Look I’m going to be real, I didn’t read as much as I wanted to this year. 2021 was hard. I had trouble staying focused on books I wanted to read, so instead I found other, easier things to do that didn’t require focus I didn’t have. But, that isn’t to say I didn’t read at all. Because I did read quite a few things, a lot of which I really enjoyed. Here are five of them.
The Final Girl Support Group
2021, by Grady Hendrix
Grady Hendrix is by now somewhat well-known as a good horror writer, Horrorstör and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying are more than enough to cement that, at least to me. The Final Girl Support Group is, like a few of Hendrix’s works, steeped in a love for the genre. It is, after all, a love letter to slasher films, especially the final girls.
But that’s not all it is, The Final Girl Support Group is also one of the harsher condemnations of the true crime industry that I’ve seen come out of the horror genre, a genre that, admittedly, does traffic in similar blood and gore to the true crime industry, albeit horror’s blood is, usually, fake. There were moments while reading Final Girl Support Group that I was forced to sit and think about my own fascination with true crime, something which I’ve been forced to do several times this year and which I’m sure I’ll continue to do in the future. If I had to pinpoint a starting point for this introspection, it would likely be this book.
2021, by Xiran Jay Zhao
Iron Widow is easily the best YA debut in ages; it’s fun, moves at a quick pace, and most of all isn’t boring. Iron Widow is a science fiction novel inspired by the rise to power of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor of China; it’s described in the blurbs as “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was enough for me to be interested, after all, Pacific Rim is one of my favourite movies and I liked The Handmaid’s Tale well enough when I read it in high school. Despite that initial excitement, Iron Widow still found ways to surprise me, be it with the narration reminiscent of Katniss’ in The Hunger Games, albeit with more snark, or the polyamorous relationship at the centre of the novel, something I personally haven’t seen or heard of in Young Adult fiction since E.K. Johnston’s That Inevitable Victorian Thing.
Iron Widow feels like it’s poised to kick off a phenomenon within YA in the same way that The Hunger Games did when it was first published, and God, I hope it does just that. The world could do with more writers like Zhao, with distinct voices, boatloads of enthusiasm and excitement, and most importantly, something new.
Emily VanDerWerff’s Succession coverage
If you’ve looked at my twitter account on a sunday evening this past fall, you would have seen me screaming about Succession in one way or another. I only got into the show this past year and honestly, I’m a little upset that it took me that long. Succession is, surprisingly, extremely my jam and Emily VanDerWerff’s writing on it is some of the best I’ve read.
VanDerWerff, who wrote another one of my favourite pieces this year, How Twitter Can Ruin A Life, has honed into one of the aspects of Succession that both makes it difficult to watch at times and makes it shine; its portrayal of parental abuse and the way it affects different people in different ways and the ways in which the abuser, in this case patriarch Logan Roy, can exert their dominance on their victims. VanDerWeff’s writing is, to be entirely honest, the only writing about Succession that I really care about. You should check it out, especially Succession Turns a Box of Doughnuts into a Stealthy Statement About Abuse.
Paperbacks from Hell
2017, by Grady Hendrix
This is one that I’ve been (very) slowly working away at for about a year now. As the cover carefully points out, Paperbacks from Hell is about 70’s and 80’s horror fiction, more specifically it’s about 70’s and 80’s horror paperbacks. The kind of books that you pass over when you dig through the bookshelf at the end of the hall, only barely a rung above your mother’s Harlequin romance novels in terms of books you would read if you absolutely had nothing else to read. They’re nothing books with little substance to them, easily produced for easy money. But the truth of the matter is that those tiny little paperbacks were important, much like the cheap horror movies that were coming out around the same time. The same movies that I so often sing the praises of, those paperbacks led the genre to where it is now. Even if you don’t care about horror, or its history at the very least, Paperbacks from Hell can serve as a gallery for you to peruse the painted covers of bygone days, and I assure you, those days are bygone. As In Praise of Shadows points out in the video Horror Books Have Lost Their Identity, horror books just don’t get covers like this anymore. And that’s a damn shame.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke
2021, by Eric LaRocca
Eric LaRocca’s novella Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is one of the most distressing books I have ever read; it’s gross and it has a way of sticking with you. I read it in one sitting, eyes glued to the screen as the relationship central to the plot becomes more and more unhealthy, until eventually, it falls apart in a horrific way. It’s gross, and certainly not for everyone, but my God, does LaRocca have a way of making your skin crawl. To quote my goodreads review, “pretty fucked up.”