matthewpennell.com
A blog of acquiescent temper, miscellaneous opinions, and uncertain vote

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Every year I like to post a summary of the various media I have consumed over the last twelve months, whether that be books, music, television or film. It’s a nice opportunity to remember what I liked or disliked, and to see which things stayed with me … or were instantly forgettable.

This is the first year that I started using Letterboxd for every film I watched; I think I only really started from the middle of the year, so there are probably some missing entries in early 2019. Next year will definitely be more complete.

Reading

I like to split up my reading list into fiction, non-fiction, and comics, mainly because it almost always surprises me how much non-fiction I read each year.

Fiction

I feel like I re-read more old favourites this year than I have in recent years, including some stories that I hadn’t read since I was a teenager (Drachenfels and The Magus, which were both as good as my memory said they would be). There were also some completely forgettable books—I don’t even remember reading the fourth Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book, it was that memorable—and some classics that were decidedly underwhelming (Blood Meridian in particular, although Mrs Dalloway was also more than a little pedestrian).

At the more positive end of the scale, Doomsday Book was excellent, if a little long; The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was well-constructed and meticulously researched, although I found the ending predictable; and A Little Life was heartbreaking and kept me up late at night, turning the pages in the hope of some relief for the tortured protagonist (hint: there wasn’t any).

Non-fiction

On the non-fiction side, I revisited another very old favourite, Christina Dodwell, whose travel and survival books I devoured as a teenager. Travels With Fortune, her first book, details the experiences that laid the groundwork for all those later works. I also finally got around to reading Leaves of Grass (which was totally different to what I was expecting) and David “The Wire” Simon’s riveting book detailing his time with Baltimore’s murder police.

Comics

Nothing of note here, just a couple of re-reads. I always seem to have the same problem with re-reading Alan Moore—it’s so mind-blowing the first time you read it that, by the time you return for a second time, your expectations are so high that it’s inevitably a let-down.

Listening

While I could easily just list my favourite albums released over the last year, I prefer to look back at my actual consumption, both new and old. Sometimes it reflects a stronger than usual roster of new artists and album releases; more often it just shows how long your favourite music and musicians stay with you.

Top 10 artists in 2019

The Wildhearts reclaim their top spot through a combination of a new album release and, well, being my favourite band of all time. Out of the rest of the list, only five (Bon Iver, Billie Eilish, Better Oblivion Community Center, Tegan and Sara, and James Blake) actually released a new album this year, and of those the latter two weren’t even that good, if I’m being honest. I’m not sure why Led Zep managed to chart so highly, either—probably because when I listen to them, it’s usually the epic twin album Remasters from beginning to end.

Top 10 albums in 2019

Now this is more like it. All these albums came out in 2019; Billie Eilish probably edged it simply by being something that everyone in the family was happy to listen to (which is not something you could say about JPEGMAFIA or FEVER 333). I really liked the Better Oblivion Community Center, Desperate Journalist, Marika Hackman, and Mono albums; the Beyoncé Netflix show was amazing; and FEVER 333 would appear to be a worthy successor to RATM in the political rap-metal genre.

Watching

I’m not going to list every film I watched this year, but here are a few notable entries:

For all that it feels like we never get to go to the cinema any more, I actually saw quite a few new releases this year. The Favourite was probably the weirdest of those; Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood probably the most enjoyable, although Endgame was pretty good too. The rest are a combination of Netflix, Amazon Prime, or visits to Amsterdam’s CitizenM hotel, which boasts a great selection of free movies. It was there I saw Phantom Thread (disappointing, even as a huge fan of PT Anderson) and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (brilliant, understated black comedy).

2019 Picks

Now that I’ve started tracking my filmgoing as well as music and reading habits, I suppose I could actually choose a favourite in each category to see out the year:

Favourite book: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Favourite album: Better Oblivion Community Center by Better Oblivion Community Center

Favourite film: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)