Books I Read: 2021

Well this is bizarre. Looking back at my post from 2020 not a hell of a lot has changed. Practically nothing is different. We had another full year of staying at home on a locked down, minimized life. The only substantial difference is that I went back to work in June after one full year of bullshit maternity leave that was ruined by covid. But, as I mentioned last year, at least I still have books. What was it that ol’ Willy Wallace said? You can take my ability to comfortably navigate society and see the people I love without severe pandemic paranoia but you can’t take my books? Sounds right. It went something like that, I’m fairly certain.

Reading has always been my ultimate escape and I have needed it these past two years more than ever before. From January – May 2021 I was still on maternity leave so I did a lot of reading. When I went back to work in June, reading took a small hit, understandably. But overall I still managed to read a respectable 45 books this past year.

Here is the official visual of my list:

Followed of course by the official “easier on your eyes” typed list:

  1. The Deer Park by Norman Mailer (January 4th)
  2. Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier (January 7th)
  3. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (January 8th)
  4. City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (January 21st)
  5. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (January 29th)
  6. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (February 2nd)
  7. Afterland by Lauren Beukes (February 12th)
  8. Vicious by V.E. Schwab (February 19th)
  9. The Chain by Adrian McKinty (February 23rd)
  10. If It Bleeds by Stephen King (March 1st)
  11. Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay (March 4th)
  12. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (March 9th)
  13. The Other People by C.J. Tudor (March 14th)
  14. Whisper Network by Chandler Baker (March 18th)
  15. Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (March 26th)
  16. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (April 6th)
  17. Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore (April 11th)
  18. Thinner by Stephen King (April 18th)
  19. The Only Child by Andrew Pyper (April 28th)
  20. You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes (May 2nd)
  21. When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (May 15th)
  22. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (May 25th)
  23. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (June 13th)
  24. The Dirt by Mötley Crüe (June 20th)
  25. Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations by Nicole Forsgren, Ph.D, Jez Humble, and Gene Kim (June 27th)
  26. Inspection by Josh Malerman (July 4th)
  27. Bossypants by Tina Fey (July 7th)
  28. The Power by Naomi Alderman (July 24th)
  29. Later by Stephen King (July 26th)
  30. The Girls Are All So Nice Here by L.E. Flynn (August 5th)
  31. I Know You Know by Gilly MacMillan (August 10th)
  32. Made for Love by Alissa Nutting (August 17th)
  33. Sunburn by Laura Lippman August 21st)
  34. The Other Woman by Sandie Jones (August 23rd)
  35. The Arrangement by Robyn Harding (August 26th)
  36. The Store by Bentley Little (September 12th)
  37. Looking for Alaska by John Green (September 17th)
  38. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb (September 24th)
  39. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (September 26th)
  40. Believe Me by J.P. Delaney (October 14th)
  41. It’s Kind of a Cheesy Love Story by Lauren Morrill (October 29th)
  42. The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell (November 16th)
  43. The Switch by Elmore Leonard (November 27th)
  44. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (December 25th)
  45. The Storyteller by Dave Grohl (December 28th)

My reading patterns are very similar to last year, lots of “pop fiction”. You know, the psychological thrillers about murder with dubious heroines that have completely dominated the market since Gone Girl sparked the craze of unreliable narration and “shocking” plot twists. It seems like every book now is marketed as having some shocking twist you won’t see coming that you can actually see coming from a mile away. Although I will say, a few of the books I read this year did wind up genuinely surprising me, so shocking readers isn’t impossible, but it has gotten harder to do well. Behind Her Eyes and The Other Woman did have genuinely shocking plot twists at the end that I did not see coming, so worth a look for anyone who still wants to read those pop fiction shock twist kind of tales.

Stephen King made three appearances on the list again, so good for you, Steve! I really liked Later but Thinner was a total chore. It hasn’t aged well, what with the gypsy vilification and all.

I read two books specifically to get myself back into the right mindset for my return to work after a year off: Daring Greatly and Accelerate. Both excellent books, but not exactly pleasure reading. I finally got around to reading Bossypants by Tina Fey. It was good, but didn’t really live up to all the hype.

