Recommended Reading List: November 2021
Well, I learned something about myself this month. I am not ready to face 2020 in any realistic way. I picked up, as I always do, The Best American Essays, and dove in. This year’s came from 2020, even though the volume is marked 2021. (That’s standard.) And…I just…couldn’t. I had to put the book down. Not just the pandemic, but the election, and the marches, and Armaud Arbery and Brianna Taylor and…all that heartbreak. I’m just not ready to relive it in essay form.
Weirdly, I can easily handle The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2020, because the essays were about sport and how sport made it through the year. There’s an amazing Armaud Arbery essay in the book which I initially read in Runner’s World, and there are other important essays about protests and politics and international relations and pandemic, pandemic, pandemic, but they’re not about the interior things that we all (or many of us) experienced. Those things I can’t face right now. So I put the book on my shelf next to the other volumes, which I’ve read, and maybe I’ll come back to it. Maybe not. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to relieve that year. Who would want to?
One other thing: I have always loved Runners World, even when I wasn’t running (just aspiring) because it is so inspirational. The articles have gotten even better over the last year, so I’d suggest you take a look.
I had less time than I wanted for reading. (I always have less time than I want.) But I did okay. Novels were a hard commit for me, so again, it was mostly short stories, which the list reflects.
Also, for those of you who love short stories and holiday reading, Dean has curated a Holiday Collections Storybundle, with over 70 short stories from some of my favorite authors. (Including him…and yeah, I’m there too.) So go get yours!
Beasley, Jared, “The Navajo Ultrarunner And The Irrepressible Border Collie Pup Who Saved Him,” Runners World, Issue 4, 2021. Runners World often highlights people who do amazing things and live amazing lives, especially in the face of adversity. Eli Neztsosie is one of them. He is an ultrarunner, but he learned how to do that all on his own, for his own reasons. Read the opening to this piece (it’s online). I dare you to stop after that first paragraph.
Broma, Peter, “The Bubble of a Dream,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2021, edited by Glenn Stout, Triumph Books, 2021. Peter Broma decided, to try to qualify for the Olympics in the Marathon. He was thirty-something at the time, with a wife, kids, and a job. Most people who try for the Olympics spend their entire day at it. He didn’t have more than a few hours to give each day. The piece explores his dream, the way he pursued it, and the end result. I won’t spoil it for you, but the essay is one of the highlights of a very good book.
Burke, Alafair, editor, The Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories 2021, Steph Cha, series editor, Mariner, 2021. Okay, this volume is a breath of fresh air. I loved so many stories in here (all listed in this month’s or last month’s recommended reading lists), and liked most of the others. I only disliked one, which I consider the beginning editor problem. It’s a story that relies on your knowledge of a book published forty-some years ago, a book which is different from the movie made from it. I read the book, forty-some years ago, and didn’t remember that part. An experienced editor might love the story, but realize just how limited the audience for it is. Other than that miss, the rest of the anthology is wonderful. Pick this one up this year. It’s one of the best in the series.
Clack, Cary, “The Bout,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2021, edited by Glenn Stout, Triumph Books, 2021. We know a lot of the big sports stories. We also learn some of the major stories about people who courageously integrated something. But the smaller victories sometimes get lost. Cary Clack tells the tale of a boxer who wanted the right to fight white boxers in the state of Texas in the 1950s, so he went to court. The piece begins with the prize fight, but also gives us the journey to get there. I loved this article. Well done.
Faux, Zeke, “The Master Thief,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2021, edited by Glenn Stout, Triumph Books, 2021. This is less of a story than it is a sports collecting story. Or maybe a sports revenge story. A man who considered himself a master thief and who might have held some bragging rights to the title, decided to steal Super Bowl rings. That’s just the beginning of this tale, which gets weird and twisted and interesting.
