This is always one of my favourite blog posts to write and it took me nearly three weeks into the new year to finally have it up. This does not bode well for my blogging year but let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.
My reading year went well – quality wise. I only read half as many books as I used to but I got better at picking books I would love rather those I read for hype or fomo reasons, so this was a nice side effect. As a result, I have 10 books to share today; the first threeI rated a high 4.5 stars, the latter seven all got 5 stars. I tried to put them in order of enjoyment but as always this is a snap shot and could have been different on any other day.
10 Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
I am a huge fan of Sally Rooney and this book worked for me the same way all her books work for me. I thought it was structurally brilliant with its introspective email chapters and the more aloof third person chapters alternating and give different lenses through which to understand her characters – and her characters are what shine as usual. I didn’t love this as much as Conversations With Friends but more than Normal People I think and I cannot wait to see what she does next, or rather what variation on her theme she dos next.
09 Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
This broke my heart. Here the whole was better than the sum of its parts but even the weaker essays are great. Febos puts herself and the reader through the ringer and her honesty and special attention to themes and repetitions makes this a perfect fi for me. I will be reading as much of her work as possible.
08 Animal Wife Stories by Lara Ehrlich
The only short story collection to make my list but what a brilliant book it is. It reminded me exactly why I love short story collections. It is weird and extremely well written, with a strong theme of feminism and motherhood and the stories are the exact perfect length each time (varying from the very short to the slightly longer than most short stories).
07 Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
This an impeccable researched and structured deep dive into the Sackler family (of OxyContin “fame) – my main takeaway is, as usual, capitalism is the worst and regulation is indeed not the enemy. I didn’t quite love this as much as Say Nothing by the same author which took the very top spot of my favourite books on 2020 but it is incredible nonetheless. The Sacklers are indeed the worst and I had a running ranking who was the very worst of them (spoiler alert: it’s Richard).
06 White Magic by Elissa Washuta
This is just brilliant but in a way that I find difficult to put into words, again. It’s both a structurally perfect memoir and one that doesn’t pull any punches and I adored it. Washuta disects her own trauma, both immediate and intergenerational, while writing circularly about a relationship disintegrating. It is very introspective in the best possible way and I love how she focusses herself more than anything else.
05 The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I knew I would enjoy Didion but I loved this even more. The prose is impeccable, the thoughtful use of repetition and returning to earlier themes and ideas is perfect and the emotional punch is harsh – there is a reason she is counted amongst the best stylists. I want to read as many of her books as possible.
04 Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Pretty much all of this worked for me, from the characters to the peculiar prose to the structure; especially the first half was near perfect for me. I do admit that this just hits a lot of my pleasure buttons and I can see where it might not work for other readers but I am glad that many people have taken a chance on this. Ultimately, on a metaphor-level I think this is a book about loneliness and about the structures we impose to deal with it. Clarke is chronically ill and you can tell she knows what she is writing about here. For me, this hit particularly hard given the slowly becoming unbearable pandamic and the intrinsic loneliness of new motherhood. I will treasure this book.
03 Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger
If you pick up any of my non-fiction recommendations from this list, please pick this one. I loved this and I want so many more people to read this. It took Dancyger 10 years to write this book and it shows. It is so good. She achieves a level of reflexivity that is very rare in memoirs and it is structurally so very well done. It also packs an emotional punch while wielding its sentimentality as a weapon and I am just so impressed with this.
02 Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
I have not been able to stop thinking about this book but at the same time I have trouble putting my thoughts and feelins into words. This is brilliant. I knew very little going into this book except that I will read anything Emily St. John Mandel writes and as such the book surprised me again and again. It is losely connected to her most recent two novels, Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, and I love her extended universe so much. She does this better than David Mitchell, whose writing I also adore, and I cannot wait to read whatever comes next. This book is both perfectly structured and compulsively readable, and as always her characterwork is beyond compare. So yes, I loved this.
01 No Gods, No Monster by Cadwell Turnbull
I ADORED this. So much, that I actually wrote a proper review for it. No Gods, No Monsters is literary fiction maquerading as urban fantasy and if there is anything that is my absolute catnip, it is this. The prose is brilliant, the character work perfect, and the structure made me happy. Turnbull does something so very clever with perspective that it made me giddy with joy – I love a clever play on perspective and here it did not only work stylistically but also made perfect sense in-universe.