Recently, Goodreads told me that I’d read 31 books in the last year. So I decided to check that for double counting as if anyone had asked me I suppose I would have said, “I don’t know, 12-15?”. I read most books these days on my Kindle and sometimes I purchase multiple editions by one author, e.g. Steve Parker’s ‘The Complete Paterson & Clocks Box Set (1-5)’. Goodreads registers all five books when completed, but sometimes I purchase another single edition or two before finding the cheaper box set. My audit confirmed that I had completed the reading for 32 books. I reckon I have Kindle to thank for all that reading because pre-Kindle me used to buy heaps of paper books and start many of them, but rarely finish any in recent years.
What follows is my quick review of what I read in 2021. That Goodreads link above gives you a quick summary if you don’t want to TL;DR edition …
I’ll use two codes: eB for ebook and pB for paper book.
First, a confession of sorts: two books were not actual ‘reads’ Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways (pB, 4/5) and Bruce Weber’s Bear Pond (pB, 5/5). Both are beautiful books, but I would not classify them as reads. I recorded them as ‘read’ this year as I’ve looked through TAoLS many times over the last decade trying to find various quotes or inspiration and I just felt that I should record it as complete on Goodreads. Similarly, I’ve looked at all the beautiful photos in Bear Pond quite a lot. It is a First Edition, published in 1990 to benefit the AIDS Resource Centre in NYC. I literally lusted after this book for many years before purchasing a pre-loved edition online. It is one of my most cherished possessions.
The other 30 books were actual reads and all but one were read on my Kindle. I guess I should start with the the only other book that I rated 5/5: Holden Sheppard’s Invisible Boys (eB). I actually wrote a review for this book on Goodreads, so I won’t repeat all that here. I guess it was the one book I could really identify with and it made me feel something.
Only three of the remaining books were non-fiction. Of these, I think Mark Johnston’s An Australian Band of Brothers: Don Company, Second 43rd Battalion, 9th Division (eB) was my favourite. I would’ve given it 4.5/5 if possible. I loved Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and the mini-series from about 20 years ago. Mark Johnston’s Australian history compares very well and is just as horrific. It is very well researched and even after working at the Australian War Memorial for many years, I was amazed at what these men and their families endured during and after the Second World War. Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: love and terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Berlin (eB, 4/5) is a frightening story of the coming war in the years immediately before 1939 in Berlin itself. I’m obsessed with Berlin and have read a few historical and many spy novels as well as histories of this fantastic city, so I really enjoyed this book and at times you almost cannot believe what you are reading. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Secret Organisation that Changed the Course of the Second World War by Giles Milton (eB, 4/5) is another wonderful history, but I think it tries to put too many extraordinary stories into one volume and some deserved more details.
We are now down to 26 books, but for these there are only six authors. We should probably start with one of my favourite authors of all time, John le Carré. His second last book was Agent Running in the Field (eB, 4/5). I think I’ve read all the books he published before this one, but I’m yet to buy his last book Silverview. ARitF isn’t his best book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless as he was a truly gifted story-teller. le Carré also points you to the genre(s?) of fiction stories that I enjoy most: espionage/mystery/thrillers.
Like le Carré, I’ve read multiple books by each of the remaining five authors. In 2021 I only read the one novel by Karin Slaughter: The Silent Wife (eB, 4/5), but this is #10 in the ‘Will Trent’ series and I’ve read all of the others. Similarly, this year I read #5 & #6 in Gregg Hurwitz‘s ‘Orphan X’ series: Into the Fire and Prodigal Son (both eB and 4/5). I do love getting to know characters like le Carré’s George Smiley, Slaughter’s Will Trent and Hurwitz’s Orphan X. I was also a huge fan of Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson back in the day. See also Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole and Camilla Läckberg’s Patrik Hedström, but now we are way off the 2021 track.
A new author for me in 2021 was Steve Parker of ‘Paterson & Clocks‘ fame. I read #1-5 in the box set and then #6: Child Behind the Wall as soon as I saw it because I really like his use of the English language, particularly the many laugh-out-loud sayings of Detective Clocks. All were eB and 4/5.
