A PROMISED LAND by Barack Obama
The honours for my first finished book of 2021 goes to none other than Barack Obama. It’s fair to say that most of the 700+ pages were actually read in 2020, but it’s not a bad volume start this year’s list off.
LESS by Andrew Sean Greer
A novel about a failing writer on the run. It is pacey and quirky with plenty of ironic humour. It felt lightweight, both physically and metaphorically after Obama’s opus.
MOTHERWELL – A GIRLHOOD by Deborah Orr
A gorgeously written memoir of childhood from an extraordinary writer. There have been tears, many tears, a few giggles and occasional turning away from the pain on the page. Extraordinary.
THE PAINTED VEIL by W.W. Maugham
Fulfilling my manifesto pledge to read at least 6 books published more than 10 years during 2021. This certainly fitted the bill! A page turning exploration of love of status from the 1920’s.
STRANGE FLOWERS by Donal Ryan (see my review)
Could. Not. Put. It. Down.
THE GOD DELUSION by Richard Dawkins
I’ve often picked this book up and put it back over the years. I saw it in a second hand shop (back when such things were open) and thought it was time I found out what all the fuss was about. A cracking read for much of it, a bit science heavy for me to completely follow occasionally. Glad I read it, but also glad I’ve finished it!
BEASTINGS by Benjamin Myers
Myers has featured heavily in both Nicky’s and my reading this last year. This has all the poetic majesty we’ve come to expect, albeit cut through with an ever growing tale desperate and brutality.
LET IN THE LIGHT by Gerard Nugent (see my review)
My first ever advanced copy of a book. It is a good honest page turner, a study of humanity and redemption told through the story of a reluctant rock star. Looking forward to writing a full review as part of the paperback’s launch and blog tour.
DOMINICANA by Angie Cruz (see my review)
Powerful and insightful tale of what it’s like to be a young woman bullied into immigration. Set to the back drop of turmoil in The Dominican Republic as well as the aftermath of the killing of Malcom X.
REASONS TO STAY ALIVE by Matt Haig (see my review)
A pocket rocket of a book. A soul baring memoir combined with a survival guide to living with our individual mental health challenges.
THIS IS MEMORIAL DEVICE by David Keenan (see my review)
Absolutely indescribable. Although I’m going to try in my review. The most bizarre piece of fiction I’ve read in a long time.
WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin (see my review)
Approaching its centenary, it was certainly about time I read this iconic anti-utopian novel. This is the 1993 translation by Clarence Brown. Any fictional dystopian future is at its most fearful when you find yourself beginning to imagine it as reality!
THE HUMAN SON by Adrian J. Walker (see my review)
Quite a long read by one of my favourite dystopia fiction authors. Although this is set in a future where the humans are no longer on earth, it is more like a love story than a terrifying vision of some future hell on earth. Quite lovely.
THE MOTEL LIFE by Willy Vlautin (see my review)
A book of living on the rough edges of American society, painful but gorgeous in its delivery.
FRANCIS PLUG: HOW TO BE A PUBLIC AUTHOR by Paul Ewan (see my review)
A sideways look at the world of literary events through the eyes of fictitious author Francis Plug. A rollicking read with plenty of belly laughs.
RECORD PLAY PAUSE by Stephen Morris (see my review)
A musicians memoir of the highest calibre. A joy for those of us who’s musical education came at the hands of punk, new wave and John Peel but so much more than a musical who’s who. A cracking read.
THE LIES YOU TOLD by Harriet Tyce (see my review)
A thriller with a big hearted story running through it. I’ve been lucky enough to have been asked to write a review for the book’s blog tour. Watch this space.
A MEAL IN WINTER by Hubert Mingarelli (see my review)
A challenging and poignant novella following three German soldiers over the course of a day in the depths of a Polish winter during WWII. Will stay with me this one.
JEWS DON’T COUNT by David Baddiel (see my review)
Another small book with a huge message. A timely reminder that lazy racism and blinkered ‘progressive’ attitudes are all too prevalent.
