Best Of My Web 2021

I’ve been online for a long, long, long time, in the relative terms that Internet experience can be measured. This blog’s archives extend back to 1995 (before the word “blog” even existed), and I was romping and stomping about in virtual spaces even earlier than that, like some digital dinosaur hauling its hunky heft through a primordial dial-up ASCII swamp.

With a quarter-century-plus experience in sorting the garbage that spills out of the Interweb’s pipes, I think I’m pretty discerning in plucking the shiniest gems from the stinkiest spew of the online world. And being a community-oriented sort, I’m happy to leverage my online explorations to share a roster of the websites that moved me most over the past year, in the hopes that you might find them engaging and entertaining as well.

Before I get to this year’s roster, though, I do have to note and acknowledge that my long-time, most-favorite website went dark this year, after author Rick Harris died of cancer this past April, way too young, leaving his Thoughts on the Dead website behind as an epic example of how fine writing can build worlds, and communities. Honestly, for as long as I’ve been online (which is a long, long, long time), I’d likely cite his written work, and the community he built, as perhaps the greatest thing that I’ve loved and embraced and endorsed through this, our digital era. He was a true once-in-a-lifetime genius, and I miss him and his writing, a lot. More thoughts (or “Thoughts”) on that, if you missed them when I first posted them, here.

A couple of other long-time favorite sites have either gone dark or sporadic in 2021:

  • Rob Madeo‘s Keyboard Krumbs: At the time that I am compiling this list, Rob’s site seems to be consistently returning a “Nothing To See Here” response to hits from my browsers. That’s happened before, and it may just be a short-term hosting thing, or it may just be a super-good writer deciding that he’s had enough of this online nonsense, and choosing to spend his time and creative energy elsewhere. (I embed a link to his site above, even though it is broken as I do so, in hopes that it will return at some point, either as an archival resource, or as a going concern). As noted years ago in the link from his name above, I hold Rob in very high acclaim as a guy who can say a whole lot with a very small amount of text. I seriously see that as something to which I should and could aspire, but I’m just too damn wordy, so I’m doubtful that I’m going to ever rise to his level of brilliant concision.
  • Mimi Smartypants: Another long-time favorite who has appeared on my “Best of the Web” lists many times over the years. Her site is still live as I type today, but she’s only infrequently posting at this point, such that it’s a thrill whenever one of her new missives arrives. (We got one this week, as it turns out, hooray!).  I have loved her writing for many, many years, but the sense of awe and respect that I feel for her work was amplified dramatically during the four years when we lived in Chicago, when I was a bus and train-riding fool, making her references to those always-interesting modes of transport, and the work and residential neighborhoods they connect, all the more brilliant and real for me. Not to sound like a weirdo stalky guy, but she used to write about L stops and bus routes that I also rode regularly, so it was satisfying on some plane to know that she might have been sitting behind me some days, describing what I was looking at and seeing and smelling better than I ever could have.

I’ll be first in the fan-boy line when and if Rob and Mimi make a big, splashy return to regular web posts, but if that doesn’t happen, then I doff my cap to them both for the years of grins and giggles that they’ve provided me. And having acknowledged Rick and Rob and Mimi as part of a most respectful preamble, I now move on to the ten websites that are live and active as I write this post, and which provided me the greatest quantities of giggles and joy and thoughtful thoughts and entertainment over the past twelve months. I hope you will give them all a look-see and (where appropriate) a follow, as they’re all worthy of your support and engagement.

