The Worst Reads of 2021

in Ark Review by

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

In the last year or so, as we spend more time online, we have been seeing cases of people getting so-called “canceled”. They said or did something inappropriate, well maybe just flat out racist, ableist, transphobic, xenophobic, homophobic, etc. I, like many others, have been debating my stance on how accountability is being done online vs. in real life. Therefore, I was thrilled to be picking up So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed  by Jon Ronson, nonfiction from 2015 about specific cases of individuals who have been publicly shamed online. 

I assumed the book would be an expositional work, really diving into these topics, filled with nuance, diversity—perhaps a reach on my part considering that the author is a white cishet man—and insight. Instead what I got was a drama-filled book, following Ronson as he interviewed individual cases, telling us how it all went down. Although there is some interesting history and honest reflection, the book in no way went as deep as I would have liked. It more or less excused the individual’s behavior and gave no alternative to “cancel culture” accountability. 

Later in the year, I went on to read How to do Nothing by Jenny Odell and How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division by Elif Shafak, two books that provided a deeper understanding, fulfillment, context, and diversity-lens to the topic.

Wilma

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

Don’t ask me why I read a book by Chuck Palahniuk in 2021, especially when this same year I also read Fight Club and I found it a despicable, badly written book by a white man that seems to have a lot of mommy issues. And, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about white male writers (oh, well, maybe yes) but after many years of their literature their stories just bore me to death.

Choke is supposed to be about sex addiction and the topic interested me but I ended up finding the story irrelevant, didn’t care at all about the characters and what I thought was the main topic got somehow lost.    

Victor Mancini and his friend Denny work in a colonial reenactment museum. Victor has quit medical school so that he can take care of his old mother. To get money he pretends to choke on pieces of food while dining in restaurants, so that people can feel sorry for him and send him checks to pay for his mother’s elderly care. And yes, they also have sex (they actually met one another in a sex-adicction group) but I wouldn’t say that’s an important part of the story. Through flashbacks we discover pieces of Victor’s childhood, running from foster family to foster family, with his mother unfit to take care of him.

It could be that I totally misunderstood the whole point of the book and it’s all my fault because, actually, the book is called Choke, so it makes sense that it’s about choking and not sex-addiction; but even this story I found it hard to believe. Who sends you money checks years after seeing you choking in a restaurant? It could happen once, alright, but all the time? Really? How many years can you go to restaurants in the same town pretending to choke before someone exposes the scam?

And all of this could be acceptable if the writing was good. I can admire Hemingway, Henry Miller, Knausgård or even Bukowski or Houellebecq because I recognize that most of the time their writing is admirable (even if I’m tired of their poor old sick white men stories) but it seems to me that Palahniuk is always more concerned about the provocation and the dark humour than the writing.

María Meiga

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