Happy end of 2021! Isn’t it amazing how every year now feels less like the passing of time and more like a major achievement to tick off? I hope this blog post finds you well or at the very least, managing, which feels like as much as we can expect.
So I come to my yearly round up. I’ve read a total of 109 books this year and currently have three more on the go. This figure does not include books I’ve read to my daughter at bedtime so I could feasibly add however many of those there’ve been, at least 10 more I would think. Stats breakdown as follows:
84 by women,
26 by men and one anthology featuring both
It’s a good year on the numbers front but on reflection, I do think I read a lot of quite average books this year, or at least some that are not memorable. So perhaps in 2022 I need to consider being more discerning? But I do tend to look for recommends and reviews, and the bonus of waiting until the paperback comes out is that the book has had a chance to prove itself so I don’t know. Mr Barsby thinks I should read more classics. I’m open to suggestions from you on how to manage this.
However, I’m here to talk about the ones that rose easily to the top of the pile in 2021, so here are my top books of the year.
Still Life by Sarah Winman
This will feature on a lot of end of year lists, I think. I love all of Winman’s books, the quiet humanity found in each is a joy and she captures the complications and mess of human life so well. This is a lovely read, a beautiful book set in Florence during and after the Second World war, with an ensemble cast and a huge heart.
Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal
This isn’t in the main picture as I’ve lent my copy to my mum. Should We Fall Behind is another ensemble piece covering the complications and mess of human life with an air of quiet humanity. Are you spotting a theme?
The Blue Castle – LM Montgomery
I raved about this earlier this year as it was so much fun. It was a perfect read for when you’re a bit bushed and fancy seeing someone kick off the traces of convention to do what they want. But in a nice sensible way obvs.
Miss Benson’s Beetle
And speaking of kicking off convention, this girls’ own adventure did exactly the same as the above. How I needed escapist adventure stories of women doing crazy things this year. More of the same please – I take recommends.
The Family Tree – Sairish Hussain
Another one that’s with my mum right now. The author wrote that she never came across family sagas starring British Asian families so she wrote one instead. I really enjoyed this, it was engrossing and challenged my thinking in a good way. It was a really good debut novel.
This Lovely City – Louise Hare
Another great debut that I’ve lent to my mum. Louise has just announced her follow up novel which looks great but I also enjoyed this tale of Windrush arrival Laurie and how he gets mixed up in his local community, falls in love and into a terrible crime.
Circe – Madeline Miller
I loved this retelling of a teeny tiny part of The Odyssey and what a time to be reading retold versions of the classics! I’ve bought piles of them this year. I believe Miller’s previous book The Song of Achilles is a bit hit with the BookTok kids but I prefer this female led story of a witch cast out by her family and all the other myths that entwine this.
Nightingale Point – Luan Goldie
It’s hard to say that this was an enjoyable read because the subject matter is tough but on the other hand, you do need those tales of resilience. I like having heroes to root for through the worst that tragedy and bureaucracy can throw at them and this has a keen sense of injustice throughout.
Broken Greek – Pete Paphides
The only non-fiction to make the list, and a major influence on my Spotify wrapped this year, this is Pete’s autobiography. In it he discusses what it’s like to be the child of immigrants and how his path diverges to feel more British. More importantly it is a book about the importance of music and about what it was like to grow up and devour as much music, in its physical form, as you could. It was nostalgia but in a good way, acknowledging change happens but not harking back to it.
And now, drum roll please! (bada bada bada bada bada)
Book of the Year…
In The End It Was All About Love by Musa Okwonga
Oh my. If you said to me at the beginning of the year that I would love this, a book that combines poetry with fictionalised autobiography told in the second person, I would have scoffed at you. But it’s a beautiful book. Don’t believe those who tell you not to judge a book by its cover – I bought this because Rough Trade (the publishers) emailed me their plan to release it with a limited edition cover and that I should pre-order. I am so easy to tempt in! (Mine is number 26) but what a serendipitous email that was. It’s a slim book, in three parts and contains experiences and feelings that I can never go through, yet also contains such universal insight into the human condition. I had to put it down several times while reading just to digest it properly and let it all sink in. Do read it, do give into cover gimmicks, do open yourself to things written in ways you wouldn’t normally go for, do say yes; just do.
Other 2021 highights
A quiet beautiful achingly sad film full of subtle performances that will break you. James Norton plays a single father, window cleaner in his thirties who has a diagnosis of terminal cancer. The film explores his efforts to reconcile himself to what is about to happen and how he tries to choose an adoptive family for his son. Such a lovely film and the two leads were perfect in it. Why it hasn’t won all the awards, I don’t know. Look out for it. Get the tissues ready.
Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
I don’t listen to albums properly these days. Do you remember when you could immerse yourself in the same album until it felt like an old friend? I miss those days. But this is one of three albums I’ve managed to acquire this year and it’s a lovely fresh intelligent hopeful thing. She’s so talented. I love it.
Alma’s Not Normal
I raved about this earlier in the year but a great 6 episodes of TV came from Sophie Willan’s Alma: care leaver, with no job, no education, a troubled family and a shithead of a boyfriend. The show is a testament to resilience, fabulous best friends and the power of dreams. I loved it. Still on iplayer if you fancy it.
A shoutout for The Only Murders in the Building on Disney+ too.
OK, that was 2021! Some great things helped me through a tiring year. We can only hope that 2022 brings a brave new dawn but if I can make one further ask on you – I have a newsletter that comes out monthly and contains all kinds of chat that can help if you’re busy, parenting, working, worn out and bothered but still feel you have a spark of creativity in you that needs coaxing. I’ll be talking how to coax that spark, how to organise and make good use of time, providing prompts, articles and inspiration and generally a bit of self-care. If you fancy it, you can sign up here.