In terms of reading, 2021 has actually been a great year for me. After getting my groove back in 2020, I optimistically set my reading challenge to match how much I read last year, while knowing that this year would be busier with work and life starting to happen again. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to meet the challenge, but somehow I did and managed to read even more!
2021 was also the year where I formed my Little Free Library obsession as a great way to exchange books, tried out a themed reading challenge with my tbr and got to return to Edinburgh International Book Festival so hopefully more of that next year!
So whether you’re looking for some recommendations for yourself, for someone you’d like to get a book for or you’re just wondering what I thought of these books –
Here are my top 10 reads of the year…
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
One of the first books I read this year firmly cemented itself as a favourite. It’s about a girl called Vivian who moves to New York in the summer of 1940 to become a seamstress at her aunt’s vaudeville theatre, she befriends the showgirls and her glamorous adventures ensue. We follow Vivian all the way through her life up to the present day and all the turns her life takes. It’s in equal measure funny and emotional, and such a cosy read in the most wonderful stagey setting. If you loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo or anything by the brilliant Elizabeth Gillies, I highly recommend.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Another Greek mythology retelling from Madeline Miller. I read and adored Circe last year so was very excited to dive into this one about Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship from childhood to the Battle of Troy. This one has a lot of hype on social media and, honestly, it’s well deserved, it’s such a page-turner and heart-wrenching in the end. Miller has a great talent for making the world of Greek mythology feel approachable and modern while writing in the most beautiful way. Personally, I preferred Circe but this is a really great book.
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Very intentionally chose to read this book in the summer so I could imagine myself in an Italian villa while reading. Elio becomes infatuated with his family’s summer house guest Oliver. The book is definitely dangerous from a wanderlust perspective but another gorgeously written book. The naive longing of Elio feels so genuine and there’s a lot of detail and inner thoughts that we don’t get from the film. I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel Find Me.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
On a day trip to St Andrews earlier this year we, of course, had to drop by the most beautiful bookshop Toppings & Co. It’s got books from floor to ceiling and sliding ladders (the dream!). Our wee group spent ages perusing the shelves but one thing that intrigued me was their ‘blind date’ books. With just a wee hint to what the book might be about, you buy a brown paper wrapped mystery and mine happened to be the one. It was a wee book with two short stories based in contemporary Japan talking about love, friendship, grief and food. Perfect for me and such a comforting and heart-warming little read.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
I was gifted this book a few years ago and am actually sad I let it sit on my shelf for so long because it was right up my street. Eva writes a series of letters to her husband dissecting their relationship and parenthood as she tries to understand what went wrong with her son. Her reflections on the past are paired with stories of visiting her son, who’s in prison after committing mass murder at his school. It’s a complex, balanced, psychological analysis of motherhood more so than a glorification of Kevin’s violence (which is why the book is 10x better than the film). Bit of a slow burn but really fascinating for the right person.
Mindhunter by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker
In a similar vein, considering the psychological understanding of crime, Mindhunter is a brilliant book, especially because it’s real. It’s about the team that developed behavioural science and criminal profiling for the FBI. There are lots of stories about notorious serial killers who they interviewed to gain more understanding or how they used this insight to catch others. John Douglas also tells stories about how his life and family were affected while he was doing this work. The perfect book for a true-crime fan.
How to Fail by Elizabeth Day
This was such a cosy end of the year read that had me feeling reflective. Elizabeth Day talks about a series of things she ‘failed’ at some point in her life – relationships, work, body, sports, and more – and evaluates what she learned from that experience. She also puts in stories of her interviewees from her podcast of the same name (which I love and also recommend). I don’t know if it’s because we all universally feel we’ve messed up on those topics or whether Day and I have had really similar approaches to the world but I saw myself in almost every chapter.
A good few of my favourites this year were audiobooks that I listened to. Especially on the long drives when I was moving house but also while doing chores, these kept me entertained. I particularly like audiobooks for anything that’s long or a bit heavier, as it relieves me a little of the big book fear!
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
A contemporary classic: Richard joins an elite group of classics students at university where they exclusively study Greek. Between their eccentricity and posh traditions, it’s all rather mysterious. In an effort to push the boundaries of normal life they start doing some dark shit. It’s a strange one because despite none of the characters being likeable I was so intrigued to hear what they were going to do next. This is the OG of dark academia and it was fun actually to recognise things that have been referenced by other TV shows and stuff.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Definitely check the trigger warnings before you read this one, there are a lot of traumatic topics covered so look after yourself!
This is an epic of a book that follows four friends throughout their whole adult lives. It’s really long so I was glad to listen to it, but it was great because over those 33 hours, I felt like I really got to know these characters deeply. Each of the friends has their own personality, career and history that we explore over the course of their lives, the common thread being their love and friendship with one another. It’s a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the cruelty of memory, trauma and the limits of human endurance.
Natives by Akala
And finally, Akala’s part autobiography and part political history: Natives. It unpacks so much of British history and colonialism but brings it into modern understanding using stories from his own life. I love that he brings in a Scottish context at times and that our impact on history isn’t swallowed inside Britain as often is the case. Akala is an absolute genius at communicating massive topics and information in such an easy way to understand. It doesn’t feel like too much work (as some history books can) but will be able to teach you more on this topic than you were ever taught in school.
My 2021 Reading Stats
Each December everyone rushes to share their Spotify Wrapped because deep down we all love stats and graphs and being nosy about what other people like. Although I think my reading stats are far more interesting than my music listening habits. This is why I love tracking my reading with The StoryGraph who make it so easy to summarise.
Thanks for reading – I’d love to hear what your favourite reads were this year – let me know in the comments!