make me want to go back and read more (which I will surely do in 2021).
Diamonds Are Forever (Ian Fleming)
This was the second Bond book I read this year, and I continue to read them in order of their release. Of all the Bond novels I’ve read so far, this one is maybe the one that feels the most like the movie, at least in terms of general structure.
Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World (Matt Alt)
I devoured this over a weekend, and you can read why in this post I wrote after.
Five Little Pigs (Agatha Christie)
Reading Agatha Christie novels is comfort food for me, I feel so comfortable in them. It’s usually my go-to when I hit a patch of not reading for a while, as I find it easy to get back in reading mode, and getting through one doesn’t take very long. This was quite enjoyable as well, and I loved the structure.
Annabel Scheme and the Adventure of the New Golden Gate (Robin Sloan)
This is more like a novella in terms of length — it’s a collection that was originally serialized in a newspaper. I quite like Sloan’s writing (including his newsletters), and this was as enjoyable as anything else I’ve read by him.
Magpie Murders (Anthony Horowitz)
So far the only Horowitz I had read was his Bond novels, but there was a lot of buzz around this, and so I decided to give it a try. I ended up quite liking it — even though one aspect bugged me in that it had me knowing that something was up, and so I was anxious to get to a point where more would be revealed. But yes, it’s a very smart murder mystery, and this year I plan on reading the sequel that was published last year.
The Monocle Book of Gentle Living
When I started this book reading quest in 2019, I told myself that I would just count regular books, and not something like this, which I guess falls more in the “coffee table book” category. But in the end, these Monocle books (I picked up a few this past year) are pretty text-heavy and take a while to get through, and so I felt like I should include them. And no, I don’t feel like this is cheating.
The Monocle Book of Japan
Of all the Monocle books I read this past year (the three included in this list, as well as another one that I’m not done reading yet), this was my absolute favorite. It’s a beautiful love letter to Japan, and it definitely made me feel incredibly homesick.
The Monocle Guide to Shops, Kiosks and Markets
I’ve always meant to buy the various books that Monocle has been putting out over the years, but never got around to it until recently. These are all beautiful publications, and I do intend on getting all of them eventually.
A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)
I don’t really read fantasy anymore, not since I was a kid, but I thought it might be interesting to read this, as it’s considered a classic. It was indeed an enjoyable read. Interestingly, after I was done I wasn’t really planning on reading any more in the series, but then I re-watched the Ghibli adaptation of the third book (Tales From Earthsea) and enjoyed it so much that it made me want to go and read more. I expect I’ll do that in 2021.
Young Bucks: Killing the Business From Backyards to the Big Leagues (Matt and Nick Jackson)
The Young Bucks are not only two of my favorite wrestlers (along with Kenny Omega), but they are also the reason I’ve become such a huge fan of pro wrestling over the past two years (through their “Being the Elite” web series and the role they played in the formation of All Elite Wrestling). I devoured this in a day, as I just couldn’t put it down.
Ready Player Two (Ernest Cline)
The first book has certainly been criticized a lot since it was originally published, but I remember having a really good time reading it, and so I was certainly willing to give the sequel a go. I enjoyed bits here and there (especially the sequence around John Hughes films) but overall it wasn’t as fun as I remembered the first one being, almost coming off as a parody of itself.
All Systems Red (Martha Wells)
This is a novella that I read over the last two days of the year, and found it to be pretty fun. I had heard good things about this “Murderbot” series, and so was curious to check it out — and I won’t lie, I wanted to try and get one more book in before the end of the year. I think I’ll probably read more in this series.
I’ll start off by saying that I’m completely embarrassed by the fact that it took until now for me to finally read my buddy David Marx’s Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style. I’m not quite sure why, I think it’s just one of those things that you keep meaning to do, and it slips through the cracks, and then you get to a point where you’re like, hey, I didn’t read this yet, what’s up with that?
With that out of the way, I just blasted through it over a couple of days (thank god for vacation time) as I couldn’t put it down. Just like my experience reading Matt Alt’s Pure Invention, I was just completely drawn into each chapter, which focus on various aspects of David’s thesis on how Japan absorbed American fashion styles, and ended up guiding it. Not only is it fascinating to see how all of this develops in the postwar era, but also how it links up to a lot of the companies and brands anyone who has spent time in Japan will be very familiar with.
One aspect I also loved is that the influential role magazines played in the development and evolution of these styles means that he spends a lot of space writing about how these magazines came to be and how their editorial direction evolved and grew — properly framing the “catalog” style of reportage any Japanese magazine addict is very familiar with. To be honest, my wish now is for David to do a book that focuses on the world of Japanese magazine publishing.
If you have any interest in contemporary Japanese culture — and of course fashion (but I don’t even think that’s necessary, as I’m not a particularly fashion-oriented guy) — then I can’t recommend this enough. Whatever next he’s working on can’t come out soon enough — and you should of course pick up the first issue of NJP magazine (if it’s still available).
The funniest thing though is that reading this has actually made me want to pay a bit more attention to what I wear (beyond my typical t-shirt and black jeans uniform).
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).
Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games (Walt Williams)
This was quite an enjoyable — despite the frustrating situations that come up throughout — and definitely gives you a good idea of how things are done (or can be done) in the games industry. Sure, it’s not always like this, but I definitely found myself understanding what the author was going through.
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.
Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate (Zoe Quinn)
This is a story that most people who work in or follow the games industry knows about, but I found it good to really dig into all of the details of what happened, as well as the timeline.
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.
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
- Gorus Maximus
- Magic: The Gathering
Honorable Mentions: Hokkaido, Raids, Tower of Madness
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
- The Irishman
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
- Mystery Train
- Patlabor: The Movie
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).
- AEW Dynamite
- Formula 1: Drive to Survive
- The Mandalorian
- 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.
Honorable Mentions: Abby Dearest, Archipel (channel), Chris Van Vliet (channel), Formula 1 (channel), Hundred Rabbits, Noclip, The Inside Line, WhatCulture Wrestling (channel), Yoiko no Maru Maru de Maru Maru Seikatsu
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)
- Hyperspace (Beck)
- 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)
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
- Superman/Action Comics
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)
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).
- 8-4 Play
- Pop Culture Happy Hour
- The Chris Van Vliet Show
- WhatCulture Wrestling
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).
So here’s to a better year of reading.
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.