Monthly escapes: 24 books and films that saw me through 2021

It’s been a week of Covid-19 related isolation for me and I’m still testing positive and staying… kinda positive? In honesty, I’m grateful to have not been too unwell with it and that I got to spend Christmas with my other half, the pup, every film in the world and the comfort of an overfilled bookshelf.

2021 has been the first year where I’ve digitally logged every book I’ve read and film I’ve seen. I’d always taken an anti-Goodreads stance, in that I thought it was reductive to rate a book out of five stars, but I reluctantly gave in on January 1st this year and set myself a challenge to read 20 books. I ended up reading 30 (and maybe 31 by the end of the year!) so you can class me as a Goodreads convert. (I still don’t rate books though. I mean, I rate them, but I don’t rate them).  

Documenting the films I’ve watched has been an even more enjoyable pastime this year (I’ve watched 109 at the time of writing!) 2021 has seen me fall in love with films more deeply and deliberately than ever before, which makes sense in a year where the world almost opened again… but never quite properly. The routine of watching a film in between washing up dinnerplates and going to bed has provided a regular, small joy.

The following highlights reel features the books and films I enjoyed most this year, month by month, with a sentence-ish-long review of each (except for Beatles-related entries, of which the associated enthusiasm cannot always be contained within one sentence).

January

What I read… The Will to Change by bell hooks

This taught me so much about the men in my life and the perils of masculinity that we all continue to live with in a white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal world – rest in power.

What I watched… Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee

There is such an energy to this film that you cannot be anything but in awe of it – what a triumph.

February

What I read… the Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

My late grandmother would have lived in the Naples of the 40s and 50s and these books made me feel closer to her in some small way; if I were to recommend a series of books to anyone looking for one, this would be it.

What I watched… Tomboy by Céline Sciamma

A simple, poignant story yet every scene captivates you.

March

What I read… How Emotions Are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett

Pop science with bite… brilliantly backed up with plentiful evidence on how emotions are constructed – this self-help-book-in-disguise shone so much light on the role emotions play in our lives (and how that sudden onset of irritability probably just means you need a snack).

What I watched… Captain Fantastic by Matt Ross

A really fresh narrative for a family drama, easily avoiding clichés, with the plot surprising just the right amount – “let’s have a discourse!”

April

What I read… The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

A cosy read that offered some lovely fictional respite after reading a big neuroscience book – this book is perfect for anyone feeling overwhelmed by life’s very many possibilities.

What I watched… Lola by Jacques Demy

How blessed I have been this year to have a boyfriend with a Jacques Demy boxset – it turns out I have been waiting my whole lifetime to watch films as delightful and perfect as these French musicals.

May

What I read… One Two Three Four: The Beatles In Time by Craig Brown

This was an unbelievable riot of a book – never before has anything so full of life been written about the Beatles. Little did I know eight hours of rehearsal footage would follow for the fans in December! P.S. You can be a Beatles fan for FREE?! Is there any greater gift in the world?

What I watched… All that Jazz by Bob Fosse

This is a must-watch for anyone who has ever done jazz hands; the final scene had me sat there, jaw to the floor, in awe of witnessing such genius from start to finish.

June

What I read… The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is my favourite writer, and The Grapes of Wrath gave even more than I could have ever dreamed of – unforgettable.

What I watched… Pain and Glory by Pedro Almodovar

This film sparked a fierce love for this Spanish director, so much so that I very almost went to see his newest film at the cinema on a recent trip to Malaga despite the fact I wouldn’t have understood a word.

July

What I read… The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale by Gerard Reve

I read this enthrallingly boring book set in the week between Christmas and New Year at the perfect time… bang in the middle of summer. I adored it.

What I watched… Deerskin and Summer of Soul

Two perfect films were watched in July, both at the cinema. Thinking about the concept of Deerskin – a man who loves his jacket so much he goes to extreme lengths to destroy every other jacket in existence – still makes me laugh, and Summer of Soul was just the most perfectly-edited, most gratefully-uncovered long-lost footage I had the pleasure of viewing this year. Well, except for the Get Back sessions, of course.

August

What I read… Life for Sale by Yukio Mishima

I found a lovely edition of this intriguing book in a bookshop in Cromer, but I also got a puppy in August which means this book is no longer with us.

What I watched… All that Heavens Allows by Douglas Sirk

A true gift of a film… those colours, those shots, Rock Hudson, all of it, oh my, oh my…

September

What I read… A Short History of Ireland by Breandan O Heithir

Read in the passenger seat of the car on a 10-day road trip through the motherland, adding layers to a wonderful and memorable holiday with my mam.

What I watched… Annette by Leos Carax

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard singing “We love each other so much”, over and over, for way too long, I have thought often of this film since watching (and it has haunted my dreams/nightmares on more than one occasion, too).

October

What I read… Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I thought this would be a book I wouldn’t be able to get into, being so old and so long. On the contrary it consumed my life for three weeks. Jane, we stan a legend.

What I watched… The French Dispatch by Wes Anderson

Of course I loved it – Lea Seydoux naked! Frances McDormand sleeps with Timothee Chalamet! Benicio del Toro as a tortured prison artist! Mon dieu!

November

What I read… The Millstone by Margaret Drabble

A completely random choice at the library; I devoured this book in a few days and completely fell in love with the writing – a brilliantly narrated tale about an unplanned pregnancy in the ‘60s.

What I watched… Drive My Car by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

I saw so many great films in November, but this one was easily the best of the year all round. Hell, this Murukami adaptation is possibly among the best films I’ve ever seen – so beautifully paced, so masterfully told.

December

What I read… The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Ah, December – the lights are going up, the children are singing carols, the most wonderful time of the year. When I checked this out the librarian said: “Ah, a cheery festive read.” I honestly didn’t know what she meant, until I read it, and wallowed around in my own tinsel-bedecked bell jar for a few days.  

What I watched… West Side Story by Stephen Spielberg… and The Beatles: Get Back by Peter Jackson

Two visual delights I had such high expectations for… ending my year on an even higher high. Just wow. What a joy it is to live with stories and words and songs and Scousers in this world.

Check out my full Year in Books and follow me on Goodreads!

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