Mark Dawson is another author who has given me some new favourite heroes: John Milton and Beatrix Rose. I was surprised to learn that this year I read #16-20 in the ‘John Milton’ series (yes, I’m addicted) and #1-3 in the Beatrix Rose series. Once again, all were eB and 4/5. I’ll eagerly read more when they’re available. I also read and enjoyed Mark Dawson’s The Vault, a stand alone espionage novel, early in 2021 (eB, 4/5).
I read seven books by the final author, Peter May. The first six were the ‘China Thrillers’ #1-6 featuring Beijing Detective Li Yan and his partner and lover, the US forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell (all eB, 4/5). These were good, but I think I enjoyed his ‘The Lewis Trilogy’ more some years ago. In early December I finished reading Peter May’s Extraordinary People (pB, 4/5), a book that I purchased some years ago. It is the first of his ‘Enzo [Macleod] Files’ and I’m already committed to continuing with that series.
That’s all for 2021. I hope I can live up to this standard in 2022!
So before you read any further a word of warning … I walk a lot listening to podcasts and I also listen to them while in the gym or the kitchen at home. The list below is quite long and some of the podcasts are not currently “live”, but I include them because their back catalogue is well worth a listen. So here we go then, mind the step.
The Peter Attia Drive Great podcast for health and medical advice recommended by a doctor friend of mine. Good coverage of COVID-19, but some excellent episodes on the importance of sleep, drugs in sport, that marathon record, new running shoes and recovery.
7am Great for up-to-the-minute independent reporting and analysis of current affairs and politics.
Hunting Seasons Explores a season of TV in each episode. Quite long episodes. I only listen to them if interested in the series.
Crime Writers On … These guys started by reviewing early episodes of the famous Serial podcast (see below), but now review other (mostly) crime-related podcasts and pop culture. I never miss an episode.
The Beetoota Advocate For the best analysis of Australian politics and current affairs (and a good belly laugh).
Crime in Sports Perhaps an acquired taste and another long podcast, but these two comedians give a great analysis of what seems like an endless list of true(!) professional sports crimes. Almost unbelievable.
True Crime Obsessed Another true crime comedy podcast (yes, I’m addicted). I love these guys. Always funny.
Conversations This is Richard Fidler’s and Sarah Kanowski’s ABC radio show podcast. I listen when interested in the person they are talking to.
The Male Gayz From New Zealand. I love these guys, but again it may not be for you. I really love their theme music! Typically down-to-earth Kiwis, but both have the talent to keep you listening while they just talk about rubbish.
Health Report From the ABC with Dr Norman Swan. Almost required listening these days. I’ve been listening on and off for years.
This American Life From US National Public Radio and hosted and produced by Ira Glass who is probably the foremost expert on podcast storytelling and one of the brains behind Serial. I listen to selected episodes when they appeal to me. Each week they choose a different theme and story.
Extreme Vetting with The Chaser Great for a ROFL moment, this podcast puts selected comedians, writers and politicians through the ringer. Maybe start with the Tony Martin ep from 23 March 2020.
Nordic True Crime This one is a bit dark, but as I’m also obsessed with Scandinavia Noir TV series, movies and books, I love it. Sometimes covers truly horrific crimes, so don’t say you’ve not been warned.
The Gays Are Revolting These guys usually release their eps on a weekly basis and cover contemporary issues and events that are relevant to the queer community. The usually have guests in for interviews. They’re trying to continue while some have been stood down from their jobs
Coodabeens Footy Show Another show that I never miss, but it is only on during (AFL) footy season. Now on ABC radio and in their 40th year on the air. May be a little hard to understand unless you’ve lived in Melbourne or are a keen AFL fan. I love the songs, talk back characters, the general banter and Sam the Sub’s regular segment. Two hours well spent each week.
Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review From the BBC. I’m only a relatively recent listener and I’d probably not yet qualify as a “member of the church”, but this is another one I never miss now and I’m slowly working my way through their available back catalogue. Fantastic! They regularly review big stars of the screen(s) and they’re persevering from home while in isolation in England.
