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kottke.org posts about best of 2021

A Video Countdown of the 25 Best Films of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2022

I look forward to this every year: David Ehrlich’s video countdown of the 25 best films of 2021. It’s like a trailer for an entire year’s worth of movies, lovingly constructed by a movie fan, critic, and editor, chock full of vivid imagery, memorable moments, and homages to great films of the past. I want to take the rest of the day off and just watch all of these…

The Best Book Covers of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

book cover of Outlawed by Anna North

book cover of Dead Souls by Sam Riviere

book cover of Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski

book cover of Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit

book cover of Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin

book cover of Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh

book cover of Nectarine by Chad Campbell

I only read ebooks these days and don’t make it to the one decent bookstore within a 60-minute drive from my house that often, but I still love love book covers. As I do every year, I’ve perused the end-of-year lists of the best covers and pulled out some favorites, which I’ve embedded above.

From top to bottom: Outlawed by Anna North, designed by Rachel Willey; Dead Souls by Sam Riviere, designed by Jamie Keenan; Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski, designed by Daniel Benneworth-Gray; Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, designed by Gray318; Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin, designed by Tamara Shopsin;1Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh, designed by Jack Smyth; and Nectarine by Chad Campbell, designed by by Dave Drummond.

You can find many more great covers in these lists: The 50 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Print), The Best Book Covers of 2021 (NY Times), The 101 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Literary Hub), Notable Book Covers of 2021 (The Casual Optimist), 8 of the Best Book Covers of 2021 (AIGA Eye on Design), The best book covers of the year 2021 (Creative Review), and The Best Book Covers of 2021 (Book Riot).

See also my lists from past years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

  1. This is awesome. If I ever write a book with a traditional publisher, I’m going to fight (probably unsuccessfully) to design the cover.

The Photos of the Year for 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2021

tornado debris is visible from inside a movie theater

a ship called the Ever Given is stuck in the Suez Canal

terrorist storm the Capitol Building on January 6

a man dressed in an elaborate costume get a vaccine shot

a group of kids play soccer in front of a setting sun

a young child with Covid on a respirator

a school band rehearses, each in an individual airtight pod

a monkey walks though a scale model of a city

volcanic ash almost completely covers a house

citizens protesting the coup in Myanmar firing slingshots

Simone Biles flying high in the air above the vault

It is difficult to separate 2021 from the previous year — Covid, social & political unrest, and the climate crisis bind them together in my memory. I think, at the beginning of this year, many people thought it was going to be better year than the last, but instead it was 2020: The Sequel. Meaghan Looram summed the year up succinctly for the NY Times:

The year 2021 opened with the promise of vaccines, and the belief that we would all return to “normal” after the tumultuous year of the pandemic. But the year instead took off with an insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, and saw a summer of carefree gatherings derailed by a fast-spreading virus. Governments fell, democracies were challenged, and climate-related destruction was unleashed, all while the casualties of the pandemic continued to amass. The vaccine saved some lives, but human passions, hopes and fears did their usual work to create a year that was anything but calm, and is ending with the prospect of a new variant upending plans once again.

As I do every year, I went through a bunch of photos-of-the-year lists and picked up some favorites; they are embedded above. The first photo, taken by amateur photographer Shawn Triplett with his iPhone in the aftermath of the Kentucky tornados, wasn’t included in any of the lists but it was probably my favorite of the year. There’s something about the framing, the emptiness, the destruction, and the screen-mediated chaos vs. order that is the perfect metaphor for how things are feeling right now.

You can check out more of the year’s best photos here:

The photos above were taken by (from top to bottom): Shawn Triplett, satellite imagery, Shannon Stapleton, Jouni Porsanger, Siphiwe Sibeko, Callaghan O’Hare, Don Seabrook, Alexey Pavlishak, Emilio Morenatti, Anonymous, and Doug Mills.

The Northern Lights Photographer of the Year for 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2021

intense pink and yellow aurora in the night sky

light blue aurora in the sky over a group of snow flocked trees

green aurora flows over a steep mountain peak

Check out some of the best aurora borealis and aurora australis photos taken in 2021 in the results of the 2021 Northern Lights Photographer of the Year competition.1 My three favorites (embedded above) were taken by Larryn Rae, Marc Adamus, and Frøydis Dalheim. (thx, caroline)

  1. Off-topic, but I covered this contest last year and they used the same nonspecific URL for this year’s winners as they did for last year’s. Which means that last year’s winning photos are nowhere to be found and in 2022 the 2021 photos will also disappear. Don’t do this!

