Things I Read in 2021
An old hobby of mine that I got back into because of quarantine! After discovering that I could buy a cheap used Kindle for like $50, I've been borrowing a lot of ebooks from the Libby app. I hate Amazon as much as the next guy, but for me, using an eReader is much easier than a physical copy.
Tender Is the Flesh :: Agustina Bazterrica :: Read Aug. 5-8
The woman who wrote this is a genius. Wish I could read this again for the first time. It’s so brutal and hard to stomach. I have synthesia and for the first few chapters I tasted and smelled something horrible. The night I started reading it, I had a stress dream directly inspired by one of the scenes. A few nights later I had a violent, meat-themed nightmare. In other words it’s a great read! I do need to stress that I cannot recommend this without linking to all the content warnings. I probably could have finished it in one sitting, but after reading the first half of the book I needed to take a break for a few days. The second half was easier to handle (but maybe I just got used to the brutality at that point). If they turned this into a tv show or film I would not watch it because I could barely handle it when it was in written form. If I had to look at the scenes happening my brain would be altered but not it a good way.
The Left Hand of Darkness :: Ursula K. Le Guin :: Read Aug. 1–14
I can’t properly put into words how much this book means to me. The author was really making an LGBT+ sci-fi with a cast of entirely dark-skinned characters in the 60s… nothing but respect for her. Another detail I love is how it portrays darkness with positive connotations and light with negative… when Therem and Estraven are crossing “the Unshadow” I was so unnerved. I heartily recommend this, but there is a level of worldbuilding that can be overwhelming. It’s almost Dune-level, with the amount of in-universe vocabulary you have to keep up with. Using an eReader will make it easier, so you can search for the made-up vocabulary in the book.
The Only Good Indians :: Stephen Graham Jones :: Read Aug. 14-15
Another book I want to read for the first time all over again. I could have finished it in one sitting but that would have meant staying up all night. The horror and tension were constantly escalating the entire time. I think this is the quintessential page-turner – if I hadn’t started reading this at nighttime I could have been glued to it from cover-to-back. I already placed a hold for the author’s next book. He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Horror, as a genre, has many racist tropes and an abundance of white creators. To everyone that’s listened to The Magnus Archives or read Stephen King and got fed up with the casual racism – read this instead.
Horrorstör :: Grady Hendrix :: Read Aug. 21
Not as scary as I thought it would be, but it was a better use of my time than what I had originally planned to do (which was just to sit in the dark and play Pokemon). I didn’t really enjoy it while I was reading it, but reflecting on it afterwards, I think it did have a lot of interesting things to say about corporate America. I didn’t like the main character at first, but after a few chapters I realized the whole point is that she sucks, and working at the Horrorstör is making her worse. In my personal opinion it was decently good throughout, with a few insanely amazing scenes. A lot of people recommend this just for the IKEA-style diagrams accompanying the chapters, but it would still be a good book without them.
Night of the Mannequins :: Stephen Graham Jones :: Read Aug. 21
I saw it recommended after finishing Horrorstör so I went “why not”. Would love to read more coming-of-age stories from this author. It doesn’t reach The Only Good Indians levels of brutality and is much shorter, so this is a good read for an afternoon.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke :: Eric LaRocca :: Read Aug. 26
While I was reading it I thought it was groundbreaking, but in hindsight I think it’s just okay. (So basically the inverse of my Horrorstör experience). I enjoyed the y2k internet setting more than the actual plot. That being said, it was a very short read and a good use of my evening. I recommend it if you need to kill half an hour.
Infinite Jest :: David Foster Wallace :: Started Aug. 19 (I gave up after 300 pages)
This book is destroying me. Sometimes after a long session of reading I’ll check what page I’m on and it’s not even that far into it. Someone I know compared it to House of Leaves and I have to agree. This is a book that you can be reading for an hour and not make much headway into the plot because it sends you to the footnotes for like 20 pages before you can continue the main story. Every time I go to the footnotes I feel like I’m entering the trenches. Despite being hard to read it is very entertaining and has moments that do make me chuckle out loud. Excited to get to the part where the guy’s dad puts his head in a microwave oven.
Can I just say the first time I saw a physical copy of this book was in my middle school’s library and I desperately want to know what middle schooler has the sheer determination to read this thing. If a middle schooler successfully finishes Infinite Jest they should be given passing grades for a semester.
My Heart Is a Chainsaw :: Stephen Graham Jones :: Read Oct
Normally my online library account keeps track of my reading history for me. I don’t have the specific dates for this one because in the middle of reading, I fell in love so much I went out and bought my own copy. I’m really grateful that I discovered this author. When people call a piece of media a “love letter” to something else, Chainsaw is exactly what they mean. The in-universe essays the main character writes about her favorite slasher films are so charming and the entire time, I wished I was friends with a girl like her. Internally I would do a little cheer every time she did an analysis on a film I’d also seen.
Ever since reading Night of the Mannequins I’ve wanted to see Stephen Graham Jones do a coming-of-age story. This book was also amazing in that regard. Dare I say this is also LGBT media? The two main girls definitely had something going on.
Now, I’ll talk about some content warnings that are also huge plot spoilers: Big warning for sexual assault and incest. In the afterword, Jones talked about wanting to explore the high rates of parent-child incest among Native American as a Blackfeet author. He had an anecdote about reading the news and finding out about another young Native American girl who killed herself after being raped by her father. I felt that his novel was very sensitive and didn’t linger more than it had to - the main character only acknowledges her rape in the last 30 pages of the book. It was shocking and upsetting to read about it but not voyeuristic. And I totally understand the pain of only reading about someone else who is the same race as you in the news when something terrible happens. I think Jones’ exploration was respectful and if anyone else wants to read this, just be ready to mentally prepare yourself for the ending.
Come Closer :: Sara Gran :: Read Nov. 23-24
I started reading this right after discovering I Want to Hold Aono-kun so Badly I Could Die and honestly? These are good companion novels to each other. If I ever needed to do an essay on a book and a graphic novel - which is a prompt I’ve had in English classes - I could easily hash out 5 pages on these.
I don’t mean to traumadump about my weird religious upbringing but this has to be the scariest thing I read in 2021, and it’s not even something that’s possible - it’s a book about a woman who is, by all means, kindly, but she has terrible thoughts about the people around her. She never acts on them, and of course, thoughts are just thoughts; we don’t have 100% control over our brains. One night she accidentally invites a demon into her body, and while possessed, it begins to fulfill every horrible urge she had only previously imagined.
This scenario has been a threat to me for my entire childhood. I was raised protestant christian by ex-catholic Filipinos, and I’ve always had an irrational fear of evil spirits and my own intrusive thoughts. I would even say I have issues with reality because of my family’s religious culture. This book was lifted straight from my fears, and it was cathartic to read. It was eye-opening and made me realize I need to work against my religious conditioning.
Woom :: Duncan Ralston :: Read Nov. 30 - Dec. 1
Man I think about that ending once a week AT LEAST. This book was somehow extremely brutal but not voyeuristic. Every horrible event had a purpose in the plot, and the descriptions never went too far. It’s only about 130 pages and SO MANY DISGUSTING THINGS HAPPENED but it never lingered. I think a less sensitive author could really drag the events out, but the descriptions in Woom are so blunt and quick, like it’s being narrated in real-time but not ruminated on.
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