Espionage I guess this is another acquired taste, but the stories are usually well worth listening to.
... These Are Their Stories: The Law & Order Podcast Hosted by Kevin and Rebecca from Crime Writers On, each episode concentrates on reviewing one episode of the TV shows Law & Order, SVU or Criminal Intent with a special guest. Very funny!
Hawk Talk Podcast OK, I’m a Hawthorn FC fan and club member. I’m totally devoted to Nick and Tizz, two die-hard Hawks fans who produce a great weekly podcast during footy season.
Bring a Plate Well there hasn’t been a lot since April 2019, but Peter and Bec are both very funny writers and I find them great listening. But wait! There’s more. A new episode was released on 7 April!
*** LATE NEWS! They’re back!!! Roy & HG: Bludging on the Blindside Yes, Roy & HG are back on the ABC again. All is right with the world, or at least it soon will be.***
Not currently “Live” podcasts (some have completed their run):
Accused Host Amber Hunt does a simply brilliant job on this podcast. The third series just wrapped at the end of January 2020. I’ve listened to them all. One of the top three true crime investigative podcasts ever. Beautifully made and presented. Not to be missed.
74 Seconds This podcast received a Peabody Award in 2017 and tells the tragic story of the first police shooting to go on trial in Minnesota. Really well made.
Bear Brook Another great true crime podcast from the US. A really engaging presentation. and great storytelling.
Bowraville Dan Box from The Australian (newspaper) did a great job on this, exposing an unsolved killing in Bowraville, NSW. Another tragic true story.
Breakdown Now with seven seasons online, this comes from Atlanta, US and the latest season covers a police shooting of unarmed veteran Anthony Hill who was struggling with bi-polar disorder. I found it pretty interesting and very tragic.
Crimetown Currently in their second season, Marc and Zac have attracted a big following with this podcast and deservedly so. Start with Season One about Providence, Rhode Island and the corrupt public figure Buddy Cianci.
Hunting Warhead Well this one isn’t what the title sounds like. It is an investigative podcast about hunting down online child abusers. Pretty gruesome content.
In the Dark I found both Season 1 about young Jacob Wetterling’s abduction and Season 2 about Curtis Flower’s probable wrongful conviction riveting. Right up there with Accused and 74 Seconds, this podcast is not to be missed. Madeleine Baran, Samara Freemark and their team do an outstanding job with this podcast.
OFFSHORE They’re now working on their fourth season, but until that drops there are three great seasons online. I feel like Hawaii is almost my second home, so really enjoyed the first two seasons about a killing in Waikiki and the sacred mountain Mauna Kea. With any podcast the host is particularly important and Jessica Terrell does a wonderful job on OFFSFORE.
Open Mike This show features interviews between AFL journalist Mike Sheahan and some of the AFL greats. Some are funny and others very moving (like the recent ep with Brian Lake). I’ve not listened to them all.
Phoebe’s Fall A very good Australian investigative podcast from The Age newsroom in Melbourne about the tragic death of Phoebe Handsjuk.
Serial There have been three full seasons of this famous and game-changing podcast. Best to start with Season 1, which at the time was the podcast equivalent of Game of Thrones in terms of popular interest. It put podcasts right up there with mainstream TV series. The first season investigated the murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school senior from Baltimore. Was Adnan Syed guilty or not? In the second season host Sarah Koenig continues, but this time the story is about Bowe Bergdahl as US soldier who had been a prisoner of the Taliban for nearly five years before his release in May 2014. I really enjoyed both seasons.
SBS True Stories I subscribed for Season 3, a five-part 2015 investigation into Adelaide’s gay-hate murders by journalist Mark Whittaker. More horror and tragedy. Sorry.
The Ballad of Billy Balls This one is quite unusual. iO Tillett Wright (host & producer) presents this tale of the 1977 death of Billy Balls, whose girlfriend Rebecca is iO’s mother. It is very well presented and like nothing else you’ve ever heard.
The Eleventh Yet another great ABC podcast that recently concluded. Journalist Alex Mann delves into the sacking of the Whitlam government in 1975, interviewing several people who were involved in some way at that time.