I read some classic American authors, Norman Mailer and John Steinbeck. Shoutout to Elmore Leonard too, the O.G. of tongue-in-cheek mystery capers. The Deer Park was horribly misogynistic and lacked any purpose for me. But what else would you expect from someone who stabbed their wife at a party? Re-reading Of Mice and Men highlighted for me the difference between an author and a writer. Steinbeck is a fucking AUTHOR. So much of the trashy pop murder fiction I read is just entertainment, written by writers. Steinbeck is levels and levels above everyone else on this list. He’s in a class all his own, a true craftsman and wordsmith. A prolific, respected author of incredible American fiction. He fucking rules!

I’m going to mix things up this year and award superlatives to the books that need individual callouts for good or bad reasons.

  • Heaviest Book on the ListCity on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
    This book was physically enormous. Coming in at just over 900 pages, it had some heft. I strained my neck and arms reading it, it was just such a bulky book. And kind of a letdown to be honest. I was excited about spending time with characters who were part of the punk scene in 1970’s New York, but it just got so tiresome as it went on. For all the space Hallberg was given to tell his story, he didn’t do a hell of a lot with it.
  • Most Improved Protagonist – She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
    Oh Dolores Price, my heart went out to you so many times while reading! This poor woman, what an odyssey her life was. I loved it when she told her doctor to eat shit because of his fat-shaming. This was my first time reading Wally Lamb and it reminded me a lot of John Irving. The characters are just put through the wringer and you should never expect a happy, Hollywood ending for anyone. Just pain and the endurance of pain.
  • Book Most Likely to Get Under Your SkinThe Chain by Adrian McKinty & The Store by Bentley Little
    It’s a tie! The Chain was an intense, thrilling read but not for the feint of heart. It’s about this fucked up ring of blackmailers who make regular every day parents abduct children in a horrible chain letter way. Your child gets taken, you’re told to pay the ransom and then abduct another child or you won’t get yours back. Only when the parents of the child you’ve taken have gone on to abduct the next child on the chain will yours be released. As a parent, the premise alone is unthinkable. But it was unputdownable, so if you think you can hack it, give it a try! The Store was a good creepy read too, it’s a slow build to the end. It’s upsetting just because of the disgusting, stomach-churning ending that I’m not going to spoil.
  • Wildest RideThe Dirt by Mötley Crüe
    These guys don’t hold back, they share every fucked up intimate detail of their journey as one of the hardest partying bands of the 80’s. I’m honestly amazed that they’re all still alive based on the sheer volume of drugs and booze they’ve pumped through their systems. There were so many memorable stories and outlandish antics. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll is an understatement, you’ll get more than your share of all that and then some! A must-read for anyone who loves Mötley Crüe, or just wants to spend some time living that rock star life.
  • Most Likely to be Thrown in the TrashThe Only Child by Andrew Pyper
    I’ve really had it with this guy. I heard about him for the first time a few years ago when I picked up a copy of The Damned at the used bookstore, which was an awesome read. I was so excited that I’d found a great new person to read, but every other book of his has sucked major balls. And this was the worst one yet! The most laughable moment was when the main character got on a flight to Europe and claimed to have read all of Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while on their flight. Fuck right off, there’s no way in hell any one person could do that. Or would even want to! This is a book about an immortal vampire trying to reconnect with his child, but I lost the ability to suspend my disbelief over someone reading three old timey books back to back on a plane. Utter nonsense.
  • Darkest Reality – The Power by Naomi Alderman
    In theory I love the idea of women having a sudden and terrifying power that they can use to subjugate the male population and give them a taste of their own oppression. But there were some truly terrifying moments of societal uproar, terrorism, and war in this book that caused this beautiful utopian reality to lose its lustre real quick.
  • Class ClownGood Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
    By far the funniest, silliest book I read this year. A lot of the great wry humour and quirky wit I expect from Gaiman. Never been a Pratchett reader, but safe to assume all the portions of this book that used humorous footnotes can be attributed to him. Though I’ve never read him, I do know that Pratchett liked him some footnotes! Lighthearted apocalyptic fun, if you’re into that, then give this book a try.
  • Life of the PartyThe Storyteller by Dave Grohl
