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Top 5 Reads of 2021: Cass

Our new end of the year article series continues with Cass’s five favorite reads of 2021!

I love studying Philosophy, but to be honest, it comes with some disadvantages. One of which is that reading (which is something I love) becomes a bit of a chore. I read so much for class that sometimes I forget why I love it. Nonetheless, this year I decided to try and read things I wasn’t asked to read for school, and through some wonderful books I started to enjoy reading just for the sake of it again. This year I had the opportunity to return to generes I love like horror and sci-fi, in addition to reading more contemporary authors of Latinoamérica (especially my country of origin, Mexico). I’m thankful for many things this year, but one them is definitely the time I spend between the pages of books.

5- The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling (2021)

Bite-sized Synopsis: A newlywed accountant starts to be hunted by the ghost that inhabits her new husband’s house. 

I won’t talk too much about this one because I wrote a full review of it here, but I just couldn’t put it in this list. The Death of Jane Lawrence was exactly the right dose of horror in the written form that I needed this year. Scary in all the parts that mattered and delightfully gothic in the rest of the book, this story is one that will show the reader the horrifying thing that hides in the lie between science and the occult. 

The characters are some of the best I read this year, each feels like the main character of their own story without overshadowing each other. The titular Jean Lawrence is a character the reader learns to love and trust, for some time at least. 

But to be honest what really makes this book worthwhile is just how amazing the atmosphere is built by Starling. Each moment is full of dread, tension, panic, and sweet sweet horror. 

This haunted house story will haunt the reader for some time

4- Can Everyone Please Calm Down?A Guide to 21st Century Sexuality (2019)

Bite-sized synopsis: Mea Martin writes about the way we talk about and experience all things sexuality. 

So the day of my birthday the first thing I did (like literally the first, I started at 12:01 am) was watch the entirety of Feel Good on Netflix and I loved every second of it. So, when I found out the creator of the show, comedian Mae Martin, had written a book about the way we talk about sexuality in the 21st Century I had to buy it. For some reason I wouldn’t read the book for a couple of months, but when I finally read it (just like when I saw Feel Good) I loved it. 

This book is extremely funny, like “laugh out loud at the park while you are surrounded by a ton of strangers” funny. There are some paragraphs I had to read twice because there were some bits I missed just because I was laughing. I don’t usually quote books, but some bits of this have become part of my conversation, specially around queer subjects. 

The best part of Can Everyone Please Calm Down? is that it is a really smart and insightful read. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the research in this book is. I actually learned a lot about LGBT+ history and about the science of sexuality, but most importantly it made me feel a lot more comfortable with my sexual orientation and even with my gender identity. It helped me to stop feeling limited by names and labels, and to explore myself without worrying about time or others.

We should all calm down to be honest. Sexuality and gender can be wonderful things, we just need to take our time with it, Mae Martin invites us to do just this.

3- The day they turned out the light (El día que apagaron las luces) by Camila Fabbri (2021)

Bite-sized Synopsis: Camila Fabbri explores what happened in the Carmañón tragedy through testimonies of some of the victims and persons close to the event, including her own testimony.

This year I did something I hadn’t done in a while and I’m so happy I started doing again: I started to read Latinoamerican books, and one of the main reasons this makes me happy is that this is the reason I stumbled into El día que apagaron las luces by Argentine writer Camila Fabrri. 

At the beginning of the 21st Century, the streets of Buenos Aires were full of urban tribes that spent their days following different rock bands, but after a tragedy that struck the city at the end of  2004, all of that changed. Fabbri explores the background, the events, and the consequences that surrounded the fire that would end a cultural movement. It is a book full of extremely personal stories and allows the reader to enter a whole new part of Argentine history (and rock history as a whole). 

What I found absolutely amazing about this book is its sincerity and honesty at the time of narrating these events. Fabbri doesn’t exploit this tragedy in an attempt to create a gripping narrative, instead it lets the reader into the emotions and lives of the people affected by it in a way that changes the reader. It’s truly amazing to find a book that feels this vulnerable and I’m so grateful that Fabbri gave me that opportunity.

Note: At the time of writing this the book is only available in spanish, but I believe an english version will be available next year  

2- This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (2019)

Bite-sized Synopsis: Two agents at opposite sides of a war across space and time start falling in love.

I cry very easily and I’m a really passionate reader, but I can not remember a book that made me cry the quantities that This is How You Lose the Time War did. This book made me feel so many feelings in such a short time span, breaking me completely. I mean all this in the best possible way. 

This book is perfect at the two genres it encapsulates. The sci-fi is amazing, the world building is done marvelously, and some of the concepts and Ideas explored are mind blowing. The book doesn’t hold any punches when exploring all the technology and the time travel stuff, but it does it in a way that leaves the reader utterly confused. 

That being said, it’s the second genre where this novel shines, the genre of romance. I’m not the biggest romance fan, but this book is so beautifully written (especially the letter parts) that it made my heart melt over and over again. The two main characters (Red & Blue) are fully fledged characters with really great chemistry and through their relationship the authors explore the best part of romance stories. 

To be honest this book leaves Romeo and Juliet in the dust. 

1- Empty Set (Conjunto Vacío) by Verónica Gerber Bicecci (2015) 

Bite-sized Synopsis: Verónica Gerber uses mathematical concepts and diagrams to write a personal story about relationships and our place in the universe.

I struggle a lot to find the words to describe why Empty Set was my favorite read of the year. I think it’s no coincidence that the book itself is about how sometimes words fail us, how sometimes we need new ways of communicating. Sometimes shapes and diagrams tell you a lot more than a good written paragraph. 

At its core this book is about relationships, not just about romantic relationships, but every type of relationship, even with the people who are no longer here. Gerber uses set theory to explore the complex aspects of human relationship in an extremely personal story. Each page and diagram in this book changes the perspective of the reader in more than one way, creating a truly unique experience. 

Empty Set is my favorite book this year because it gave me something truly new and unique, something only the author herself could make. I have spent so much time making my own diagrams trying to understand myself, but the more I do it the more confused I get, and the more I’m thankful for this book.

I don’t recommend this book for it’s unique format or style, but because it gives the reader a story that will make them someone different by the final page. Truly an extremely rewarding experience. 

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