A lot of my reading in 2021 has involved catching up on books published in 2020 or earlier, particularly among non-fiction. Hungry by Grace Dent and Bookworm by Lucy Mangan were among my favourite memoirs this year, and take a nostalgic look at the authors’ childhoods defined by food and books respectively. A Promised Land by Barack Obama was a hefty but impressively readable political memoir by the 44th President of the United States covering most of his first term, and hopefully it won’t be too long before the second volume is published.
Elsewhere in non-fiction, Square Haunting by Francesca Wade is an absorbing group biography of five modernist women who all lived in Mecklenburgh Square in Bloomsbury at various times between 1916 and 1940. Blood on the Page by Thomas Harding is one of the most unique and compelling true crime books I have come across in a long time, and follows the first murder trial to be held in secret in modern British history.
In terms of fiction, I enjoyed Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year and is about a female aviator who went missing in 1950 while attempting to circumnavigate the Earth from north to south and an actress portraying her in a biopic. While the trophy ended up going to ‘The Promise’ by Damon Galgut, this is the second year in a row I have included the eventual winner in my longlist predictions blog post. I also finally got round to reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo this year and I think it was a worthy winner of the Prize back in 2019.
2021 has been a strong year for indie publishers with Panenka by Ronan Hession being a particular highlight from Bluemoose Books. I also enjoyed Exit Management by Naomi Booth which is an excellent novel published by Dead Ink Books in 2020 and is one of the most unsettling portrayals of living in London I can think of.
Finally, Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason examines the main character’s dysfunctional upbringing and mental health issues with a dry sense of humour, while Magpie by Elizabeth Day is a thriller with a twist that I think will stay with me for a long time.
What are your favourite books of the year?