Award-Winning Photos from an Action & Adventure Sports Photo Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2021

a climber jumps away from a cliff face

a person in a kayak shoots out of a massive wave in the rapids

dozens of paragliders fly in the air over the mountains

a man skateboards on a curved rock face next to a stream in the forest

The winners of the 2021 Red Bull Illume Image Quest photography contest have been announced. You can take a look at the winners, runners-up, and finalists in the contest — so much impressive work here. Photos above are by Will Saunders, Rod Hill, Andreas Busslinger, and Adrien Petit. (via in focus)

The Best Books of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2021

The Best Books of 2021

Like last year, I had a lot of trouble reading this year and even more difficulty regularly visiting good book stores, with months-long stretches without both. So, I went into compiling this post with a (fairly) clean slate and it was exciting to learn about what’s been good this year.

I consulted a number of best-of lists (fiction, nonfiction, kids, poetry, audiobooks, food/cooking, art) and here’s what popped out at me. [All source lists are included at the bottom of the post. ** denotes books I have read or am currently reading.]

Beautiful World, Where Are You (ebook) by Sally Rooney.**

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young — but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

When We Cease to Understand the World (ebook) by Benjamín Labatut.

When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about the complicated links between scientific and mathematical discovery, madness, and destruction.

Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger—these are some of luminaries into whose troubled lives Benjamín Labatut thrusts the reader, showing us how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.

Crying in H Mart (ebook) by Michelle Zauner.

In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.

Klara and the Sun (ebook) by Kazuo Ishiguro.**

Here is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir (ebook) by Ashley C. Ford.

Through poverty, adolescence, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley C. Ford wishes she could turn to her father for hope and encouragement. There are just a few problems: he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there. She doesn’t know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men. In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates. When the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley desperately searches for meaning in the chaos. Then, her grandmother reveals the truth about her father’s incarceration… and Ashley’s entire world is turned upside down.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (ebook) by Patrick Radden Keefe.

A grand, devastating portrait of three generations of the Sackler family, famed for their philanthropy, whose fortune was built by Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by OxyContin. From the prize-winning and bestselling author of Say Nothing, as featured in the HBO documentary Crime of the Century.

The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions — Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for the opioid crisis.

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (ebook) by Clint Smith.

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks — those that are honest about the past and those that are not — that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves.

No One Is Talking About This (ebook) by Patricia Lockwood.**

As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms the portal, where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats — from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness — begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void.

Cloud Cuckoo Land (ebook) by Anthony Doerr.

Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous third novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope — and a book.

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (ebook) edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The New York Times Magazine’s award-winning “1619 Project” issue reframed our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work, weaving together eighteen essays that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America with thirty-six poems and works of fiction that illuminate key moments of oppression, struggle, and resistance. The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself.

Matrix (ebook) by Lauren Groff.

One of our best American writers, Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies.

Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (ebook) by Oliver Burkeman.

Drawing on the insights of both ancient and contemporary philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual teachers, Oliver Burkeman delivers an entertaining, humorous, practical, and ultimately profound guide to time and time management. Rejecting the futile modern fixation on “getting everything done,” Four Thousand Weeks introduces readers to tools for constructing a meaningful life by embracing finitude, showing how many of the unhelpful ways we’ve come to think about time aren’t inescapable, unchanging truths, but choices we’ve made as individuals and as a society — and that we could do things differently.

Harlem Shuffle (ebook) by Colson Whitehead.

Harlem Shuffle’s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

Yolk (ebook) by Mary H.K. Choi.

From New York Times bestselling author Mary H.K. Choi comes a funny and emotional story about two estranged sisters and how far they’ll go to save one of their lives — even if it means swapping identities.

The Lincoln Highway (ebook) by Amor Towles.

The bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction returns with a stylish and propulsive novel set in 1950s America.

I’m all jazzed up about reading now…I love books and I need to figure out how to read more of them in the upcoming year. Here are some of the lists I used to assemble this collection:

Note: When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. This year, I’m linking mostly to Bookshop.org but if you read on the Kindle or Bookshop is out of stock, you can try Amazon. Thanks for supporting the site!

The Colorful Winners of the 2021 AAP Photo Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2021

five women holding white balls that mirror the light fixtures above them

overhead view of a green soccer field in a green forest

overhead view of a beach

a hand raised, bathed in blue light

an overhead view of a person surrounded by containers of fish

AAP Magazine has announced the winners of their 21st annual photo competition. This year’s theme was “Colors” and I’ve embedded a few of my favorites above (from top to bottom: Miloš Nejezchleb, Vitaly Golovatyuk, Graham Earnshaw, Joanna Borowiec, and Pham Huy Trung).

