Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Potorous gilbertii

In January 2010 I realised that I was about to get a lot of time to read books. I was starting a new job that would involve almost four hours of commuting to London and back every weekday, and as I had accumulated a lot of books (largely of the late eighties sketch comedy tie-in sort), I decided to read them all.

I set myself a target of 100 new books (new to me, not newly published). This figure was chosen because (a) it didn't seem too hard, and (b) because I had heard Tony Martin give an interview on RRR in which he said he had done the same thing. (He had to read a few slim comics on December 31st, but had hit the target.) As Tony is a relatively busy man, I though that with a dedicated four hours per day I could hit one hundred with no problem.

Eager for punishment, I then decided to watch 100 new films as well (again, new to me, not newly released). This works out at two entire books and two entire movies per week, every week. It was exhausting.

It didn't help that at first I just read whatever I wanted, including re-reading old favourites (which were ineligible for the count). It didn't help that I crammed in both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. It didn't help that by November I was reduced to watching abysmal movies on Youtube for which the copyright had slipped through the cracks (Wake Me When the War is Over is one that will never leave my film- and caffeine-addled psyche). However, it did help that my wife is into movies and suffered through a lot of these with me. It also helped that she works as a freelance from home, so I would often stagger in after work to see her in the middle of a particularly intense piece of concentration, and know it would be better for all concerned if I scurried into the corner with a book.

Assessing what was a movie and what was a book was sometimes surprisingly difficult. The Cremaster series: are they all movies? One of them's three hours long, so surely it's a movie. But one's forty minutes long, is that a movie? And if it is, does that mean a 45 minute episode of Doctor Who is a movie? McSweeney's: is that a book? Is a collection of short stories a book? What if the same collection is published in magazine format? The Earthsea novels, are they all separate books if I read them in one volume? (This particular question went unanswered, as I couldn't be bothered finishing even the first book of the series.)

The most interesting discovery was that 100 books and 100 movies is just too much to take in, if one aims to live a happy life. This made me realise that I have a demonstrably finite number of books and movies left to watch in my entire life (I am 31). At 50 books and movies per year, assuming my eyes remain serviceable for another forty years, I'll get to read another 2000 books. This sounds like a lot. But it is probably the number of books we own. I could spend my time from now to the grave just re-reading everything I've deemed worthy of keeping. As for movies, there's just too much crap. My favourite film of the year was probably The Magic Christian, which most likely only shows how skewed one's critical sense becomes when forcing all this cinematic meat through the wringer. I also got confused in April and again in November so ended up watching 102 movies anyway. Of these, 35 were from Britain, 28 from the United States, 9 from Australia, 9 from France, 8 from Japan, and 13 from 'Other'.

Was it a massive waste of time? Yes. Was it a lot of fun? Yes. Will I be reading another Tim Winton book? No.

The list in full (italicised are those I had read/watched before but earned a second look):



1. Floating Weeds, 1959

2. The Road, 2009

3. Precious (Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire), 2009

4. The Millionairess, 1960

5. The End of Summer, 1961

6. A Prophet, 2009

7. Ugetsu Monogatari, 1953


1. Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules, David Sedaris (ed)

2. The Clumsiest People in Europe, Mrs Favell Lee Mortimer



8. The Proposition, 2005

9. Burma VJ, 2008

10. The Trial of Tony Blair, 2007

11. Fine, Totally Fine, 2008

12. Seven Samurai, 1954

13. UHF, 1989

14. A Single Man, 2009

15. Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1954

16. Capitalism: A Love Story, 2009


3. Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, Vol 2, Ivor Cutler

4. Japanese for Travellers, Katie Kitamura

5. On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho

6. Islomania, Thurston Clarke

6a. Barcelona Plates, Alexei Sayle

7. The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel

8. A Companion to James Joyce's Ulysses, Margot Norris (ed)

9. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami

10. Brit-Think, Ameri-Think: A Transatlantic Survival Guide, Jane Walmsley

11. How to Read Joyce, Derek Attridge

12. Codebreaker, Stephen Pincock

MARCH 2010:


17. Micmacs, 2009

18. The Colour of Pomegranates, 1968

19. Sodom and Gomorrah, 1963

20. The Night We Called it a Day, 2003.


13. Show Me the Magic: Travels Round Benin by Taxi, Annie Caulfield

14. James Joyce's Ulysses: A Student Guide, Vincent Sherry

15. Parrot and Olivier in America, Peter Carey

16. Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot-Com Juggernaut, James Marcus

