My Year in Books 2021

Not much makes me happier than thinking about books and reading. It’s been a good year. I would love to hear what everyone has read, been challenged by reading, or enjoyed. I upped my game this year and reviewed every book I read on Goodreads (some at much more length than others).

I pulled together some stats, some from Goodreads and some on my own, which gave me pause. It appears I have lots of defaults:

  • 52% of the books I read were by white authors
  • 58% were fiction
  • 60% were by female authors
  • 78% were print copies
  • 82% were by straight, cis authors (or those who chose not to identify as LGBTQ+ in their bios or interviews)
  • 88% were from the library

So, whenever I am looking for something to read, most of the time I will find a library book in the fiction section (physical copy) by a straight, cis, white woman!

Now, you might think the library is biased in favour of such books. I would say not – at least, not my library. Their range is really good. It is more likely my bias, that I see or seek out books similar to ones I’ve already enjoyed, or they just catch my eye and I think, “That looks good!” without pausing to consider, “I should expand my tastes.” However, I do catch myself sometimes, and that results in many of my best reading experiences.

I looked up the background of every author whose works I read this year, and saw that I had read 14 works by Asian authors, of whom 9 wrote about experiences of being Asian and 5 did not. I read 6 books by Black authors and 3 by Indigenous authors. Of 11 LGBTQ+ authors, ten of them wrote about queer or trans experience. Interestingly, of the 13 Canadian authors whose books I read, eight of them wrote about experiences of being Canadian or living in Canada. My list was very lacking this year in books by Central or South American authors, American and Mexican Latinx writers, and writers from Arab countries.

Here is a view of all the fiction I read this year, including two books of poetry and a graphic novel for young teens:

My hands-down favourite book was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. Have you read Kristen Roupenian’s book You Know You Want This? Both books of short stories are unsettling and veer into creepiness and mild horror, especially body horror, which I didn’t know existed until this year. I have zero interest in horror novels, which I equate with fear-creation and violence: not things I want to experience. But the feelings in Machado’s book are more like the sickly things you already think about, taken to a further extreme. Plus, the stories are woman-centred, feminist, do not lean toward cis and straight, and are full of imagery. I am not a body-centred person, or centred on emotions either (what is left, you ask?) so this was all new ground for me. I tried to listen to the audiobook but the writing was so good, I just had to see it on the page, so I switched to a print copy!

My next favourite book was Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. A dour 60-something villager looks after neighbours’ homes in the off-season, and notices something is afoot. Duszejko’s passions for William Blake and astrology are much more real to her than any present-day human, and we find out where her real loyalties lie. Not for everyone (it is truly weird) but I adored it.

I read four books from before the current era, which some might call classics, since they have survived into our own age. They were:

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

A young socialite in New York does the right thing by marrying well, but he is drawn to his wife’s (scandalously) divorced cousin, who was also his childhood friend. The story dwells on his anguish and indecision, while he maintains his very comfortable life.

The book has a contemporary sensibility but it didn’t keep my attention throughout. I later watched the 1993 movie with Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and Michelle Pfeiffer, none of whom I would have imagined in those roles!

The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut

Sci-fi and absurdity hand-in-hand, for which Vonnegut is known. I liked the commentary on celebrity and consumerism, but some key plot points are very disturbing, and the book doesn’t translate well to the 21st century.

Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

A poignant novel in which an intellectually challenged man becomes the subject of medical experiments and gains “intelligence,” realizing what his life had been lacking. I had read this in high school and I feel it has stood the test of time.

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

A war story, riddled with absurdities throughout, making a point about war being pointless. This is one of the most challenging books I’ve read because of the circular conversations (akin to “Who’s on First?”), repetition, and the type of humour. I had a hard time finishing it, but persevered.

On to cheerful fare! By far the most fun book I read this year was:

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Everyone is reading this funny mystery about a young woman living in a traditional household, whose mom and aunts discreetly come to the rescue when she murders a guy by mistake. Hits the “home country” culture angle just right. Headed for Netflix!

Another light, fast-paced mystery is The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett, in which Queen Elizabeth 2, at age 90, quietly solves a palace crime with far-reaching implications.

For deeper contemplation, two Canadian queer authors both published books of letters this year. Ivan Coyote comes from a storytelling background and does a lot of tours in which they provide inspirational and educational talks on LGBTQ+ inclusion. In Care Of, Ivan answers fan letters and writes public letters to people who need them. Ivan reveals a lot of personal history and reassures others they’ll be OK. Meanwhile, in Missed Connections, Brian Francis writes letters to men who answered his gay personal ad decades ago, that he didn’t have the courage to write or send at the time. The letters form a history of a gay man’s life-and-times over several decades. Both are very moving books with heavy and light passages.

In literary fiction, I had two favourites:

Butter Honey Pig Bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

(Nigeria and Canada) Twins separated by different experiences, different continents, different ways of loving, and different ways of being loved by their intense mother. Packs a punch!

Love After Love – Ingrid Persaud

(Trinidad and USA) A widowed mom, her hard-to-reach son (so realistic!) and a house guest who becomes much more. But not what you think! I love how this book breaks expectations – and hearts.

My nonfiction reading this year featured four books on food and nutrition, one on mushrooms and one on microbes…a good mix! Here is a view of all the titles:

I wish you many, many hours of engrossing reading in 2022. What were your most notable titles this year?

19 comments

  1. what a great pile of books and not one I have read !