  • Going Medieval: Dr. Eleanor Janega offers (in her own words) “Medieval History, Pop Culture, Swearing.” I love all of those things, and I adore her site, which brings history to life, while illuminating and (often) eviscerating modern stupidities that are anchored in misunderstandings of the past. Great writing and great fun. My Website of the Year for 2021, for sure.
  • The Haunted Generation: I spend a lot of online time mucking about with folks in the British Isles, but few things make me wish I were English more than this site. The creators deftly explore cultural and media tropes from the years of our shared childhoods, and their work is educational and entertaining in equal measure, especially if you are drawn to the weird.
  • Aphoristic Album Reviews: I love a good music-nerd list, which is an “a-DUH!” statement for anybody who has read this site for more than two weeks. Aphoristic sits sweet in my current reading pantheon as the work of another list-making fiend, whose tastes overlap with mine regularly, so I feel smart being able to meaningfully respond to his great work.
  • Art & Crit by Eric Wayne: In my experience, there are folks I admire as tremendous artists, and there are folks I admire as tremendous art critics, and the Venn Diagram of those two communities has but a tiny over-lapping sliver. As small as that sliver is, Eric Wayne sits within it, a super creator, and a super analyzer of others’ creations. Great reads, always.
  • The Blue Moment: Richard Williams was a long-time writer, editor and/or on-screen personality for Melody Maker, The Times, The Old Grey Whistle Test, and many other music-adjacent outlets, making him one of the most-influential music thinkers to emerge from Britain in the latter part of the 20th Century. His website offers more of the same, gloriously, thankfully.
  • The Fall Online Forum: While the amazing musical group that originally inspired the creation of this site are no more, (see here), the community built to celebrate them (and countless other topics of interest) churns on, and I’m happy to have it as my current “Serial Monogam-E” site of choice for real-time Internet interaction, other social media be damned to hell.
  • Vinyl Distractions: Carl Johnson is a long-time web connection from our Albany days, and I have deeply enjoyed his My Non/Now-Urban Life and Hoxsie! websites over the years. His latest offering is basically an online tribute to his record collection, and, of course, that tickles me to no end, both in terms of what he owns, and how he writes about it.
  • Ramblin’ With Roger: Another friend from Albany days, Roger Owen Green is a super-long-time daily blogger of refined tastes and interests, many of which closely align with my own. Roger also brings his formidable librarian skills to organizing his information, and that’s a noticeably great thing in the mostly mucky mire of poorly-curated online experience.
  • Messy Nessy Chic: One of the most-interesting sites online, and also one of the prettiest. Nessy’s every-Monday “13 Things I Found on the Internet” series is a weekly highlight for me, and her/their articles throughout the week are almost always interesting, educational, and visually sumptuous. A fine creative and commercial aesthetic here, worthy of emulation.
  • Chuck The Writer: Chuck Miller is yet another friend from Albany days, and like Roger above, he is a long-time daily blogger, so you always have something(s) new to read from him, no matter how long you wait between visits. Chuck is also a tremendous champion and advocate for online community-building, and I deeply appreciate his fervor on that front.

Dr Eleanor Janega’s article from “Going Medieval” which compared/contrasted Modern Influencers and Medieval Damsels was a mind-blowingly fun bit of history writ large, and snarky.

Best Television of 2021

As noted, teased and promised in yesterday’s Best Films of 2021 post, this, our viral life, has found me unexpectedly watching far more television over the past two years than I have at any time since (maybe) my early Saturday Morning Cartoons days (and even that’s a bit questionable, time-wise). While I have certainly sat through some disappointing time-wasters over the past year, I’ve also really enjoyed a fair number of things that I don’t think I would have bothered to watch, pre-COVID. And, me being me, that means I have to make a list, and share said list with you.

While these shows do not appear the list below, because they either did not air in 2021, or did not originate in 2021, I do note that I am most excited about the return of Letterkenny later this month, and that we’ve watched the first episode of the normally outstanding The Expanse, which was, alas, kind of meh. I also adored Sherman’s Showcase, which was a 2019/2020 release, but which promises a second season soon. So if this becomes an annual year-end list, then I suspect you’ll see some or all of those three (if The Expanse bounces back during its final five episodes, anyway) in my hypothetical 2022 list.

And with that as preamble, here are my ten favorite multi-episode things that I watched on television over the past year, and that do not qualify (to my mind) as feature films . . .

#10. Brand New Cherry Flavor

#9. Only Murders In The Building

#8. 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything

#7. South Side

#6. Reservation Dogs

#5. Resident Alien

#4. The Beatles: Get Back

#3. Letterkenny

#2. Squid Game

#1. Ted Lasso

Best Films of 2021

What a weird year for movies 2021 has been!