They Came to Play Yet another AFL footy podcast presented during footy season. Nothing since their post-Grand Final ep in late September 2019, but I hope they continue when the footy starts again (gotta be optimistic!). The best thing about this show is that one of the hosts, Lehmo is a Hawks supporter. I never miss it during footy season, especially if the Hawks won and both Footscray and Richmond lost.
The Sporting Probe with Roy & HG This one finished at the end of 2018, but if you like Roy & HG’s humour you can catch up on all 88 episodes.
Tony Martin’s SIZZLETOWN I really miss this one and hope they start it up again. Absolutely hilarious. They even have merch.
Trace A great investigative podcast about the unsolved murder of a Melbourne mother in a suburban bookshop. Great work by the ABC’s Rachel Brown.
Uncivil This podcast is another Peabody winner from 2017. It presents the stories left out of the official and accepted version of the history of the US Civil War. I studied the US Civil War at undergraduate level and I learnt something new each episode. A shame it ended in late 2018.
Uncover I just finished season 6 of this Canadian investigative podcast, so there’s a great deal of listening here for you. I’ve enjoyed Season 3 on the Toronto serial homicides and other unsolved deaths and the history of the LGBTQ community in Toronto and Season 6 on the 1980s panic about Satanic cults in Martensville, SK.
Undisclosed This podcast requires a bit of commitment as it goes into so much detail. Rabia Chaudry, Colin Miller and Susan Simpson investigate wrongful convictions and the US civil justice system. There are 17 seasons! Those I’ve gotten into include the stories of Adnan Syed (of Serial fame, two seasons), Joey Watkins, Jamar Huggins, Freddie Gray, Dennis Perry and Keith Davis Jr.
Unravel This podcast has had four great seasons: 1. Blood on the Tracks about a suspicious death outside of Tamworth in 1988; 2. Barrenjoey Road about the disappearance of Trudie Adams in 1978; 3. Last Seen Katoomba on the disappearance of young Blue Mountains mother Belinda Peisley; and 4. Snowball, the amazing story of how the swindler Lezlie Manukian stole more than a million dollars from host Ollie Ward’s family in New Zealand. Gripping.
Wrong Skin This is a really illuminating and beautifully presented podcast from The Age. It is about a relationship banned under traditional (indigenous) law. Two young lovers disappear and almost a year later only one body is found. Not to be missed.
So that’s about it. Yes, there are others in my podcast library, but those above are the podcasts I’d regularly download and would recommend to others. Enjoy!
And finally, my sincere thanks to all those who have brought us the podcasts above. I love your work!
In The Fade is a modern thriller set mostly in Germany, around Berlin I think. It is well worth seeing if you like this kind of thing. Diane Kruger plays a mother and wife who has her life torn apart when her husband and son are brutally murdered in a bomb attack. We witness her grief, the emotional ordeal of sitting through the trial of the suspected bombers, and her hunt for revenge following their acquittal.
I think Diane Kruger is brilliant. I’ve seen and enjoyed her performances in several other things, but she is again completely different in this: almost unrecognisable and convincingly German to my eyes and ears.
The story is well told and paced, but along the way we do see the director, Fatih Akin’s exploration of many things that are wrong with contemporary society: in particular the violence of radicalisation, the irrational fear of those who are different and the innocent lives lost as a result. We also observe a mother’s tragic unconditional love for her lost family. Entertaining with a strong message. 4/5
Pulse was billed as an intriguing mix of sci-fi, teen angst, queer drama and some body swap action thrown in for good measure (from Australia). It was on at Dendy Newtown and that is just a short walk away for me so I selected this film without another thought.
It turned out to be one of the best films that I saw at the Festival this year. It stars the amazing Daniel Monks as our hero. He also wrote the film, edited and co-produced it with the other key driving force Stevie Cruz-Martin who was also the film’s director and cinematographer. The crowd-funded budget for the film was less than $60,000 I think! The film very skilfully and frankly deals with some major issues in contemporary society: developing sexuality, identity and same-sex attraction; discrimination; dealing with a physical disability; and ultimately, learning what really matters in friendships and relationships.
