My 2021 in Books & MST3K

I don’t set reading goals each year like so many of my friends do. Instead, I have a standing, yearly quasi-goal of 20 books per year. Compared to some of the goals I’ve seen some people make, this seems almost ridiculously light. However, I frequently include massive several hundred page anthologies in my annual reading, and I have a host of other time-consuming interests. As a result, most years I find myself reading book #20 sometime in mid-to-late December.  This year was an exception; I only read 15 books, and the last of them was a short novel I completed early on New Year’s Eve.

Despite not striving for a proper goal, in just about any other year I would have viewed this as having ill-used my 2021 free time. Reading 15 books suggests I wasted a little too much time on very unproductive pursuits — such as playing mindless games on my phone. Yet, I didn’t judge that as the case for 2021 because of one giant, wonderful reason: Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Because of the size of my DVD/Blu-ray collection and a variety of other reasons, in 2010 I setup a spreadsheet that lists every single episode/movie, which box set it’s packaged in, the date I last watched the it, and a cumulative count of the number of times I watched each. Until 2020, I typically watched 10-15 episodes a year, and at that rate, it would regularly be several years between rewatches of a particular movie, as I own a complete collection of every episode sold on disc — which is over 180 (each disc contains one movie.) With the exception of episodes I particularly enjoy, this was more than enough time to forget nearly everything about a single movie and the jokes made at its expense.

Then the pandemic started, and like so many other people, comfort television watching become more desirable. I accelerated the pace quickly enough in 2020 to watch 30 for the year. Then, this past spring, I quickened the pace further. However, I wasn’t counting the number of episodes watched as 2021 progressed — not even in a rough estimate manner. Mostly this was because the spreadsheet made determining the cumulative total at any time of the year incredibly easy. Nonetheless, outside of duly tracking my progress, it just wasn’t something I gave any real thought to.

As I entered the last week of December, I my book read count wasn’t anywhere near where I would like it to have been. I considered reading a number of standalone novellas and short novels in a last ditch effort to make the final number for the year at least appear closer to the unofficial goal. In fact, the last book I read for the year, The Great Gatsby, was chosen in part for this very purpose. However, I also knew that I watched a lot more MST3K in a year than I ever had, so on the morning of December 30, I decided to finally find out where I stood.

I had watched 47 episodes. Reading 20 books for the year wasn’t even remotely realistic. Reaching 50 was a ridiculously easily achieved goal, and it was something I had never come close to doing before. In fact, the 30 I watched in 2020 represented the previous all-time high. The decision was the epitome of a no-brainer, and by late afternoon on New Year’s Eve I finished watching “The Final Sacrifice,” which I had chosen because the name sounded appropriate for my last episode of the year.

The truly amazing thing about having watched 80 episodes of MST3K in two years is that according to my spreadsheet, I still own 31 movies I haven’t watched since I started  keeping track 11 years ago. In addition, there is going to be 13 new episodes of the series this year. Combine that with the over 30 additional movies I own that were released by alumni of the original run of MST3K — Cinematic Titanic, Rifftrax, and The Film Crew — I would have to keep up this pace for an additional 18 months to watch all of this “unwatched” material. (I need to note that I didn’t incorporate the CT, RT, and TFC discs into the spreadsheet until a couple weeks ago.)

I don’t know yet what changes, if any, I’ll make in terms of time management this year. I decided not to set a number in regards to MST3K this year, in much the same way I technically don’t set one for books. However, I do think it would be nice to reach both 50 and 20. I just won’t make either number a set goal.

Oh, and the first episode of MST3K for 2022? “Beginning of the End.”

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