Books: Steve Earle writes and performs country music. You probably knew that. You may also have spotted him acting in a couple of David Simon telly shows like Treme and The Wire. But you might not have realised that he writes books too. His latest novel, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, is set in San Antonio in the early Sixties, and tells the story of a small community centred around Doc - once Hank Williams' dope supplier, now a junkie making a living as an abortionist. The first half of the book carefully draws the characters that surround Doc, and does it with such non-judgmental humanity that you hope they can defeat the prophesy implied in the novel's title. If there's a flaw, it's in the way that a character is introduced in the second half whose sole purpose is to break up the curiously idyllic life that gradually develops around the boarding house where Doc lives and works. But the narrative drive is strong enough to keep you going to the end - Earle has proven form in telling stories that span three to four minutes, but here he demonstrates that he can do it just as well over a couple of hundred pages.
Comedy: Over the last few years, Go Faster Stripe have released a series of lovingly packaged DVDs and CDs featuring the best of contemporary British comedy. But it has to be admitted that they've outdone themselves with Fist Of Fun Series 1, the first telly outing for much-loved-round-these-parts double act Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. The press release tells the full story: the BBC have been sitting on the show's tapes since 1995 with no intention of ever doing anything with them. So Lee and Herring, along with GFS head honcho Chris Evans (no, not that one), raised the money to buy the rights and release the show on DVD themselves. And it's a terrific package: all six episodes, with multiple commentaries, plus raw footage from the studio recordings, a live video, a new interview with Lee and Herring, and oodles of DVD-ROM material, spread over four DVDs. If this sells well, they promise to provide the same treatment for the second Fist Of Fun series, as well as their other BBC2 show, This Morning With Richard Not Judy. I am wanking as I write this.
Movies: You'd have thought that after the debacle of Ra.One a couple of months ago, I'd have learned to keep away from 3D movies starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. It's a good job that I hadn't learned that, because his new one Don 2 is actually pretty good. Whereas Ra.One was labouring under the whole weight of being The Most Expensive Film Ever Made In India, Don 2 is a straightforward heist flick made with a blatant eye to the international market. Given that Indian cinema is notorious for what it chooses to show or not show, it's interesting to discover the Don franchise, a series of stories about a murdering drug-dealing thief who we're meant to sympathise with solely because he's played by the most famous actor in India at the time (Amitabh Bachchan in the 1970s original, SRK in the new remakes). After a slowish first half full of setup, the robbery itself is a smartly shot and edited piece of work, delivering all the thrills and spills you'd hope for. (And, as noted at the start, it's in 3D. Do you have a pair of red/blue 3D glasses lying around the house? Then watch this. Note that the 3D in the actual film is much better, though.)
Nevertheless, I'm going to go with the other interpretation. Happy New Year, everyone! Let me know your plans for 2012 in the comments below.