2023 was a tumultuous year. Our writers look back on what they turned to to find some escape via books, music, films/TV and TikTok
READING: 2023 has been murder for Cyprus. The last year has given us local riots, soaring costs, and a searing summer…
The rest of the world hasn’t fared much better. It’s no wonder escapism has become our new norm! I cheerfully jumped on the bandwagon, and read solid whodunnits for 12 months: all four of Richard Osman’s superb Thursday Murder Club books, the two new Marlow Murder Club releases, and The Appeal.
In places, I dabbled with bestsellers: Lessons in Chemistry was excellent; so too The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (you will cry, be warned).
But in this wild world, I found whodunnits to be the ultimate reassurance: between these pages, truth will out and the baddies are always brought to justice.
LISTENING: At nearly 50 years of age, I struggle to write this section.
Don’t get me wrong; music is a huge part of my life (I’m the woman driving round Cyprus blasting Bach!). But I wouldn’t know a Rihanna if it hit me in the face. Over the years, my tastes seem to have coalesced into classical, and are soundly anchored within previous centuries.
Other than Karl Jenkins (Adiemus, Requiem, Gloria) most of what I listened to was along the Bizet, Brahms, Beethoven lines. Stravinsky if irate; Chopin when calm.
And when not polluting Nicosia with classical combos, I ran ambient sounds or easy listening: ‘bird sounds of Britain’ and a bit of bossa nova were brilliant on brutally bad news days!
WATCHING: This is my dreadful secret: I loved Barbie! It’s odd, because I never played with dolls as a child. But Barbie spoke to me in a way few films ever have.
If you’re looking for an expert review, ignore me completely; I’m just an inept amateur who liked the film because it was clever. Because it made me think. And because it was light(ish).
Obviously, I gave Oppenheimer a miss. There’s been enough bad news this year – I couldn’t face dwelling on past disasters too. And that brings us full circle: with chaos and carnage in every corner of the world, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar was sweet relief. Wes Anderson always makes the year a little less awful.
READING: Take a bow, Eric Ambler. I spent the early part of the year ploughing through a classic (I won’t name it, so as not to offend its fans) that was too diffuse and episodic, and ended up sapping my energy. Then I opened Mr Ambler’s Journey Into Fear (1940), and was instantly rejuvenated.
Ambler was an engineer by training, and his spy-thriller plots are lovingly constructed – but he also had wit and political nous, and a knack for the thumbnail description: “A sharp-featured Russian with bristly grey hair, and the air of one whose feelings were constantly on the point of getting the better of his judgment”. My new Ambler-inspired energy quickly catapulted me through a pair of fine 21st-century books by female authors, Margaret Atwood’s raucously dystopian Oryx and Crake (2003) and Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad (2011). Oh, and speaking of female authors, there was also a biography of American poet Anne Sexton, but I couldn’t read the whole thing: that life was dark!
LISTENING: ‘Boy Problems’ by Hippie Sabotage – a song that could’ve come out 20 years ago – is currently scratching my itch for things trip-hoppy and shoegaze-y, though it does get a bit repetitive. ‘Sometimes, I Swear’ by The Vaccines does the same for things rock and rousing. Listening to Peter Gabriel’s haunting ‘Four Kinds of Horses’ while waiting to pick someone up from Kapnos shuttle is a strong memory, for banal personal reasons. There was nothing in 2023 to match the ubiquity of Harry Styles in 2022, though I must’ve heard that triggering ‘lockdown’ song – actually ‘Calm Down’ by Nigerian rapper Rema – at least twice a week on the radio (NJOY, 99.5FM, since you ask). Kudos to another rapper, though, Brixton boy Dave, for providing the year’s most enduring mystery, in this description of a London beauty in the song ‘Sprinter’: “She Turkish Cypriot, but her curves Brazilian. / I want her, and bro wants her affiliate”. You what?
WATCHING: This is an easy one. My undoubted highlight came on May 11, when – based on the film logs I’ve been keeping since I was 12 years old – I watched the 10,000th unique film I’ve seen in my life! To mark the occasion I picked Park Row (1952), a film about journalists, in honour of my own many years in the newspaper ‘business’. Good new films were thinner on the ground, and I’m not sure what it means that two of my favourites touched on Alzheimer’s: lovely French drama One Fine Morning and the extraordinary De Humani Corporis Fabrica, real hospital footage put together both imaginatively and unflinchingly.
READING: The Prophecies of Nostradamus would not usually be a prominent book for this list, but the death of the Queen last year inspired me to reacquaint myself with the works of the 16th-century astrologer, to see if he’d predicted anything on the subject – and there in black and white, in my dusty translation printed many years ago, was the succession to the UK throne, dated 2022. Since then, whenever a major world event occurs, I return to this book to check and read up. Throughout 2023, there has been quite a lot to reference. Thankfully, most of what he states does not come to fruition, and now I do not take it quite so seriously!
From one book from past centuries to the other end of the scale, the autobiography entitled Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir by the Friends actor Matthew Perry. A recent visitor had left this book in our guest room, and it looked appealing during a recent boring bout of Covid; it was (rather surprisingly) a fascinating read with some powerful life lessons, made even more poignant by Perry’s recent death. You can look at someone and think they have everything in the world, but we never know what’s behind closed doors.
