Antler Review: Last Great Reads of 2020

Before we burn this mother down: I want to tell you the last few things that I loved this year. These are the best reads of November and December, 2020.

The Paris Review published “U Break It, We Fix It,” by Sabrina Orah Mark, which has a dreamy, braided quality that I couldn’t stop thinking about. It nursed my 2020 wounds and shushed me to sleep. You might need that, too.

This is in danger of becoming an A.E. Osworth stan blog, because everything they publish puts a hook right through my heart and yanks me over close. “I Hate This Peloton That I Love, or I Love This Peloton That I Hate” sounds like it’s going to be a McSweeney’s piece about an expensive, showy gesture of how much we hate fatness, but instead it’s this gorgeous reflection on isolation and what it costs us, plus a subject very dear to my heart: house-sitting. “Shame could drown a person as easily as a high tide.” And I gasp just above the water line. 

“All the Time I Wasted Trying to Please Indifferent Men” by Brandon Taylor is kind of about that pharma-bro cringe story we all read, but it’s about much more than that. Put on Taylor Swift’s “Tolerate It,” and consider how much of yourself you’ve sold far too cheaply. Consider your remaining inventory. And time.

In this season when we’ve all had to settle for the company we can get, when we’re struggled to cultivate kindness even as life gets smaller and smaller, when we’ve been forced into a kind of isolation that tests even good relationships, “An Egg Before It Is Broken” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard stuck a knife in me.  Sometimes company is not enough.

The last twenty years have ben host to an endless argument over what is and is not real life, what counts and what doesn’t, what it means to be unplugged, offline. John Wiswell gets it, and “8-Bit Free Will” is another wonderful story from a master who makes you feel things in ghosts and pixels.

“Tiger’s Feast” by KT Bryski needled me in the atrophied muscle that used to flex when someone told me I was filled with sin, that my body was bad and could only do bad things. This story is expiation and clawmarks and Leviticus and the veldt in the bushes by the school. Arm yourself before reading.

I am fascinated with the voices and postures assumed by landmarks and natural phenomena on Twitter. I spoke in the voice of one once, myself. James Yu’s story of several such voices coming together, their meanness and commonality, the way they are real and not real, official and unofficial, pierced me like the sun pierces Karl the Fog. Read “Object Permanence.” And smash that Follow button.

Ann Pratchett doesn’t miss. She doesn’t miss when she’s on mushrooms, she doesn’t miss when she loves unreservedly and lets a new friend live in her basement through most of the lockdown. This story begins and begins again like a love affair, ends and ends again like a tragedy, and holds up to the light the selflessness and goodness that can exist in a selfish artist. It is long and it is completely worth it. Also, as a personal assistant myself, I saw so much of the complexity of the job in this. Spend some of your precious day reading “These Precious Days.”

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