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

Friday, 31 December 2021

I think it’s something like the fifteenth year in a row that I’ve written this review of my last year of media consumption, which is close to being the longest I’ve ever stuck with any habit. What always surprises me is that, no matter how assiduously I record my reading, listening and watching habits, there are always surprises when I come to perform this annual look back; books I don’t remember reading, films I can’t recall at all, and artists that I would never have guessed I listened to enough to put them into any top ten list.

Reading

Just as in 2020, my book count is far lower than in earlier years due to the lack of time I’m now spending in airports, on planes, and in hotels. I said last year that I really should try to read more during the day (since generally I only read in bed); sadly I didn’t make any progress with that particular resolution. Maybe next year.

I’ve always split these lists into fiction, non-fiction, and comic books:

Fiction

A pretty unimpressive list, all told - a lot of pulp and re-reads with only a couple of truly memorable books. All the Light We Cannot See was excellent (as you’d expect of a Pulitzer winner), but Maugham’s Of Human Bondage was far and away the best thing I read this year and I’d recommend it to anyone. I also re-read The Lord of the Rings for the first time in ages - I’d forgotten how good it was - while at the other end of the spectrum I was disappointed by how uninteresting The Three-Body Problem turned out to be, after seeing it mentioned in so many people’s lists of their favourite science fiction novels.

Non-fiction

Despite not being in her target audience, I really enjoyed Caitlin Moran’s More Than a Woman, and Atomic Habits is a very helpful book if you’re trying to start or stop any behaviour in your own life, but any year I re-read Stop-Time nothing else can come close to being my favourite. The Tarantino book was a Christmas present last year; I still have a similarly huge book on PT Anderson that I’m looking forward to tackling.

Comics

Most years there’s not much variety in the comics I get through, but this time around Alan Moore is joined by some other notables from the 1990s independent comic scene. After re-reading Joe Matt, I realised that I’d never actually read any of Seth’s Palookaville strip; It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken was a great introduction to his work.

Listening

Again, just as with my literary choices, I seem to be drawn more to old favourites these days than new music. I often tend to spend a whole day with just one artist, listening to their entire back catalogue; I think there is safety in nostalgia during the uncertain times in which we live.

Top 10 artists in 2021

  1. Still Corners
  2. The Weather Station
  3. The New Pornographers
  4. Radiohead
  5. The Wildhearts
  6. Weezer
  7. Julien Baker
  8. REM
  9. Guns N’ Roses
  10. The Beatles

The top two released my two favourite albums of 2021 (see below), but almost everyone else on this list is just one of my favourite bands. I don’t even remember listening to that much New Pornographers or Guns N’ Roses, yet somehow they both made the top ten.

Top 10 albums in 2021

  1. The Last Exit - Still Corners
  2. Ignorance - The Weather Station
  3. Little Oblivions - Julien Baker
  4. Catspaw - Matthew Sweet
  5. On All Fours - Goat Girl
  6. Super Monster - Claud
  7. Magic Mirror - Pearl Charles
  8. Home - Rhye
  9. Collapsed in Sunbeams - Arlo Parks
  10. Run the Jewels 3 - Run the Jewels

All new releases aside from RTJ, although those released earlier in the year like Rhye, Pearl Charles and Matthew Sweet edged out several albums that I actually preferred from the latter half of 2021 like those by Manchester Orchestra, Spellling, and Chloe Moriondo.

Watching

As was the case in last year’s post, I’m only listing here the films that I first saw in 2021. It’s a mixture of the best stuff from the last couple of years that I hadn’t yet got around to watching (Uncut Gems, Nomadland, Parasite, Sound of Metal, Mank) plus a handful of cinema visits with the kids (In The Heights, Dune, Spider-Man: No Way Home), and then a few random picks of things I’d always meant to get around to watching but never found the time.

In general I found the Netflix exclusives pretty underwhelming: Don’t Look Up, Army of the Dead, and Mank were all disappointing. The best things I watched this year were, unsurprisingly, those movies that everyone can’t believe you’ve never seen; Galaxy Quest was perfect satire, Death Proof finally completed my Tarantino collection, and Malcolm X somehow made a three-and-a-half hour film seem like it was over too soon.

2021 picks

Favourite book: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

Favourite album: The Last Exit by Still Corners

Favourite film: Malcolm X (1992)

All data drawn from GoodReads, Last.fm, and Letterboxd.