Daniel’s character Olly is in love with his straight best friend at high school Luke (played by Scott Lee), but ultimately he realises that this cannot work out well. Olly eventually opts for a body swap into a girl of the same age which would have the potential to kill two birds with the one stone: his physical disability and his inability to be sexually attractive to Luke. After the body swap Olly’s character in the film becomes the sexually liberated Olivia (played Jaimee Peasley), but Olly’s conscience is still played by Daniel Monk. Putting all of this together without confusing the audience is quite simply a masterpiece in film editing. Is young Daniel the next star of the Australia film industry?
I should also commend Stevie Cruz-Martin’s wonderful and innovative cinematography which gave the film a very contemporary and personal feel.
The only disappointing aspect of this showing was that it was somewhat marginalised in one of the smaller strands of Sydney Film Festival – “Screenability”. Good on them for featuring it in this way, but really, it deserved a much bigger screening at one of the major venues. I saw quite a few big-budget foreign films at sold-out major venues that were nowhere near as good as this film. I hope that Pulse gains more exposure and attracts more attention at future festivals. A beautiful film that is thoroughly enjoyable. 4.5/5
Game of Death – well, no film festival can be complete without a decent splatterfest. This was pure escapism for me.
It was sandwiched between two serious films dealing with very real issues (civil rights and rape) and unfortunately it was not really up to the competition. It started well and showed early promise both from a comic and blood-and-gore perspective, but then it lost momentum and imagination and it was all downhill from there. I had a couple of laughs. Forgettable. 2/5
I Am Not Your Negro – is a documentary on the US civil rights movement told through the elegant words of the writer and activist James Baldwin. It is a story that focuses on the tragic murders of his friends Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers in the 1960s. The forces that drove those men and many others to their deaths many years ago still plague contemporary US society and I saw many parallels to racial fears, discrimination and xenophobia in our own society in Australia . Baldwin’s words are mostly voiced powerfully by Samuel L. Jackson, but there is also some footage shown of Baldwin at his elegant and eloquent best addressing TV hosts and a UK university crowd with such passion and his great facility with the English language.
What constantly came over to me from this film was a theme of willing or even wilful ignorance (of the plight of black Americans) in US society. This message isn’t brutally delivered but it is shocking and deeply disturbing nonetheless.
The original news footage, archival images and even Hollywood movie clips are selected and edited together beautifully. They greatly illustrate James Baldwin’s words and maintain the momentum and chronology of his message.
This is a most important documentary in the age of Trump and in a world that is dominated by media and politician fuelled fears of anyone different from the “norm”. I am really glad that I selected and saw this brilliant film. Stunning. 4.5/5
God’s Own Country is a wonderful film from the UK. It is reviewed and promoted as a British version of Brokeback Mountain, but it is actually much better than that film. I loved everything about this film right from the start: the setting in Yorkshire; the stoic nature of the locals; the cast and their acting; the cinematography; the story-telling; the tenderness of the developing romantic relationship between the two guys; the presentation and direction of the film itself; the weaving in of archival imagery; and the realness of such a situation.
I can see the resemblance to Brokeback Mountain, but I found this film to be far more believable and I empathised a great deal more with the leading characters. I thought they were much less wooden in this film. The performances by Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu are amazingly good and starkly different. I hope we see a lot more from both of them. One of the best gay-themed movies I’ve ever seen. Beautiful. 4.5/5
Una is a powerful drama from the UK. It seemed interesting to me and was adapted from a very successful play. The storyline is about child sexual abuse and revenge so it isn’t a pleasant experience that everyone will enjoy. It is, however, handled very delicately and we don’t really have to delve into a great deal of the ugliness. There are a number of tense scenes in the move and they do not always end predictably. Maybe that ambiguousness in its story-telling technique is what makes us think more deeply about blame, revenge, guilt and redemption. Is redemption from some offence like this even possible?
I found the acting from the two leads Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn to be very believable and they are well supported. Rooney’s character seems a bit confused and is sometimes less convincing in her purpose, but perhaps that too is how it might really be in this kind of situation.
