The 6 Best Books of the Year (So Far)
We’re halfway through the year and I’m halfway through my Goodreads Challenge, so I figured I’d make a round-up of my six favourite books of the year so far. Please note my taste in books leans towards bizarre, queer, and depressing. Let’s get into it!
#1. Best Novel - Big Five Publisher: TIE! Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (Random House, 2021) and 100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell (MCD x FSG, 2021)
It’s pretty hard to be reading contemporary lit and ignore Detransition, Baby. While Peters has been self-publishing her work for years, her debut novel has lit the mainstream aflame. I think it’s safe to say that this novel is THE queer literary event of the year and for good reason: Peters’ writing is bold, witty, heartbreaking, and fresh. I simply can’t wait for the TV adaptation! If you enjoyed this novel, make sure to read her two self-published novellas on her website, which are much quicker reads but just as good. Check out my long review of Detransition, Baby here.
While I’ve been a fan of Brontez Purnell’s writing since he had a monthly column in MRR, his novel 100 Boyfriends blew me away. Constructed from a multiverse of interconnected vignettes about hook-ups between gay men of colour, 100 Boyfriends has a contagious, frenetic sexual energy to it. But it’s also so much more, revealing deeper truths about contemporary isolation, loneliness, and connection. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it, and I think a re-read would reveal even more of its brilliance.
#2. Best Novel - Independent Publisher: Darryl by Jackie Ess (Clash Books, 2021)
Not gonna lie: Darryl is by far (BY FAR!) my favourite book of the year. The novel, Ess’ debut, is told in the form of journal entries by a 40-something white man living in Eugene, Oregon named Darryl. What makes him unique? He’s a cuck who loves to watch his wife get fucked by other people. Still, Ess explodes this premise halfway through the novel, turning Darryl into a meditation on identity, sexuality, gender, and fetish. This is one of the most bizarre novels I’ve read in a long time: realizing the truth of the many layers underneath the story made it one of the most mind-blowing reading experiences I’ve ever had. If you loved Detransition, Baby, just wait for Darryl to completely melt your brain.
#3. Best Short Story Collection - The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (Riverhead Books, 2020)
I haven’t been reading a lot of short story collections this year, but Danielle Evans’ The Office of Historical Corrections blew me out of the water. The short collection contains six stories and one novella; I was super impressed with how Evans manages to do so much in such an economy of space. Each story was character-driven and deeply layered thematically and politically. I can’t stop thinking about “Boys Go To Jupiter” and the titular novella at the end. If you enjoyed Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body And Other Parties, make sure to give this a read.
#4. Best Non-Fiction - Essay Collection: A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House, 2021)
I’ve been singing Hanif Abdurraqib’s praises since his first essay collection came out in 2017. It’s such a delight to watch one of your favourite writers get better in real-time and A Little Devil in America is by far Abdurraqib’s best work yet. A collection of essays about Black performers in the United States over the past century, this collection is personal, political, and poetic, and proves that the best music writing makes the songs sound better after you read about them. Check out my long review here.
#5. Best Non-Fiction – Journalism: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon (Beacon Press, 2020)
Aubrey Gordon’s debut work was one of the first books I read this year and it set the bar stratospheric for all the journalistic works I read after. Combining journalism and memoir, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat explores the long-running social, political, and economic bias that North America has towards fat people. This book woke me up to a lot of realities, such as anti-fat bias in airlines and the widespread myth of the obesity “epidemic.” This book also opened my eyes to the struggles faced by those seeking affordable, comfortable, and flattering plus-size clothing, which has been invaluable to me as someone who works in clothing retail by day. Everyone needs to read this book, and listen to Gordon’s excellent podcast, Maintenance Phase.
Superlative Shout Outs:
Most Disgusting: TIE! Earthlings by Sayaka Murata (Grove Press, 2020) and The Sluts by Dennis Cooper (Da Capo Press, 2005)
While Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman was a cute, quirky, and light-hearted read, Earthlings was anything but. Definitely do NOT judge this one by its hedgehog stuffie cover: the last 30 pages of this novel were so shocking and horrific that I haven’t been able to remove them from my brain, even six months later.
