Inspired by a few of my favourite creators, I've decided to do a summary of some of the media I enjoyed last year. It was a difficult year for everyone at one point or another, and a reminder of how essential the arts are for us as a community. When things get difficult we turn to the works of creators – authors, filmmakers, musicians, artists – to entertain us, to guide us, and to help us feel connected to one another.
I put together a list of the media I read, saw, watched, consumed, during 2020 and point to a couple of the highlights, which I might delve into a little more deeply in future posts.
In 2020 I began a daily routine of reading for about 40 minutes to an hour every morning while having my coffee. It was a really important way to help me maintain structure in lockdown, and helped to keep me relatively sane. Getting up each morning to read was a joy, a little moment of peace.
Special mention: Flames and The Rain Heron, by Robbie Arnott. Both books by this Tasmanian author are brilliant. Arnott blends a deep connection to nature with magical realism and experimental storytelling in a way I find extremely enviable. His debut novel, Flames, is especially good.
Other highlights of the year are in bold. The full list of books I read last year, in the order I finished (or in a couple of cases, didn't finish) them are:
Monster Anthropology: Ethnographic Explorations of Transforming Social Worlds Through Monsters, edited by Yasmine Musharbash and Geir Presterudstuen
The Monster (The Masquerade #2), Seth Dickinson Dead Astronauts (Borne #2), Jeff Vandermeer Abandoned: The Most Beautiful Forgotten Places from Around the World, Mathew Growcoot The Vegetarian, Han Kang The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe #1), Ambelin Kwaymullina The Survivor, Primo Levi
Ghost in the Shell (Ghost in the Shell #1), Masamune Shirow Binti, Nnedi Okorafor Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood Blindsight (Firefall #1), Peter Watts Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward Flames, Robbie Arnott Prosper’s Demon, KJ Parker The Fifth Season, NK Jemisin Beastings, Benjamin Myers The Body, Stephen King
Watchmen, Alan Moore Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2), Ann Leckie Lanny, Max Porter Travels in the Land of Serpents and Pearls, Marco Polo Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Olga Tokarczuk The Forever War (The Forever War #1), Joe Haldeman The Good People, Hannah Kent
Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars, Jeff Lemire. Echopraxia (Firefall #2), Peter Watts The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye (The Walking Dead #1), Robert Kirkman The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne A Canticle for Leibowitz (St Leibowitz #1), Walter M Miller Jr.
Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, Junji Ito. The Republic of Thieves (Gentlemen Bastards #3), Scott Lynch Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3), Ann Leckie Titus Groan (Gormenghast #1), Mervyn Peake Ready Player One, Ernest Cline Finch (Ambergris #3), Jeff Vandermeer
Wind, Sand, and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupèry The Testimony, James Smythe The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandell
The Invisible Man, HG Wells The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John le Carrè
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin The Overstory, Richard Powers Cain, Josè Saramago The City of Illusions, Ursula K Le Guin (Hainish Cycle #3) Moonglow, Michael Chabon Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter This is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
We, Yevgeny Zamyatin
Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell
Postcards, Annie Proulx Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith Rise and Shine, Patrick Allington All Our Wrong Todays, Elan Mastai Consider Phlebas (Culture #1), Iain M. Banks Untold Night and Day, Bae Suah The Vanishing Futurist, Charlotte Hobson The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1), Stephen King For He Can Creep, Siobhan Carroll Kraken, China Mièville To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Beck Chambers
Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff Miss Lonelyheart, Nathanael West Great Apes, Will Self Count Zero (Sprawl #2), William Gibson The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham The Curse of Chalion (World of the Five Gods #1), Lois McMaster Bujold Mona Lisa Overdrive (Sprawl #3), William Gibson On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P Djèlí Clark The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson The Cyberiad, Stanislaw Lem The Quiet Woman, Christopher Priest The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi
I'm less good at keeping track of the music I listen to (it's something I'm working on improving). But without a doubt the album that stuck with me for a long time this last year was Matt Elliott's Farewell to All We Know. Dark, broody, but full of beauty, this album was a perfect expression of so much that I felt during certain periods of last year.
I'm also not too good at keeping track of the movies I watch. I have a short list below, but the standout was certainly Parasite. Amusing, intelligent, and so well-crafted, this Korean film certainly deserved the Oscar.
The Two Popes
Train to Busan
Wake in Fright
Shaun of the Dead
I didn't binge as much as I might have during lockdown, and certainly less than some people, but I am surprised how long this list is. I tried picking stand-outs but I generally don't watch past season 1 of a show if it's not great.
Flowers, The Great, Perpetual Grace and Flowers are exceptionally good. Devs was perhaps my favourite, because I've always been a sucker for stuff written by Alex Garland. And Better Call Saul, a slow burn of a show, is never less than excellent.
Barry, Seasons 1 and 2 Better Call Saul, Season 5 Bojack Horseman, Season 6 Chernobyl, Season 1 Dark, Season 3 Devs, Season 1 Fleabag, Seasons 1 and 2 Flowers, Seasons 1 and 2 For all Mankind, Season 1 Lovecraft Country, Season 1 Ozark, Season 3 Perpetual Grace, Season 1 The Great, Season 1 Watchmen, Season 1 Westworld, Season 3 Years and Years, Season 1
My patience for games is less these days than it used to be, so many of these are unfinished. When I play a game, I'm in it for worldbuilding and story, rather than to complete every quest or collect every item. I rarely play a game through more than once and if I become bored and stop playing for a while, I'm unlikely to pick it back up again.
State of Mind Dream Break The Last Door (Season 1) Oxenfree A Plague Tale: Innocence Unforeseen Incidents The Stanley Parable The Station Kona Hitman 2 Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones Primordia Virtuaverse Grand Theft Auto 5 Firewatch Truderbrook Blacksad Kingdom Come: Deliverance Read Dead Redemption 2 Tacoma
Call of Cthulhu
Vampyr Detroit: Becoming Human Cyberpunk 2077