An idiosyncratic list of the most intriguing, most mind altering, and just plain fun books/movies/etc. I read in (not necessarily published in) 2012:
Book of the Year. One of the few books I’ve ever read three times. The only book I’ve ever read three times in the same year. Brilliantly plotted. A real page turner. Characters that feel like they’re in the room with you. (Rowling’s Mcgonagall was never this clearly drawn.) And to top it off, mind altering ideas. The book that proves that fan fiction can surpass the original, and that made me start thinking seriously about writing my own novel for the first time in 20 years.
I Want to Be a Mathematician
I really, really wish I had read this before going to graduate school. Hell, I wish I had read this before I went to college (though it wasn’t quite published then). The best description of what it’s like to be a mathematician I’ve ever seen.
This one’s 20 years old but I just stumbled onto it this summer. One of the best alternative universe Dracula tales I’ve ever read.
The Hunger Games
I happened to pick this up on the book exchange shelf in my apartment building’s basement, and thought I’d see what the hype was about. I started reading it on a trip to Cuba, and couldn’t stop. Even though I had to get up early in the morning with the tour group, I couldn’t put it down and found myself reading long into the night. And then when I finished it, I found myself in one of the few places on the planet where I couldn’t run out to the corner newsstand and buy the sequel!
Winner: The Cabin in the Woods
In a multiplex filled with ever grosser torture porn masquerading as entertainment, Whedon proves that it’s possible to write a genuinely clever, intelligent, and amusing horror film. By far the most original and genre bending work I saw this year.
Runner Up: The Avengers
While staying fully within the genre of the superhero movie, and without really challenging any of its tropes (unlike the very meta Cabin in the Woods) Whedon manages to pull off the second best written movie of the year. What can I say? On his worst day, Joss Whedon still writes better dialog than 99% of the Screenwriters Guild produce on their best days. :-)
Winner (Tie): Coursera and MIT Open Courseware
2012 was a pretty bleak year for network television. Mad Men and Glee are no longer fresh, and there hasn’t been anything truly excellent since Battlestar Galactica. What’s a bored geek going to do? Take college courses in differential equations and machine learning of course. I don’t know if a Nielsen box could measure this, but in my household graduate level courses are getting high ratings.
Coursera has much better production values; i.e. it’s designed for remote learning instead of just videotaping existing classes. However Open Courseware gets extra points for being available 24/7/365. For inobvious reasons, Coursera limits its courses to particular, not necessarily convenient time windows. It seems to be stuck in an academic semester model that no longer makes sense for online remote learning.
Despite a lack of Hulu support, this device has radically altered my TV viewing habits. Having web sites, YouTube, and Netflix conveniently available from my couch is a game changer. I do wish it had DVR functionality too so I could eliminate the Tivo as well.
Runner Up: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
The device that introduced me to eBooks and changed my reading habits.