I’m not going to put a spoiler on it, but I did talk to some friends who saw it on the same night and we came away with very different takes on the message left to us at the end of the movie. Is that based on our own life experience or the deliberate intent of the director Benedict Andrews? Good film making. 3.5/5
So the first few films that I saw didn’t amount to the best of starts for a film festival. These thoughts are just based on my preferences and opinions, so take them in that context. Here we go …
Ana, Mon Amour – This is a European drama with bonus sex scenes. I hated this film and would’ve walked out if I wasn’t sat right in the middle of a packed theatre. It was a sad tale about unhappy people, in an unhappy country, who are determined to lead unhappy lives. From memory there was even some hand-held moving camera work that was thrown in to make it look more “arty”, but that didn’t work for me. This is definitely a film to be avoided. How it was selected completely bemuses me and how it attracted such a large audience is also a mystery. Awful. Score: 0/5
The Ornithologist – I must admit that I was attracted to this one because “homoerotica from Europe”! Big mistake. This is a confused film and an even more confused story. It just didn’t work and I don’t say that because I am not clever enough to have followed the plot, if there really was one. I don’t think it knew what it wanted to be: a modern take on St Anthony; a transformation; a tragedy; a pilgrimage; or a surreal comedy. It failed to deliver in all of these aims. It had some potential but that all fell apart far too soon. Very disappointing. 1/5
Ellipsis – I saw this as it was billed as a love letter to Sydney and I thought it might reveal something of my home town that I had missed. It didn’t. David Wenham directed it and spoke for far too long in introducing it. I think that a good film should stand alone without an explanation about its process. The story is based on a night that the two lead actors, Benedict Samuel and Emily Barclay, spend together after an accidental meeting in the city. I didn’t find the chemistry between the two at all convincing and Emily’s character just became more and more annoying as it dragged on. Some of the scenes were a bit too cliched for me and others were just awkward. There is a side story about a dedicated phone repairman who is struggling with his citizenship test and I found that far more compelling than the main storyline. A little ordinary. 3/5
In The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses every surface becoming a screen in the Screening chapter, but this technological force isn’t just about converting surfaces into screens. He also discusses the possibility for libraries to become platforms for cultural life within their communities and he writes of the importance of encouraging contemplation and how online activities can provoke action. I think we’ve done some of this with our Artist-in-Residence and Curations programs. They’ve both led to ongoing actions and we think they inspire contemplation and further thought with at least some of our users. These programs have certainly had Interactive elements, with the current Artist Timo Rissanen actually creating his work in the central library stairwell over several weeks. Our Artists have asked questions of us and what we do that we’d not have asked of ourselves. This has enabled some reflection on our part and led to improved services, including with our search and discovery platform and our way finding signage.
At UTS Library the influence of Chris Gaul (our first Artist) cannot be overstated. He has had a significant impact on how we view our collections and this has led to ongoing improvements to discovery as well as search interfaces. His pioneering Spectogram has been recognised and reflected upon by several of our subsequent artists. He played a significant part in establishing a design-led visual identity for UTS Library.
Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw were asked to artistically interpret the use of our new Library Retrieval System in 2014. This ambitious project resulted in a truly amazing live data visualisation of the requests and returns to this huge robotically served underground storage system. Their work was inspirational and playful. It also added an important dimension to our identity as experts in data at a time when UTS was focussing itself on the importance of data and data analysis.
Zoë Sadokierski followed Elisa and Adam in 2015. She has been a long time collaborator with the Library through her design work on various experimental formats for ePRESS, in her artistic installations within the Library and by sharing her research on the intersection of print and screen technology (as opposed to the myth that circulates about these two being competitors). Her Residency explored the very nature of the book through research and by producing artist’s books. She also conducted a very interactive and collaborative production of a book live at the 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival. Like previous artists her work has had a very significant impact on our visual and physical identity as a library.
Starting in late 2016, we added digital literacy kits to our collection. Including low cost technology like Sphero, Makey-Makey and basic VR, these kits have been incorporated into both our own staff development and our educational programs for academics and students. They represent a playful way to introduce technology literacies, expanding on our traditional role in developing information literacy skills.