In 2017, I read 77 books, watched 49 movies, as well as another 44 documentaries. Good to know that I am doing something with my life. The full list is provided below but, first, a few comments about my favourites.
In terms of books, I think my top picks from this year are a pair of feminist critical texts: Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Sylvia Federici and Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne. Taken alone, each text is phenomenal and full of clarifying insights that will profoundly shape how I view the world going forward from reading them and, taken together, the books present an overwhelmingly compelling case as to why we need feminist critical work to help us understand not only how we got here but where exactly we are now.
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson is another book that provides critical insight for understanding and engaging our present context. Since becoming a father and becoming divorced, I have been paying a lot of attention to the anger that I had in my life but, beyond myself, I think (and Anderson shows) anger is a hugely important force in contemporary political and socioeconomic arrangements. And this current manifestation is a curious species of anger — one that is, essentially, a response of oppressors to the revelation of the structures of oppression. I plan to spend more time reading on this subject matter next year. I’m beginning to think that the white and male addiction to anger is the most destructive addiction of all.
In terms of fiction, I was very happy to discover Clarice Lispector this year and The Passion According to G. H. stands out as one of the best novels I read in 2017. However, it must surrender pride of place to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series which, I believe, is one of the best novels ever written. I also continued to consistently and very highly enjoy the writings of Maggie Nelson, László Krasznahorkai, and W. G. Sebald (I was wondering when I was going to get around to mentioning male authors). I read Sebald especially obsessively, essentially working through everything available by him in English, and thanks to Sebald, I discovered Robert Walser, who looks like a potential new favourite. I also had fun giving poetry another shot this year and am learning how to take some things less seriously and just laugh and have fun while reading. This was an happy and unlooked for gift that came to me when I first cracked open Heine and then Auden, although Eliot floored me in an entirely different way and a few of his poems are some of the best things I’ve ever read.
The continental philosophy I read this year, and I didn’t read too much, which was a surprise given how I much of it I was reading coming into 2017, left me feeling pretty ho-hum and a bit bored of the whole scene. I also read much less Indigenous studies this year than previous years although this didn’t happen on purpose and, really, much of my study on this subject matter was heavily focused on an independent research project related to the Mohawk Institute, Canada’s oldest and longest running Indian Residential School, which I visited twice in 2017. Natasha Graham’s book, The Mush Hole: Life at Two Indian Residential Schools, is a first rate piece of research and I highly respect her work. Alongside of that book, I began to read about some of the practices performed by other institutions in Canada and Claudia Malacrida’s book, A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta’s Eugenic Years, is a both damning and heartbreaking look at how we have treated people with developmental disabilities are simple behavioural challenges. A part of our heritage.
All of this is rather heavy going but the books that filled me most with life and wonder and joy and gratitude, that made me laugh out loud with a racing heart, were all from the sciences. Peter Wohlleben’s exploration of The Hidden Life of Trees, Sonia E. Sultan’s overview of ecological development evolutionary biology, Organism and Environment, and the examination of relationships between bacteria and host organisms in The Influence of Cooperative Bacteria on Animal Host Biology, edited by Margaret J. McFall-Ngai, Brian Henderson, and Edward G. Ruby, all regularly left me gobsmacked and weeping tears of gratitude because I am able to participate in something to incredible as Life. I find it interesting that the very first books I bought as a child were about animals and now, here I am again as soon to be old man, just wanting to read more like this. I mean, shoot, there’s this book about moss that I’ve been eyeballing for awhile now. It looks like a doozy. More on that in 2018.
It’s harder to pick out one or two movies that I felt were the very best of the ones I watched in 2017 because there were more than two that were exceptionally well done. I am torn between Julia Ducournau’s truly unique and thoroughly feminist horror-but-only-because-life-sometimes-has-horror, Raw (I sometimes wonder about the standards people set for “feminist horror” in the indie scene — just like I sometimes wonder about the standard for “feminist anything” in other scenes — but Ducournau’s work is one of the best feminist films made in any genre), and Taika Waititi’s heart-rending but also hilarious, Boy (this line between heartbreak and humour — especially when dealing with such themes as colonization and childhood trauma — can be extremely difficult to walk but Waititi doesn’t simply do it with ease–he does it with swagger), as well as Thomas Vinterberg’s case study of a powerful patriarch who is confronted at his birthday party, by the son he sexually abused, The Celebration (childhood sexual abuse is a subject that I do not think is well suited to being studied in film — I’m rather McLuhanesque on this point about how the medium transforms the message — but Vinterberg is able to avoid the flaws and ends up with a very real, very moving presentation), and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s damning but never vindictive portrayal of all of us doomed to live having repressed to the point of forgetting what we once experienced as children — the experiential knowledge that we are, in the current arrangement of things, as the title of his film proclaims, Loveless. Apart from these films, other runners up include The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos (which has some of of Lanthimos’ most perfectly composed shots — and he is famous for how his shots are composed — as well as a great deal more humour than I expected), Anna Biller’s much less serious but still equally feminist campy labour of love, The Love Witch (which finally taught me to think about different kinds of nudity in different kinds of ways in different kinds of films), Kevin Phillips’ nearly perfectly composed ’90s throwback indie horror, Super Dark Times, Jordan Peele’s very Baldwinian exposition of the horrors of white supremacy, Get Out, anything else by Taika Waititi, Ken Loach’s devastating presentation of so-called caring professions and social supports in I, Daniel Blake, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s spectacularly set and shot, Winter Sleep, and Agnieszka Smoczynska’s jaw-dropping, who the fuck knew it was possible to have a Polish horror musical about killer mermaids, but it is and it’s called The Lure, and it’s great.
