End of year lists 2021

The Emerging Artist and I have put our heads together for our traditional end-of-year list-making.

Best Movies:

We got to the pictures surprisingly often this year, and we watched a lot of movies at home. We saw roughly 50. We managed, painfully, to whittle the list down to four that we agreed on. Three of the four we saw at the Sydney Film Festival. They are, in no particular order:

We each chose one more to make five each. I’ll leave you to guess who added which:

And then we picked four documentaries, all from the Sydney Film Festival except the absolutely brilliant Summer of Soul:


We subscribed to Belvoir Street and Griffin, but Covid–19 meant we didn’t actually see much. We agreed, however, that our top theatre experience lay elsewhere, in commercial musical theatre:


The Emerging Artist read 35 books in hard copy and roughly 10 on her device. She read 25 books by women and 20 by men. She has given me a list of her five best books in non-fiction and fiction categories (art books were important but not for listing). Here they are then:


Ayad Akhtar, Homeland Elegies (Headline 2020)

This is my outstanding book of the year: funny, serious, filled with ideas. It’s a biting commentary on where the USA is now, written while Trump was still president, but it’s still relevant. It’s a novel that reads uncannily like a memoir. (Link to Jonathan’s blog post)

Susan Abulhawa, Against the Loveless World (Bloomsbury 2020)

Completely engrossing story of the Palestinian diaspora in the Middle East and life in an Israeli prison.

Elizabeth Strout, Oh William! (Random House 2021)

What can you say about Elizabeth Strout? She’s such a delight to read. Beautifully written, this follows on from Lucy Barton.

Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads (HarperCollins 2021)

I’m not always a Franzen fan, but I loved the way this captures a period in one family’s life that echoes across US cultural life in the 70s

Richard Russo, Nobody’s Fool (Allen & Unwin 2017)

I’ve become a fan if Richard Russo. Nobody’s Fool needs to be read in conjunction with Everybody’s Fool. Like Elizabeth Strout and Jonathan Franzen, this examines small town life, where people do bad things but are recognisably human – no big villains.


Mark McKenna, Return to Uluru (Black Inc 2021)

A beautifully written, meandering history of a particular moment. (Link to Jonathan’s blog post)

Grace Karskens, People of the River (Allen & Unwin 2020))

This should be read in conjunction with Grace Karsken’s The Colony. Both are large volumes of brilliantly-written history. The river of the title is the Hawkesbury–Nepean / Dyarubbin, and the book covers the geology, flora and fauna, and human history, both before and since settlement.

Jonathan Bardo, A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes (Gill Books 2009)

It’s hard to find a general history of Ireland in bookshops and libraries in Sydney. This is a great introduction, originally created as 250 five-minute radio programs broadcast over a year in Ireland. Ireland’s history is much bloodier than I knew from when it was first inhabited, and the English are not the only source of the violence.

Bart Van Es, The Cut Out Girl (Penguin 2018)

Prompted by an interview with the author in a Conversations podcast, I borrowed this from the library. It’s a memoir about family secrets and silences that tracks the missing links in a Jewish woman’s childhood hiding from the Nazi regime.

As for me, I read 77 books (counting journals but not every children’s book). I can’t pick bests. Most successful scratching of a longstanding itch was Wordsworth’s The Prelude. Most fun was Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman. Most mind-altering was Andy Jackson’s Human Looking. Most reader-friendly Nobel laureate was Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Gravel Heart. Most likely to produce lasting behavioural change was Joe Keohane’s The Power of Strangers. Most magical revisit was Ursula K LeGuin’s Catwings. The one that made me wish I was writing my own memoirs was Brendan Ryan’s Walk Like a Cow. The one that made me think my memoir would get it all wrong was Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear.

Happy New Year, everyone. Please add your own treasured movies, plays or books from 2021 in the comments.

6 responses to “End of year lists 2021

  1. Great listing. Films – up here in the the generally movie wasteland of the lower Hunter Valley – scarcely any of those films/titles known to me – but all look like my kind of film! Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I shall also take up that tip and keep an eye out for the films on SBS. (BTW They are currently screening a really good Spanish series called Tell Me Who I Am, best thing I’ve seen in ages.)
    I’m interested in the Irish history… as you say, so very complex…
    I’ve done my Best Of post for 2021, so I’ll confine myself here to a shout-out for Growing Up Disabled in Australia which I think *everyone* should read, and two terrific novels, Christy Collins’ The Price of Two Sparrows which was swamped by big-name releases here in Oz and The Disinvent Movement by Susanna Gendall from NZ.


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