17. That Was the Week That Was, David Frost & Ned Sherrin (eds)

18. Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation, Umberto Eco

18a. Introducing Joyce, David Norris & Carl Flint

19. Fat Chance, Simon Gray

20. The Bed-Sitting Room, Spike Milligan & John Antrobus

APRIL 2010:


21. The Juniper Tree, 1990

22. Alice in Wonderland, 2010

23. Goshu the Cellist, 1982

24. Cremaster 1, 1995

25. Cremaster 2, 1999

26. I Am Love, 2009

26. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009

27. Cremaster 3, 2002

28. Cremaster 4, 1995

29. Cremaster 5, 1997


21. Language and the Internet, David Crystal

22. Seven Words You Can't Say on Television, Steven Pinker

23. Attacks of Opinion, Terry Jones

23a. Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years, Michael Palin

23b. Ulysses, James Joyce

23c. Black Swan Green, David Mitchell

MAY 2010:


30. The Tulse Luper Suitcases 1: The Moab Story, 2003

31. Cathy Come Home, 1966

32. Four Lions, 2010

33. Ben Elton Live: the Get a Grip Tour, 2007

34. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, 1974


24. Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988, Michael Palin

25. By Hook of by Crook: A Journey in Search of English, David Crystal

26. Disgusting Bliss: The Brass Eye of Chris Morris, Lucian Randall

27. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: (Not) The Screenplay, Terry Gilliam & Tony Grisoni

28. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties, Ian MacDonald

29. The Art of Coarse Acting, Michael Green

29a. Time Bandits: A Screenplay, Michael Palin & Terry Gilliam

30. The Brain-Dead Megaphone, George Saunders

31. Le Grand Meaulnes, Alain-Fournier

32. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell

33. Extreme Europe, Stephen Barber

34. Eunoia, Christian Bok

35. The Best American Non-Required Reading 2002, Dave Eggers (ed)

36. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003, Dave Eggers (ed)

JUNE 2010:


35. Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, 2009

36. Serenity, 2005


37. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004, Dave Eggers (ed)

38. Things the Grandchildren Should Know, Mark Oliver Everett

39. Spike & Co, Graham McCann

40. Granta 108, Special Issue: Chicago, John Freeman (ed)

41. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005, Dave Eggers (ed)

41a. 253, Geoff Ryman

42. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Film Tie-in Edition, Douglas Adams

42a. In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje

43. Rouse Up, O Young Men of the New Age!, Kenzaburo Oe

44. A Quiet Life, Kenzaburo Oe

JULY 2010:


37. Lennon Naked, 2010

38. The Kentucky Fried Movie, 1977

38a. The Fisher King, 1991

39. Stiff, 2004

40. Toy Story 3, 2010

41. XXY, 2007

42. Inception, 2010

43. Gran Torino, 2008


45. The Wild Highway, Bill Drummond & Mark Manning

46. English Passengers, Matthew Kneale

46a. Appendix Appendix, Ryan Gander & Stuart Bailey

47. Eucalyptus, Murray Bail

48. San Sombrero, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner & Rob Sitch

49. Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

AUGUST 2010:


44. The Cove, 2009

45. Gainsbourg, 2009

45a. Ed Wood, 1994

46. Sherlock: A Study in Pink, 2010

47. Sherlock: The Blind Banker, 2010

48. Sherlock: The Great Game, 2010

48a. Pleasure at Her Majesty's, 1976

48b. The Mermaid Frolics, 1977

49. The Secret Policeman's Ball, 1979

50. The Illusionist, 2010

51. Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1984

52. The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, 1982

53. The Nugget, 2002

53a. Paprika, 2006


50. McSweeney's Quarterly Concern 13, Chris Ware (ed)

51. Islam for Beginners, N. I. Matar

52. Introducing Hinduism, Vinay Lal & Borin Van Loon

53. A Fortune-Teller Told Me, Tiziano Terzani

54. I'm Coming to Take You to Lunch, Simon Napier-Bell

55. Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001, N Hornby & B Schafer (eds)