When it comes to the documentaries, pride of place goes to the films of Marcel Ophuls, all of which seem to be 4.5hrs long and, of which, I watched three this year: The Sorrow and the Pity, Hotel Terminus, and The Memory of Justice. Ophuls is exploring how fascism happened — how it was that regularly, ordinary, everyday people came to practice it (and how institutions came to reward those who were willing to go above and beyond others in their practice of it), and how that impacted local communities, relationships between neighbours, and so on. He also shows, even shortly after the war, how fascism never really went away (or only did so for short periods of time in specific places even as people are ever always looking for the fastest possible route away from shame which often means finding ways to reglorify, valourize, or justify one’s past actions or the actions of one forefathers and foremothers). There are truly evil and truly noble people mixed up in all of this — from Klaus Barbie to the Grave brothers — but mostly the great evil and great good are done by regular people like you and me. And this is the message that I often found myself meditating upon after watching Ophuls’ films — these people are not different than any other people, these people are exactly like us, these people are us — and I think, in light of the explosion of in-your-face, zero-fucks-given, neo-fascism in our world, the lessons contained in this observation and in these films become, in my opinion, critical.
As a close second, because it is also impossible to divorce her work from understanding Canadian-style fascism (which, really, is the law enforcement arm of settler colonialism), are the films I watched by Alanis Obomsawin, We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice and Incident at Restigouche. She remains one of my all time favourite directors and I believe that all of her films should be in the curriculum of all Canadian primary schools. Documentaries that I felt were doing something just as relevant for the USofA include Raoul Peck’s masterful study of James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro, and Craig Atkinson’s examination of the cult of violence that is pervasive in American policing, Do Not Resist. Gianfranco Rosi’s film, Fire at Sea, does something similar with fortress Europe and sometimes, while watching that film, it’s hard to believe it’s real and not a dystopian science fiction film rooted in some ancient Greek tragedy.
Four films cluster in third. J. P. Passi’ and Jukka Kärkkäinen’s biopic of a punk band of Finnish fellows with developmental disabilities, The Punk Syndrome, takes an easily exploited topic focused on an easily exploited population, but it is never exploitative and, in fact, gives us a presentation that truly honours the men it follows. I felt all the feels watching it — sorrow, love, joy, affection, anger, and also pride because, I think, the open embrace of a band like this, like it ain’t no thang, yo (and it ain’t), is only possible in the punk scene and, yeah, that’s my scene, baby. Michal Marzak’s All These Sleepless Nights explores a very different scene — the rave, party drug scene in Warsaw, where the streets are roamed by young people who have ever only known capitalism, not communism. If you have ever spent a night wandering empty streets with a bottle of wine in your hand and a cigarette never far from your lips, if you have looked out on a city of lights and felt entirely alone and insignificant, and if you have lost yourself in the joy and wonder and bodies of others who felt the same way, then this movie will probably tap into something deep inside of you that you have never entirely forgotten. However, if you’d rather not tap into that, Jin Mo-Young’s My Love, Don’t Cross That River, is probably one of the sweetest (although it also has sorrow), love stories you’ll watch, given it’s focus on a South Korean couple who have been married for more than three quarters of a century. I’ve never been so inspired to buy matching outfits for my partner and I. However, the documentary that probably surprised me the most was Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light which is, I think the kind of documentary I would want to make if I could make a documentary. Guzmán turns his gaze to the Atacama desert in Chile, and then weaves together the big and the small, the beautiful and the horrific, the natural and the political, the temporal and the eternal, and shows how, really, all these things, like time-space itself, are already always interconnected. They are one and the same, they are here and they are now, they are past and gone, and they are everything and forever.
Finally, honourable mention should go to Greg Barker’s, We Are the Giant, which is the truth to the lie of Ruaridh Arrow’s How to Start a Revolution. This lie is less feelingly but more systematically exposed in Peter Gelderloos’ The Failure of Nonviolence (a book I should probably have also highlighted in my best-of list above) although Barker’s film also extends to a criticism of some of Gelderloos’ ideology because sometimes, it seems, violence and nonviolence both fail and everything fails and it is not clear that anything at all can be done. And that is the observation that perhaps best carries us over to 2018.
