My 2021 in Books

Once more, I managed to reach my reading goal of 30 books in a year. I’m glad and I’m proud, but it still feels like far too few. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to read faster without sacrificing comprehension, but I might well devote more time to this. So, for 2022, I upped the goal to 36 books. That’s 3 a month and I’m already lagging behind, lol.

Another “new year resolution” regarding this is that I’ll try to write shorter but more frequent reviews. Leaving it all for one post, with up to a year since the actual reading, doesn’t work. I won’t even try this time. I’ll only leave a couple notes on things I liked (or disliked) more than the rest.

Reading STONER by J. Williams was a strange experience. It’s a story about the unremarkable life of an unremarkable man, utterly devoid of the hallmarks of modern fiction that works so hard to “hook” or “grab” the reader by promises of the extraordinary. Yet it did manage to hook and grab me, and during one memorable sequence excite me to the point of heart-pounding anxiety the sort of which I can’t remember ever feeling over a book. To borrow some praise from the introduction written by J. McGahern:

On the opening page of this classic novel of university life, and the life of the heart and the mind, John Williams states bluntly the mark Stoner left behind: “Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound that evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers.” In plain prose, which seems able to reflect effortlessly every shade of thought and feeling, Williams proceeds to subvert that familiar worldly judgment by bringing Stoner, and everything linked to him—the time, the place, the people—vividly to life, the passion of the writing masked by coolness and clarity of intelligence.

Stoner (New York Review Books Classics) . New York Review Books. Kindle Edition.

Among the books from that first snapshot, the other I want to mention is EUPHORIA by L. King. I was immediately impressed by a peculiar sincerity of the characters and how well they were set up to take off on a joint adventure. It seemed to be a pleasant kind of adventure until quite late in the story, though in retrospect, there were enough clues that it might not have a happy end. For a long time, I wasn’t sure where the tension between the three mains (a couple where the wife professionally outshines the husband and a male colleague from the same field of research) was going, and if it was sexual tension or if that was only my wishful thinking. It turned out it was a bit of both, and sadly, it didn’t develop the way I’d have liked it. But it inspired me to look at some of my own fiction from a new perspective. A memorable read.

The only thing I want to mention from the second snapshot is the ill-fated attempt to read NEXUS UPRISING, by J.M. Hough and K.C. Alexander, the prequel for Mass Effect Andromeda. It’s one of the two books of 2021 that I did not finish. I can’t remember many, if any books with such an utterly unattractive and undistinguished main character or such a dry, pedestrian narration. It bored me out of my mind and I dropped it at about 15%. Good riddance.

The other book I did not finish in 2021 was Hugo’s famous LES MISERABLES. I don’t even know where to start on that. It’s one of those glorified “classics” that have aged very, very poorly. I read what felt like hundreds of pages about a character who then turned out not to be the main at all! I’ve never seen a slower, more numbingly boring beginning. But I plodded through, and made it to the first appearance of the main. For a while, it seemed like the book could be redeemed: the main is an interesting character that I genuinely grew curious about. But then, just as I thought that this dubious endeavor might turn out alright after all, the main was deserted and some completely new cast of utterly unattractive characters in a depressingly uninteresting setting started to get developed instead. I couldn’t take it. Dropped it at about 10%. Jeez, just thinking about it makes me tired and sleepy.

I regret not taking the time to review LORD OF THE LAST HEARTBEAT by M. Peterson at the time when I finished it. I enjoyed it immensely, and was literally unable to put it down several nights in a row, but I was at the same time constantly aware of its diverse technical shortcomings. It’s a hugely condensed book that tries so hard to stuff all its fantasy and worldbuilding into the confines of a queer romance flavored with murder mystery that the ending, obviously intended to tie all the loose ends and explain everything, turns into a torrent of confusing events piling up on top of each other at a break-neck pace. I found myself skipping whole sections of what was supposed to be the most interesting material and was unimpressed with the final revelations. Though I would’ve enjoyed it even more if it was crafted better, I learned a thing or two from its mistakes.

Last but not least, there’s THE ABOMINATION VAULT, the Darksiders book by A. Marmell. I started to give a brief rundown of my impressions, but realized even that is material enough for a post of its own. So, stay tuned!

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