56. The House of Packer: The Making of a Media Empire, Bridget Griffen-Foley

57. Who Killed Channel 9?, Gerald Stone



53b. Four Lions, 2010

53c. Porco Rosso, 1992

54. The Snow Queen, 1957

55. Hancock & Joan, 2008

56. The King and the Mockingbird, 1980

57. Candy, 1968

58. The Secret Policeman's Third Ball, 1987

58a. The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball, 1989

58b. Amnesty International's Big 30, 1991

59. Remember the Secret Policeman's Ball?..., 2004


58. Da Capo Best Music Writing 2003, M Groening & P Bresnick (eds)

58a. The Underground Man, Mick Jackson

58b. Five Boys, Mick Jackson

59. Sahara, Michael Palin

60. A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro

61. Heavier Then Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain, Charles R Cross

62. Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade, Jonathan Clements

63. And Another Thing..., Eoin Colfer

63a. The Weeping Women Hotel, Alexei Sayle

64. That Eye, the Sky, Tim Winton

65. The Death of Bunny Munro, Nick Cave

66. Minimum of Two, Tim Winton

67. Absolutely - The Words, P Baikie, M Banks, J Docherty, M Hunter, G Kennedy, J Sparkes

68. The Beekeeper, Maxence Fermine

69. Eleven, David Llewellyn

70. The Fire Gospel, Michel Faber

71. Malvinas Requiem, Rodolfo Fogwill

72. The Ventriloquist's Tale, Pauline Melville



60. Finisterre, 2003

61. Kokoda, 2006

62. I Now Pronounce You Vince and Ralph, 2004

63. The Brush-Off, 2004

64. Away From Her, 2006

65. Don't Look Now, 1973

66. Crying with Laughter, 2009

67. The Madness of King George, 1994

68. On the Beat, 1962

69. Mona Lisa, 1986

70. High Hopes, 1988

71. Steve Coogan: The Man Who Thinks He's It, 1998

72. Extraordinary Rendition, 2007

73. Enter the Void, 2010

74. Dawn of the Dead, 1978


73. Flight of Black Swans, Laura Fish

74. Strange Music, Laura Fish

75. The Land where Stories End, David Foster

76. Travel Writing, Peter Ferry

77. Nerd Do Well, Simon Pegg

78. The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club, Peter Hook

79. The Clay Dreaming, Ed Hillyer



75. Whale Rider, 2002

76. Down Among the Z Men, 1952

77. The Magic Christian, 1969

78. Glengarry Glen Ross, 1992

79. Kenny, 2006

80. Junkers Come Here, 1995

80a. The Tulse Luper Suitcases 1: The Moab Story, 2003

81. The Tulse Luper Suitcases 2: Vaux to the Sea, 2004

82. Night Tide, 1961

83. The Brother from Another Planet, 1984

84. Never Let Me Go, 2010

85. Wake Me When the War is Over, 1969

86. Irina Palm, 2006

87. Youth Without Youth, 2007


80. Screen Burn, Charlie Brooker

81. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006, D Eggers & M Groening (eds)

82. The 47 Ronin Story, John Allyn

83. Finnegans Wake, James Joyce

84. Gasping, Ben Elton

85. What the Censor Saw, John Trevelyan

86. Mutants, Armand Marie Leroi

87. [manuscript of novel due for publication June 2011]

88. McSweeney's 19, Dave Eggers (ed)

89. Waltzing Materialism, Jonathan King

90. I, an Actor, Nicholas Craig (aka Nigel Planer)

91. My Life as Me: A Memoir, Barry Humphries

92. Miracles of Life, JG Ballard



87. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, 2006

88. The Edge of Heaven, 2007

89. The Tulse Luper Suitcases 3: From Sark to Finish, 2004

90. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007

91. Primeval, 2007

91a. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007

92. Submarine, 2010

93. Frozen River, 2008

94. The Manxman, 1929

95. Steal This Movie!, 2000

96. Maybe Baby, 1999

97. The Music Room, 1958

98. Blame it on Fidel, 2006

99. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, 2008

100. The Tree, 2010


93. Oblivion: Stories, David Foster Wallace

94. Understanding Jihad, David Cook

95. Old Flames & A Month in the Country, Simon Gray

96. The Irrational Knot, George Bernard Shaw

97. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007, D Eggers & S Stevens (eds)

98. The Third Policeman, Flann O'Brien

99. The Eye, Vladimir Nabokov

100. Cloudstreet, Tim Winton