Normally I wait and do my review of the year in January, but what the hey. These are my personal 'cultural' highlights for 2013.
Best book read
My friend Jo gave me Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck in our book group secret Santa last year, which I loved. It's an account of his road trip around America with his dog Charley. I learned a lot from it and laughed a lot at it. Thoroughly recommended. I've since read two more Steinbeck classics, including Cannery Row, which I found very engaging. It has a large number of true-to-life characters and felt very real, as it described life in the rough end of Monterey down with the hobos and whore-houses.
Other books of note: The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M Banks - the last Culture novel, following Banks's tragic early death from cancer. Not as good as Surface Detail, but I liked it. Trautmann's War by Catrine Clay was an interesting analysis of the rise of Nazism, told through the lens of Bert Trautmann, the Manchester City footballer who grew up in Germany in the 1930s.
Two great animated films came out this year, Monsters University and Frozen. Monsters U is a prequel to Monsters Inc, which I have loved since it came out a decade ago. I thought it was very clever and there were several curveballs throughout that I wasn't expecting. The ending was very mature as well, with the main characters having to live with the consequences of their actions, rather than a Hollywood 'all is forgiven' restorative ending. Frozen was excellent too, and probably edges it. Again, there is quite a mature ending around the definition of an act of true love. Plus one totally stand out song sung by a snowman brought to life by magic, which made me laugh out loud.
Other films of note: Philomena was a tough watch, but a very powerful story with interesting things to say about institutional religion and genuine forgiveness. Girl Most Likely was a quirky Indie offering with some great performances that had an emotional resonance.
I was fortunate to see my favourite band, The Tragically Hip, live twice in London in July. But the best gig I went to this year was seeing The Avett Brothers live in Manchester in February. we discovered the Avett Brothers in the most bizarre way - Cathy saw them on the TV show Ace of Cakes, listened to them on Spotify and we have subsequently bought most of their albums. They were excellent in concert, with a livelier, rockier feel than I was expecting.
Other music of note: On our summer holiday in Cornwall we went to the organ concert at Truro Cathedral. There was one piece, called Fiat Lux (Let there be light), which gave me synaesthesia - by which I mean when I closed my eyes I could 'see' lights and movement, as if the stars were appearing.
There has been only one show for me this year - Elementary. Johnny Lee Miller is brilliantly dark, comic, and tragic by turns, as Sherlock Holmes recovering from addiction in modern day New York. Lucy Liu is understated but never underplayed as his sidekick. The show can be slightly formulaic at times, but steers away from the worst of American drama clichés. Introducing Rhys Ifans as Mycroft Holmes in the second series has been a good move as well. It is the only show I make a point of trying to watch on the night its aired.
Other TV of note: I haven't watched much else, really. I found Doctor Who disappeared up its own backside too much this year, although the 50th anniversary special was good, but that's mainly because of John Hurt. The final IT Crowd episode was quite funny, but didn't really hit the heights of some of the early episodes.
Best place visited
There have been a few new places this year. I enjoyed going to both Truro and Wells Cathedrals. I also went with my friend Connor to the British Museum in-between Tragically Hip gigs, where we visited the Coins in the Bible exhibit, which I found fascinating. I learned where the term 'Widow's Mite' comes from. On our holiday in Cornwall we stayed in Flushing, near Falmouth and visited several places we had never been to before. The absolute highlight was visiting a lighthouse that was used as the external location for Fraggle Rock!
Best toy / model / collectible
The Boba Fett collection has expanded to over 50 figures now, and the Black Series 6" figure I bought just before Christmas is probably one of the nicest action figures I've ever bought. However, my toy of the year is the Lego VW Camper Van that Cathy and I bought and built on our wedding anniversary. It took us over six hours and the resulting model is a thing of beauty. I blogged about it here.
So, on the cusp of 2014, that's not a bad year, really.