  2. Hello again! What an interesting review. I’ve never really thought much about who
    I’m reading and what their background is, more about the content. I will think harder in the future. Though at the moment I’m reading Oliver Twist, as it was intended (chapter by chapter – instalments rather as we might watch a soap opera these days). What’s increasingly clear to me is the anger Dickens felt on behalf of the poor and dispossessed – an anger I share and that reminds me of our growing poverty levels here in the UK and the growth of food banks.
    Anyway – wishing you health happiness and peace for 2022!

    • I somehow managed not to read any Dickens (except for A Christmas Carol) until last year when I read David Copperfield. I loved it! It is striking now to read Dickens’ views on capitalism, human rights, etc. with a modern eye. I hope he changed the hearts and minds of his readers at the time! Happy New Year, Deborah.

  3. That’s such a great list. I’ve been meaning to read Anne Frank’s Diary, and will definitely get to it in 2022. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Stuart, I had read the available version when I was 12 and wanted to revisit the book as an adult. I found “the definitive version” – uncensored – which is markedly different. Recommended!

  4. It is interesting that Canadians tend to write about being Canadian! As a Canadian myself, I don’t know why that is except that it may just come down to writing about what you know and that is the experience of living here in Canada. Interesting stats and interesting collection of books!

  5. I enjoyed reading this, Dar, and it has inspired to write my own Year in Books post. I’ve read some on your list – Where the Crawdads Sing which seems to have been read by everyone I know. I enjoyed it but perhaps not as much as I had hoped after all the praise heaped on it by others. And Klara and the Sun which was interesting but not really a page- turner. I read Flowers for Algernon years ago as we used it as a school text for year 9s. And I think I once attempted Catch 22 but gave up. The book on your list I will read is Love after Love – thanks for the recommendation. Happy New Year to you all in Canada! Hope you are staying safe. Here in the UK so many people have Covid – my daughter is just out of isolation though like many people had no symptoms at all. But Canada also affected – nephew who is in Whistler now has it. X Doris

    • I agree with you on those – I liked Where the Crawdads Sing, but rather than having a gut reaction to it, I felt more, “Oh, so this is why it’s a bestseller!” I also thought the concept behind Klara and the Sun was a good one but it stalled. Your blog posts stopped showing up in my reader “Bloglovin” which has become unreliable generally. Readers, check out Doris’s blog here: https://inspiredfollyone.blogspot.com/

  6. Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year Dar.

  7. Jo

    I am so intrigued to know there is an uncensored version of Anne Frank’s Diary. I am on it! Catch 22 is one of my long-time favourites. It is insane, and it demonstrates so clearly the futility of the war machine.
    I read two books by native American authors this year – Nightwatchman by Louise Erdrich, flawless, and There, There by Tommy Orange, a first novel which really drew me in.
    The only Canadian novel I know (apart from Anne of Green Gables) is one I bought many years ago at a library sale, Who Has Seen the Wind, by WO Mitchell. I love it all over again every time I read it. What is another great Canadian novel you would recommend? Like you, i don’t do horror..
    Now, i know you have a non-binary kid, and so do I, but I have not read any novels about the non-binary experience. Do you happen to know of any?

    • Hi Jo, Thanks for asking! A well-known Canadian novel is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, or any of her novels. A few of my personal favourites are Ru by Kim Thuy, Come Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant, Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, and The Birth House by Ami McKay. I haven’t read Who Has Seen the Wind!

      NB novels, now that is a good question. I have only read one non-fiction, Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote, from the perspective of nonbinary mature adults. Everything else available seems to be teen fiction. Two on my to-read list are I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver and Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. Link has read mostly nonfiction LGBTQ+ titles such as Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook and S. Bear Bergman’s The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You. Let me know if you have recommendations (from yourself or Red)!

  8. I really appreciate this post. Dar – I’m setting up my reading list for this year and have added several from your post onto my “for later” list at the library. I’ve still got a few more mysteries on hold, but have also added several books by Asian authors: Crying in H Mart and Dial A for Aunties are already at the top of the list. Have you read anything by Haruki Murakami ? I have found his books magical with great storytelling.

    I also am interest in the the food-related books you read last year, especially the ones by Mark Bittmann and Marion Nestle (she once did a class on getting the most for your money when grocery shopping at one of the bases we lived on – she was great, and I still use some of her tips).

    I loved having a “theme” last year – I’m not doing it this year, but for 2023 or 2024 I’m thinking of making my theme, “Books I’ve Read Before,” and rereading things I read beginning in H.S. I see a few things on your list I’ve read before and would like to revisit.

    • Hi Laura, So far I have read 2 books by Murakami (Norwegian Wood and 1Q84) and would like to read more. Any recommendations? I will probably keep reading food-related nonfiction as new books come to my attention. I heard on Gretchen Rubin’s podcast lately that she is also focusing this year on books she’s read before! I had decided a while ago that I will save that reading plan for retirement. I have a long shelf of university required-reading, consisting of novels and plays from my English, Russian literature, theatre, and philosophy classes. It’s hard to wait, though – I re-read Crime and Punishment last year!

  9. Happy New Year.

    Thanks for sharing your list, I’ve added a couple of them to my “to read” list for this year as I’ve not found much to excite me yet.

  10. Jen

    What did you think of H-Mart? I was thinking of reading that soon. A book I read this year twice! was “Darius the Great is Not Ok” (there’s a second book which is also terrific). It is both LGBTQ and “other voices.” And it made me crave Persian food!

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