JRS' Best Of 2017

What was the best of 2017 for me?

2017 was a challenging year; I’m working on my dissertation, have started a new job, and am still writing as much as I can. Several waves lifted me above my work. The five below are waves I wanted to share.

Television: two series

Television was eh for me this year. Some of my favorite series are on life support, and others I’ve had to put on hold due to work. These two were peaks in a bunch of valleys.

The Punisher

I feel somewhat sad about this series. It was well done. I don’t think it was received as well as it should have been. Punisher, the television show, turned a superhero comic into a serious assessment of the social issues surrounding soldiers and war. In the process it introduced memorable characters (Micro! Frank!) brought over some old ones (Karen! Aggh Karen!) and maybe helped open some minds about soldiers and the emotional complexities of post traumatic stress syndrome. Possibly because of the social atmosphere, it wasn’t positively reviewed, but I think it did extremely well at keeping Frank’s bad-assness while making him – human, in a world of superhuman heroes.

The Handmaid's Tale

I began this series with Billie and I’m in the middle of reviewing it. But already after five episodes it’s becoming very impactful on my life. My partner and I watch what we can, then stop for a while to gasp and think and recover, then head back out and watch some more. It’s a painful series about an alternate future in which fertility is limited and women are virtually enslaved for their reproductive properties. As someone who considers themselves a feminist, as someone who is gay, as someone who is a person of color, this is a painful series to watch – but ultimately rewarding as we also see the strength of the human spirit.

Literature: three series

In books, I was surprised. I’ve made my way through several series this year. What really perked me up in terms of the reading world were two novel series: Akata Witch (Nneedi Okunwafor) and two additional books in Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series. I’ve read several of Okunwafor’s books, but this series had eluded my schedule until a month or so ago, when I read them both along with Zahrah the Windseeker. I’ve also read the deep and somewhat startling Neon Genesis Evangelion manga.

Kingsbridge – Ken Follett

I first encountered this series in… high school, with The Pillars of the Earth. You know what? It went completely over my head back then, and I’m glad, because it permitted me to re-encounter the series as an adult. It’s a location and loosely a family drama, following the residents of Kingsbridge over the years. Tom the master builder, Prior Philip, Merthin, Caris, all characters from the first and second books, are extremely well-written windows into the past. The second book in the series, World Without End, was possibly one of the best historical fiction novels I’ve encountered. The third and last entry into the trilogy was just released, A Column of Fire, and tells the story of Protestants and Catholics in Elizabeth’s England. This was an engaging read, but it felt like a change from the series, as it is less focused on Kingsbridge and more on the residents of Kingsbridge as they deal with tolerance and intolerance around the nation. Still, when Ned Willard goes to work with Elizabeth, we see the weight of generations of solid British peasantry feeding the wisdom of royalty. With strong women characters, a powerful vision, and tons of historical research, Follett brings us back to the past with a bang.

Akata Warrior – Nnedi Okunwafor

This series is billed as the Harry Potter of Africa, and I guess that’s a good introduction for people who are looking for comfort literature, meaning books which already go over ground they are familiar with. To be honest, I don’t see the similarity – outside of four young children battling evil using mystical powers. This is a book about Sunny, a Nigerian girl who, one day, thanks to a special friend, Orlu, discovers she has mystical powers in addition to being a fantastic and unrecognized athlete. And yes, she discovers evil, but this is an insidious evil, not an easy-to-point to Voldemort, an evil so deep it is part of the world itself, an evil that can subvert those close to her. It is an evil which maims children, and girls, and turns men into angry and evil warriors. This is a coming of age series, so expect poor Sunny to go through a lot… but also to have startlingly beautiful moments interacting with insects, nature and even the letters in books. (Okunwafor also wrote Zahrah the Windseeker, a sci-fi novel about a girl on another world – must read!)

Neon Genesis Evangelion – Essentially Hideaki Anno and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, although others were involved as artists

This phenomenon began as a popular anime, a hand drawn animation, with various movie additions. Later it was converted into a manga, what Americans would call a comic book version of the manga. To be honest, I felt the manga improved over the anime. I thought the relations between characters were far more clearly drawn in some areas, more ambiguous in others. The story tracks the experiences of Shinji Ikari, a young man who’s been selected as the Third Child. These Children pilot giant mecha called EVA to protect the earth from various alien entities. But this outre environment hides a story of inner psychological growth, of the strength of the human psyche as Shinji moves from a self-loathing teenager who struggles to connect with others, to a young adult who’s finally brought together the lessons he’s learned in life. A strangely moving story, for one which involves robots and aliens.

Looking forward to a great 2018!

5 comments:

Lamounier said...

"Akata Warrior" sounds very interesting. I'm putting it on my list.

You are right about The Punisher. I still haven't finished the season, but the last three or four episodes I watched were all excellent. The series deserves more praise.

Lisianpeia said...

Nneedi Okunwafor <3 I haven't read Akata Witch yet, but I love the Binti series.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is... incredible and unique. I watched it a while ago and I've been meaning to rewatch it... Is the manga ending different from the anime? Idk, but when I saw it I didn't get the impression that Shinji became a young adult at the end. He grows a lot as character, but in the end there so much happening and mostly everything is so screwed up that I might have missed it.

PS: My heart goes out for you.... I'm writing my thesis and damn, this is hard sometimes.

Billie Doux said...

Interesting list. I used to be deeply into Ken Follett, as in I bought everything he wrote in hardcover the week it came out. I also thought Pillars of the Earth was the best historical novel I've ever read, bar none. Follett brings the past alive so incredibly well. His World War II novels are exceptional.

Mallena said...

We must enjoy different things, because most of your list baffled me. I personally loved so much of what I saw on television, that watching everything I like, without sitting in front of the TV all day, is a challenge. Obviously, I should put down the remote and pick up Tolstoy, or something. Good luck on your dissertation.

JRS said...

Mallena, I just started bingewatching Season 12 of Supernatural. So I bet I have a lot to catch up on-always up for suggestions!

I also wonder how hearing viewers experience television. As a Deaf person my eyes remain glued to the screen or I’m simply cut off from the show. The practical result of that I think is that I browse less - watching is a commitment for me. Whereas my family members can cook or whatever while watching in the corner of their ear as it were. Well, I can cook, but it’s complicated.