W.B.’s Top Ten of 2021

Well, there goes 2021, gone in a blur, a year that was better than 2020 in some ways because people emerged from house arrest enforced isolation, and a year that was worse than 2020 in some ways because of the frustrating refusal of so many people to recognize they’re being played.

If I were to pick a Top Ten of 2021, my No. 1 pick is a direct consequence of one of the worst, the sudden death of my beloved Willow The Best Dog There Is, and on my birthday of all days. Worst birthday ever, hands down. I’m not over it, truth be told.

But of course the best thing about 2021 is someone who bears a resemblance to my late pal, although she can only be Willow’s successor, not her replacement.

1. Summer is five months old now, and a part of our family since mid-September. She is a stubborn little thing that absolutely refuses to admit that she knows what “come” and “let’s go in the house” mean. Any frustration I may feel about her obstinance melts, of course, in the face of the enthusiastic greeting I get whenever I return from not-home. Willow singlehandedly converted me from a cat person into a dog person, but Summer and her older sister, Dejah, have reinforced that transformation.

The rest of my Top Ten of 2021 is from pop culture, in part because I usually do these lists from the realm of entertainment, and also because how do you assign rankings to such events as the birth of a grandson, the death of a brother with its sad family reunions, establishment of a huge family garden and all the work that entails …? No, let’s draw this list from the best distractions of the year.

2. Andy Carpenter mysteries — Another side effect of losing our beloved golden retriever was picking up on David Rosenfelt’s entertaining series of courtroom thrillers featuring a defense attorney who owns a golden retriever he considers the most magnificent creature on the planet. In the months after Willow passed, visiting with Andy Carpenter and his dog Tara provided some solace. For the first time ever, I read more than 100 books this year (looks like the final tally will be 103), and about 20 of them were Andy Carpenters.

3. Klara and the Sun — I think my favorite of those 103 books was Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel told from the perspective of an artificial friend, a machine designed as a companion for a frail little girl. I was deeply moved by this story and sought out a couple more Ishiguro books during the year, including his most well-known, The Remains of the Day. He is a master of the “unreliable narrator” and leaves it to the reader to decide what actually happened. I loved loved loved this novel.

4. Hawkeye — Fifth time’s a charm. I wanted to love the Marvel miniseries on Disney+ but WandaVision was too weird too long before it got to the point, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was just boring and muddled, Loki was good but a bit full of itself, and What If was just not interesting. Hawkeye, however, behind Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld and a stellar supporting cast, hit the bull’s eye. When the sixth and final episode premiered, we took the unprecedented step of turning on a TV adventure at 7:30 a.m. to see how the story ended.

5. The Queen’s Gambit — The Netflix adaptation of Walter Tevis’ book about a chess savant was riveting, and Anya Taylor Joy’s performance was a revelation.

6. Rilla of Ingleside — L.M. Montgomery’s sixth novel in the Anne of Green Gables series was a charming-as-always but sobering story of life on Prince Edward Island during the Great War, as it was called before a Second World War gave it a new name. Montgomery’s hatred of war literally hits home.

7. Project Hail Mary — Andy Weir of The Martian fame did it again, not with a solo man fighting to stay alive on a hostile planet but with two souls of different species learning to work together to solve a mystery that endangers both their worlds. A rousing good time.

8. Burn Notice — We finally got around to sampling this spy thriller series that ran for seven seasons on the USA Network. We’re into the fifth season now, and it’s clear to me that the series is not at all about Michael Weston the burned super spy. Gabrielle Anwar’s Fiona steals every episode.

9. Several Short Sentences About Writing — Verlyn Klinkenborg’s eclectic little book made me think about how sentences work, individually and collectively, and that’s always a good thing for a professional writer to be thinking about. 

10. Take Back Your Time — Christy Wright’s book about rebuilding balance in your life is the perfect book to be reading just before New Year’s. The above-referenced 103rd book I read in 2021 has come along just when I needed it — always a serendipitous and wonderful thing.

Tomorrow, a new year and a new outlook. How can it possibly be 2022 already?

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