My favourite books of 2021
Happy New Year everyone! I know we’re all hoping that 2022 will be see us get back to some degree of normality after the turmoil of this last year. But before we get stuck into a new reading year, I wanted to look back over the past 12 months.
I read 65 books in total in 2021, which is a higher figure than it’s been for nine years so I’m dead chuffed about that. Even more delightful was the fact these books were written by authors from 23 different countries (26 if I counted the home nations of the UK as separate countries)
Thirteen books were published in 2021. I don’t normally rush out to get newly published books but one of the members in our walking group who does keep a close eye on new issues, kept telling me about all these wonderful new titles. So of course I got tempted.
My 2021 reading year wasn’t all new stuff though. I made a conscious effort this year to read more of the books I already own, the ones that have been stuck on the shelves yearning to be picked out. I could have joined any number of challenges but decided to come up with my own. #21in21 was a project in which I planned to read 21 books from my TBR by Dec 31. I smashed this by reading 30 books purchased before 2021.
Which of these books made the most impression on me? Here are my top 10, in alphabetical order of author’s surname. Hyperlinks will take you to my review (some are yet to be reviewed.).
The Mission House by Carys Davies
A wonderfully subtle novel by Welsh author Carys Davies about a lonely man adrift in the modern world, who seeks refuge in an Indian hill station. The novel contains a darker thread about the continuing legacy of British imperialism in India.
Twelve Nights by Urs Faes
Twelve Nights is a superbly atmospheric novella of a man’s journey through a snow-laden valley in search of peace and reconciliation. Urs Faes’ tale is a mere 84 pages long yet the emotional depth he conveys is extraordinary.
Miss Peabody’s Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley
From Australia comes an artfully constructed novella that blends comedy with pathos as it relates the story of a lonely spinster who gets swept along by a fictional world. This is a novel that’s so good, I’ve read it twice.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
It’s months since I read this book but Shamsie’s narrative is still resonating with me. She shows the personal and political fall out after a young British man is groomed by ISIS. His involvement with terrorism causes international tension, a break down in sisterly love and the collapse of the career hopes of a high-powered politician. Terrific.
Lean, Fall, Stand by Jon McGregor
My stand out book of the year. it begins as if it’s an adventure novel where a tragedy occurs at an Arctic exploration station. But McGregor turns this into a thought-provoking narrative that shows both the limitations of language and the potential of other forms of communication.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
This debut novel portrays the consequences of one ill-considered Facebook post at a time when India is reeling from a terrorist attack on a train. The young girl arrested as a perpetrator hopes two people who know her will come to her aid. But her former teacher has political ambitions and the hijra she taught to read, dreams of becoming a film star. Majumdar’s novel is an engrossing novel that considers questions of justice and loyalty.
Remembering Babylon by David Malouf
Malouf’s fascinating tale reflects a clash of cultures and the fear of the unknown. It’s a story of a young English cabin boy who is abandoned in Australia. He is raised by a group of indigenous people but then attempts to move back in the world of Europeans. To them he is a force that both fascinates and repels.
The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed
Mohamed’s Booker Prize shortlisted novel is set in Tiger Bay, a part of Cardiff which was, in the 1950s, a cultural melting pot near the city’s docks. It’s a fictionalised account of a real life case of injustice; the wrongful imprisonment and execution of a Somali seaman who was the last man to be hanged in Cardiff prison. Though we know how his story ends, the final chapters of the book are still a shock.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
Dystopian fiction isn’t my thing so I wouldn’t have read this book but for the fact it was the book club choice. It was the most unsettling novel I’ve read in many years; a completely engrossing narrative of a world whose inhabitants are controlled by an unknown force that causes objects and the memory of them to disappear. It’s a profound tale about memory and existence.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
This was my final book read in 2021 and what an unexpected joy it turned out to be. Von Arnim blends humour and sensuous descriptions of nature in her story of four women who rent a mediaeval castle on the Italian Riveria. Seduced by the Mediterranean spirit, they gradually shed their skins and discover a harmony each of them has longed for but never known.
What have you discovered this year? I’d love to know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of the books on my list?
45 thoughts on “My favourite books of 2021”
Each book you mention sounds great. I’m continually amazed by the huge number of good books out there. I’m reading a posthumously published novel by Richard Wright: The Man Who Lived Underground. So far I like it.
I feel like I’m drowning sometimes under the weight of all these books that I’d love to read
I have only read Remembering Babylon and The Memory Police, two books I really enjoyed.
Here are my 3 posts of recap – scroll down to see the 3 of them: https://wordsandpeace.com/tag/year-of-reading/
I’ve been reading your recap posts with interest.
Enjoyed your end of your wrap-up Karen. One of the things I like about these posts is getting insights into people’s lives, particularly their reading lives. And in your post, I loved the little comment about one of the members in your walking group keeping a close eye on new issues. I love that you are in a walking group, and that you discuss books with at least some of them.
How wonderful to see a couple of Aussies in your Top Ten, both books that I like though read them long before blogging. And there are a couple of books there that I’v been wanting to read.
I am a huge Elizabeth von Arnim fan and have got my reading group to do one of hers as our classic next year. I can’t wait as it’s been on my TBR for a few years. I’ve read 6 or so books by her, and want to read more.