Right off the bat, the obvious defining weirdness is that I have not set foot in a movie theater in almost two years at this point. A bit less obvious: I have not historically been much of a television watcher, but in early COVID days, Marcia and I generally made an active effort to sit together to watch something on television most nights, and that habit has endured through 2021. I have not done so in the past, but as I look at the things that pleased me this year, I think that I probably need to do a “Best Television of 2021” post as part of my year-end wrap-up, covering the “non-movie” portion of our viewing experiences.

I likely watched more feature films in 2021 than in most any other year of my adult life, but I did so from the comfort of our plush command center at home, in front of our big-screen wall-mounted television, and not in a cinema setting. I know a lot of folks might find that disappointing, but I have to say, it’s been pretty great to not have any movies ruined in 2021 by assholes on cellphones or by chatting audience members or by glitchy sound/projection, or by annoyingly bright “EXIT” signs above open doors that admit the sounds of a crowded lobby into my viewing space. I could get used to this. No, scratch that: I have gotten used to this. While I’ll be happy at some point to watch a film with a popcorn bucket bigger than my head oozing iridescent butter-flavored topping into my lap, for now, I’m all good with the privacy and focus that our home-based paradigm provides.

The other weird aspect in defining “Best Films of 2021” is defining exactly what counts. On a strictly calendar basis, I would certainly cite The Sound of Metal and Promising Young Woman among the very best things released in the past twelve months, but due to the shifts in award scheduling associated with the Anno Virum, both of those films were included in last year’s (belated) Oscar cycle, so it seems counter-productive to praise them now, since they’ve already gotten their award-season due. On the flip side of that, Nomadland also technically came out in 2021, winning a bucket-load of Oscars, and annoying me deeply, as I consider it to be one of the most over-rated films in recent memory, ugh. (I’d give that award for the latter part of calendar year 2021 to Dune.  Two-and-a-half hours to get halfway through the book? No thank you. And Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides? No, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO, NO!!! And NO!!!!! And did I mention NO!?)

Another weird factor to consider for 2021 movie lists: there were loads of films, mostly foreign ones, that debuted in the international festival circuits in 2019 or 2020, with their producers intending to release them in the United States shortly thereafter, only to have their plans duly and fully virused, like so many other plans, by so many other people. So the various American streaming services ended up offering we United Statesians with our first opportunities to see a lot of killer films from abroad, making them technically 2021 releases as far as domestic eyes are concerned, even though they may already have been a year or two old in terms of their own indigenous release dates. And then there’s the final weird factor with regard to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu and Disney+ and HBO Max, who released their own feature films on their own television platforms, raising the question (again) about what counts as a television show, and what counts as a cinematic film release.

In reviewing the (long) list of everything I watched (however it might be categorized) in 2021, I’ve decided that my basic premises for my Best Films of 2021 list will be to only include domestic films that did not make the deadline for consideration in the most recent Oscar cycle, and to include any non-domestic films that first saw release in any format since the end of that same Oscar cycle. As I am posting this annual report before the end of both the 2021 calendar and award years, I do note that I have not yet seen the following films, but I hope to do so before year end, and I suspect that some of them may well be lifted into the “Best of 2021” list after I have a chance to see them. Please let me know if there are others that I need to prioritize in the weeks ahead.

  • C’mon C’mon
  • Licorice Pizza
  • Memoria
  • Nightmare Alley
  • Old Henry
  • Parallel Mothers
  • Red Rocket
  • Titane
  • The Worst Person in the World

With all of that as a long preamble, here are my picks for the Best Films of 2021, in two broad categories:

Best New Feature Films of 2021:

  • 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible
  • Annette
  • The Card Counter
  • Censor
  • Concrete Cowboy
  • Cruella
  • Cryptozoo
  • The Dig
  • Don’t Look Up
  • Free Guy
  • The French Dispatch
  • The Green Knight
  • The Harder They Fall
  • The Killing of Two Lovers
  • Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time
  • Lapsis
  • Last Night in Soho
  • The Lost Daughter
  • The Mitchells vs the Machines
  • The Outside Story
  • Passing
  • Pig
  • Plan B
  • The Power of the Dog
  • Saint Maud
  • Say Your Prayers
  • Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
  • Together Together
  • The Velvet Underground

