In 2021, I managed to read and review about 150 titles in my Books section, which has to be an all-time record. I say titles, rather than books, because some of them were shorts, some reference, some audiobooks, there’s a mish-mash of stuff I’ve enjoyed all year long. But even so, that’s still a lot to have managed to get through. Partly that’s because of the ongoing efforts to Hibernate for Health, but also because I’ve become absolutely obsessed with reading and do it every minute I can - cleaning my teeth, waiting for the kettle to boil, when I’m supposed to be sleeping, you know the kind of thing.
For a couple of years, I posted a round up of the books I had given five stars to but then I brought my reviews in house rather than hosted on a third party and that seemed like overkill. But now, I think it’s going to be useful for future me to know what the best of the year was, rather than having to trawl through 150+ reviews!
So here are ten of the best of what I read in 2021 in chronological order:
Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham
This book is simply incredible. It’s meticulous and detailed and there’s plenty of science in there but somehow the author makes it brilliantly readable, you don’t want to put it down. At the heart, despite all the politics and technical detail, it’s a story about the people who made poor decisions, who were thrust into the heart of it through no fault of their own, who showed incredible courage in the face of so many unknowns.
Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History by Michael Klastorin and Randal Atamaniuk
It’s taken me a long time to read this as it’s a gorgeous hardback coffee table style book, so I would just dip in and out every now and again. The structure includes a week-by-week analysis of how the three Back to the Future films came together, from concept to shooting schedules, to release. There’s lots of great insight, behind the scenes knowledge, and it’s stacked full of great photographs I’ve never seen before.
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
There are almost no words for this one. It was a similar reading experience to Invisible Women - intensely insightful, well written and incredibly well researched, but so frustrating. I had to keep pausing for these moments of revelation and/or anger, so it took a while to get through it. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to understand why the world works the way it does, with particular regard to racism in America but also across the rest of the world.
The Dig by John Preston
Having watched the film on Netflix, I was interested in how the book would stack up. It’s very similar, just a few tweaks in the film to give it that extra edge. But I loved the book, it’s equisitely written, super simple, laying out the facts, following these few characters as they go about their business and change our understanding of history. It’s just wonderful, I was always disappointed when I had to put it down.
Who Am I, Again? by Lenny Henry
It’s a great story, with a lot of introspective insights into dealing with racism then and now, how his ‘just ignore it/deal with it’ attitude that was so prevalent in the 70s/80s doesn’t sit so comfortably now and he’s constantly revising his own opinions. There’s also a lot of family love and warmth, and arguing and strictness, but it’s a book that brings you right to the centre of a family full of heart.
My Child and Other Mistakes by Ellie Taylor
Ellie talks quite openly about her mixed feelings throughout the entirety of the journey from thinking about having kids, to the pregnancy, to birth and beyond. She talks about how ultimately there’s an undying love for her daughter, but I was really glad to read about how it’s not just as simple as unconditional affection. A great, humorous read, and a refreshing take on the mummy memoir genre.
All In by Billie Jean King
The wonderful Billie Jean King released her autobiography to much anticipation so I was keen to get in on the early wave and read it as quickly as possible. It’s wonderful, not only because of the exceptional things BJK has done and achieved in her life, the relentless pursuit of equality and the stand she takes against bullying and prejudice, but also because she doesn’t shy away from the fact she’s not done everything right. Facing headlong into the issues, addressing the facts, and understanding that nobody’s perfect, this is a wonderful read. Brilliant, tenacious, human.
Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink
This is such a wonderful book. Cathy, an avid reader, takes us on a journey with her, a brief autobiography structured around which books accompanied her at which points throughout her life. When she talks of a book you have read, you can’t help but feel a warm and fuzzy feeling of agreement, and when she lists books you haven’t read, if you’re anything like me, you instantly want to read them all. It’s gentle and warm and lovely, like a big hug of books, and more than anything it made me feel like it’s okay to like what you like to whatever degree gets you through the day. Just exquisite.
Outraged by Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles
A really good book diving deep into the modern culture of social media outrage - endlessly picking on the next topic and tweet-shouting rage about it, achieving nothing except a half-hearted apology, and then moving on to the next thing. The book dives into the cause and effect of this phenomena, catching up with some people who have first hand experience of being the drivers of outrage or the unfortunates who have to live with the fallout. Most of all, it’s a treatise for actually using outrage for good, getting motivated to do something, rather than sticking with the easier route of keyboard warrior.
Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness by Bill Bailey
This is a really lovely book. Bill Bailey, beloved comedian, musician and Strictly contestant, offers up glimpses of the things in his life that make him happy. From getting out into nature, to spending time with loved ones, to listening to music, to so much more, there is a short essay for each of the items and all of them leave you with that heartwarming feeling the author is looking for.