2021 Book List

I read 89 books in 2021. These are, subjectively and in order, my top 21 in 2021.

NoBook TitleAuthorYearPublisherComments
21Mefisto in OnyxHarlan Ellison1993Mark V. Zeising BooksAnother powerful story from H.E. in a beautiful, oddly shaped 1st edition. One of the only books written for adults that is wider than it is tall. Keeping in character, Ellison could not resist a shot, in his Acknowledgements, at some folks who had rejected the book. MiO is a gritty, noirish novella of murder and suspicion.
20Typewriters Bombs Jellyfish: EssaysTom McCarthy2017New York Review BooksThe essays are full of erudition and odd insights. They carom off delightfully in every direction. My favorite was The Prosthetic Imagination of David Lynch which provided a glimmer of understanding of the film director’s strange and tenebrous aesthetic.
19Christopher Durang Complete Full-Length Plays 1975-1995Christopher Durang1997Smith and Kraus, Inc.Durang’s plays are funny with caustic commentary on the foibles of modern American society. I’d already read Beyond Therapy and seen it in a small theater in L.A. with my son Tristan playing the part of Andrew. My favorite play in this collection was The Vietnamization of New Jersey.
18Get in Trouble: StoriesKelly Link2015Random HouseLink is a faultless stylist and a master of the outre.
17J. G. Ballard: The Complete Short StoriesJ. G. Ballard2001FlamingoI had already read a number of the stories in this massive, 1200 page volume because they’d been published in so many ‘Best of’ anthologies. My favorites were Minus One, The Smile, and Love in a Colder Climate.
16On Wings of SongThomas M. Disch1993Easton PressAnother gorgeous leather-bound volume with gold-leaf embossments and gilt-edges from Easton Press. It is a modern fairy tale and biting satire of American society and Christianity. Disch never disappoints.
15The Fires of HeavenRobert Jordan1993Tor BooksThe fifth in the epic fantasy series the Wheel of Time. There is good reason WoT is mentioned in the same breath as GoT, LOTR, and Narnia.
14The ArrestJonathan Lethem2020EccoLethem is one of our best writers and a rarity in that he is equally adept at writing speculative and mainstream fiction. The Arrest is a dystopian novel set in America’s near future and depicts what happens when cars, computers, airplanes, etc. stop working.
13The LowlandJhumpa Lahiri2013Vintage ContemporariesThis novel was apparently a finalist for the National Book Award and the Man Booker Prize so, yeah, it’s pretty good stuff. Set in India from the 1960’s to the present day, it is a family tale about two brothers replete with love, tragedy, and contemporary Indian history.
12Bartleby in Manhattan & Other EssaysElizabeth Hardwick1983Random HouseE. H. was one of our best essayists and literary critics. If you don’t believe me ask Robert Atwan who chose her over the likes of Joyce Carole Oates, Annie Dillard, and Susan Sontag as the first guest editor in his Best American Essays series started in 1986 and still going strong.
11A Memory of EmpireArkady Martine2019Tor BooksArkedy Martine is the pseudonym of Dr. AnnaLinden Weller. This space opera is full of action and intrigue and won the 2020 Hugo award for Best Novel.
10News from the World: Stories & EssaysPaula Fox2011W. W. Norton & Co.P. F. is the under-appreciated author of Desperate Characters. These essays and stories have both sparkle and depth, a difficult trick to pull off. My favorites were Clem and the eponymous piece.
9The Complete Poems of Philip LarkinPhilip Larkin2012Farrar, Strauss and GirouxAt 700 pages this is the definitive work for Larkin scholars. It has as much commentary as poetry. I read it for the poems only. Some of my favorites were Night Music, No Road, Ignorance, The Old Fools, and Winter Nocturne.
8The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Eighth Annual CollectionGardner Dozois (Ed.)2011St. Martin’s GriffinThis annual collection of the best science fiction from the previous year is always one of the best books I read in any given year. I’ve always wondered about the correct pronunciation for this multiple Hugo-award winning editor’s last name. My favorite stories were The Emperor of Mars by Alan M. Steele, Under the Moons of Venus by Damien Broderick, and In-Fall by Ted Kosmatka.
7The Drowned WorldJ. G. Ballard1965Doubleday & Co.This 1st edition volume also included The Wind from Nowhere which could easily have landed in the top 21 as well but three works from one author in the list seemed excessive. This post-apocalyptic world in which sea-levels have risen drastically is described n Ballard’s signature dreamy, moody atmosphere.
6LessAndrew Sean Greer2017Back Bay BooksThis Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a clever, heart-warming, and funny look into the over-lapping worlds of literary writing and academia.
5Raised in Captivity: Fictional Non-FictionChuck Klosterman2019Penguin BooksThis much better-than-expected collection of short story[/essays?], all of them about a dozen pages or less, features Klosterman’s wit, humor, weirdness, and crazed imagination.
4The Portable VeblenElizabeth McKenzie2016Penguin BooksThe funniest, sweetest novel I read in 2021, it takes a clever and witty look at families and Big Pharma.
3The Largesse of the Sea MaidenDenis Johnson2018Random HouseEverybody who is anybody in the literary world loves Johnson’s writing. Who am I to disagree? He is a master word-smith. I liked the prison story Strangler Bob the best in this collection where every story is good.
2The Hotel EdenRon Carlson1997Penguin BooksAnother great collection of short stories that edged out Johnson’s above only because of the superb story Keith.
1Perdido Street StationChina Mieville2000Del Rey Ballantine BooksA wonderful meld of science fiction and fantasy. This Arthur C. Clark award-winning novel set in the steampunk world of New Crobuzon (which bears a more than passing resemblance to London) is an enthralling tour-de-force.

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