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2021 has been quite the year! I graduated university, set up my own business as a freelance writer, and just generally entered the daunting world of adulthood. Books have been there through it all to provide a reassuring sense of constancy and plenty of opportunities to escape reality.
So without further ado, in no particular order (because I am extremely indecisive!) here are my top 10 favourite books of 2021:
1. Tenderness by Alison Macleod
An author dying in exile. A downtrodden and lonely FBI agent. A future First Lady. A smart young woman trying to prove herself at Cambridge University. Space and time unravel to unite all these people around a single controversial book: Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Is it pornography, or is it only tenderness?
Read If: You love epic multi-perspective novels that centre the act of storytelling.
2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Synopsis: When a pilot crashes his plane into the desert, he resigns himself to dying alone, miles away from the nearest civilization. That is until a little voice emerges to ask him, ‘please will you draw me a sheep?’
The Little Prince comes from a faraway planet and recounts his travels through the universe, encountering greedy monarchs and jealous flowers. Having travelled so far from home, he will teach his new pilot friend that the most important things in life are often right in front of us.
Read If: You want to reconnect with your inner child through a gorgeously imaginative story.
3. The Book of Pride ed. by Mason Funk
Feeling a debt of gratitude to his queer community’s elders, and determined not to let their stories be lost to history, Mason Funk established Outwords, a charity dedicated to travelling the length and breadth of America to interview LGBT+ elders. From swanky offices to rural snowstorms, the Outwords team seek queer stories wherever they can find them, determined to record as many of the movement’s perspectives as possible.
The result is The Book of Pride, a collection of interviews with LGBT+ pioneers, including John S. James (HIV treatment campaigner), Diana Rivers (author and women’s rights activist) and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy (trans community leader).
Read If: You want to be inspired by the pioneers of LGBT+ history!
Full review here.
4. Henry V by William Shakespeare
Synopsis: Claiming a birthright to the French throne, Henry V invades France with a vast army drawn from every class of English society – glory is promised to the lowliest soldier who can distinguish himself courageously. Henry’s campaign climaxes in the infamous Battle of Agincourt, which will pervade history, legend and politics for centuries to come.
The heady power and the human cost of war collide in the bard’s most famous history play.
Read If: You’d like to get into Shakespeare’s thrilling and nuanced history plays.
5. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Raised by her mother and three aunts in a bustling Istanbul home, Asya is tired of negotiating their multiplying expectations and dreams of fleeing to lead her own, unfettered life.
Across the continents, in America, Armanoush is also struggling to deal with the demands of her large and dissonant family. When the two young women cross paths, they will force their families towards a reckoning with the past that has been almost a century in waiting.
Read If: You’re looking for a rich yet understated literary fiction novel with historical preoccupations.
Full review here.
6. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi & Curt Gentry
Synopsis: On the 8th August, 1969, four followers of Charles Manson’s cult known as The Family, drove to Beverley Hills, LA. They entered the home of Sharon Tate, an up-and-coming Hollywood star, and proceeded to murder everyone inside, including Tate herself, who was eight months pregnant at the time. What was the motive behind this mindless violence? And what could have driven four young people, to commit such a crime?
Vincent Bugliosi, the assigned prosecutor, knows more about the case than anyone, having spent years accumulating the evidence that would send Manson and his accomplices to jail.
Read If: You love in-depth, detailed true crime stories that are almost too bizarre to be believed.
7. Outlawed by Anna North
When Ada fails to conceive a child with her new husband, she becomes increasingly desperate. Barren women in her village are often hanged as witches. Fearing that she is cursed, neighbours start refusing to let her attend their births, meaning she can no longer put her expertise as a midwife to use.
Frustrated and afraid, Ada runs away to find refuge with a band of outlaws and their charismatic leader known only as the Kid. In this makeshift and marginalised family, women like Ada are finding power beyond the status of their wombs – and taking revenge on the society that has rejected them.
Read If: You want to relish the status quo being rewritten in a badass feminist western!
Full review here.
8. Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
Trying to eke out a living in Winnipeg as a cybersex worker, news of his stepfather’s death means Jonny must somehow scrape together enough money to return to the reservation where he grew up. With the funeral day drawing near, Jonny’s reminiscences are by turns painful and nostalgic as he reckons with what it might mean to be home.
Read If: You enjoy being drawn into character-centric and intimate narratives.
City Girl Magazine review here.
9. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colour Blindness by Michelle Alexander
Synopsis: America prides itself as the leader of the free world, and a model of democratic government. Yet huge swathes of American citizens are actually barred from voting – they have been labelled as felons and pushed out of mainstream economic, political, and social action. The percentage of the USA’s population currently behind bars outstrips any other country in the world, and people of colour are grossly overrepresented within this population.
In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander powerfully argues that racial biases in the criminal justice system have created a new caste system, in which crime prevention and punishment are weaponised as a means of racialised social control.
Read If: You’re ready to have all your assumptions about justice, crime, and criminals to be overturned (and even if you’re not).
10. The Confession by Jessie Burton
In 1980, Elise follows her lover Connie from London to LA, where Connie’s novel is being adapted into a major film. Their stormy love affair will leave its mark on the city.
Three decades later, Rose is on the trail of the mother who left when she was a baby. The only clue she has is a book by elusive novelist Constance Holden, who may hold the key to why her mother left everything behind.
Read If: You’re looking for an emotive literary drama with deeply sympathetic characters.
Full review here.
Have you read any of these books? What were your favourite reads of 2021? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you! Wishing you lots of love and positivity for 2022 X x x