Faves of 2021

Another year nearly over and once again it is the time for LISTS!

First, a quick bit of reflection: I had only one short story published this year, Great Nothing in Shoreline of Infinity 27 & 29, but it’s a story I’m really proud of and it’s in a magazine I love, so it’s a big win for me. More to come next year!

I’ve also read some incredible stories and below are a few I want to highlight.

Disclaimer: This is a personal list of my favourite things I’ve read this year – not which have necessarily been published this year, though most of these are quite current. Also, 2020 and 2021 have kind of melted together and I’m often not sure whether I read something this year or last, so there may be some mix ups. Finally, I’m not saying this is better than that or anything of the kind, only that I really enjoyed these books/stories and would heartily recommend them.

Astral Season, Beastly Season by Tahi Saihate, translated by Kalau Almony (novella)

I loved the cover of this book so I bought it – and what a good choice it turned out to be! High school boys Morishita and Yamashiro try to prove the innocence of their favourite singer, accused of murder, by implicating themselves in the crime. Part thriller, part existential tale of young adulthood, tackling the thorny question of what to do with those we love who have done terrible things – very pertinent.

At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop, translated by Anna Moschovakis (novel)

International Booker Prize Winner 2021 – and if that stamp isn’t enough to convince you to read this, I’ll add my own to it as well: International Callum’s Favourite Book Winner 2021. Alfa is a Senegalese soldier fighting for the French army during WWI who begins to come unstuck after the death of his best friend. Incredibly striking prose, existential horror, deeply emotional. Brilliant.

Burroughs & Scotland: Dethroning the Ancients/The Commitment of Exile by Chris Kelso (nonfiction)

In 1962, beat gen grandaddy William S. Burroughs headed to Edinburgh for the International Writer’s Conference, creating a huge stir among Scotland’s literati. Here, The Dregs Trilogy author Chris Kelso dives into Burroughs’ connections with Scotland and Scientology in a fascinating work told in Kelso’s own beat-inflected style.

Duck Feet by Ely Percy (novel)

Scotland’s Book of the Year and rightly so, Ely Percy’s novel-as-collection-of-short-stories charting the trials and tribulations of teenage life in Renfrew in the mid-noughties is hilarious and authentic without slipping into saccharine nostalgia. (I’m already super psyched for the crime novel Ely is working on next!)

Extra Teeth Issue 3 (anthology)

Teef! Teef! Teef! One of Scotland’s most exciting literary magazines put out something pretty much perfect with their third issue. Illustrator Ryo Tamura’s art pops from every page, Catherine Wilson’s short story Fight or Flight melds magical realism with choose-your-own-adventure, and Alice Slater’s Blueberry, Fig, Lemon, etc. is gripping and sad and lyrical. Best of the best!

On the Shoulders of Otava by Laura Mauro (novella)/Sing Your Sadness Deep by Laura Mauro (short story collection)

On the Shoulders of Otava is an incredible blend of historical fiction and folk horror following the Women’s Guard during the Finnish civil war by one of the best short story writers working at the moment. Uniquely descriptive with characters that stay with you and evocative, new use of old folk horror tales – the same can be said of Mauro’s debut collection Sing Your Sadness Deep, which I would urge anyone with a love of short stories, regardless of genre, to pick up.

Pornographene by So Mayer (short story)

What are the chances one of my favourite short stories of the year would come from the above-mentioned Extra Teeth? Pretty high, really! This time from Issue 4, Pornographene by So Mayer is a cutting-edge sci-fi tale (in terms of where the genre is going and what it can do) about sensations and textiles and puns, taking the experience of being trans and projecting it from the near-present into the future, with themes of climate disaster mixed in for a heady brew.

Shoreline of Infinity 26 (anthology)

Ah, sweet, sweet Shoreline, one of my absolute favourite short story zines, came out with a belter this year: a trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer spotlight edition edited by the fantastic author and editor, Eris Young. City of Corporate Sanctioned Delights by B.G. Alder is definitely of my favourite stories to ever appear in Shoreline and is reprinted in issue 29 which also contains the reprint of my own short, Great Nothing. (Plug, plug! Kidding aside, I am really honoured to have my work sit alongside Alder’s amazing story.)

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo, translated by Louise Heal Kawai (novel)/The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo, translated by Yumiko Yamazaki (novel)

Just one more thing… The Japanese precursor to Columbo – Kosuke Kindaichi, a shaggy haired, seemingly simple vagabond with hidden razor-sharp intelligence – sets about solving the mystery of a couple’s death on their wedding night in a classic locked-room mystery appearing in English for the first time. Cosy and contrived in just the right way, there’s something wonderfully seasonal about both The Honjin Murders and The Inugami curse. Plenty of snow too! A third translated Kindaichi novel (of dozens – hopefully Pushkin Vertigo keep them coming!) is just out and is on my list to Santa.

The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery by Michael Taylor (nonfiction)

As it says in the subtitle, Taylor’s book charts the lesser-known story of those (and there were a great many of them) who opposed the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the UK, its empire, and beyond. A part of history shamefully forgotten in the shadow of pompous boasting about how Britain and William Wilberforce put an end to the evil trade. If we’re going to celebrate the good parts of our history, then we have to also face up to the bad parts – and there are a lot. Seriously, this book will make you angry and appalled.

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