Fiction & Literature (38)
• Baldwin, James. The Evidence of Things Not Seen.
• ________. Go Tell it on the Mountain.
• Böll, Heinrich. The Silent Angel.
• Borges, Jorge Luis. The Book of Sand.
• Burnvand, Jan Harold. The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings.
• Camus, Albert. Exile and the Kingdom.
• Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking.
• Fox, Paula. Desperate Characters.
• Ferrante, Elena. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.
• ________. The Story of the Lost Child.
• ________. Troubling Love.
• Handke, Peter. A Sorrow Beyond Dreams: A Life Story.
• Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day.
• Khayyam, Omar. The Ruba’iyat.
• Klise, Thomas S. The Last Western.
• Kosiński, Jerzy. The Painted Bird.
• Krasznahorkai, László. Herman.
• ________. The Last Wolf.
• ________. Satantango.
• Levin, Meyer (ed.). Classic Hasidic Tales.
• Lispector, Clarice. The Passion According to G. H.
• Lovecraft, H. P. with August Derleth. The Lurker at the Threshold.
• Malaparte, Curzio. The Skin.
• Mulisch, Harry. The Assault.
• Musil, Robert. The Man Without Qualities (Vol. 2).
• Nelson, Maggie. Bluets.
• ________. The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial.
• Sebald, W. G. The Emigrants.
• ________. On the Natural History of Destruction.
• ________. Vertigo.
• ________. After Nature.
• ________. Campo Santo.
• ________. A Place in the Country.
• Sontag, Susan. Illness as Metaphor.
• Suso, Bamba and Banna Kannute. The Sunjata Story.
• Wagamese, Richard. Medicine Walk.
• Wallace, David Foster. The Broom of the System.
• Walser, Robert. The Robber.
• Auden, W. H. Collected Shorter Poems: 1927-1957.
• Carson, Anne. Men in the Off Hours.
• Eliot T. S. Selected Poems.
• ________. Four Quartets.
• Joris, Pierre (ed.). Paul Celan: Selections.
• Kroeker, Kate Freiligrath (ed.). Heine: Poems Selected From Heinrich Heine.
Graphic Novels (4)
• Chabouté. Alone.
• Delisle, Guy. Burma Chronicles.
• Lemire, Jeff. Roughneck.
• Smith, Jeff. Bone.
Philosophy, Social Theory, Politics, & History (20)
• Anderson, Carol. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.
• Bauer, Yehuda. They Chose Life: Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust.
• Badiou, Alain. Being and Event.
• Bray, Mark. Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.
• Federici, Sylvia. Caliban and the Witch:Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation.
• Foer, Franklin. World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech.
• Gelderloos, Peter. The Failure of Nonviolence: From the Arab Spring to Occupy.
• Grubačić, Andrej and Denis O’Hearn. Living at the Edges of Capitalism. Adventures in Exile and Mutual Aid.
• The Invisible Committee. The Coming Insurrection.
• Levi, Primo. The Drowned and the Saved.
• ________. Surival in Auschwitz.
• Manne, Kate. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.
• Milstein, Cindy (ed.) Taking Sides: Revolutionary Solidarity and the Poverty of Liberalism.
• Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power.
• Reid Ross, Alexander. Against the Fascist Creep.
• Scheidel, Walter. The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-first Century.
• Taylor, Keeanga-Tamahtta. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.
• Testa, M. Militant Anti-Fascism: A Hundred Years of Resistance.
• Tiqqun. Introduction to Civil War.
• ________. This is not a Program.
Indigenous and Canadian Studies (2)
• Graham, Elizabeth. The Mush Hole: Life at Two Indian Residential Schools.
• Malacrida, Claudia. A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta’s Eugenic Years.
• McFall-Ngai, Margaret J., Brian Henderson and Edward G. Ruby. The Influence of Cooperative Bacteria on Animal Host Biology.
• Safina, Carl. Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.
• Sultan, Sonia E. Organism and Environment: Ecological Development, Niche Construction, and Adaptation.
• Toomey, David. Weird Life.
• Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World.
Biblical Studies (2)
• Bates, Matthew W. Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King.
• Portier-Young, Anathea. Apocalypse Against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism.
• Amenábar, Alejandro. The Others (2001).
• Argente, Dario. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970).
• Assayas, Olivier. Personal Shopper (2016).
• Avranas, Alexandros. Miss Violence (2013).
• Bava, Mario. Black Sunday (1960).
• Benson, Justin and Aaron Moorhead. Spring (2014).
• Biller, Anna. The Love Witch (2016).
• Ceylan, Nuri Bilge. Winter Sleep (2014).
