I’ve been thinking a lot about the version of me that existed in 2020. Last December was hard. I’d taken a month of sick leave for my fried brain and heart, and we were in the depths of a cancelled Christmas and a lockdown with no end. Through the haze, I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I picked up a book to read.
If you’ve known me for a while, you’d know this is highly irregular. Books have been my constant companion through every change, every heartbreak, every questionable ex-partner. There was so much anger and sadness in the dying embers of last year, and not enough headspace for pleasure. As the clock struck midnight on the 1st of January 2021 I decided, “enough of that.” So… 52 books. Before I dive into what I thought were the best of the bunch, I wanted to talk about why.
2021 was, for me, very much about leaning intentionally into joy. It was a big ol’ year with lots of change: I started a new job, I got engaged, and I miraculously figured out how to stay in the United Kingdom after ten years of living here. In between those big moments were so many little ones: cackles of laughter with my best friends, bittersweet Facetime calls with my family overseas, breathless kisses, tears. The highs were highs, the lows low. I sought out things to ground me like starting psychotherapy, and beginning an integral life coaching programme (shout-out to Debbie). Reading was another one of these grounding activities, and one I could rely on to bring me happiness even in the hardest times.
The books I read this year were just for me. I didn’t think too hard about what I should read. For the most part, I followed where my heart went, which meant there’s a ton of fiction, young adult/new adult, and very little books that folks would consider ‘of utility’. All in all there are nine books that stood out to me as stellar ? so in chronological order:
- The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean (I could not put this one down when I picked it up. Truly edge of your seat stuff)
- Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (It’ll make you believe in love, break your heart, and paints the most wonderful picture of South East London, a place I’m proud to call home)
- The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (After reading A Little Life, I knew this was going to be wonderful but a hard read. Someone very dear to me gave this book to me as a gift and told me it would make me feel. It did. I can’t wait for To Paradise coming out soon, but I expect I’ll need to talk about it in therapy.)
- Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (Such a good and important read, and honestly I just love reading about people who are messy. I sought out to read more books about the transgender and/or queer experience this year and I’m so happy this book exists.)
- Boy Parts by Eliza Clark (Reading this book felt like a slow descent into madness in the best possible way. Folks have said this is ‘if American Psycho was a woman’ but it is very much its own unique thing. Clark is a star and I want to roam around in her mind for a spell (but I might bring like, a crowbar.))
- Come Closer by Sara Gran (A Faber re-issue recommended by the inimitable ladies of the What Page Are You On podcast, and as Bethany and Alice like to say… this book bangs. It’s short, sweet, and horrifying. What’s not to love about this devilish novella about demonic possession.)
- In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (This book is my book of the year. Every chapter was a surprise, and even with such harrowing source material (as it is non-fiction and details the time the author spent in an abusive relationship), it is one of the most interesting examples of storytelling I’ve ever read. I’d recommend this book to everyone.)
- A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (An oldie I managed to miss when it was first published, but I’m so glad I read it as… well, I guess as grown-up as I can get away with. Loved every clever detail, every invisible string, every character’s personal tragedy.)
- The Giant Dark by Sarvat Hasin (Hasin had me at “modern retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth”. I’ve described this book to others as a spell. When I got to the end it felt like rudely crashing back down to earth. I wanted to live in Aida and Ehsan’s private love for one another forever. Part of why that love was so beautiful is because of the inevitability, I guess.)
I have around twelve honourable mentions, (full list below), but I think out of the twelve I’d say Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt, and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke are two I also cherished in 2021.
I am 100% going to do this again in 2022, and with no aim of “improvement”, if that makes sense. I’m not going to set out to read more business books, or anything more high-brow (in fact, I might even lean into more romance. I hear great things about The Love Hypothesis?) Because I don’t want to read another 21,099 pages in 2022 unless it makes me happy. And that’s the whole damn point.
The full list can be found on Google Docs at this link for accessibility. Happy reading!