2021 round-up: the best books of the year

So here we are at the end of another pandemic year.

There’s a lot to be thankful for – #1 being the miracle of science that has helped us regain back some semblance of our old lives – hikes and bike rides aplenty, celebrating a wedding in California, holding our goddaughter, a trip to the English seaside with family. I hope that everyone else has kept as healthy and happy as possible, even though it’s been unimaginably difficult at times.

Books are of course on my gratitude list. To be able to escape into other worlds when this one seems insurmountably uncertain is a real blessing. In no particular order, here are my top 6 books of the year…

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

This journalistic tour de force lays bare the real, raw, messy relationships of three real women, drawn with insight and empathy. Taddeo spent years immersed in the lives of her subjects, and the result makes for compelling (if a little voyeuristic) reading.

Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

This is maybe the best short story collection I’ve ever read. I don’t necessarily gravitate towards short stories, and have no idea how this got on my radar – but it’s just brilliant. It’s full of caustic humour and emotional devastation – and so attuned to the intricacies of love in all of its many incarnations.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

I am unashamed to admit I was very much on this hype train and I enjoyed Sally Rooney’s latest book immensely. She’s a master at depicting modern human interaction and the subtleties of communication, from political sparring to comedic riffing to sex. Her best yet.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Taking us on a devasating journey through Afghan history of the 60s and 70s, The Kite Runner not only encompasses swathes of political and social history, but tells an incredibly moving and intimate story of Amir’s life.

The Divines by Ellie Eaton

This was always going to be right up my street – set at an English boarding school in the 90s, it’s an absorbing, a slow-burn piece of literary fiction that grapples with the nature of memory, history, and selfhood. Ellie Eaton captures the awkwardness of the female teenage experience in such an insightful way, perhaps one of the realest depictions I’ve ever read.

Human Acts by Han Kang

Beginning in South Korea in the 80s with a bloody massacre, Han Kang’s novel does not make for easy reading, but her deft skill with language – particularly when it comes to trauma and corporality – makes it hard to look away.

So, there we have this year’s round-up, and I’ll leave on Grant Snider’s New York Times cartoon from last week, which is painfully accurate:

Grant Snider

Wishing you all a safe and healthy new year, and good things (and books) on the horizon.

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