Best Foreign Language Films Receiving First Wide U.S. Release in 2021:

  • About Endlessness
  • Bergman Island
  • Dead Pigs
  • The Disciple
  • I’m Your Man
  • Keep An Eye Out
  • Mama Weed
  • Mandibles
  • Night of the Kings
  • Undine
  • Who You Think I Am

As a bonus feature, because I’m a bonus feature-offering kind of guy, if I had to cast an Oscar Ballot today, here would be my picks among the major categories, or among the minor categories where something really stuck with me for one reason or another. I suspect that some of the things I cite below might not actually qualify for the 2022 Oscar presentations, since I’m not quite sure what they’re including and what they’re not including, but within my own rubric for what’s a great 2021 film, here are my choices:

  • Best Feature Film: The Killing of Two Lovers
  • Best Director: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
  • Best Actor: Clayne Crawford, The Killing of Two Lovers
  • Best Actress: Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
  • Best Supporting Actor: Benecio del Toro, The French Dispatch
  • Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, The Harder They Fall
  • Best Cinematography: Eduard Grau, Passing
  • Best Costume Design: Cruella
  • Best Animated Feature Film: The Mitchells vs The Machines
  • Best Documentary Feature Film: Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time
  • Best International Feature Film: Night of the Kings
  • Best Production Design: Adam Stockhausen and Rena DeAngelo, The French Dispatch
  • Best Original Song: “So May We Start,” (from Annette)
  • Best Score: Annette
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: The Power of the Dog
  • Best Original Screenplay: The Killing of Two Lovers
  • Best Big-Budget Boom-Boom Zip-Zap Pew-Pew Style-Over-Substance Soul-Free Awards for Pretty Stuff Made on a Computer and Put on A Big Screen With Some Really Loud Noises: Dune

It’s not getting a lot of media attention, but this is truly a remarkable film for the ages, and I recommend it to you, most heartily.

Best Books of 2021

In January of 2019, I closed out all of my social media accounts and made an active commitment to read more books of substance, and less ephemeral drivel, than had been the case in then-recent years. I have been pleasantly surprised to see what an effective gambit that has been when I have done my Best Books reports over the past couple of years, and found myself with a wealth of great reads to choose from. In 2021, that trend expanded even further, and I suspect that I have read more books in the past 12 months than in any other year of my life since I moved beyond picture books into word-based tomes, and excluding the years when I was in school devouring (or skimming and pretending to devour) textbooks. I guess being mostly retired has also helped on that front.

Objectively speaking, my life has been far less anxious and agitated after I departed from the hateful and untrustworthy online worlds that Jack and Zuck and their evil greed-head ilk have built to destroy us all in the name of share-holder equity. What a truly shitty paradigm the social media experience is, on so many levels. I look forward to us collectively moving beyond it at some point, though I am not enough of a futurist to see how and when that might happen. I just know that it is a long overdue transition, and that tomorrow’s historians will likely look at how we spent our time and framed our arguments in the first quarter of the 21st Century and will wonder “What the hell were they thinking?!? And how could they have collectively been so very, very stupid?!?”

One way we get stupider, in real time, is by not reading great books by great writers, so I feel like I again did my own small part to stay smart in 2021 by continuing to devour a wide range of new books by authors both familiar and fresh. I share my lists of the best new books I read this year below, parsed into three categories (1) Novels or story collections published in the United States in 2021, (2) Novels or story collections published in or before 2021 abroad, which saw their first American releases in English translations in 2021, and (3) Non-fiction works published in the United States in 2021. Within each category, the books are listed in the order I read them.

I have marked a baker’s dozen titles/authors in bold on the lists below; these are the books that I would most highly commend to you as the very, very best of 2021. Perhaps some of these works will move you too. Or perhaps some other literary thing will have rocked your world rigorously enough that you’d like to share a recommendation in the comments. Happy to hear from you, in either case!


