The best books I have read in 2021

A couple of years ago I started to keep a list in my phone of all the books I read each year. It’s great to look back over them and take stock of what I’ve been reading!

In 2020 I only managed ten books. In my defence there was a lot going on that year and I didn’t really get my normal holidays due to the pandemic! I’d also note that one of the ten was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which was 720 pages long and took me ages. It was worth it though, as I explain in my books I read in 2020 post last year.

This year I have managed 21 books, so I’m feeling quite proud of myself! If you’re looking for a recommendation, here are my favourites (in no particular order!)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

By Suzanne Collins

Suitable for Year 8+

I love the Hunger Games books, and Suzanne Collins revisited the world of Panem for this prequel following the early life of Coriolanus Snow – the President Snow of Katniss Everdeen’s story – in the early years of the Hunger Games. As well as adding additional colour and detail to the world of the books – including the origin of the “Hanging Tree” folk song – I found this a gripping and exciting tale, with lots of twists and turns.

A Skinful of Shadows

By Frances Hardinge

Suitable for Year 7+

I think Frances Hardinge is my current favourite young adult author. I read The Lie Tree last year and Deeplight this year as well, but A Skinful of Shadows was really terrific. Set in the English Civil War, it mixes historical fiction with some supernatural fantasy as the twelve-year-old narrator, a girl called Makepeace, discovers that she has inherited a paranormal gift from her family – the ability to host the ghostly spirits of the dead within her. This discovery leads her on a breathtaking adventure – part espionage thriller, part gothic horror – that had me hooked throughout.

Piranesi

By Susanna Clarke

Suitable for Year 9+

Every now and again you come across a book of such audacious originality that you marvel at how boundless the human imagination really is. This was one such book. The concept of this story is so unexpected that I find it astonishing that anyone could ever have dreamt it up! Piranesi, the narrator, lives in a strange house with many rooms and levels, which also hosts an ocean. He is surrounded by statues, and he is alone except for the occasional visits of someone known only as The Other. As Piranesi explores, he begins to suspect that the world he knows is not all that it appears to be…to say any more would be to spoil the story. If you read it, prepare to have your mind blown!

Hamnet

By Maggie O’Farrell

Suitable for Year 10+

In another breathtaking act of imagination, Maggie O’Farrell tells the story of the life and early death of Hamnet, William Shakespeare’s son. We know from the historical record that Hamnet was a twin, and that he died aged 11. Scholars have long imagined that Shakespeare’s grief for his lost son inspired the play Hamlet, written a few years later. O’Farrell takes these ideas and spins them into an enthralling tale, where Shakespeare himself is really a fringe character, who is never mentioned by name. This is, rather, the tale of his wife, Agnes, who is brought to vivid life in simply stunning prose. An unforgettable read.

A Promised Land

By Barack Obama

Suitable for Year 9+

In this first part of his autobiography, President Obama takes us through his early life, his education, his entry into politics and into his first term in the White House. It is a long read, but all the more fascinating for it. As well as giving the inside view on what happened, Obama explains the rationale for decisions he made – good and bad – and the consequences and responsibilities he carried as a result. What I found most touching was his discussion of balancing his career with his responsibilities as a husband and father: having read Michelle Obama’s book Becoming a couple of years ago, it was fascinating to see her husband’s perspective on the same events and issues. The book concludes with an account of the mission to eliminate Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks: you can feel the tension in every word on the page. I can’t wait for part two!

An American Marriage

By Tayari Jones

Suitable for Year 11+

This was the first book I read in 2021, and I loved it so much I went on to read the author’s first book, Silver Sparrow, in the summer. The novel tells the story of a young black couple, Celestial and Roy, in the southern United States. Their marriage is placed under pressure when Roy is arrested and convicted for a crime Celestial knows he did not commit. The unravelling of the consequences of this fateful event is brilliantly told, and the novel explores the complexity of racial tensions in America throughout. Tayari Jones is an astonishing writer – Silver Sparrow is just as good.

Anything is possible

by Gareth Southgate

Suitable for Year 7+

I was caught up in football fever this summer as England looked like they might just win something! Although that didn’t quite go to plan, Gareth Southgate’s calm, positive leadership of the England setup as been an inspiration. In this book – aimed at children – he uses his own life story to pass on messages about how to achieve your goals (not just in the footballing sense!) with wisdom, good sense, and practical advice. I gave a copy to each of our new House Captains this year to help them in their leadership roles – they said they liked it too! Highly recommended, whether you’re into football or not.

To The Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

Suitable for Year 9+

I last read To The Lighthouse when I was at university, as part of my degree. I was reminded of it when it was the subject of an episode of the Literate podcast, reviewing the New York Public Library’s books of the 20th century, and picked it up to remind myself why it was so special. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a book in which very little happens: in the first section, the Ramsay family and their house guests spend the afternoon and evening together at their holiday home; in the short middle section, “Time Passes”, taking in the First World War and the changes to the family; and in the final section, several of the characters return to the holiday house to complete the long-promised but not-completed journey to the lighthouse off the coast. It doesn’t sound like much, but Virginia Woolf uses it to explore the depths of human relationships, the nature of art, and our perceptions of one another. Her writing is simply astonishing.

As you can tell, I love talking about books, so if you’ve read one of the books on this year’s favourites list, please tell me what you thought of it in the comments below. I’m also open to recommendations for my “to read” pile, which is currently substantial but not endless!

One thought on “The best books I have read in 2021

  1. Pingback: “Best Books of 2021” Lists Update – December 1st – Book Library

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