What Books Did You Read in 2021?

book dump

I finally decided to do something about the paralyzing ennui of lockdown, so I went back to school last September. I didn’t know it then, but that spelled the end of reading for fun. Reading for grad school requires a bit of a chopped and skrewed approach, as opposed to reading something cover to cover. It took a lot of  getting used to, and I got snowed under by the amount of reading required! By the end of Fall Term, I was pretty much tapped out, and spent the winter break in a heap on the couch, comfort-watching Mad Men in a bid to self-soothe. 

Needless to say, I didn’t quite hit my self-assigned annual reading quota (oh, to read 100 books a year like some people!). Oh well. Maybe in 2022? Ha! If only. Anyway, as usual there’s no rhyme or reason to my reading choices, and this time around I chose to simply divide the books by Fiction/Non-Fiction and my ever-present re-reads.  About 95% were all read and available from Overdrive, through the generous auspices of the Toronto Public Library, and hopefully they  give you ideas for what to read next. Scroll past the titles to my top picks of 2021, if you’re so inclined!

Fiction
The Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley
Shadow and Bone / Siege and Storm / Ruin and Rising – Leigh Bardugo
Red Queen / Glass Sword – Victoria Aveyard
Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins
The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman
The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith
The Woman Before Wallis – Bryn Turnbull
Fire From Heaven / The Persian Boy / Funeral Games – Mary Renault
Never Mind / Bad News / Some Hope / Mother’s Milk / At Last – Edward St Aubyn
The Knife of Never Letting Go / The Ask and the Answer / Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness

Non-Fiction
God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World – Cullen Murphy
The Billionaire Murders – Kevin Donovan
I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends – Kelsey Miller
No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs – Lezlie Lowe
There Was a Little Girl – Brooke Shields

Re-reads Still Count
Champagne Supernovas – Maureen Callahan
The Silmarillion / The Children of Hurin – J.R.R. Tolkien

The 2021 Standouts

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Every so often I stumble across a book that sings, and wonder where I was when it hit shelves. At the apex of Belgium’s secession from the Congo, five young women struggle to understand their place in the world – a place their father, an American Baptist missionary, believes it is his calling to save. Stymied by cultural differences, the political climate, a misguided saviour complex and the untameable land itself, each woman responds to her situation in different ways – with grace, with belligerence, with defeat, with defiance, with unbridled curiousity. The Poisonwood Bible is an eloquent depiction of life in post-colonial Africa and what becomes of visitors who presume to take it for granted. Published in 1998, this is a beautifully complex novel: part love letter, part indictment, a chorus of five female voices rising from the heart of darkest Africa. This is great historical fiction.

The Centaur’s Wife – Amanda Leduc
Sometimes, good books require the reader to let the journey take precedence over the destination. The Centaur’s Wife is a labyrinth of a story, like stepping into a dark fairytale with a dash of post-apocalyptic nightmare. It never quite seems to make sense, but that’s part of its allure. “In the beginning,” it begins, “a horse fell in love with a woman.” It’s hypnotic, and enchanting, and very much worth your while.

Monstress – Lysley Tenorio
Nick Joaquin once opined that the Filipino has mastered the art of the short story, and Lysley Tenorio’s Monstress proves him right. Blending stories of the Beatles and Imelda Marcos, with scenes from bygone days when Filipino B-movies cast their long shadow, Tenorio has a special connection to his heritage, and it shows. The scenarios are familiar, the stories written in a familiar cadence, some rhythmic drumming you’ve heard once, a long time ago, but never quite forgot. Monstress is a collection of short stories that pack a punch, especially for a homesick Filipino expat like me. Read it, if only for the incandescent “The Brothers” alone.

The Witch’s Heart – Genevieve Gornichec
“They’re odd. We’re odd,” shrugs Angrboda, who has nothing but love for her three children. Her first is a girl born half rotted with decay, her second a wolf, and her last a serpent; still, she dismisses their strangeness with as much nonchalance as she dismisses having been burned thrice and speared through the heart. With the Witch’s Heart, Genevieve Gornichec accomplishes the impossible – she makes us root for the children of Loki, the three hellspawn of chaos who are destined to bring Ragnarok, and the woman who bore them. It’s like Circe, except with Vikings.

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