I’m a bit late off the mark with my best of 2021 list seeing I decided to have some laptop-free time during the Christmas holidays.
But, I figure that it is better late than never so here is a list of my favourite reads of the year.
During Victoria’s many lockdowns in 2021, I read some lovely books; reading was a constant that I held onto tightly during all of the instability.
There wasn’t a particular book that blew me away in the same way as All That I Am, The Choke, Too Much Lip, and others have over in recent years. But I’m so grateful for the way that these fantastic novels gave me peace, escapism and entertainment during another challenging year.
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
It was a strange feeling to read about a man confined to a hotel for most of his life while, in Australia, we were all confined to our homes for weeks on end. The parallels were obvious, but what really captured me was the attitude of the title figure whose life had been upended. He was unfailingly polite, positive, and kind, while also determined to make the best of his circumstances.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
I love a book that makes me cry, and that is what I did while reading Hamnet. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I couldn’t help wishing for a miracle. It was fascinating to read about the life of Shakespeare and his family and it ignited a renewed interest in his plays in me.
Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna
Sofie Laguna has to be my favourite Australian author. I absolutely love her style of writing and the emotional subjects she broaches in her books. Infinite Splendours once again deals with childhood trauma, this time from the perspective of a boy living in the Grampians in Victoria. Laguna is extraordinary in her ability to see the world through a child’s eyes and reflect that innocence, and often confusion, in her characters. A beautiful, haunting read.
The Mirror and Light by Hilary Mantel
This was a long read to start the year, but a great one. The third in the Thomas Cromwell series was quite the tome, beginning after the death of Anne Boleyn and finishing with Cromwell’s downfall. While Cromwell might be known as one of history’s tyrants, Mantel presents a thoughtful, wise man who is working to manage the unpredictable and temperamental Henry VIII. Somehow, by the end, I found myself grieving for Cromwell – a situation I would never have imagined at the start of this trilogy.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
I had heard a lot of criticism of American Dirt, but after one of my best friends told me she loved it, I couldn’t resist having a read. I also wanted to know what the fuss was about. I thoroughly enjoyed reading American Dirt – it was a real page turner that seems to tell an important story. It certainly highlighted and personalised an issue I knew little about. However, after going back and reading some criticism of the book, I’m torn. I don’t believe you need to experience something to write it, but I also believe it is important that books that represent real issues are as authentic as possible. Ultimately, this book has catapulted the issue of immigration in America into the spotlight and I don’t think that can be a negative.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
I listened to The Beekeeper of Aleppo on audiobook and I loved the narrator so much that it would have been impossible not to have loved the book as well. This novel tell of the experience of a refugee from Syria who is travelling to England. It was devastating to hear of the tragedy the beekeeper had experienced, and I could barely listen to the sections that told of his son, who happens to have the same name as my own 10-year-old. It was both beautiful and illuminating.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
The voice of Queenie was incredibly strong in this book, and fortunately, that voice was hilarious. Even though my days as a 20-something young professional who is seeking love are long gone, I enjoyed reliving these days through the witty eyes of Queenie and her friends.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
I’ve got a thing for modern takes on mythology (The Song of Achilles, Circe) and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls didn’t disappoint me. The novel tells the story of the women surrounding Achilles, Odysseus and Agamemnon – a story often neglected in existing writing. I’m looking forward to reading The Women of Troy next.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
This book has attracted mixed reviews, but I absolutely loved it. Three Women is the intimate stories of three women and their relationship with men. One is abused by her teacher, another is desperately in love with a man who seems to be indifferent to her and the last has an unorthodox sexual relationship with her husband. Each illustrates the hold a man can have over a woman. The women’s stories were strangely familiar, even though the situations were vastly different to my own.
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
Apeirogon is one of those books that it is hard to forget. It tells of the fathers of children killed during conflict between Israel and Palestine. Before reading it, I understood little about the situation apart from what I heard on the news, but this devastating portrait of families spreading a message of peace provided an intimate portrayal of the reality of the conflict for those living through it.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
This year I finally finished reading the Harry Potter books and I have to admit that I was sad they were over. I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said already. I loved it.
The Girl on the Page by John Purcell
This is an original insight into literature and publishing. Having worked for a time in the industry, I found it familiar, while also eye-opening. Purcell’s novel is cheeky and funny and I couldn’t put it down.
The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan
I listened to Dervla McTiernan’s books and I believe they might be the perfect audiobooks. They are complicated enough to be riveting, but simple enough that you can catch up again if you get distracted. Bring on the next installment.
Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe
Living in Ballarat, which was built on gold, I have long wanted to know more about the goldrush era. This fictionalised account has enough historical cred to make it both riveting and informative. It certainly satisfied my curiosity about the lives of those who converged on Australia’s goldfields.
The Lying Lives of Adults by Elena Ferrante
One more fix of my favourite Italian writer – I can’t resist Ferrante’s raw style and unlikeable characters telling of life as it is, far from the unreality that we see on social media.
Bookish highlight – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
In 2021 I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take my 10-year-old son to see the stage show, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and it wasn’t just one of the highlights of my year. The story was as magical, engaging and extraordinary as the books.
Bookish missed opportunity – Anna Karenina performed by the Australian Ballet
This much-awaited performance was another casualty of COVID. I’m hoping I get to see it in 2022 as I love Tolstoy’s story and I can’t wait to see what it’s like on the stage.
The first books on my list for 2022
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The Godmothers by Monica McInerney
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin
The Women of Troy by Pat Barket