The Best Street Photography of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2021

a pigeon in front of a dog, positioned so it looks like the dog has wings

a woman on the subway with two children

a man steps off of a bus holding an umbrella

a person in a Minnie Mouse costume walking across the street

a number of people walking on the street in NYC

The Street Photographers Foundation has announced the winners of the Street Photography Awards for 2021. What an amazing selection of photos — it was so hard to pick just a few favorites (embedded above). From top to bottom, Subhran Karmakar, Paul Kessel (like a Renaissance painting), Akib Amjad (so reminiscent of this iconic photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson), Andy Hann, and Dimitri Mellos. (via curious about everything)

Winners of the 2021 Natural Landscape Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2021

lightning striking the top of a mountain

two flower growing in dry, cracked soil

overlapping streams in a river delta

trees in the fog reflected in a lake

After sorting through 13,000 photographs submitted by over 1300 photographers from all over the world, the winners of the very first Natural Landscape Photography Awards have been announced. A few of my favorite winners are embedded above; from top to bottom, Paul Hammett, Antonio Fernandez, Hans Strand, and Tobias Richter. Hammett’s shot of lightning striking the Matterhorn took 30 minutes of patience to capture:

Setting up my tripod as thunder boomed around me, hopes of getting an image turned to excitement as the storm moved over the Matterhorn.

I was briefly frustrated trying to nail focus and settings in the dark. Occasional flashes of nearby lightning helped me recompose, refine focus and adjust settings. But I cursed each of them as a missed opportunity to get a shot. Once happy with the camera set up, I could take time to fire off numerous 10 second exposures and just watch the show.

Each lightning strike gave me the shivers. When these two hit the summit, I knew I had something special in the camera.

(via colossal)

Winners of the 2021 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2021

dozens of insects on a white background

three lizards silhouetted on large green leaves

closeup view of algae's spirally shaped chloroplasts

brightly colored soap bubble patterns

Contestants from 55 countries entered over 9000 photos in the Close-Up Photographer of the Year competition for 2021 and now the winners have been announced. I’ve included a few of my favorites above (from top to bottom): Pål Hermansen, Johan De Ridder, Håkan Kvarnstrom, and Bruno Militelli. (via in focus)

The Winners of the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2021

a fox walking in the dark

four cheetahs swimming in a raging river

a bird flying amongst snow-covered trees

a spider weaving a web

The Natural History Museum in London has announced the winners of the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. Photos above are by Jonny Armstrong, Buddhilini de Soyza, Lasse Kurkela, and Vidyun R Hebbar.

The Nature Conservancy’s 2021 Global Photo Contest Winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2021

a gorilla surrounded by butterflies

an alligator carcass on dry, cracked soil

an overhead view of a boat surrounded by lily pads

The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit organization focused on conservation and addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. The winners of their 2021 Global Photo Contest have interpreted the Conservancy’s mission in a number of different ways. Above are three of my favorite shots from the contest; photo credits from top to bottom: Anup Shah, Daniel De Granville Manço, Manh Cuong Vu.

Winners of the Ocean Photography Awards for 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

a tiny turtle swims near the surface of the ocean

Ocean Photos 2021 02

Oceanographic Magazine has announced the winners of their annual Ocean Photography Awards for 2021. The official site is reeeally slow so you can check out the winners at The Guardian, the BBC, or on Instagram. Photos above are by Hannah Le Leu (top) and Aimee Jan (bottom).

The Astronomy Photographer of the Year for 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2021

360-degree view of the Milky Way galaxy

the crescent moon rising over the desert

The Royal Museum Greenwich has announced the winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year for 2021. Zhong Wu won the galaxies category with a 360-degree view of the Milky Way (above, top), a mosaic which took two years to create — the northern hemisphere portion of the galaxy was photographed in China and the southern part in New Zealand. Jeffrey Lovelace’s photo of the crescent moon over Death Valley sand dunes (above, bottom) took the prize in the skyscapes category.

The Winners of the 2021 Drone Photo Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2021

Drone Award 2021 01

Drone Award 2021 02

Drone Award 2021 03

Drone Award 2021 04

Drone Award 2021 05

Drones have been around for awhile now, but I have yet to tire of the bird’s-eye images captured from above this remarkable planet of ours. The gallery of the winning images in the 2021 Drone Photo Awards is full of tiny doses of the overview effect. I’ve chosen a few of my favorites above. Photo credits, from top to bottom: Ran Tian, Terje Kolaas, Yoel Robert Assiag, Oleg Rest, and Md Tanveer Hassan Rohan.