GODS WITHOUT MEN by Hari Kunzru (see my review)
Definitely not a small book! Nor is it a quick read. But, oh my, what a book. Deep, challenging and provocative prose. I feel richer for reading it.
DISGRACE by J.M. Coetzee (see my review)
Gorgeously crafted tale of what it means to be male, white and middle aged in turn of the century South Africa. Deeply personal.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead (see my review)
Powerful, urgent, painful, brutal, gorgeous….. What a book!
RAINBOW MILK by Paul Mendez
What’s not to like about this? A love story scattered with the pains of racism, homophobia and the brutal horrors with which AIDS ravaged the homosexual community. Compelling stuff.
THE F*CK IT LIST by John Niven
Face paced and furious. There is an all too real feeling in this near future dystopia.
PIRANESI by Susanna Clarke
A glorious splash of other worldliness to colour my literary journey. I’m reading all 6 of the Women’s Prize shortlist, as is my gorgeous wife Nicky, and we will pick our winners before the official announcement.
TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM by Yaa Gyasi
Another contender for the Women’s Prize. Probably sitting in 2nd place of the two I’ve read!
HOW THE ONE-ARMED SISTER SWEEPS HER HOUSE by Cherie Jones
I’m now halfway through the six shortlisted books for the Women’s Prize. This evocative and poignant novel is probably at no. 2 so far.
UNSETTLED GROUND by Claire Fuller
A beautiful novel. Gorgeous prose, a cracking story and definitely a contender for the Women’s Prize for fiction.
THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennet
A truly exquisite tale of belonging, ‘other’ and raises so many questions about how we live our personal truths or lies. I’m struggling to look past this as my tip for the Women’s Prize.
MALES TEARS by Benjamin Myers
Quite a diverse selection of short works by one of my absolute favourite authors. Some poignant, some challenging, some violent, some darkly humourous, but ALL offering Myers’ gorgeous, uncompromising prose.
THE YEAR OF THE RUNAWAYS by Sunjeev Saha
Another book found through Radio 4’s A Good Read. Quite a hefty book, but what a joy. This is my sort of novel – gritty and real. I’m enjoying getting away from ‘middle class white boy uses daddy’s money to take a year out to ponder life.’ and into the desperate lives of those just trying to survive.
BURNT SUGAR by Avni Doshi
Gorgeously written exploration of culture, our memories, family and even dementia. Quite a literary read in that I felt I was grasping at imagined events and the timeline is quite fractious. Yet I couldn’t wait to pick it up whenever I got the chance.
IN IT FOR THE LONG RUN (breaking records and getting FKT) by Damian Hall
A glorious, witty, revealing romp through the world of an ultra marathon devouring, record breaking, climate change campaigning, trail running legend. A great read for anyone but an absolute MUST read for fans of the sport.
ONE NIGHT, NEW YORK by Lara Thompson
I’m afraid I skim read this, simply to find out what happened! It didn’t grab me at all, I just couldn’t buy into the characters. I was hoping to get under the skin of America and New York in particular, during the tough times of the 1930s. Never mind. I need to read from a varied range of styles and genres if I want to improve as a writer.
BOB MARLEY: THE UNTOLD STORY by Chris Salewicz
A very personal and in-depth telling of the life of Robert Nesta Marley. Having been fortunate to visit Jamaica three times, the geography and history also felt very real. Loved it.
APEIROGON by Colum McCann
Out of the tragedy of losing daughters, an unlikely alliance of two men stands tall in the impossible hope of making peace rather than war between Palestine and Israel. A quite extraordinary book.
RUNNING TRACKS by Rob Deering
Comedian, musician, radio presenter, podcaster and all round good fella, Rob Deering, takes us through his life since becoming a runner. This is a memoir with a difference – told through 26 memorable runs and the music playlists which accompanied them. Read my review.
THE SWEETNESS OF WATER by Nathan Harris
That this exquisite novel is a debut blew me away – a piece of gorgeous historical fiction which I had trouble tearing from my hands to do anything else for a few days. The first from this year’s Booker Prize long list that I’ve tackled.
