Books of 2021
Last year I got through 65 books. (I’ve kept a list here) Because I’m not really using GoodReads anymore, I thought I would curate a few of my highlights:
Solutions and Other Problems - Allie Brosh
After a long absence, Allie Brosh returns with a book that is equal parts hillarious and heartbreaking. It’s a book about piecing yourself together again after tragedy, told through a combination of prose and simple cartoons that are incredibly expressive. I picked this up on a whim in a book shop and I’m so glad I did.
No One Is Talking About This - Patricia Lockwood
Similar to Allie Brosh, in this book Patricia Lockwood is laugh out loud funny in one section, then in the second half it becomes sadder and quieter. Written in a series of tweet style small paragraphs, this is a book that perfectly captures the whiplash and strangeness of being on social media. I’ve never read a book that is so intently a product of the internet age that manages to critique it at the same time.
Lanny - Max Porter
Just your standard story of an ancient pagan spirit kidnapping a child, and the manhunt that ensues within the village. Lanny weaves and jumps to different perspectives and voices, with experimental language and strange, off-beat poetic sections. For all the experimentation however, this manages to be an emotional rich story that examines outsiders and the violence underneath English society.
The Actual - Inua Ellams
You would expect series of poems, all starting with “fuck” to be furious. Of course, there is rage in these poems, especially in the multi-part “Fuck// Empire”, with its withering repetition and bluntly stated atrocities. But there’s also joy and beauty. I love the sequencing of this collection, how one poem feeds into the next one. It’s essential.
Low- Chrissy Williams
Another masterful exercise in sequencing, Low ranges from darkly funny to full of tragedy. The variety of these poems and the unique approaches to form never diminish their power but instead show a master poet at work.
Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
How has it taken me this long to read Rebecca? I’ve long been aware of it as a classic but never actually got round to reading it. Well, more fool me. Rebecca is strange and cruel, with sentences that unfold in your mind with the power of a dream. It’s tightly paced and still shocking after all these years. It also finishes in the perfect place, not so much a cliff hanger but more leaving you right in a singular moment of horror.
White Teeth - Zadie Smith
Another one for the ‘should have read ages ago’ club. White Teeth deals with colonialism, war and extremism, but with such a lightness of touch and a joy of writing that it is an utter delight. Zadie Smith winds multiples characters and histories together, making it look effortless. The narrator’s voice throughout both mocks the characters and their blindspots whilst being affectionate towards them. It’s fantastic.
Circe- Madeline Miller
Similar to Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, this explores foundational greek myths from a female perspective. Telling the story of the odyssey (and beyond) from the perspective of Circe trapped on her island, it is a lyrical, beautifully written novel. It exposes the violence and cruelty of the original mythology while still capturing the power of the stories.
Wanderlust: A History of Walking - Rebecca Solnit
I had a vague resolution to read more non fiction last year. It didn’t really work. As the world turned itself inside out again, I preferred the comfort of fiction and poetry. However, I did read this excellent book about an action many of take for granted. The history of walking is linked with class, with social change and with gender. Rebecca Solnit examines all this and more
Earthlings- Sayaka Murata
This caught me completely by surprise. It’s a book that goes in some very extreme directions that I was not expecting at all, especially given the initial careful banality of detail and social observation. This is a book that explores alienation and dehumanisation, that sneaks up on you with it’s violence and intensity. To say any more would ruin the impact this novel can have.
What if Stars- Beth Hartley
The opposite of Earthlings, this is a book to restore your faith in humanity. Beth Hartley writes poems with care and humanity. Rooted in the fens, this collection is full of compassion and love, with beautiful, resonant poems throughout.
Fontanelle- Helen Shepherd
It’s lovely when people you know release books. Helen is a stalwart of the Bristol poetry scene, having run an open mic night called Satellite of Love for years. Her debut collection is a deeply personal look at birth and life. Helen writes beautifully about her work as a midwife, family history and even poems about the future.
We’ll leave the reflecting there for now. I was going to write another blog post about films but it would just be me banging on about The Green Knight again. This year I am going to try and write little summaries like this more regularly, so I don’t leave it as a reflection exercise in January.