Another year has come and gone, and I’ve compiled another list of the some of the books, articles, movies, games and songs that meant the most to me this year. Like last year, I’ll preface this list with the disclaimer that, as a dad to a toddler, I do not have a lot of free time. What time I do have, I fill with whatever appeals to me at the time. I can’t watch or play everything as it comes out, and in fact a lot of the stuff on here wasn’t even released in 2021. This list is very personal, and simply reflects what mattered to and had an impact on me.
Having said that, let’s dive into the list of books, games, movies and songs that meant the most to me this year.
Books I loved
Traction by Gino Wickman
Traction combines some of the best business advice, tools and methods available into a handy framework for small and medium-sized businesses. I’m currently helping a client to implement this exact method, and I honestly believe many companies in the videogame industry would benefit from implementing (some of) the tools presented here.
The Courage to be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi
This is a *very* good philosophy book, with a very misleading title. It’s not at all about acting like an asshole and ignoring when people judge you for it. Instead, it is one of the most thoughtful books I’ve read about letting go of expectations, and living life on your own terms.
Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn
This is the best book I’ve read on parenting, full stop. It does a great job of explaining the many ways that traditional parenting styles can convey to a child that their parents’ love is conditional on things like good behavior or grades. In fact, even some of the best-selling parenting books available promote parenting techniques that can be downright coercive, taking advantage of the asymmetrical power relationship between a child and their parents. This book offers ways to raise a child while loving them *unconditionally*, and it’s had a huge impact on how I view my responsibilities towards Maya.
The Locked Tomb series, by Tamsyn Muir
This fantasy/sci-fi series is summarized in the books’ blurb as “lesbian necromancers in space”. And that’s exactly what you get, a mix between lovecraftian horror and sci-fi create a compelling mythology that serves as a background for a cast of well-written, compelling characters as they work with (and against) each other to solve an ancient necromancy test. The second book is even more of a mindfuck, upping the stakes considerably and leaving you guessing right up until the end. I pretty much devoured these in one gulp, and I can’t wait for the third and fourth book to drop.
Death’s End Trilogy, by Liu Cixin
More sci-fi, but this time of the “hard sci-fi” variant. The series starts with The Three Body Problem, in which an alien planet contacts earth to get help solving the titular “three-body problem”. From the second book on, the scale of the books increases to include much of the galaxy and thousands of years, all while building on a compelling mix of science, politics and psychology. Absolutely loved these.
Games I loved
Total games played: 26
They had me at “cat-themed open world Mario game”. This game is just so fun. From the tightly calibrated puzzles to giant super saiyan catsuit powerup you get when fighting a giant bowser, I had a blast going through this game and collecting all of the stars.
Monster Hunter Rise
I love me some Monster Hunter, and after Monster Hunter World I was ready for Capcom to take the series to Switch. The story feels a bit short, all things considered, but the gameplay is as polished as it’s ever been. The addition of the wirebugs completely open up your options for manoeuvring around the world and getting the drop on the monsters. Can’t wait for the DLC that’s coming in 2022.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Both Spider-Man games are great, but I liked Morales just a bit more. Its story is just a bit more contained, and has a stronger emotional core. It’s hard to describe how good it feels to zip around the city as Spider-Man to the excellent soundtrack.
This one had been on my list for a long time, and I finally dove into the voice acted version on PS4 this year. This game is amazing. The characters are fantastic, the humor is incredibly well done, and I love the inner dialogue system that lets you explore the inner workings of the main character. I was fully hooked in the first five minutes, when a dialogue choice to run away resulted in the main character sprinting away from a conversation at full speed, doing a flying jump while raising two middle fingers at his conversation partner, and promptly crashing into an elderly lady in a wheel chair. There is no game quite like this.
Guardians of the Galaxy
I managed to squeeze this one in right before making this list, and boy am I glad I did. I was afraid it would clash with my MCU image of the Guardians, but I ended up liking this version even more. The writing here really is fantastic, and does a great job at fleshing out the team dynamic between the Guardians. The story itself is equally well written, and manages to land its emotional beats flawlessly. I went from not expecting much from this game when it was announced, to having pretty high expectations after reading some reviews and impressions, but even then I wasn’t prepared for just how much heart this game has. Highly recommended.
Movies and shows I loved
Movies/tv seasons watched: 51
Palm Springs is a brilliant take on the stuck-in-a-time-loop genre. Andy Samberg is perfect as the aloof Nyles, who has been stuck reliving the same wedding day for god knows how long. Where movies like Groundhog Day take time to work up to this concept, Palm Springs takes it as a given and gets off to a running start. The movie manages to work a surprising amount of themes and plotlines into this concept, while never taking itself too seriously.
I had heard that Tenet was overly complicated. Overly self-serious. Made no sense. All of that turned out to be true, and I still loved every minute of it. This is proper science fiction. The time travel concept at the core is thoroughly examined and driven to its absolute breaking point. I had a blast trying to work both forward and backwards in my mind while watching, trying to figure out how and where the pieces would connect. Very much looking forward to noticing even more details on a second viewing.
Bo Burnham: Inside
It’s hard to overstate just how brilliant this comedy special by Bo Burnham is. He recorded the entire thing in one room while quarantining, and you watch Burnham both during and in-between recording his signature songs. It’s hilarious, but it’s also raw, layered, and personal. It’s the perfect comedy special for the COVID era. It’s capital “A” Art.
Ted Lasso S1 and S2
Ah, Ted Lasso, the positive light in the dark tunnel that was (is) our shared pandemic. Ted is an American football coach sent to train a UK soccer team, and he does so by being… nice? In most shows the nice person is usually the butt of the joke, painted as naive. Here, we see what the world can look like when being nice is treated as a strength, rather than a weakness. I might restart my Apple TV sub just to see the third season.
Evangelion 3.0+1.0 Thrice upon a time
Evangelion is one of my favorite anime shows, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to see Hideaki Anno rewrite his famous story for the third and final time. The first two movies in this quadrilogy follow the original story quite closely. Everything then flies completely off the handle in the third and fourth. The last movie came out this year, and manages to be especially chaotic and obtuse, while at the same time wrapping up the 26-year-old franchise in a very satisfying way. Giant robots FTW.
Songs I loved
Minutes of Spotify listened: 19,561
One of the songs from Burnham’s special had to go on this list, and I opted for this one. This year has been studded with many moments of feeling less than great: I’ve been tired, pessimistic about our chances in a pandemic, generally low on energy, and sick (not-Covid, thank god), just to name a few recurring ones. This song was the perfect anthem for those moments. Feeling like a big ol’ motherfucking duffle bag of shit, indeed.
I love RADWIMPS, and I’ve had their 2021 album FOREVER DAZE on repeat since it came out. They are most well-known in the west for their sweeping soundtrack for the movie Your Name, and FOREVER DAZE is full of their signature orchestral, poppy songs. MAKAFUKA is my favorite of the bunch.
This is the song that introduced me to Jon Batiste. I just love Batiste’s flow over the beat here, and the way it contrasts to his otherwise more soulful, funky repertoire.
Okay so the live action Cowboy Bebop didn’t quite live up to the hype. Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed watching Spike, Jet and Faye’s antics in live action, and I’ll take any excuse to listen to Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack. The whole soundtrack is great, but nothing lights a candle to the sheer catchiness of the opening song Tank!.
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