A (Highly Idiosyncratic) Look at the Year in Entertainment

I have never had the time to focus as much as I’d like to on local arts and culture and if I make any New Year’s resolutions for 2022, this might be it. But I am, in my personal life, an enthusiastic consumer of movies and TV and podcasts and books and music and sometimes, those enthusiasms creep into these pages — most frequently through Fast & Curious. So I thought it would be fun to look back over the year and see what I was trying to convince you all to watch or read or listen to.

 

Movies & TV

Mayor, movie posterI began the year by canceling my Netflix subscription, having realized I was “more likely to spend an hour trying to find something to watch on Netflix than actually watching something on Netflix.” At the time I said, “I’ll see how long I last.” And the answer is, all year. And I am feeling no desire to re-subscribe.

Later that same month, I was recommending Mayor, a documentary about Mayor Musa Hadid of Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian National Authority. I rented it via the Film Movement website and re-reading my review of it has made me want to watch it again.

In March, I explained that, having watched The Thin Man over Christmas, I’d rediscovered my love of screwball comedies. I proposed to watch a bunch I hadn’t seen and I can report seeing (and enjoying) Twentieth Century, Topper and Palm Beach Story. I may just have to return to the genre for the holidays.

Later that month, I also copped to liking baking competition shows, particularly the Great British Bake Off and I am happy to report, having recently finished watching the competition’s 12th season, my love affair with baking shows is still going strong.

And from baking competitions, it was just a hop, skip and a jump to pottery-making competitions, which I admitted to enjoying in April.

 

Books

In February, I considered the link between the Canadian National Railway and the CBC — a link I’d discovered from what I think must go down as my favorite book of 2021, Linda McQuaig’s The Sport and Prey of Capitalists, an ode to Canada’s successful government-run corporations.

Three book covers

As McQuaig explains, the CNR was formed from a number of struggling railways, including our own Intercolonial, and the government tapped a Brit named Sir Henry Thornton to head it:

…one of his innovations was to introduce radio on trains. Although some US lines had been “dabbling” with the idea of onboard radio, MacQuaig says the CNR:

…became the first to overcome the considerable technological challenges and actually outfit railway cars so they could receive radio signals while in motion. On January 5, 1924, the first radio-equipped transcontinental train, operated by CNR, left Montreal bound for Vancouver.

The experiment proved popular:

Passengers were delighted to be able to stroll to the train’s lounge car, put on a headset, and suddenly, almost magically, hear live music broadcast by a radio station somewhere out there in the dark.

I snuck in another reference to the book in April, in an article about the Verschuren Centre.

Spectator contributor Sean Howard launched his latest collection of poetry in April, titled Unrecovered: 9/11 Poems, Then As Now and published by Gaspereau Press.

That same month I discovered, thanks to the CBC’s Tom Ayers, that I was a footnote in Quietly Shrinking Cities, a book by Queen’s University Professor Max Hartt. It took me some time to get organized, but Hartt’s publisher sent me a copy of the book and I devoured it and in October, had a great conversation with Hartt himself.

Also in April, I had the pleasure of reading Lachlan MacKinnon’s Closing Sysco, and discussing it with him. I consider these two interviews among my 2021 highlights.

I know I’ve already tagged The Sport and Prey of Capitalists as probably my favorite book of 2021, but the funniest thing I read was, hands down, The Codfathers, by Globe and Mail business reporter Gordon Pitts. If you need a laugh over the holidays, I highly recommend it — if you need a laugh and don’t have time to read the actual book, read my review.

three book covers

Spectator contributor Paul MacDougall stepped up in September with a great piece in which he paired books with cities.  And I went to a reading, at On Paper books, by Linden MacIntyre who was promoting his latest book — Winter Wives — but who also told some great journalism stories.

In October, I shared what I’d discovered about the identity of the mysterious Italian author, Elena Ferrante, author of the Neopolitan Quartet. (Final conclusion: I don’t really care who she is, I just love those books.)

That same month, I noted that Peter Mansbridge had a written a memoir and I bet I wouldn’t read it and so far, I’m winning that bet.

 

Podcasts

I was surprised to discover I didn’t actually mention a podcast this year until April, when I referenced The Trillbilly Worker’s Party in an article about the similarities between our part of the world (meaning the Atlantic Provinces generally and Cape Breton in particular) and the hosts’ part of the world, Appalachia (Kentucky, to be specific).

four podcast logos

I didn’t mention another podcast until September, when I cited Citations Needed, a US-based podcast focused on “the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit,” in a discussion of restaurant owners blaming government COVID assistance — rather than crap jobs, low pay and long hours — for their inability to hire workers.

In October, I mentioned Public Intellectual, with Jessa Crispin in conjunction with an item on the true identity of Elena Ferrante. (Sadly, Crispin has since ended the podcast).

That same month, I hit upon the accursed notion of listening to all 13 episodes of Annette Verschuren’s Bet On Me podcast so you, dear readers, would not have to. (I’m about to listen to Episode 8. You’re welcome.)

I was surprised at the brevity of this list, but I think the explanation is that I didn’t add many podcasts to my rotation this year and that’s because my favorites all obey the first commandment of podcasting: produce content regularly.

 

Music

In June, I reviewed “Yearbook,” local musician Adam Young’s two-album collection of “tunes” that grew out of a New Year’s 2018 resolution to write one a day.

In September, I attended a concert featuring Mary Beth Carty and Morgan Toney, part of The Shore Road Sessions series of performances presented by Shauna Walters.

Morgan Toney and Mary Beth Carty

Morgan Toney and Mary Beth Carty, Shore Road Sessions, September 2021.

I realize this makes it look like I don’t listen to music, which isn’t the case — in fact, I’m listening to music right now.