  1. Summerwater, Sarah Moss
  2. Good Neighbors, Sarah Langan
  3. Fake Accounts, Lauren Oyler
  4. No One Is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood
  5. Infinite Country, Patricia Engel
  6. Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. Hummingbird Salamander, Jeff Vandermeer
  8. Composite Creatures, Caroline Hardaker
  9. Second Place, Rachel Cusk
  10. Subdivision, Robert Lennon
  11. The Atmospherians, Alex McElroy
  12. Hollow, B. Catling
  13. Malibu Rising, Taylor Jenkins Reid
  14. Hot Stew, Fiona Mozley
  15. Virtue, Hermione Hoby
  16. The Startup Wife, Tahmima Anam
  17. Something New Under the Sun, Alexandra Kleeman
  18. A Touch of Jen, Beth Morgan
  19. Appleseed, Matt Bell
  20. The Book of Form and Emptiness, Ruth Ozeki
  21. Bewilderment, Richard Powers
  22. Revelator, Daryl Gregory
  23. This Thing Between Us, Gus Moreno
  24. Build Your House Around My Body, Violet Kupersmith


  1. The Woman in the Purple Skirt, Natsuko Imamura
  2. People From My Neighborhood, Hiromi Kawakami
  3. The Cabinet, Un-Su Kim
  4. Tender is the Flesh, Agustina Bazterrica
  5. The Hole, Hiroko Oyamada
  6. Mona, Pola Oloixarac
  7. The Twilight Zone, Nona Fernández
  8. There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job, Kikuko Tsumura


  1. Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, Andrea Pitzer
  2. Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, Avi Loeb
  3. The Witch of Eye, Kathryn Nuernberger
  4. Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future, Elizabeth Kolbert
  5. A Little Devil in America, Hanif Abdurraqib
  6. Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, Annalee Newitz
  7. Madhouse at the End of the Earth, Julian Sancton
  8. Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else, Jordan Ellenberg
  9. All or Nothing: The Story of Steve Marriott, Simon Spence
  10. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, Amanda Montell
  11. This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan
  12. Rainbow in the Dark: The Autobiography, Ronnie James Dio
  13. Finding The Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, Suzanne Simard
  14. God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning, Meaghan O’Gieblyn
  15. Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres, Kelefa Sanneh
  16. You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike

I have two new-ish 2021 books on my Kindle right now (Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel, and a biography of Led Zeppelin) which might need to be added to the lists above in the weeks ahead. We shall see. At bottom line, 2021 was a great year for reading!

If I had to pick a Book of the Year for 2021, this one would probably be it.

With Which I Am Well Pleased XV (Feet of Pure White Snow)

Yet another installment in my recurring series, within which I share 15 things that have rocked my world over the past month or so. I’m working on various “Best of 2021” lists this month (see here for the first of that set), as one does, so this is likely the last short-term report of recent pleasures, before I shift fully into annual highlights. As always, I welcome your suggestions on things that I might have missed, but need to see, hear, watch, read, eat, play with, or experience!





Loose Salute: Michael Nesmith (December 30, 1942 – December 10, 2021)

Three months ago, Marcia and I attended our first live concert of the COVID era, traveling down to Phoenix to see Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith, of the Monkees, live onstage, fronting an outstanding band directed by Mike’s son, Christian. I wrote about that show at length and shared some photos here. Earlier this week, in my 30th Annual Best Albums Report, I cited the Dolenz Sings Nesmith album as my third best record of 2021, noting in that review that: “While I think Mike’s touring days are likely coming to an end, with him having wrestled with serious health issues in recent years, Micky’s voice remained a thing of wonder, so I will eagerly see him live again when I can, and eagerly look forward to his next record. There’s a bunch more great Nesmith songs out there, so I’m totally game for Dolenz Sings Nesmith 2.”

