It’s weird—as overwhelming and depressing as 2021 has been in many ways, it yielded some amazing books. Here then, my year in reading, by the numbers:
33—The total number of books I read. I’m including my current read, the excellent Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers, which I should finish by the end of the year. I usually read between 25 and 30 books a year, so this is about average for me. I would love to read more but this whole having to work for a living, and sleep, really cuts into the reading time.
15—The number of books that most folks would consider horror or adjacent. Hey, I like what I like.
10—Science fiction and fantasy. Nope, no way am I going to try to differentiate between the two, there’s way too much crossover for that. I like it, I read it, that’s good enough for me.
The other eight books are a mix of thrillers, crime novels, books that stomp all over the lines between different genres, and one western by Joe R. Lansdale his ownself. And speaking of Joe…
4—The most books I read by any one author. That would be Mr. Lansdale. Happily, he’s as prolific as he is masterful.
I really tried to mix it up this year, at least as far as reading different authors. For instance…
8—The number of books by authors I was reading for the first time. I’m happy to see that I tried some new writers, and I have to say, I’m getting good book recs, because none of them disappointed me. Several have been added to my ever-growing list of must-read authors.
0—The number of reads that would not be considered “genre” in some way. Like I said, I like what I like.
IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER—
My six favorite reads of the year. If I was writing this yesterday, or tomorrow, this list might be different.
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones—I only discovered Jones a couple of years ago, but he’s quickly become one of my favorite horror writers. Hell, one of my favorite writers, period. After Mongrels, The Only Good Indians, and now My Heart Is a Chainsaw, he has confirmed his position as one of the very best in the field. Jones writes with heart, passion, and a brutal lyricality of language and voice that is always distinct, and always just right for the story he’s telling.
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig—With The Book of Accidents, Wendig takes his first stab at straight-up horror, and not surprisingly, he knocks it clean out of the park and into the parking lot. He’s playing with big themes here: Evil creates more evil, trauma creates more trauma, and it takes effort and heart and love to break that cycle. Love, particularly the familial kind, can be every bit as powerful as evil.
Sundial and The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward—Two for one, here. With these books, Ward is now one of my favorite writers, simple as that. Ward burrows her way beneath your skin, sets her barbed hooks deep, then drags those hooks out of your flesh slowly but inexorably. She conceals twists and shocks throughout her work. They explode like land mines, psychic shrapnel, constantly reshaping the novels, never letting you catch your breath.
Moon Lake by Joe R. Lansdale—Lansdale is a natural born storyteller. A couple pages into a Lansdale novel, and you’re sitting around a campfire on a dark summer night somewhere in East Texas, listening to magic being conjured from the smoke, or parked on a barstool in Nagadoches, throwing back a beer while a master spins a yarn. When I tell you that with Moon Lake he’s operating at the height of his considerable powers, that’s really saying something. This one is special.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey—Gailey has become one of my favorite authors over the past few years. On paper, at least, this is a science fiction novel. Here’s the funny part, though—the science fictional aspects of The Echo Wife, as enthralling as they are, are just a small part of what makes this such an exceptional novel. The novel’s plot, a piano wire-taut, expertly crafted thriller involving a particularly twisted extra marital affair, divorce, and multiple murders, rushes inexorably toward its conclusion with consummate skill.
Billy Summers by Stephen King—Much like with Joe Lansdale, here’s another old pro working at the top of his game. Billy Summers is a crime thriller, but it’s also a road novel, and a war novel, and finally a love story. King pulls off a bit of sleight of hand towards the end that’s ultimately satisfying. There’s soul searching, and hard-nosed decisions are made, and there is, at the end of it all, well-earned redemption.
FINALLY, A WORD ABOUT NETGALLEY—
I signed up with Netgalley.com this year and am really enjoying it. The chance to read books I’m looking forward to, before they’re released to the general public…what’s not to like? And if a few folks read my review and decide to buy the book, that’s satisfying to me.