The same goes for The Sluts by Dennis Cooper, an older novel that I read in a whirlwind 24 hours after hearing it shared characters with Darryl by Jackie Ess. I’d recommend both, but with major warnings to not read if you’re sensitive to stories with extreme violence of all kinds.
Biggest Cry: TIE! No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (Penguin, 2021) and Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (Knopf, 2021)
I finished reading No One Is Talking About This right before I had to go to work and it completely ruined my day because I had to keep wiping my tears thinking about the ending. Check out my long review here.
The same goes for Crying in H Mart, which was a bit more uneven narratively and emotionally, but which made me do the Big Sob by the end. Very curious to see how this will be adapted as a film!
Forthcoming 2021 Books I’m Looking Forward To:
July 13 – A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan: “A young couple's toxic Instagram crush spins out of control and unleashes a sinister creature.”
July 27 – Summer Fun by Jeanne Thorton: “An epic, singular look at fandom, creativity, longing, and trans identity.”
Aug. 3 – Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So: “A vibrant story collection about Cambodian-American life that offers profound insight into the intimacy of queer and immigrant communities.”
Aug. 17 - Gordo by Jaime Cortez: “Set in a migrant workers camp near Watsonville, California in the 1970s, a young, probably gay, boy named Gordo puts on a wrestler's mask as he tries to grow into the idea of manhood so imposed on him by his father.”
Sept. 7 - How to Wrestle a Girl by Venita Blackburn: “Set in Southern California, this collection follows a teenage girl in the aftermath of her beloved father’s death and capture her sister’s and mother’s encounters with men of all ages, as well as the girl’s budding attraction to her best friend, Esperanza.”
Sept. 7 – Beautiful World Where Are You by Sally Rooney: “Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart.” Seems like a Sally Rooney book to me!
Nov. 2 - Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer by Rax King: “An irreverent and charming debut essay collection about the joys of low culture and bad taste, exploring coming of age in the 2000s in the age of Hot Topic, Creed, and frosted lip gloss.”
What Else I’m Reading:
This review of Brandon Taylor’s Filthy Animals, which I just finished
What I’m Listening To:
Les Deux You Remember This: A satirical history podcast about ‘00s celebrity culture.
Not A Simpsons Pod: My friend Mina’s new podcast about Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey’s short-lived reality show, Newlyweds.
What I’m Watching:
Hereditary (2018): I’ve been meaning to watch this forever, but I’ve been a total baby with horror movies up until a year ago (turns out living through a dystopian pandemic will give you a new appreciation for genre films). I finally watched it and IT SHOOK ME TO MY CORE. I liked it more than Midsommar and I woke up still terrified the next day. TONI COLLETTE WAS ROBBED!!! Currently streaming on Netflix.
Young Adult (2011): I’ve been rewatching a bunch of Diablo Cody movies this year. I’d never seen Young Adult before, so I gave it a watch and I completely fell in love with it. As a dark, dry comedy about a woman with depression acting totally deluded, it’s definitely a very specific cup of tea, but it was exactly MY cup of tea. It felt like Ghost World but about a once-popular 36-year-old. It’s not streaming anywhere, but I’d recommend seeking it out if that sounds up your alley.
Thank you for reading! What have been your favourite reads of the year so far? Agree with me, or disagree? Anything you’re looking forward to being published later this year? Sound off in the comments and feel free to recommend away! The next newsletter comes out the week of July 26 (I am trying to get back into my biweekly groove now that I am no longer in the midst of Moving Cities in a Pandemic Hell). You can find me in the meantime on Goodreads, Letterboxd, Twitter, and Instagram. Take care of yourself, and each other.
Ok I have two of these on my shelf RIGHT NOW but haven’t read them so I’d better get on that! The rest are new to me but now they’re immortalized on my goodreads TBR for future Dessa to deal with.