I was all ready to be like ‘I read a lot of books I liked, but not so many I completely loved’ and then I started writing this list and it got pretty long, so I’m saying it was actually a decent year for books. Some of these are very, very good, and others are very good in a specific way that I loved.
Unlike my favourite non-2021 books of the year, this will be in order of when I read them, starting with the book I read as a proof last year but did actually come out at the start of this one…
Starting with fiction because I read a lot of it. I also fully embraced getting back into horror, which was good.
- Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters – Need I say anything? Listen to the hype.
- The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe – Is this a trashy YA action story about accidentally becoming part of a heist? Yes, and that’s why it’s on the list – it’s fun and it’s the sort of narrative I like in a film.
- Assembly by Natasha Brown – A novel about race, class, and millennial success, as an unnamed narrator takes you through preparing for a party in her boyfriend’s parents’ garden. One of the only times I’ve really loved the ‘immediate thoughts of narrator going to London job etc’ style of narrative.
- Gunk Baby by Jamie Marina Lau – Felt like an instant cult classic to me. A book about a shopping centre and capitalism, all in a haze of muzak.
- Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon – Not the kind of book I’d usually go to, but this genre-defying tale of a separatist escapee developing powers just really punched you in the gut and questioned who the monsters really are.
- Reprieve by James Han Mattson – A horror novel about a full contact haunted house escape room that turns into a character study and an exploration of social dynamics. Come for the premise, stay for what it’s exploring.
- Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So – I’m not always the biggest short story person, but the way these connected and built up a sense of Cambodian American life in California was very impressive.
- Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke – A novel told over Slack, as someone gets trapped in their workplace Slack workspace. I almost hate how much I enjoyed this as someone who works with technology, uses Slack at work, and loves silly premises.
- Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt – This was my most ‘I’ve got to read this’ book of 2021 and it did not disappoint. Haunted house gothic but the house is fascism and the racist 80s singer poster is scary. Not for the faint-hearted, but probably my most breathtaking book of 2021. Trans horror forever.
- Stay Another Day by Juno Dawson – What’s one of my end of year book list without one of Juno Dawson’s books? This Christmas romcom was fun but, as might be expected from her, didn’t shy away from some more serious stuff too.
- Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner – It’s very hard to describe this one – a bizarre trip round gender, football, time travel, and a whole host of other things – but it’s very good.
- Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles – This is a novel in verse so I’m sticking it here just because I’m not writing anything about the ones in the poetry section. A sci-fi novel written in Orkney dialect verse and probably the ultimate ‘so you want to read something different’ recommendation.
I can’t think of any good ways to summarise poetry collections so I’m just putting the titles of my favourites.
- Teeth in the Back of my Neck by Monika Radojevic
- sikfan glaschu by Sean Wai Keung
- All The Names Given by Raymond Antrobus
I thought this category would literally just be Crying in H Mart, but then I found an obvious second.
- Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner – Such a good memoir about grief and family and food. And it made me start listening to Japanese Breakfast.
- The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye – The past and present of trans life in Britain, laid out in a straightforward way. Just give it to everyone.