LISTENING: Reflecting on this question makes me realise I need to do more to encourage new musical experiences. I love music, but I have to say, during 2023, nothing has inspired me as I am still a massive fan of my old favourites from the 80s and 90s. I think I must be listening to too many podcasts.
WATCHING: One thing I learned in 2023 was to be open to series and films I initially thought I would dislike. Previously, my husband recommended titles I refused to watch, such as Peaky Blinders, Vikings, and The Last Kingdom. I thought historical and violent genres were not for me. However, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them when I gave them a chance and soon became addicted.
Possibly against popular opinion, I found the recent series of The Crown disappointing. I have followed it for many years, and when a series ends, you usually cannot wait for the next one, but this series was hard work and seemed to go on and on. Maybe with the modern-day members of the royal family being too familiar, the appeal was not the same.
A film watched in 2023 which stood out was The Red Sea Diving Resort, about a mission to move Ethiopian Jews from Sudanese refugee camps to Israel in the 1980s, an operation that saved the lives of over 8,000 people. Very moving, with a beautiful soundtrack.
The older you get, the more you look at the future with mistrust and, at best, anxiety. It’s a fact, there’s no escaping it. Meanwhile, the past becomes a ‘locus amoenus’ – a glittering sanctuary, and an oasis of comfort.
This makes no sense, of course. The past is generally not much different to the present or the future. Still, nostalgia increasingly shapes people’s lives – and, as far as I’m concerned, it was nostalgia that mostly dictated what I read, listened to and watched this year.
READING: Reminding me of a trip to Savannah in Georgia, another nostalgia-filled place and a personal locus amoenus, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt was my book of the year.
The book, published back in 1995, tells the based-on-fact story of an antiques dealer and his run-ins with the law. The people are all so vivid, real, quirky and even relatable, that at any moment you expect them to jump out of the pages and tell you about their struggles, misfortunes and failures. Mellow Savannah, exuding a decaying elegance, is the perfect setting.
I also enjoyed the more prosaic but equally nostalgic Cuore by Italian author Edmondo De Amicis, which I first read more than 15 years ago. The ordinary lives of pupils in a school during the time of the Italian reunification transported me to simpler times.
WATCHING: 2023 was the year of Barbie and Oppenheimer, the dichotomy that split the world and sadly gave life to countless memes and ‘funny’ posts, perfectly embodying the TikTok era we are currently living in. Determined to isolate myself, I found refuge in old movies.
I realised that Driving Miss Daisy is still one of my favourites. Hoke Colburn’s sweet naivety and loyalty towards Daisy Werthan made me believe – perhaps naively – that there’s still hope to redeem humanity, though recent events had me questioning my convictions.
For lighter pastimes, I recommend Blue Eye Samurai, a stunning anime that blew my mind and fuelled my dreams of visiting Japan.
LISTENING: I unexpectedly fell in love with folk legend Nick Drake, in particular with what I believe to be his masterpiece Pink Moon, released two years before his suicide in 1974.
Sweet, endearing, terribly real, Pink Moon is a lyrical ode to life, no matter how short, complicated and, ultimately, insignificant it is. Follow it with a full listen of the Americana album by The Offspring. Nothing energises more than 90s punk rock!
As the first ‘Gen Z’ to be employed at the Cyprus Mail, the act of recalling and writing about my year in media consumption is, as far as I see it, a rather more difficult job than that of those more mature than I.
Like many people my age, short-form video app TikTok is the app I use the most, and the app’s very nature centres upon a highly individualised experience, that being the ‘For You’ page.
The ‘For You’ page is an endless stream of videos the app thinks ‘you’ will like. Of course, there is a fair deal of overlap with the rest of the world, and especially with people with whom one shares common interests, but the truth is that no two ‘For You’ pages are the same.
Scrolling back through TikToks I had liked through the year, one of my earliest likes was a video of a man pretending to be the “fastest reader in the world”, making unintelligible noises while flicking through a book.
Another was of someone’s uncle boiling toilet paper in water “because the government is putting something in it”. In April, I liked an AI mock-up of rapper Drake singing the Turkish national anthem.
During May, the algorithm understanding that I was a Turkish speaker in a non-Turkish speaking country, as I was in Greece at the time, almost my entire ‘For You’ page was taken over by Turkish people living across the world going to vote in the country’s Presidential elections.
These videos were paired with the song ‘Bambaska Biri’ by Ajda Pekkan, a Turkish song from the 70s to the same tune as ‘I Will Survive’.
With the election in the rear-view mirror and myself back in Cyprus in June, the algorithm showed me (pirated) 30-second clips from a popular TV show in half the screen, while the other half was taken up by gameplay footage from the mobile game Subway Surfers.
I saw so many 30-second clips of the show Suits that I pretty much understand the entire plot at this point.
Summer and autumn then brought me the attempt of some British man to drink 2,000 pints in 200 days (he succeeded), and a lawyer begging members of the public to not booby-trap their homes.
As the year progressed, I then was shown various belters of quotes from George W Bush, an acted-out scene of a blind man listening to a Where’s Waldo audiobook, and the best moments of disgraced former United States Congressman George Santos.
The year then drew to a close on an altogether more serious note, with my ‘For You’ page being dominated by people in Gaza and people around the world showing solidarity with them.