Sadly, my sense of Mike’s declining health was proven correct today when I learned that he had passed away peacefully, of natural causes, surrounded by his family, at the age of 78. His last concert with Micky was in mid-November, so he did one of the things that he loved to do pretty much right up until to the end, and even though he was frail when we last saw him, it felt good to see him earning such unmitigated love from his audience, and such respect and support from Dolenz. It also makes me most happy that we had the chance to see Nez a few years back in Chicago, playing a robust and joyous set of songs primarily culled from his influential First National Band days in the early ’70s. He’s never achieved the critical respect of the likes of Gram Parsons, nor the commercial success of The Eagles and their imitators, but there’s no doubt whatsoever that Michael Nesmith was one of the true, great and pure pioneers of the country-rock idiom, and that many, many modern artists working in Americana and related genres owe him a deep debt of gratitude.

His obituaries are likely going to focus on his time with The Monkees, and if that was all there was to his career, then he’d have left a fine mark on popular culture and music. But there’s a blessing and a curse embedded in that part of his history. The group was obviously assembled “artificially” for a Beatles-inspired wacky television show, and many of The Monkees’ hits were crafted using the best studio musicians of the day, as was the norm in American popular music at the time, e.g. nobody gives Brian Wilson any guff for Pet Sounds, even though many of the same studio pros who supported The Monkees in the studio play on that over-rated album. But somehow it was The Monkees who experienced a vicious backlash as representatives of standard industry practice, with Micky and Mike and Peter and Davy slagged with a harsh “Pre-Fab Four” tag, hinging on comparisons to the The Beatles, who almost always wrote and played their own songs.

Of course, pretty much anybody making music the late 1960s would have been found to pale in comparison with what John, Paul, George and Ringo did and pioneered in their heyday, so that was a truly unjust and hurtful line of attack. Especially since The Beatles actually loved The Monkees, personally and creatively. To his credit, Mike Nesmith drove the ensuing charge among The Monkees’ four members to assert their creative rights and capabilities as songwriters and players, and he placed more original songs onto their albums over the years than did any of his band-mates. Great songs, too, most of them. As was one of his earlier, Pre-Monkees songwriting masterpieces, “Different Drum,” which became a huge hit for Linda Ronstadt’s Stone Poneys, launching her career as a pop icon and titanic song interpreter.

Mike Nesmith was also a pioneer in the evolution of music videos (his PopClips show was the recognized direct precursor to MTV), was a film producer of note (most notably for Repo Man), served on the Board of Trustees of the American Film Institute, wrote and told fine stories on stage and in print, and produced and promoted other artists of note and interest. On a personal touch as a native Southerner with a mostly unshakeable accent, I always appreciated that he didn’t downplay or deny his Texas-bred roots and cadences. It pleases me to hear smart Southerners speak like smart Southerners, even if too many Northerners presume we’re stupid racists when we do so.

In the end, and despite all of the acrimony surrounding his time with The Monkees and the various machinations within and outside of the group’s core creative team, Nez remained proud enough of that body of work to want to play and sing the best bits of it live right up until his final days, even if it physically taxed him to do so. And that was right and just, as he should have been proud of that work, any critical chatter to the contrary notwithstanding. We play his Monkees songs and his First National Band songs (and Micky’s spectacular interpretations of the same) around our house all the time, happily and with open-eared and open-minded joy. He was talented and funny and smart and wonderful, and I’m sad and sorry that he’s flown away from us.

As a wee tribute, I offer one of my occasional “Five Songs You Need to Hear” lists below, focusing on Mike’s First National Band era, which many of you are less likely to have heard before than The Monkees’ classic nuggets. (In one case, I do offer a Monkees’ song given First National Band treatment, for the record). I highly recommend you explore his solo catalog further, and I hope you’ll also dust off any old Monkees albums you might have (or download some new bits and bytes versions) to be reminded of just how very good they were. Bless you, Nez. I really appreciated you.

“Nevada Fighter,” from Nevada Fighter (1971)

“Calico Girlfriend,” from Magnetic South (1970)

“Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care),” from Nevada Fighter (1971)

“Listen to the Band,” from Loose Salute (1970)

“Grand Ennui,” from Nevada Fighter (1971)