    The last book I read this year, and what a way to finish my list! You get a lot of great stories about Dave’s life from the early days right through to the current Foo life. I couldn’t put this one down, I blazed through it in three days. One thing I will say, just as a general observation not a criticism, is that while I found the stories Dave told to be entertaining and amusing sometimes it did feel just a little bit name-drop-y and like it didn’t give me anything deeply personal that I could empathize with. The part where Dave talks about Kurt’s passing is the closest it gets to cracking through Dave’s chill easy-going dude vibe. He never tells you anything meaningful about his relationships, how he met his wife, failed marriages, etc. And the prose does start to feel too formulaic by the end of the book. Here’s how almost every chapter goes: start with a gotcha sentence, something sudden or shocking to hook the reader and then detour by starting the story at the beginning eventually making your way back to initial setup. Every chapter was like that. It’s the book equivalent of that filmmaking technique that uses narration and the whole record scratch/pause video “Hold Up” moment. “You might be wondering how I ended up in this crazy scenario. Well let’s go back to the start and I’ll tell you.” Very that, you know what I mean?
  • Major Oddball / Misfit EnergyMade For Love by Alissa Nutting
    Did not know this was a book until after I’d already watched the show. D and I really liked the show, it was a bonkers watch. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s about a billionaire tech company founder whose newest invention is a chip that can be implanted into your partner’s brain so you can achieve a truly intimate connection based on biological and neurological data. But it’s actually much more nefarious than even that sounds. It’s really about the obsessive level of control you can have over another person and how you can use that data to keep innovating. Sound like anyone you might know? It felt very on the nose having this megalomanic tech mogul trying to push his insane ideas onto society with no regard for their actual desire for it. Considering the headlines we see nowadays about companies like Facebook and Amazon it felt entirely too believable as a premise. We particularly enjoyed Ray Romano’s role as the crass, bereaved father engaged in a new relationship with his “companion”, a sex doll named Diane. The source material though? Way more fucked up than the show ever got at its most unbelievable plot points. I’m really glad the people who adapted the show decided to drop the whole dolphin fucking sub-story. That shit was completely unreadable. I almost gave up on this book several times. I don’t recommend it unless you like to get weird. Reeeeeal weird.
  • Most Likely to Disappoint – My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
    This is a book I’d seen lots of people recommending online, mostly women. So I thought I’d check it out and see what all the hype was about. It’s just a gross, creepy, sad read. The main character never grows or learns from her experiences being groomed and raped by her english teacher who she fancies herself in love with. The whole thing is just shock value rapist apologist crap. I hated it and I don’t recommend it. It let me down the most out of everything I read this year.
  • Most Likely to Succeed – Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    Classic. And classic for a reason. It’s a simple, tragic tale of friendship told beautifully and everyone should read it. It’s been challenged and put on banned lists for numerous reasons, but that’s just typical Whiny McWhiners trying to censor art. If you were never made to read it as required school reading, or you just pretended you did to get through English class, you should give it a genuine chance.
  • Most Enjoyable Read of the YearOona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
    A chick lit romp through time, I live for it! This is a new take on the time travel story and I was so into it. Premise: on the night of her 18th birthday, Oona faints and wakes up suddenly thrust years into the future in her 50’s in the year 2015. There’s a letter from herself to read when she gets there that explains from the age 18 onwards she’ll be living every year of her life out of order. So instead of living life in a linear timeframe like the rest of us, 1982, 1983, 1984, etc. her life becomes 1982, 2015, 1991, etc. All the while she’s still the same age spiritually. So even though she just turned 19 she’s 19 in a 51 year old body and life. I thought it was such a cool twist on time-travel stories and I loved it.

Of the 45 books I read those are the ones that stand out the most and are worthy of callouts, for good or bad reasons. Maybe you’ll want to check some out? If I can get someone to read at least one book because of this post I’ll feel just fine about that.

It’s been a slow start to the 2022 reading list. I’ve got some decent things waiting on the shelf for me to pick up, but I’ve been feeling a bit of that “reader’s block” I get sometimes. You know what I’m talking about. That feeling when the crushing amount of work it takes just to exist saps your will to do anything other than lay on the couch with Netflix and Doritos at the end of a long day? That’s the one. Because all the days are so long and exhausting. So very long and exhausting. But it’s wicked to wish the time away so I just focus on getting by instead.

I’m sure I’ll feel a bit more like reading again when the snow melts, when work stops being a total pressure cooker every day, when Woody goes to college. I’m nothing if not hopeful. Until then, take ‘er easy pals! I’ll see you next year when I recap the 2022 list, if not sooner.