2015 Year in Review

There’s but 10 days left in 2015, and my calendar looks fairly packed for many of them with family visits, cultural events, work and other commitments, so the shortest day of the year seems an apt time to review the year gone by, as I experienced and documented it online.

Counting this one, I have published 77 blog posts in 2015. In October, I marked the one-year anniversary of my decision to shut down Indie Moines and re-establish this domain as my primary home for new and archival writing after eight years of hosting my material elsewhere. I also added the 1,000th post to the site in October, with 20 years worth of material dating back to October 1995 now resident here. Traffic has been healthy and growing throughout the year, so I’m grateful to those who have followed along with my various adventures in writing.

I actually opened 2015 deep in the middle of one such adventure, managing the satirical Des Mean website (now dormant, former motto: “Is This Hell? No, It’s Iowa.”) under a pseudonym. It was a fun opportunity for the sorts of character-based, site-specific writing that I used to do at Upstate Wasted and Upstate Ether, among other places, all those years ago. I moved most of the Des Mean pieces to this site last summer. Of the pieces written in 2015 (Des Mean launched in 2014), I am particularly pleased with Rashomoines, Why Iowa First?, the “Iowa Art Crisis” series (Part OnePart TwoPart Three), Danny Allamakee’s Iowanferno and Universal Iowa Recipe. Fun to write, hopefully fun to read.

Despite busy work and personal schedules, I did find time to travel in 2015. In late January/early February, Marcia and I spent two week in Fort Lauderdale, giving me the chance to get my nerd on during a road trip up to Kennedy Space Center. Then in May, we went to Spain and Portugal on a wonderful small group tour, where we framed a fun new travel game. I’ve also visited Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa for work purposes, and made two volunteer trips to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where I was elected Chairman of the Board of the American Institute for Economic Research, and then to Troy, New York, where I was keynote speaker at the Chapel + Cultural Center’s Committee of 100 Dinner. I also spent a few days with my mother, visiting the homeland in Low Country South Carolina. There were cemeteries.

Our biggest step, from a travel and lifestyle standpoint, was a permanent one, leaving Des Moines this past summer to live in downtown Chicago. The move has been a wonderful one, filled with all sorts of fascinating diversions. There are, of course, still some mysteries. After arriving and settling in Chicago, I began a new job in August. There are some things I miss (Katelin first and foremost, since she still lives there), and some things I don’t miss about Des Moines and its environs. After four years in state, though, I left with one deeply held conviction that trumps all others: the Iowa Caucus is bad for America.

I read a lot this year, and documented some of my 2015 favorite books. I also added a couple of new installments to my Five By Five Books Series, writing about Evangeline Walton’s The Mabinogion Tetralogy and Peter Currell Brown’s Smallcreep’s Day. I launched a new creative writing series called 90 Minute Stories, and plan write one piece per month this way in 2016. On a music front, I updated by Top 200 Albums of All Time listing and named David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock Album of the Year for 2015, after running one of my music tournaments to reach that decision. A tune from the soundtrack of the wonderful movie, Frank, won the Family’s “Most Played Song” Title of 2015.

Other miscellaneous ups and downs include finally re-experiencing the pinnacle of American baseball fandom when my Beloved Royals won the World Series in October, watching a former writing employer go belly up in a most public fashion, and losing both a dear, sweet member of our family, and a long-time creative friend and foil.

Those sad notes notwithstanding, it was a very good year for me and the family, and I appreciate the opportunity to journal it here, for both posterity’s and my own sake. Thanks to all who read here for being a part of it, each in your own ways.

 

Favorite Books of 2015

Back in 2008, I posited forming “Eric’s Book of the Every-So-Often Club” to provide my stamp of approval for worthy books that might be of interest to readers who follow me online. I suspected then (and still do now) that my Club membership might be small, since my reading habits tend to be restricted to an odd set of favorite categories, as follows:

10% Fiction: Usually I will read new books by the the dozen or so authors I know I already really like. Breaking in new authors is so risky and hard. Why bother, neh?

40% Natural History: Ideally books about bugs, trilobites, fish, or birds, or parasites that live(d) on bugs, trilobites, fish and birds, or things that eat/ate bugs, trilobites, fish or birds, or interesting theories about the ways that bugs, trilobites, fish and birds interact with or influence people. I’m a bugs, trilobites, fish and birds kinda guy, y’know?

40% Music Biography: I have read at least half a dozen full-length books about Genesis, to cite but one example of my vast contemporary rock biography collection. And if someone comes out with a credible new book about Genesis next year, I will read that one too. Because someone has to, right? And it might as well be me.

10% Tales of Human Suffering: People falling off of Mount Everest, going insane in the Arctic because of the toxins in their tinned food, or trying to walk across the Sahara Desert alone will always be welcome in my book collection.

