Numbered rankings have always felt arbitrary to me, which is why the first word of this post is “great” rather than “best.” Here, I’ll recommend a novel, novella, short story collection, anthology, nonfiction book, album, movie, and podcast. If a particular 2021 release isn’t mentioned here, that’s not because I disliked it. In fact, there are plenty of releases I loved this year that I’m leaving out. But I want to keep this post short and sweet, so here we go!
A GREAT NOVEL
David Demchuk’s Red X rocked my world. It combines true crime with supernatural horror and authorial diary entries with up-close histories of the AIDS crisis. In other words, it felt like it was made just for me. The book is ambitious, strange, queer, and utterly unique. I look forward to devouring all of Demchuk’s future releases.
A GREAT NOVELLA
Samantha Kolesnik’s Waif explores many of my favorite things: bizarre body horror, complex queer characters, and people on the fringes of society getting by any way they can. I read this book in a single sitting, and without spoiling anything, can tell you it has the greatest last two lines I’ve read in a long, long time. This one will stick with me.
A GREAT SHORT STORY COLLECTION
I’d heard great things about Michael Cisco long before I read this collection, but I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to his work than Antisocieties. Cisco operates on a level of weirdness that feels pulled directly from a dream, resisting interpretation and yet inviting endless satisfying speculation. I adored this collection.
A GREAT ANTHOLOGY
Sam Richard is a phenomenal writer, editor, and friend. His newest anthology, Cinema Viscera, takes movie theater horror to hideously bleak places. Every story oozes with nightmare–sometimes literally. A couple highlights include Charles Austin Muir’s “A Marriage of Blood and Pus,” a bizarre, dark, and intensely personal story that only Charles could tell. Another is Jo Quenell’s “The Reassigned,” which at times feels physically painful to read–and I mean that as a compliment. Overall, a killer anthology! Not a dud in the bunch.
A GREAT NONFICTION BOOK
Okay, this one isn’t a 2021 release, but I didn’t read much nonfiction this year, so cut me some slack, will ya? Mark Bray’s Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook is without a doubt one of my favorite political history and organizing strategy books. It’s a book I’m certain I will read again, and at the risk of sounding dramatic, it deserves a place on the bookshelves of all committed antifascists. Utterly fascinating and full of indispensable wisdom.
A GREAT ALBUM
I have long preached the gospel of Kayo Dot. The band is endlessly inventive, and even when a song of theirs doesn’t quite work for me, I’m always appreciative that they tried something new. This 2021 album, Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike, is their best since their 2010 release Coyote. It’s brimming with catchy riffs, badass lyrics, and explosive creativity. Any metalhead with a taste for adventure should pick it up.
A GREAT PODCAST
At the beginning of this year, I was worried that I was getting dumber and less politically engaged than I’d been in years. That’s still a little true, but Behind the Bastards made me a little less dumb and a lot more angry. Robert Evans’s journalistic research is top-notch and his presentation of “the worst people in history” always keeps me engaged. There’s plenty to learn about the past and present hideousness of our Hellworld.
A GREAT MOVIE
I regret that I never got to see Julia Ducournau’s Titane when it came to theaters (in Nebraska of all places. Nebraska!), but even watching it on the tiny screen of my laptop, I was entranced. Two films deep into her career, Ducournau already holds the 21st century throne of body horror film directors. Her penchant for weirdness, playfulness, and brutality make this film an utterly captivating experience. Don’t miss it!