My Best Books for 2021

I did away with ‘top tens’ a few years ago, and instead I finish the reading year with a recap of the books that are still speaking to me (less about four and five-star ratings, more about what has stuck).

As always, memoirs made up a large chunk of my reading and this year a few stood out – Rosie by Rose Tremain; The Salt Path by Raynor Winn; and two that focused on illness – Jacinta Parson’s Unseen for her thoughts on chronic illness and the role of caring for someone with chronic illness, and Helen Naylor’s astounding account of her relationship with her mother in My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me.

Other nonfiction highlights included Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs, which is an extraordinary work on many levels (for its breadth, creativity, and style); and Witness by Louise Milligan – can this book be mandated reading?!

I am frequently drawn to stories with themes of grief and loss, and this year was no exception. My favourites were Victoria Hannan’s beautifully written Kokomo (I can’t wait to see what she does next); Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen McMahon, which explored the complexities of bereavement; and The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, which was startling and weird and memorable.

There were some books that made me laugh – French Exit by Patrick deWitt; Us by David Nicholls (which also made me cry, so in essence is the perfect kind of story); and Dolly Alderton’s memoir/ essay collection, Everything I Know About Love. I also thoroughly enjoyed the sharp humour in Halle Butler’s The New Me, which had a brilliant punch-line.

Two novels by Irish authors have remained with me (both listened to as audios – did the lilting accents of the narrators add to the enjoyment? Probably) – The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan and Snowflake by Louise Nealon.

This year included a re-read – Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I gave it five stars in the nineties, and five stars all over again.

And to the books that, if forced to choose absolute favourites, would top my list – I began the reading year strongly with Douglas Stuart’s heartbreaking and beautifully written Shuggie Bain. Shuggie has a little piece of my heart, and it’s a book I am still thinking about. And I finished the reading year with another heart-breaker, Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down (review to come soon). Down’s writing style is exactly my thing, and her stories show a sensitivity and depth that is remarkable.

Thanks for your readership and I look forward to sharing more books in 2022.

21 responses

  1. I am posting my highlights this evening, and like you I don’t rank books but talk about what is memorable for one reason or another.

    I read Shuggie Bain, but don’t mention it, though I did really like it!

    • I would go as far as saying that I enjoyed Us more than One Day (which is the Nicolls book that everyone refers to). I hope you enjoy Us (and if you’re tempted to watch the TV series first, resist – the series is very good but the book covers more ground and gives a bit more context for some of the characters’ motivations).

    • Certainly on the long side and the vernacular took a little bit to get used to, but once I was into it, I zipped through. I tend to save ‘big’ books for when I’m on Christmas holidays so that I can devote a chunk of time to them.

  2. Pingback: “Best Books of 2021” Lists Update – January 2nd – Book Library

  3. A great selection. I have noted some down to read. I didn’t really like French Exit – I enjoyed the satire and humour, but not so much the plot or the characters and though it could have been done better (I believe there is also a movie now), but The Secret History is exquisite. I will be re-reading it too soon.

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