Over the year, my #HereandElsewhere project took me to the following places in my reading: CopenhagenLondonHavanaKyotoParisSan FranciscoMarrakechMexico City, Rome, Shanghai, Amsterdam and New York City.

But even while an ordinary desk-top calendar inspired me to read and watch beyond my usual borders, I was even more acutely aware of far-and-away places through the rest of the reading year and was often inspired to travel just a little further (and my #ReadtheChange series has a similar impact).

For instance, my Kyoto reading also took me to Sisters of the Gion, a 1936 film by Kenji Mizoguchi, available on the Eclipse Criterion label (also the source of a film I watched for London). This is a tale of two sisters, each working as a geisha in the working-class district of Gion in Kyoto. One sister (Umekichi) has followed a more traditional path and the other is younger and has had more schooling and chooses a western style of dress when she’s not working; the former struggles to maintain the traditional balance of power and accept the limitations of her situation, while the latter seeks a way to exploit the imbalance to sway in her favour. Both women realize that it’s the men who come out ahead (with varying degrees of success, depending on their financial means).

And Hiroaki Samura’s Ohikkoshi (2006) is a bustling anime about several university students in which the “Kyoto Super Barhopping Journal” whisks readers from the Kyoto Tower (no, not the Tokyo Tower!) to Kyoto Station, the Togetsukyo Bridge and Shijo Bridge, and Kita-ku (site of the famous Golden Pavillion).

Also inspired by Samar Yazbek’s A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution (2012), I watched Girls’ War (2016), directed by Mylène Sauloy, about members of the “Free Women’s Party”, women who have gathered from France, Turkish Kurdistan, Germany and other places, to create a democratic Syria and a society rooted in gender equality. The roots of this movement are in the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) in Turkey but it is a feminist movement (which includes male members who also seek to subvert destructive and dominant forms of masculinity). Startling and inspiring, this is quite something to watch.

In Syria, a 2018 film by Philippe Van Leeuw, is one that I planned to watch in short bursts, with meals during a work week. Instead, I was riveted and had to work late because I could not tear myself away from this story in the middle of the day.

A mother of two daughters and a son is living in Damascus and temporarily sheltering extended family members while the war rages outside their apartment building (which has been abandoned by all other inhabitants). Wholly engaging. The disc I watched also included a short film “Le Pain”, directed by the star of In Syria, Hiam Abbass, about a mother who discovers something unexpected when she bikes to buy bread for her son.

Both films consider whether and how we share our fears and even though there are some profound sadnesses in these stories, I would rewatch them both—for the performances, yes, but also for how much they have to say about resourcefulness and resilience.

New York Times’ Footsteps: Literary Pilgrimages around the World contains a 2014 essay by Dan Saltzstein, titled “San Francisco Noir”. “My guide through this urban landscape, in spirit and inspiration, was Hammett. Though he lived in San Francisco for less than a decade, his association with both the city and noir is inarguable; his early stories and novels are the urtexts of noir, and Spade its anti-heroic face.”

And inspired by the version of Paris that I discovered in Christina Stead’s The Beauties and Furies (1936), I watched a long interview with the author via Kanopy, produced and directed by Hadyn Kenan (2014), the only film interview with Stead apparently.

This passage from the novel encapsulates one of the striking elements of the film: “We see so little in life, I don’t like a sweeping opinion. We go through life erratically like a drunk motor-car turning its headlights this way and that, getting snatches of foliage. The true portrait of a person should be built up as a painter builds it, with hints from everyone, brush-strokes, thousands of little touches.”

What we readers likely get of Christina Stead via her fiction is that erratic, drunk, motor-car headlamp view of the author, but this interview allows us to build up an understanding. And by the way she describes her writing process, I believe we do get more of the author, in terms of immediacy, than readers usually receive from authors via their fiction. Apparently, Stead refused to edit and rework her prose; she believed that it possessed a vitality in the first draft and she would prefer to have a work remain unpublished than to have it altered after she had finished writing. So this idea of a freer expression of story, an unedited narrative thread, makes me even more curious about her other fiction.

One of the titles I read for my travels in Morocco resurfaced in Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager’s The Writer’s Library (2020), when Laila Lalami spoke about Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Sand Child. Her interview was so interesting because she grew up reading in French and only later discovered Moroccan stories, the kind of stories she could see herself in. (I’ve only read one of her books, but now I want to read more.)

And because some of the longer books from 2020’s reading projects remain unfinished (reading for Shanghai and New York City, for instance), it’s no stretch to say that this year’s reading is influencing 2021’s in a tangible way.

And, you? Has your reading for this year has more of an impact than you would have guessed?