 

Having eschewed the Club approach as a result of my arcane tastes, I have instead (every so often) posted lists of my favorite recent reads. With 2015 winding to a close, and given the ease with which such lists can be pulled from my Kindle, I thought it might be time to share my favorite new books of the past twelve months or so. Most of the titles cited below were published in 2015, though a few were late 2014 arrivals, and I didn’t get around to reading them until this year. I also read or re-read several older books not featured here; you can find out more about the cream of that crop in my Five by Five Books series.

I’ve blocked my favorite 2015 reads into the categories noted above. It was a light year for natural science, though all of the other categories were reasonably well represented. (And, yes, I did read another book about Genesis this year). I’ve particularly enjoyed having train time to read every day as part of my commute.  It’s a more comfortable and thoughtful environment than standing on the elliptical at the gym, where I used to do most of my reading in prior years. Links are provided if you’d like to tackle any these tomes yourself. I enjoyed them all, and think you might, too!

FICTION:

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (late 2014 issue)

The Vorrh by Brian Catling (first U.S. release)

You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

Get In Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link

NATURAL HISTORY:

Smarts: The Boundary-Busting Story of Intelligence by Elaine Dewar

MUSIC BIOGRAPHY:

The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir by Mike Rutherford

Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits . . . by Glyn Johns (late 2014 issue)

Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton (late 2014 issue)

Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe by Mick Wall

Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway

Van Halen Rising by Greg Renoff

Ringo: With A Little Help by Michael Seth Starr

Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire by Philip Bailey

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein

Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored by John Lydon

TALES OF HUMAN SUFFERING:

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East  by Gerard Russell (late 2014 issue)

The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth by Matthew Algeo

 

 

Most Played Songs of 2015

Today is the day that I reset the play counts on all of the Smith Family iPods after a year of data gathering and consolidation. I used to wait right until December 31st, but I’ve found that Marcia and I almost always want something fresh through various holiday trips and hectic work season, so early December has become iPod playlist reprogramming time.

The most interesting playlist to clear is the collection of “most played songs” for the year. Since we synch all of our gadgets to one computer and one iTunes account, this “most played songs” list in our household represent the aggregated play counts from my car (or train, since I’ve moved to Chicago), my gym, Marcia’s car, Marcia’s gym, and the collaborative family iPod that stays in the house’s stereo dock and is played by Marcia, Katelin and I.

So the “most played songs” of the year are often interesting and unexpected, since they tend to represent heart of a musical Venn Diagram where our family’s musical tastes most closely overlap, even though each of us individually may like very different things. We spun about 3,600 songs in 2015 — out of about 10,000 saved on my computer. Here are the 40 that earned the most frequent listening love in aggregate, with links to some of the more esoteric ones for your listening enlightenment:

1. I Love You All by Soronprfbs

2. Port of Rico by Illinois Jacquet

3. “Brass Cupcake” by Melvins

4. Dadje Von O Von Non by Gnonnas Pedro et ses Dadjes

5. “Rock Or Bust” by AC/DC

6. Old Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear

7. “How The Years Condemn” by Napalm Death

8. “Tweet Tweet Tweet” by Sleaford Mods

9. House Of The King by Jan Akkerman

10. “Glass Half Full” by Love Songs For Lonely Monsters

11. Recessive Jean by Shriekback

12. “Black Starliner Must Come” by Culture

13. The Half by Dennis Brown

14. “Party Time” by The Heptones

15. Ghetto Organ by Jackie Mittoo

16. “Acres Wild” by Jethro Tull

17. “Hey Lawdy Mama” by Steppenwolf

18. Riranzo by Nacio Makanda

19. Inkulu Into Ezakwenzeka by Nontwintwi

20. “She Sells Sanctuary” by The Cult

21. “Sweet Water Pools” by Screaming Blue Messiahs

22. Restless Day by COIL

23. Apex Predator — Easy Meat by Napalm Death

24. “Ruby Tuesday” by The Rolling Stones

25. “The King In The Tree” by Shriekback

26. “No More Heroes” by The Stranglers

27. Hayilolosa Amale Ye Ma Tshangane by Mahikwani Makhuvele

28. “Don’t Bring Harry” by The Stranglers

29. “Slavery Days” by Burning Spear

30. “Life Goes On” by The Damned

31. “Sylvia” by Focus

32. “Eighties” by Killing Joke

33. Civilized Worm by Melvins

34. “Hocus Pocus (Live Reprise)” by Focus

35. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush

36. “Bernadette” by Shriekback

37. Liveable Shit by Sleaford Mods

38. “Who Needs Ya” by Steppenwolf

39. “Got Some Rock and Roll Thunder” by AC/DC

40. “Blackheart Man” by Bunny Wailer