Cultural Consumption | October-December 2021 (and 2021 in Review)

A paperback book with several pages marked with scraps of paper.

Cultural Consumption is a quarterly roundup of (almost) everything I’ve been reading and watching. It’s a way to share and promote amazing work, and it’s a way to hold myself accountable, so I don’t just keep watching the same few comfort-food movies over and over again.

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Network Effect – Martha Wells
I’m not the first person to say this, but: Murderbot is by far the most relatable character I’ve read in years. I love it. (This is the first full-length novel of the series, but if, like me, you’re a little late to the Murderbot party, start with All Systems Red, the novella that kicked off the series.) ★★★★☆
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Get It Done – Sam Bennett
I’ve got a weakness for productivity guides, I admit. But most of them are geared toward entrepreneurs or employees, not artists—most of the advice in those books doesn’t work for me. This one does. I’m still working on integrating some of the tips into my routines, but… so far, it really clicks for me. ★★★★☆
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Genuine Fraud – e. lockhart
A grim, twisty, reverse-chronological thriller that wears its influences on its sleeve. Plus a main character who gets less likeable with each piece that’s added to the puzzle. I loved a lot of this, but I keep thinking there was something missing. ★★★☆☆
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The City Beautiful – Aden Polydoros
I didn’t 100% buy the resolution to the murder mystery (it felt like it belonged to a different sort of book?), but in a story this beautifully written, I don’t mind. ★★★★☆
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Unreconciled – Jesse Wente
Part memoir, part cultural criticism, and with a particular focus on the Canadian film and media industries, this is essential reading for any of us looking to broaden our understanding of the Indigenous experience in Canada. (Not to mention media representation in general.) ★★★★★
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Silver in the Wood – Emily Tesh
For some reason, I expected this to be darker, more sinister. Instead I got a lovely cottagecore fantasy, and I’m not complaining at all. (I was also expecting this to be longer, but that’s because the copy I have is digital, so I had no frame of reference until I opened it. I would’ve read it a lot sooner if I knew I’d finish it in a day.) ★★★★☆
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Fortune Favors the Dead – Stephen Spotswood
Murder Under Her Skin – Stephen Spotswood
I had so much fun reading the first two books in this series. I mean: female-led 1940s noir mysteries? Sign me up. I would’ve liked more character development (especially for the character who should be the second lead), but the voice and pacing more than made up for it. ★★★★☆
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Upright Women Wanted – Sarah Gailey
A fantastic concept—librarians travelling a western-inspired dystopia, distributing subversive literature!—but the world and characterization felt a bit thin. It could’ve worked as a short story, it’d be amazing fleshed out into a novel, but as a novella, it fell flat. ★★★☆☆
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Toil and Trouble – edited by Jessica Spotswood & Tess Sharpe
A good collection of witchy short stories, though only a few of them really grabbed me the way I hoped. The stories I loved, I really loved. The rest were ok. (And one centred around a trope that I hate, so I’ll never know if it was good or not.) ★★★☆☆
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Only Lovers Left Alive (Trailer)
This is my perfect vampire movie: lush, atmospheric, and genuinely romantic. Only a little plot, just impossibly beautiful people spending their nights driving around Detroit, geeking out about art and music and quantum entanglement. ★★★★☆

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Trailer)
A solid addition to the MCU: absolutely gorgeous, with a charming cast and some really interesting hints about the future. It got bogged down a bit in the third-act battle (which happens a lot) and at this point I really prefer my MCU films to avoid standard origin stories, but it was still fun. ★★★★☆

Zola (Trailer)
Ok, so. I liked this movie. I did. But I kind of hate the way it was presented. By focussing on the fact that it started as a Twitter thread (the constant notification sounds), the actual story that made that thread so engrossing was lost. ★★★☆☆

In 2021, I watched 28 movies—fewer than any year since 2016. I read 66 books—more than any year since 2013, which was the first year I started keeping track. 

My reading list was made up of: 

  • Poetry Collections: 1
  • Comic Collections/Graphic Novels: 4
  • Fiction (Prose): 41
    • Short Story Collections: 1
    • Novellas: 6
  • Non-Fiction: 20

and the movies included:

  • New-to-Me Films: 27
  • Documentaries: 2
  • Short Films: 1
  • Films I’ve Seen Before: 1

I’m going to come right out and say it: I didn’t watch enough movies in 2021. And it got worse as the year dragged on.

I didn’t watch enough movies because I didn’t watch enough movies. Especially in the last few months, I was watching so few films, I started to put too much pressure on myself to watch something good, or interesting, or at least particularly beautiful. And so I couldn’t choose anything.

(I should mention that I watched some amazing television again this year. I tend not to track it—here or in general—and it doesn’t make up for the lack of films, but it does soften the blow a little.)

If I watched more movies in general, then occasionally (or frequently) choosing something purely because I thought it’d be fun, or because I had a crush on one of the actors, or whatever… that’d be fine. I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. And I’d have a higher tolerance for amazing-but-slow films.

At the same time… I might’ve read too many books. For the last two weeks of the year, I felt burnt out, with no real interest in picking up something new. And, looking back at the books I read… there are some amazing things on that list. And there’s a lot of stuff I’ve completely forgotten about. 

It’s a mirror image of the movies: it didn’t matter what I read, because I always felt like I could choose something ‘better’ next time. And, you know, sometimes I did choose something ‘better.’ But not always, or even most of the time.

Either way, whether I chose quantity over quality or vice versa, I’m not happy with my media consumption in 2021, or the effect it’s had on my writing.

Going forward, I’m going to try to watch at least one feature-length movie a week. I’d like to try to fit more short films in, too, though I’m not going to put a number on it. (If you have any suggestions, drop a link in the comments, or send me an email. I’d especially love to hear about films you’ve made.) 

(Edited to add: the key word there—at least so far—is ‘try.’ My schedule simply hasn’t allowed for a lot of movie watching so far this year, but I have been making an effort.)

As for the books I read, I just want to be a little more thoughtful in my choices. I’m not going to put strict rules or limits on my reading, but I’m going try to find a little more balance, and try to read books that more closely reflect the stories I want to write.