Ryan’s Best Books of 2021

2021 was a crazy year for me, and 2022 looks like it will be even crazier. These are the books that helped me make it through. You can see all the books I read here.

How to Make a Slave by Jerald Walker

This year, Jerald Walker’s essay collection was a finalist for the National Book Award. There are two remarkable things about his writing. One is how vulnerable Walker (who, full disclosure, taught a workshop I took at Emerson) is on the page, sharing intimate stories. The other is how willing he is to laugh at himself, which makes the rawness of the essays easier to handle. For example, reading about racism is hard, but the humor makes it more accessible.

The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell

The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell by Brian Evenson

The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell works for the same reason How to Make a Slave does: both use a spoonful of humor to make uncomfortable truths go down. Brian Evenson’s story collection uses dark humor to look at the future of our world if humans do not make an effort to save our environment. Evenson’s imagined future is bleak but necessary.

My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee

My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee might be the funniest book I read all year. Tiller is a college kid who gets an internship with Pong, a local businessman. Unfortunately, what starts as a regular business relationship flies off the rails, turning Tiller’s year abroad into an insane journey spanning continents filled with bizarre, hilarious experiences.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

Since Scream reinvented the genre, slashers and metatextuality have gone hand and hand. My Heart is a Chainsaw revs up the slashing and the intertextuality enough to rival, if not quite reach, Kevin Williamson’s and Wes Craven’s level. However, Jones offers something their film does not: coherent commentary on race and gentrification.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

As early as 2014, I remember hearing about how white the publishing industry is. The voices, rightly, calling for diversity have gotten louder, and they are amplified in Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl. The novel portrays what it feels like to be a black woman in publishing and slow-burns into a thriller about mind-controlling drugs. The Other Black Girl is a stunning debut.

When Things Get Dark

When Things Get Dark: Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson edited by Ellen Datlow

Shirley Jackson was a phenomenal writer whose novels are still not talked about enough. Ellen Datlow, horror fiction’s premier anthologist, took a step toward correcting that novel by editing When Things Get Dark. It spans the horrific and the literary, with each story striving to capture Jackson’s incredible prose and her preternatural ability to embody loneliness on the page.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca

Eric LaRocca’s considerable talent lies in his ability to draw out the poetry in gore. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is chock-full of stomach-turning moments and some of the most disgusting body-horror ever committed to the page. If you like horror, seek out this book.

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

This year, only one book made me cry: S.A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears. While there are some issues with the floating-point of view, the people in Razorblade Tears pop off the page as Ike and Buddy Lee, grandfathers united by the murder of their sons, seek revenge.

First-Time Reads from Other Years I Loved:

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  • Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
  • Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Crosby
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • The Dead Hours of Night by Lisa Tuttle
  • The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
  • Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
  • It by Stephen King
  • Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez
  • We Need to Do Something by Max Booth III
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  • The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
  • Billy and the Cloneasaurus by Stephen Kozeniewski
  • Survivor by J.F. Gonzalez
  • The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
  • Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
  • Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

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Ryan C. Bradley
Ryan C. Bradley

Ryan C. Bradley’s work has been featured in The Missouri Review, Dark Moon Digest, The Rumpus, and many other venues. He’s a regular contributor to Cyn’s Workshop and Wicked Horror. A writer, editor, and adjunct professor who loves horror movies, action figures, wrasslin, and pizza, he spends a quarter of his time writing and the other quarter training his dog to stop biting him.

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