books read in 2021

Blindness

by Jose Saramago


This was a beautiful read. Saramago found ways to build up all the beautiful and transcendent moments in what is otherwise a dystopian novel, and I enjoyed that flow deeply. I am used to dystopian fiction focusing on the political allegory, but Saramago decided instead to highlight the way that humanity would maintain it's kindness, and I thought that was amazing.

Ishmael

by Daniel Quinn


This is a novel, but it's really a philosophical treatise on the problems with human civilization and its impact on the natural world. Ishmael is the name of a gorilla who teaches all this to the unnamed narrator, and it's a fascinating read. I particularly enjoyed the way that it framed the story of Cain and Abel, as well as the way that it described our consumerist culture as a prison nobody can easily escape.

The Medium is the Massage

by Marshall McLuhan


This book is basically an academic text arranged like an art zine, and it is so much fun to read. McLuhan has always been one of the more fascinating media critics to me, and this book is chockfull of his bizarre (and accurate) predictions for the future of interactive media. In one section, he basically entirely predicts the future hell that is Twitter, in stunningly precise prose.

The Four Loves

by C.S. Lewis


Oh C.S. Lewis, what are we going to do with you. You are always so insightful, as long as you just ignore pretty much everything you ever have to say about gender and sexuality. Once again, you hit the same mark. This book was a very interesting read, and I particualrly liked the chapter on friendship. Lewis thinks that deep and meaningful friendship is undervalued in modern soceity. The way he defined friendship as someone who "sees the same" was great.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

by Alix Harrow


I loved this book, and I loved it a lot more than I thought I was going to when I was about half-way through it. It's a wonderful fantasy that criticizes modernism in just the right way, and I adore the two central romances. It's definitely a book that will get you to believe in magic and wonder, and who could possibly complain about that? It fit right in with the David Bentley Hart works I have been reading this year.

Klara and the Sun

by Kazuo Ishiguro


Wow, what a wonderful book from Ishiguro. I bought this the week it came out, and I think it was certainly worth it. I would honestly rank this one as my favorite Ishiguro book, above both Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, but maybe that's just because it has a more satisfying resolution for me. One of the best books on AI I could even imagine.

The Beauty of the Infinite

by David Bentley Hart


Oh, how on earth do I summarize this. This was a very expansive work dealing with Christian reflections on modernism, post-modernism, the market, and beauty. Suffice it to say that Hart argues that most of the questions that plague modern life can be answered in ancient Christian theology, particuarly the theology best expounded by Gregory of Nyssa, in which all things are saved, and all things are, because God sustains them.

Heavy Vinyl

by Carly Usdin


This was a very quick read, but a very fun read! Basically, this is about a bunch of feminist music nerds who band together to fight the bad guys who are attempting to make music less expressive and more corporate. It also includes a healthy dose of queer romance and teenage shenanigans. This was just an awful lot of silly, heartwarming fun, with a sprinkling of 90s nostalgia for good measure.

The Lathe of Heaven

by Ursula K. Le Guin


The most Philip K. Dick that Le Guin ever gets, this was a very fun book to read, and it surprised me with how romantic it ended up being. I was also taken aback with how Taoist this whole thing is, but of course, that shouldn't really be too shocking when we are dealing with Le Guin. The novel deals with manipulation, power, and acceptance in a novel way through a story revolving around reality-altering dreams.

Filling the Void

by Marcus Gilroy-Ware


Gilroy-Ware mentioned this book in After the Fact, and although they both cover simliar topics, I thought I would give this one a go as well since it focuses entirely on social media. It was a good read! Basically covered a lot of what Zuboff would cover later, while also focusing on the emotionally depressed state social media feeds on and perpetuates. Delete your accounts, folks.

Record of a Spaceborn Few

by Becky Chambers


The most human novel so far in the Wayfarers series, this book definitely stands up alongside A Closed and Common Orbit as an amazingly well-written, empathetic, and touching science fiction work. For the first time in the series, Chambers actually explores an economic system that is different from some form of space capitalism, and it works really well here. Every character is explored well, and I particularly enjoyed the Kip and Isabel storylines.

The Weird and the Eerie

by Mark Fisher


An interesting examination of "the weird" and "the eerie" in contemporary fiction. Fisher goes over a bunch of material here, including interesting films and television serials that I had never heard of before reading this book, and that I will certainly check out now. His insistence that "weird" and "eerie" things don't have to necessarily be horror was fun to think about, and I really just learned about a lot of good fiction from reading this.

Nimona

by Noelle Stevenson


A really fun graphic novel about a shapeshifting girl and her attempt at "villainy" with an extremely sympathetic villain and a Noelle Stevenson certified friends to enemies to lovers story. This kind of reads like a trial run to what Noelle would eventually do with She-Ra, and I certainly read it because I heard people describe it to me in that way, but it definitely stands on its own as well. The character of Nimona, in particular, really works as a metaphor for queerness.

After the Fact

by Marcus Gilroy-Ware


An in-depth analysis of why exactly we have become a society so suseptible to believing in "fake news." Instead of focusing squarely on social media, Gilroy-Ware posits that the real source of all our woes is the market-driven society itself, in which money and financial success is more important than other concerns, like truth. Gilroy-Ware does focus on social media and its ills during the last chapter, but I really appreciated the broader view of how disinformation is incentivized under capitalism.

The Corrections

by Jonathan Franzen


A pretty wild book about the struggles of being a 21st century American. I really enjoyed this one. The book jumps around between the different major characters, and I particularly enjoyed the sections that focused on either Denise or Enid. Both of those characters seem to be different feminist character studies, and I particularly enjoyed the way that Enid's story ended. The writing in this one is also just very funny, and Franzen is clearly playing with how he views himself as exceptionally clever. Sometimes that is really fun to read!