My Year in Books: 2021
I really overshot my goal of one book a week. By twelve books. This despite perseverating on everyone’s favorite way to shelf signal their intelligence for a couple months. Every properly read copy of “Infinite Jest” should include a cracked book spine — at the very least to evidence that you periodically paused, turned the book over to save your place, and left to go quickly look up another word you’ve never heard before.
After a nonfiction-heavy past year, my main goal included incorporating more fiction and fantasy into my reading rotation. It wasn’t difficult. Fantasy was my first and favorite genre. At ten years old, I was so obsessed with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy that I taught myself the Númenórean script to replicate one of Galadriel’s farewell gifts to the Fellowship for show and tell day at school. My classmates were not impressed. The fact that I was surprised by this probably deserves its own separate unpacking…
C.S. Lewis, Guy Gavriel Kay, Robert Jordan, Richard Adams, J.K. Rowling, Phillip Pulman, Christopher Paolini, Orson Scott Card, George R. R. Martin, Frank Herbert. Even Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s oeuvres. What does fantasy look like when not told through a white, mostly male, lens? It is remarkable how speculative literature has a limited capacity to imagine alternate worlds that don’t revolve around Eurocentricity. Does escaping into these homogeneous imaginary places come with any consequences? Am I really being inspired to think and act at all differently? Are my foundations really being shaken?
I think it is sad that I still must be mindful of the name on the book. But if I want my reading habits to be somewhat balanced while combatting my own incriminate habits — the ways that I read and receive fictional women, people of color, and settings — it has to go this way.
Maybe this intention contributed to my less than favorable reception of DFW’s magnum opus “Infinite Jest.” It was a vocabulary ass-kicking, a circular string of absurdly hilarious observations, and chronicled the restiveness caused by the combination of intelligence and mental illness in a beautifully immersive way. Still, I didn’t experience the kind of life altering realization or existential enrichment fans of the book claim. The number of racist and sexist tropes muted that along with his determined battle against editing. (If it was 300 pages shorter, it would better preserve its merits.) Personally, I found his writing to be much more compelling as a nonfiction essayist as in his short form compilation “Consider the Lobster.” But an IJ review this is not. I’ll leave that to the literature graduate students and subreddits. Fight the good fight folks. And read all kinds of authors!