See also this drone photo of Cao Bang, Vietnam that I shared recently. (thx, caroline)

The Winners of the 2021 Small World Photomicrography Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2021

Trichome (white appendages) and stomata (purple pores) on a southern live oak leaf

Eye of a horsefly

Table salt crystal

Filamentous strands of Nostoc cyanobacteria captured inside a gelatinous matrix

Sensory neuron from an embryonic rat

Epithelial cells covering the intestine villi

This is always a favorite of mine… Nikon has announced the winners of the Small World Photomicrography Competition for 2021. As always, I’ve shared a few of my favorites above. Photo credits from top to bottom: Jason Kirk, Oliver Dum, Saulius Gugis, Martin Kaae Kristiansen, Paula Diaz, and Caleb Dawson.

Finalists in the 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2021

grumpy bird

happy insect

monkey lands on wire

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards: always a bright spot in the world these days. This year, the thousands of photos have been narrowed down to 42 finalists, including the three very expressive animals above. Good luck to all the contestants — the winners will be announced in October.

The 2021 Astronomy Photographer of the Year Shortlist

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2021

solar flares shooting off the surface of the Sun

panorama of the aurora borealis in the winter

panorama of the Milky Way over a lavender field

The Royal Museums Greenwich has announced the shortlist for the 2021 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. I’ve included a few favorites above (by Andrew McCarthy, Larryn Rae, and Stefan Liebermann) but you can check out the rest on their site. (via curious about everything)

Winners of the 2021 IPPA Photographer of the Year Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2021

two shepards in Romania carrying lambs

a girl jumps in the air, with her shadow behind her

a street scene at sunset

The IPPA Photographer of the Year Award is open to photographers who use an iPhone or iPad to take photos, and the winners of the 2021 competition demonstrate just how capable these devices are (and how much photography is not about your equipment). I’m struck by how many of the winners were not taken with the latest phones — the grand prize winner (above, top) was shot with an iPhone 7, which came out in 2016. Photos above by Istvan Kerekes, Jeff Rayner, and Enhua Ni.

Winners of the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

two eagles fighting in mid-air over a fish

closeup of a loon with water droplets on its head

two small birds walking in unison

The National Audubon Society has announced the winners of the their photography competition for 2021. They also selected a top 100 from the rest of the submissions to complement the winners. The photos above are by Jerry am Ende, Sue Dougherty, and Tim Timmis. (via in focus)

The 2021 Milky Way Photographer of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2021

a photo of the Milky Way galaxy over a rocky canyon

a photo of the Milky Way galaxy over a house in the snow

To inspire folks to seek out their own galactic vistas, Capture the Atlas has chosen the best photos of the Milky Way for 2021. The top photo was taken by Daniel Thomas Gum in Australia and the bottom one by Larryn Rae in New Zealand. Check out the rest of the selections here.

The Winners of the BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition for 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2021

a school of barracuda

leafcutter ant carrying a leaf

a swarm of baby spiders and their mother

The California Academy of Sciences has announced the winners (and finalists) of their BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition for 2021. I’ve included a few favorites above: barracuda by Yung-Sen Wu, leafcutter ants by Petr Bambousek, and lynx spiders by Lung-Tsai Wang. See all of the winners and finalists here. (via in focus)

Winners of the 2021 Type Directors Club Design Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2021

Peace + love mural

Apple icons

book cover for Black Futures

signage for the SF Symphony

The Type Directors Club has announced the winners of their two design competitions: TDC67 Communication Design and 24TDC Typeface Design. (via print)

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 Finalists

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2021

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

The Bird Photographer of the Year competition has released a selection of images from their shortlist of finalists for the 2021 contest. I selected three of my favorites above: Zdeněk Jakl’s duckling, Fahad Alenezi’s fox & eagle, and David White’s swallow. You can see more entries at Colossal, BBC, and Science Focus.

Winners of the 2021 World Press Photo Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2021

2021 World Press Photo contest winner

2021 World Press Photo contest winner

The winners of the 2021 World Press Photo contests have been announced. Photos above (top to bottom) by Nadia Buzhan (of a woman waiting for her husband to be released from a detention center) and Luis Tato (of efforts to fight a locust invasion in Kenya). (via in focus)

Winners of the 2021 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2021

2021 Underwater Photographer of the Year

2021 Underwater Photographer of the Year

2021 Underwater Photographer of the Year

The winners of the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021 have been announced. I picked a few of my favorites and you can see more from In Focus. Photos above from top to bottom: ManBd, Jack Berthomier, and Oleg Gaponyuk.