• Cosmatos, Panos. Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010).
• Dolan, Xavier. It’s Only the End of the World (2016).
• Ducournau, Julia. Raw (2016).
• Fleming, Ann Marie. Window Horses (2016).
• Godard, Jean-Luc. Le Mépris (1963).
• ________. Goodbye to Language (2014).
• Griffith, D. W. The Birth of a Nation (1915).
• Hadžihalilović, Lucile. Innocence (2004).
• ________. Evolution (2015).
• Jodorowsky, Alejandro. The Dance of Reality (2013).
• Johnson, Rian. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017).
• Jones, Duncan. Moon (2009).
• Kelly, Justin. I Am Michael (2015).
• Kobiela, Dorota and Hugh Welchman. Loving Vincent (2017).
• Lanthimos. Yorgos. The Lobster (2015).
• ________. Alps (2011).
• ________. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017).
• Loach, Ken. I, Daniel Blake (2016).
• Lowery, David. A Ghost Story (2017).
• McCarthy, Colm. The Girl With All the Gifts (2016).
• Malick, Terrence. Song to Song.
• Mitchell, David Robert. It Follows (2015).
• O’Shea, Micheal. The Transfiguration (2016).
• Peele, Jordan. Get Out (2017).
• Phillips, Kevin. Super Dark Times (2017).
• Shults, Trey Edward. Krisha (2015).
• ________. It Comes At Night (2017).
• Slaboshpitsky, Myroslav. The Tribe (2014).
• Smoczynska, Agnieszka. The Lure (2015).
• Stiller, Ben. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013).
• Tarkovsky, Andrei. Nostalghia (1983).
• ________. Solaris (1972).
• Tsangari, Athena Rachel. Attenberg (2010).
• ________. Chevalier (2015).
• Verbinski, Gore. A Cure For Wellness (2016).
• Verso, Nicholas. Boys in The Trees (2016).
• Vinterberg, Thomas. Festen (The Celebration) (1998).
• Waititi, Taika. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016).
• ________. Boy (2010).
• Zhao, Chloé. Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015).
• Zvyagintsev, Andrey. Loveless (2017).
• Arrow, Ruaridh. How to Start A Revolution (2012).
• Atkinson, Craig. Do Not Resist (2016).
• Barker, Greg. We Are The Giant (2014).
• Bell, Otto. The Eagle Huntress (2016).
• Berg, Amy. West of Memphis (2013).
• Byrne, Brendan J. Bobby Sands: 66 Days (2017).
• Byrne, Margaret. Raising Bertie (2017).
• Carr, Erin Lee. Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017).
• Damián, Enresto Cabellos. Hija de la Laguna (Daughter of the Lake) (2015).
• Demaizière, Thierry and Alban Teurlai. Rocco (2016).
• Fogel, Bryan. Icarus (2017).
• Gibson, Hugh. The Stairs (2017).
• Goldblum, Jimmy and Adam M. Weber. Tomorrow We Disappear (2014).
• Goodman, Barak. Oklahoma City (2017).
• Gracia, Chad. The Russian Woodpecker (2015).
• Greene, Robert. Kate Plays Christine (2016).
• Guzmán, Patricio. Nostalgia For The Light (2010).
• James, Emily. Just Do It: A Tale of Modern Outlaws (2011).
• Jaye, Cassie. The Red Pill (2016).
• Jin Mo-Young. My Love, Don’t Cross that River (2014).
• Knappenberg, Brian. Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and the Trials of the Free Press (2017).
• Lane, Penny. Nuts! (2016).
• Lear, Ben. They Call Us Monsters (2016).
• Malick, Terrence. Voyage of Time (2016).
• Marker, Chris. Sans Soleil (Sunless) (1983).
• Marzak, Michal. All These Sleepless Nights (2016).
• May, Robert. Kids for Cash (2014).
• Morris, Errol. The Unknown Known (2013).
• Obomsawin, Alanis. We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice (2016).
• ________. Incident at Restigouche (1984).
• Ophuls, Marcel. The Sorrow and the Pity: chronicle of a French city under the occupation (1969).
• ________. Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988).
• ________. The Memory of Justice (1976).
• Orlowski, Jeff. Chasing Ice (2012).
• Passi, J. P. and Jukka Kärkkäinen. The Punk Syndrome (2012).
• Pavich, Frank. Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013).
• Peck, Raoul. I Am Not Your Negro (2017).
• Rosi, Gianfranco. Fire at Sea (2016).
• Riefenstahl, Leni. Triumph of the Will (1935).
• Singer, Marc. Dark Days (2000).
• Snyder, Kim A. Newtown (2016).
• Torun, Ceyda. Kedi (2017).
• Varda, Agnés. The Gleaners and I (2000).
• Zeman, Joshua and Barbara Brancaccio. Cropsey (2009).