Koryta, Michael, editor, When A Stranger Comes to Town, Hanover Square Press, 2021. This is the Mystery Writers of America anthology for 2021. It’s a solid book with some stellar stories. I only disliked one, rather intently, not because it’s a bad story, but it’s clearly just here for the author’s name. It doesn’t fit at all. Everything else works beautifully with the theme and gave me a good several hours of reading time. It will do the same for you.
Lawrence, Andrew, “Does Aliphine Have Your Attention Now?” Runners World, Issue 4, 2021. Aliphine Tuliamuk has competed under the radar for years, finally getting the attention of the mainstream sports press with her impressive runs in 2021. Her life is even more impressive. Read this.
Naymark, Emilya, “Exit Now,” When A Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta, Hanover Square Press, 2021. When I came back to this book, I couldn’t remember the story from the title, but oh, the ending. Yeah. I remembered everything after glancing at that. So ignore the rather mundane title, and sink into a lovely, twisted story about fascinating people, and the stranger who interrupts their lives.
Okosun, Elizabeth, “What Lillian Green-Chamberlain Has Learned From A Lifetime of Running,” Runners World, Issue 4, 2021. Lillian Green-Chamberlain is the first African-American woman to represent the world internationally in the 400 and 800 meter runs, among other accomplishments. And she did this before the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. After her running career ended, running did not. Nor did her impressive life. Another spectacular read from Runners World.
Snowden, Faye, “One Bullet, One Vote,” The Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories 2021, Alafair Burke, editor, Steph Cha, series editor, Mariner, 2021. Everyone in America needs to read this story. Everyone. It is an amazing slice of (true) history, but it also shows people at their very best (and others at their very worst). If I describe any more of it, I’ll spoil it. I will say this: the problem with reading in a crowded lunchroom is that when you react out loud to an amazing story, people give you the side eye. Yes, I had a real reaction to this in real time. Yes, that’s why I want you to read it. Now.
Stone, Jonathan, “Russkies,” When A Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta, Hanover Square Press, 2021. At some point, you’ll get ahead of this story, and you’re supposed to. That’s what makes it heartbreaking. I’m not going to say anymore. Just read and enjoy.
Stout, Glenn, The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2021, Triumph Books, 2021. I loved this book. So much, in fact, that I was disappointed when it ended. As you can tell from all the recommendations both this month and last, I found a lot to highlight in this particular volume. Some of it is the 2020 perspective, as I mentioned above, but a lot of it is just so different and so riveting. I didn’t list some of my favorites because I recommended them when I read them in other venues, such as the piece on Ahmaud Arbery that originally appeared in Runner’s World. Even if you’re not a big sports fan, you will like this book. The only thing I didn’t like is that the paper version, which is the one I got, literally fell apart in my hands. I’m holding it now, careful not to lose half the pages. Minor quibble, though, for an exceptional volume.
Thompson, Nicholas, “The Nameless Hiker and the Case The Internet Couldn’t Crack,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2021, edited by Glenn Stout, Triumph Books, 2021. A man went hiking, talking to a few folks, and was found dead in his tent weeks later. No i.d., nothing. No one knew who he was, although a lot of people had seen him. I got so wrapped up in this mystery that when I finished it, I immediately went to the original website to read the follow-up story. Which is sad. Fascinating stuff here.
Unger, Lisa, “Let Her Be,” The Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories 2021, Alafair Burke, editor, Steph Cha, series editor, Mariner, 2021. I don’t recall ever reading a Lisa Unger story before. I read two of them this month, and was impressed with both. This is the first one that I read. It’s a story about a young writer who was involved with a woman, but the relationship didn’t work. He stalks her on social media and…I can’t say much more. I figured out one major twist in the story; the other caught me by surprise. Plus the writing is stellar. I’m going to look for more of her work.
Unger, Lisa, “A Six-Letter Word For Neighbor,” When A Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta, Hanover Square Press, 2021. I read this Lisa Unger story a few days after the one above, and that encouraged me to pick up one of her novels (which I have not read yet). This story is lovely and subtle and breathtaking in its twists. It seems so straightforward…until it’s not. Very well done.