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

Thursday, 31 December 2020

So, 2020, the longest year in history, is finally almost over, and it is once again time to put together my annual traditional blog post - now in its 14th year! - and look back over the books I read, the music I listened to, and the films I watched during the last twelve months.

Reading

One might have assumed that a year of enforced solitude would increase the amount of time spent reading, but since a large portion of my pre-pandemic downtime was spent in airports and hotels, I actually read a lot less than usual. If this home-based, travel-free existence is going to carry on into 2021, I should really make more of an effort to read at other times of the day than the half-hour before bed.

Anyway, here’s this year’s list, broken down as always into fiction, non-fiction, and comic books:

Fiction

I think that the presence of so many old favourites, including many from my childhood, speaks to a greater-than-usual need for escapism in 2020. In between tales of time-travel and larking about on the river, though, I also managed to fit in some sci-fi and fantasy classics (the first Wheel of Time book disappointingly ripped off large chunks of Lord of the Rings, and I had to abandon Lord Foul’s Bane it was that bad) as well as some modern and not-so-modern literary fiction. Becky Chambers is reliably warm and comforting; Umberto Eco was boring; Lee Child was surprisingly readable for something I had dismissed as a mere airport thriller.

I think my favourite book of the year would have to be Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a love story set during the Nigerian Civil War of the late ’60s. I loved her novel Americanah when I read it a few years ago; this one was just as beautifully written and compelling.

Non-fiction

I re-read a couple of books on writing earlier in the year, but the remainder of the non-fiction I read had no particular theme. Biography, autobiography, travelogue, and self-help book, all were relatively forgettable; the best book I read in this category was easily Heavy, a memoir by American creative writing teacher Kiese Laymon about growing up fat and black in America’s deep south.

Comics

As a lifelong Alan Moore fan, it was about time I finally got around to reading his Promethea series, but I found it uninspiring enough to give up after the first three books. Instead I returned to yet another favourite from my youth, and re-read every issue of Peter Bagge’s seminal underground comic, Hate.

Listening

It’s also been a weird year for music. Aside from the disruption to album release schedules, I find that my listening habits have been affected by spending 100% of my time at home. I’ve listened to a lot less newly released music, instead filling my days with old favourites from the 80s or 90s. More safety in nostalgia.

Top 10 artists in 2020

  1. Pearl Jam
  2. Phoebe Bridgers
  3. Radiohead
  4. The Wildhearts
  5. Baby Chaos
  6. Andrew Lloyd Webber
  7. Jealous of the Birds
  8. The Beatles
  9. Bon Iver
  10. Soccer Mommy

Only five of my top ten most-listened-to artists released new albums this year; the rest are old favourites, which is almost certainly why Pearl Jam are at the top spot since they are the only band to straddle both of those categories in 2020. The rest of the top 20 were almost all early 90s rock and metal bands.

Top 10 albums in 2020

  1. Punisher - Phoebe Bridgers
  2. Ape Confronts Cosmos - Baby Chaos
  3. Peninsula - Jealous of the Birds
  4. color theory - Soccer Mommy
  5. The Main Thing - Real Estate
  6. Chess - Various Artists
  7. Making A Door Less Open - Car Seat Headrest
  8. Devotion - Margaret Glaspy
  9. The New Abnormal - The Strokes
  10. SAWAYAMA - Rina Sawayama

Apart from Chess (which only takes a couple of listens to make this list, with its 21 tracks), these albums were all released in 2020. I think Soccer Mommy’s latest was actually my favourite of the year, but I also loved the Pheobe Bridgers, Jealous of the Birds and Margaret Glaspy albums.

Watching

These are just the films that were new to me in 2020. Besides the ones in this list, my wife and I also started rewatching every James Bond film in order (and discovered they’re almost universally terrible in the 60s and 70s), and also held ourselves a brief Billy Wilder season back in March when we watched Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard back-to-back.

Of these new ones, though, some were terrible (Cats, Rambo: Last Blood, 2036 Origin Unknown), some were just disappointing (Guava Island, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Annihilation), but quite a few were great (Knives Out, Da 5 Bloods, A Quiet Place, Into the Spider-Verse, Dolemite Is My Name, Marriage Story, Booksmart, Chef, Jojo Rabbit). I’ve certainly watched fewer films this year than in previous years due to spending almost no time in hotels; however I have instead ended up watching more films with my wife and kids, which has been nice.

2020 picks

Favourite book: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Favourite album: color theory by Soccer Mommy

Favourite film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

If you’re at all interested in following along next year, you can find me on GoodReads, Last.fm, and Letterboxd.