I first stumbled across A Brief History of the Dead in 2007, but never got round to reading it. I was delighted when it was picked as the inaugural volume for the new work bookclub. I'm unashamedly going to use LJ to capture my thoughts and impressions of each bookclub book I read, to help manage the gap between me finishing it and the group getting together to discuss.

First things first: ABHotD is the tale of Laura, a scientist working for Coca-Cola, who is sent to Antarctica as part of a PR stunt. When a pandemic plague sweeps the world, she is protected by her position, but ignorant of current events. Her storyline is her fight for survival in (probably) the least hospitable place in the world, as she struggles across the ice cap in search of help that can never come.

The dead of the title are the twin storyline, living on (existing?) in a city for as long as they are remembered by the living. As the city empties due to plague (think about it), the survivors find new connections in the web of Laura's past.

I first read Susan Hill at school – The Woman in Black inevitably and I'm the King of the Castle. Woman stands out as the perfect chiller, and I've subsequently seen the excellent stage adaptation; King was a downright unpleasant exploration of children, read alongside Lord of the Flies and in a similar vein.

Crime felt like a departure for Hill, but it was obvious from the beginning that the Simon Serrailler novels were not typical police procedurals. The fictional cathedral town of Lafferton is entirely real and recognisable, for all it exists as only a few well-described key locations; Hill taps into the platonic English country town to sketch the rest. we don't need detail or maps, because we have all been there in some incarnation.

In contrast, the principal characters – the Serrailler family – are thoroughly considered, and the novels are more about their lives, causes and preoccupations than about the murders that drive the plots. Where Susan Hill excels throughout the series is her nuanced look at humanity's strengths, fatal flaws and other weaknesses through the lens of the family's experience. The series seems designed to make the reader uncomfortable, and the latest is no exception in it's wish to challenge the reader's ethics and sense of justice.

I used to try to remind myself (and inflict on you) what I particularly loved and loathed each year amongst the various books and films I consumed. Since joining the circus, I've failed to do this thanks to big work-related requirements in the first week of the year. However, it seems to be a week into 2012 and I'm procrastinating about going for a run, so this seems like a good time to revive that old meme.

We managed to get to the movies a lot more often this year, with several binges between long gaps of workiness. The habit of only going to things we really want to see on a big screen mean the hit rate of enjoyment was high (needless to say, no Transformers 3 for us). Honourable mentions go to Source CodeHannaTinker Tailor Soldier SpyThe Ides of March, and Contagion, all of which were thoroughly polished and much enjoyed.

The Ides of March has a lot to live up to: Clooney is Democratic candidate Mike Morris, gearing up to become the Democratic presidential candidate.

The comparisons with Primary Colors are inevitable. Ides is also told from the perspective of idealistic campaign manager (here a chiseled Ryan Gosling, using his soulful blue eyes to good effect); its candidate is charismatic and idealistic; and if the hard-nosed wrangler is Philip Seymour Hoffman rather than Kathy Bates, that’s hardly a shortcoming.

I finally got round to finishing the first series of Dollhouse while ironing for tomorrow. Quite apart from […]

I shall barely let the leaves settle on the year before posting my thoughts on the best and worst of (what I experienced of) movies and books, because if I delay I’ll never get it done.

In spite of my feeling that we missed some great films this year (choosing to stay home and work on the house instead of going out), we managed to see 17 this year. Looking back at the last few years, this is a good crop. I also note a pattern: a solid rush in the first half of the year, followed by disinterest through the autumn and winter. My boy suggests this relates to good film releases early in the year for Oscar season; I note a reflection of early summer blockbusters, followed by meaningful movies on DVD.

Books fared less well. 2009 is the first year I haven’t passed the 50-book threshold. This reflects evenings spent working on the Grand Design, and a move to overland commutes: as the trains are often full by the time they reach my stop, I end up sardined in with no space to read.

As we approach our eighth anniversary, my boy and I have been reflecting intermittently on what it is that draws us together. One popular theory is our willingness to (indeed enthusiasm for) take the piss: not just partners, but sparring partners. Another, often revisited, is our uncanny tendency to think and say the same thing at the same time. Last night, watching the rather good Public Enemies, our shared frame of reference and ability to follow random cues was the key: as the film introduced a Chicago villain, my boy leant over and murmured without preamble “Proper fucked”.

Possibly the rest of the audience were curious as to why I found that particular scene so funny, but he was absolutely right. I haven’t a clue what the actor’s name is either, but it was certainly him. And he was, as it turned out.

Fieldwork
Mischa Berlinski

Atlantic Books; 320 pages

What links an anthropologist, a third-generation missionary, and a bored journalist? How much trouble can you get up to in Northern Thailand? Is Star Wars really the Devil's work? Fieldwork explores the unlikely intersection of ex-patriate lives, and questions whether obsession and cultural immersion are all they're cracked up to be.