Favourite Books of 2021

I talk about the best books I read in 2021, and about the stellar start I made in 2022

Issue #14, Saturday 22 January 2022


My 2021 Reading

I thought I should give you a summary of my reading journey during 2021. I should have put this in the last issue, but didn’t have time to get it together.

It was a very good year for reading, I read some really excellent books during the year.

Total Books Read

I read 86 books in total, so a bit more than 7 books a month, 1.65 books a week. However, the books ranged greatly in length, from Clarissa, one of the longest novels in the English language, to a bunch of books of only novella length.

So a better measure might be how many pages I read during 2021. Which is tricky, because ebooks don’t have a fixed page length, and I read a lot of those. All I can do for those is to use the page counts for common print editions as listed on the Goodreads website. Doing that, and cutting down on the length of Clarissa to account for the fact that I started reading it in 2020, I get an estimate of about 32,420 pages read last year, or about 90 pages a day. Put that way, it doesn’t seem like a lot.

Genre

Breaking down the books by genre, this is how it looks:

Favourite Books

Science Fiction:

  1. Bewilderment by Richard Powers

  2. Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North

  3. The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

  4. The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

  5. Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany (a re-read)

Honourable Mention:

Fantasy:

  1. The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

  2. The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North

  3. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

  4. The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford

  5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Honorable Mention:

Crime/Thriller:

  1. Eden by Candice Fox

  2. Hades by Candice Fox

  3. Bitter Wash Road by Garry Disher

  4. Peace by Garry Disher

  5. Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun

Honorable Mentions:

Literary/Non-Genre:

  1. The Labyrinth by Amanda Lowrey

  2. The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

  3. Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson

  4. Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

  5. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Honorable Mentions:

Children’s Literature:

  1. The End of the World Is Bigger than Love by Davina Bell

  2. Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep by Philip Reeve

  3. Rooftoppers by Katharine Rundell

  4. John Diamond by Leon Garfield

  5. The Scarecrow and His Servant by Philip Pullman

Non-Fiction:

  1. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

  2. Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX by Eric Berger

  3. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

  4. Waiting for Elijah by Kate Wild

  5. Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth by Avi Loeb

Honorable Mention:

Best Books Overall:

  1. Bewilderment by Richard Powers

  2. The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

  3. Eden by Candice Fox

  4. The Labyrinth by Amanda Lowrey

  5. Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North

Honorable Mentions:

Perry and I talked at length about our favourite reads of 2021 in this episode of our podcast.


My Reading

Completed Since Last Issue

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

I loved this, but it’s a bit hard to know how to describe it. It opens with a scene on an interstellar spacecraft, a generation ship called the Argos, where we meet Konstance, a fourteen-year old girl. She’s in what is called Vault One, and she’s crammed in there with a bed and crates of food. Clearly this isn’t a usual accommodation on the craft. Something is wrong. On pieces of card she’s ripped from food packets, she’s written notes relating to a fantastical, comical story called Cloud Cuckoo Land, written almost 2,000 years ago. Why is she in the Vault? Why is she so interested in this ancient book? It will take a while for us to find out.

We then shift to our own era, to Lakeport, Ohio, where an old man called Zeno Ninnis is meeting with a group of primary-school students to rehearse a play. The play is an interpretation of the text of Cloud Cuckoo Land, which Zeno has translated from the ancient Greek. There, we also meet Seymour, a disturbed young man planning violence.

Then we go back in time to the 1450s, to Constantinople, where we meet young Anna, who is a not-very-good seamstress. She’s disturbed by hearing rumours about the plans of the Sultan of Turkey to attack the city. In the same era, we meet Omeir, born with a hare-lip defect and viewed with such horror by his parents’ neighbours that the family is driven out from the village in Bulgaria where they have lived for many years.

This strangely mixed cast of characters are all linked together by the ancient story of Cloud Cuckoo Land written by Antonius Diogenes.

The author manages to juggle all of these lives and stories almost effortlessly, at the same time keeping us reading by the slow build-up of tension: the mystery of what has happened to Konstance on the interstellar voyage of the Argos; the developing siege of Constantinople by the Turks, with Anna and Omeir on opposite sides; the coming of age and experiences as a prisoner of war of Zeno, a gay man unable to express his love; and young Seymour, in love with nature and becoming radicalised to the point of violence.

It all works brilliantly. Highly recommended.

Anthony Doerr also wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, which is also excellent. I can’t wait to see what he will write next. Whatever it is, I’ll be buying it.

All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

I already talked about this last issue. But I wanted to mention it again because the two books I’ve read so far this year, Cloud Cuckoo Land and All Our Shimmering Skies, were both 5-star quality. What a terrific start to the year!

Currently (Re-)Reading

Was Reading But Gave Up

Waiting on the Shelf


And that’s it for this issue of Through the Biblioscope. Catch you next time. Please feel free to comment and share this post with your friends.

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