Thanks for that insight Sue, I’ve never included much personal info in my posts thinking that people read the blog because they want to know about books, not about my life! But yes I am a leader for a Nordic walking group. There are two other avid readers in the group so I love walking with them because their tastes are similar to mine. So we often swap novels…..
Which von Arnim would you recommend I read next? The only one I have heard of is the German Garden
It’s very nice to see those Australian titles there!
I’ve read, or I’ve got on the TBR most of the rest, thanks to your enticing reviews! If I did an international List of Bests, I’d have chosen A Burning, Home Fire and Lean Fall Stand too. Very good reading, all three!
Happy reading in 2022!
Interesting to hear you rated A Burning because I saw another blogger mention last week they couldn’t finish it (she thought it was amateurish)
Amateurish? Ah well, I guess it takes all sorts…
What a lovely set of books and well done on your excellent total! Here’s to more good reading in 2022!
In this world of so many uncertainties, at least we can all be sure that we can escape into the fictional world
I loved The Mission House – a serendipitous find in the library: and The Fortune Men makes it to the top of my chart too. On the strength of that, I’ll go looking for The Memory Police, even though I too don’t do dystopian fiction. Happy New Year.
Memory Police is a strange book. It’s not to everyone’s taste but worth giving it a try
Some of these sound really interesting for me. I’ll bookmark this post so I can come back when I’m looking to get something different to read. Happy 2022 reading!
Happy New Year to you Davida. Hope 2022 goes well for you
Same to you, my dear!
I only have The Enchanted April in common with you, but I did love that book!
How does it compare to Elizabeth and Her German Garden?
Well it’s quite a while since I read the Elizabeth books, but I remember them as being very focused on her as the central point of the book, exploring her life and thoughts. This one is more plotted, with more characters and the wonderfully conjured locations. Both have her lovely tone and writing style though!
You had a great reading year! I read The Enchanted April a few years ago and thought it was lovely! I also thought Home Fires was such a fascinating and excellent retelling.
Some books just hit the spot and that was the case with Enchanted April. I loved being transported to Italy at a time here when the weather was rubbish.
I had issues with Remembering Babylon but Malouf is certainly a fine writer. Elizabeth von Arnim seems to be everywhere, I’m going to have to read her. But I think The Memory Police, based on a number of recommendations, is the one I’ll buy next.
For someone who likes independent women, Bill, E von A is right up your alley. But I might have said that to you before.
Happy New Year to you Bill. Hope 2022 marks some relaxation in all those restrictions you’ve had to deal with. You’re in for a thought-provoking read with Memory Police
Happy New Year, Karen, and wishing you all the best for 2022. Lovely to see The Enchanted April on your list, such a delightful novel – life-affirming without being whimsical or sentimental. And I really enjoyed The Memory Police and the Jon McGregor, too. (I listened to an abridged version of the latter on R4’s Book at Bedtime, which worked surprisingly well given the author’s use of language/prose style.)
That’s a great insight about Enchanted April. I know if it had been sentimental I would have given up on it.
I have Enchanted April on my shelves unread. I keep meaning to put it in the stack by the bed. A very tall stack. I just put Mrs Peabody’s Inheritance on hold at the library. It sounds like something I’d really like. All the best for 2022’s reading lists.
I didn’t really expect to enjoy Enchanted April as much as I did. It was the perfect antidote to all the frenzy about Christmas
Miss Peabody is such a fun book even though it is quite a sad tale
Home Fire also made my favorite of the year back a few years ago and I recommend it whenever I can.
It doesn’t seem to have had a huge amount of attention which I find strange
I agree! I recommended this to my other book club and they enjoyed it. It’s one of my top recommendations
Agreed! I try to recommend this whenever I can.
Enchanted April is a fun read! I think there’s a movie, too!
Really! I shall have to look out for that. Any excuse to visit Italy even if it has to be just via a film right now
Here it is for Amazon prime but you can probably find it elsewhere too. https://www.amazon.com/Enchanted-April-Alfred-Molina/dp/B0060WEGPM
I’ve only read The Memory Police, which I didn’t love at the time, but it’s grown on me a bit. You make all the other books sound so appealing! The Enchanted April in particular. And I know I will read the McGregor, I still think about Reservoir 13.
Reservoir 13 was excellent wasn’t it? Memory Police was such a strange, unsettling book
Happy New Year!
I’m very tempted by the Jolley, I have a thing for books with spinsters.
I’ve read the Malouf, I enjoyed it but I was a bit frustrated and I found it difficult to read in English. (Lucky you, that’s not an issue for you)
Enchanted April is a delight, isn’t it?
I hope 2022 will prove to be an excellent reading year for you. 🙂
I’d never read von Arnim before but saw the book in a second hand book shop at a ridiculously low price. The cover of my edition didn’t really do it justice.
Thanks for sharing your list. I loved The Memory Police and yes, it is unsettling. I would recommend—if you haven’t read them already—Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King, about the Ethiopian women fighting the Italian invasion of their country in 1935; and How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones, a novels set in Barbados.
Thanks for both those recommendations. I borrowed Shadow King from the library but had to return it before I got a chance to read much of it
Happy New Year, Karen! Not at all surprised to see Lean Fall Stand on your list but pleased to see Remembering Babylon there, an old favourite of mine. Here’s to more great reading in 2022.
I was hooked by Remembering Babylon from the first page
It’s brilliant, vivid opening paragraph