I’m all for tradition, so it pleases me that this is the second consecutive year that I’m starting a new year by thinking about the best media I consumed in the previous year.
In 2021 I read 30 books, the most I read in a calendar year, well, ever. Here, I offer some spare thoughts about my three favorite.
No. 3: Dune
I read Dune this year. It took me a good while to finish this ~900 page masterwork but I’m glad I got it off my TBR pile because it is great. The novel is inventive, it damn well kickstarts modern science fiction, and its scope is as wide as you’ll ever see for a work of fiction. It can be a plodding read at times but Herbert is playing with huge ideas in these pages and those ideas need time to grow and evolve into the political statements they are. Read this book.
No. 2: American Salvage
I come from Michigan stock on my mom’s side, and the one thing you need to know about Michiganders is that anytime someone from Michigan does something great you’re going to hear about it. Such was the case with this 2009 book of short stories from Michigan-born Bonnie Jo Campbell, a finalist for the National Book Award when it came out. These stories catalog rural Americans, those so often overlooked in life and in fiction. Campbell has a deft touch, finding the humanity where lesser writers might find stereotype.
If you were to look in my virtual drawer of stories, you’d see that in my first decade of writing I’ve been chasing the highs achieved in this collection of stories from West Virginian Breece Pancake. Like Campbell, Pancake’s stories shine a light on the rural poor but swing a powerful, empathetic left hook that’ll hit you in your gut and take your breath away. I want to write these stories so, yeah, this is the best thing I read this year.