A TOWN CALLED SOLACE by Mary Lawson
And from a young debutant to a far more experienced, established author. Mary Lawson’s latest heart warmer has also earned a place on this year’s Booker longlist and I absolutely soaked it up. A captivating tale set in the Canadian rural north. Probably features the best ‘voice’ of a child I’ve ever read.
The Promise by Damon Galgut
Emotional, poignant and powerful. Another cracker from this year’s Booker long list.
China Room by Sunjeev Sahota
What can I say about Sunjeev Sahota. The Year Of The Runaways has been one of my favourite reads of the year for me, China Room does not disappoint as my second foray into Sahota’s worlds.
A PASSAGE NORTH by Anuk Arudpragasam
A deeply written, lyrically reflective study of a journey through Sri Lanka, but also through the mind and memory of our lead character. Part political but entirely personal. Sometimes challenging to absorb but written with a relentless flourish.
SECOND PLACE by Rachel Cusk
An almost quiet book, deep and thoughtful study of place and belonging. The writer in me was captivated by every sentence and the reader in me simply lapped it up. Disappointed not to see it make the Booker short list.
AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings
I enjoyed this, but in a year of reading such amazing fiction I found it slightly underwhelming. Clever though.
THE FORTUNE MEN by Nadifa Mohamed
The only British writer to make the Booker shortlist this year. Nadifa Mohamed has produced a quite remarkable piece of writing. Strong and poignant throughout, this torturous, evocative tale had me dealing with every emotion.
KLARA AND THE SUN by Kazuo Ishiguro
To my shame, this is my first dip into the legend that is Ishiguro! It certainly didn’t disappoint, but I can maybe see why it didn’t make the cut for the Booker shortlist. A maybe not so fantastical look into the future of childhood and adolescence. A dream like read, which felt quite similar to Matt Haig’s work with its warmth.
GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead
One of the books which made it on to the Booker shortlist. An epic and hefty tome, telling the story of a wildly adventurous life. A fictitious tale of a woman’s attempt to fly around the world and the subsequent attempt to tell that story in film a generation or two later. Marvellous.
THE WATER CURE by Sophie Mackintosh
A book which came to my attention via the excellent Unsound Methods Podcast. The podcast interviews authors of fiction with a literary feel. Some experimentation with form and unconventional use of voice are celebrated by the show and Sophie Mackintosh’s lovely book fits the bill perfectly. There is a bloomin’ great story going on too though. Loved it.
SYD BARRETT: A Very Peculiar Head by Rob Chapman
A fine piece of biography from Rob Chapman, who passionately protects Barrett’s legacy from the falsehoods and urban myths surrounding the life of the Pink Floyd founder member. Strong writing and compelling reading.
THE WEAK SPOT by Lucie Elven
Short and definitely sweet: Lucie Elven’s debut novel is a gorgeous feast of prose. Almost fable like in its telling, The Weak Spot challenges the reader as the author fills each page with exquisite, but not always obvious sentences. Lovely.
SEVEN NIGHTS AT THE FLAMINGO HOTEL by Drew Gummerson
After the soft touch and delicate telling of The Weak Spot, Gummerson’s offering is quite the barnstormer by comparison. Yet they both challenge how we view relationships and desire or ambition. Read my review.
MONUMENT MAKER by David Keenan
Keenan’s work is monstrous, genre defying, compelling, terrifying, haunting, sleep disturbing, beautiful, pained, subtle when it’s subtle and a brick in your face when it’s not. If you’re like me, it will never leave you.
OPEN WATER by Caleb Azumah Nelson
And so to my final book of the year. This book was ‘tipped’ on the socials earlier in the year and was maybe expected to appear on award lists. To my knowledge that didn’t happen but once it landed in my hands, the pages didn’t stop turning. Delicate and delicious.
So that’s 53 books I’ve finished in 2021. There’s been a couple of DNFs along the way, which I don’t share publicly, but that is no relection of their quality, more of my headspace as a reader.
Check out last years list, or my favourite reads of 2020 too.