The year is drawing to a close. As I enjoy making a list or two, I thought I would share some of my favourite books published this year. I am but one person, so first I’d like to talk to you about books that I have read and loved, then I’ll mention a few books sitting on my bedside table, and I’ll finish with a couple of titles I have my eye on, based on other people’s recommendations. If you’re on the hunt for a new book to keep you company, look no further. Let’s dive in.
Some of my favourite books this year happen to be titles I’ve written about for the TOAST Book Club. Among them, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, an ethereal novel about other worlds, and Fifty Sounds by Polly Barton, a memoir-essay examining the art of literature in translation, were particularly enjoyable. In the summer, I also reviewed some titles I’d heartily recommend including Underbelly by Anna Whitehouse, a novel about two mothers and their relationship with social media; Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, a meticulously crafted book about all the things that nourish us; and Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles, a nonfiction book that perfectly dances across topics of food, water and belonging.
My favourite thriller of the year was Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke, which follows a true crime podcaster as she tries to solve a cold case, prompting a serial killer to reappear. It’s an incredibly well-balanced story in that it critiques society’s obsession with true crime while also being extremely gripping.
A bit of a cheat is Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls. I say it’s a cheat because it’s a reissue, republished this year by Faber, with an introduction by Irenosen Okojie. I had to mention it as it is a short, sharp novel from the 1980s about a housewife who falls in love with a ‘frog-man’ called Larry; think Muriel Spark meets Nella Larsen meets The Shape of Water. It’s a fabulously tense book that you can easily devour in an afternoon.
Mrs March by Virginia Feito is perfect for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh; Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden is for those who like to let language wash over them (it’s particularly brilliant on audio); and A Still Life: A Memoir by Josie George is a wonderful nonfiction book about friendship, disability and parenthood.
Poetry-wise, All the Names Given by Raymond Antrobus and Honorifics by Cynthia Miller were my top two collections. Antrobus remains one of the best poets writing today: “I lose my hearing aids / and move more fluid / the same way I do / when I swim [...]” Miller’s use of colour gives me goosebumps; her imagery is captivating: “Thinking about pickling dark strips of stars and preserving them in vinegar.”
As for books that are still calling to me, I have heard excellent things about Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, a doorstopper of a book about a missing pilot. I’m also hoping to read Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan in the next few weeks, as it’s set during the run-up to Christmas (plus it’s only 128 pages!). Keegan’s writing is always rich and lyrical, tapestry-like in the way it paints community. On my bedside table I have a few larger books I’ve been saving for the holidays: Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, a novel about family, grief and music, and publisher Persephone Books’ latest, The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. This one is another cheat as it was originally published in 1930 but republished this autumn. At over 600 pages, it chronicles one woman’s life in the first few decades of the 20th century. Mona Arshi’s Somebody Loves You, a short novel about a girl who has stopped talking, is also one I’m hoping to get to before the year ends, as I’ve enjoyed her poetry very much in the past.
There are many other books I could talk to you about today, but I’ll leave you with those recommendations for now. If you’d like to share your favourite books of 2021 in a comment down below, I’d love to hear about them.
Jen Campbell is a bestselling author and disability advocate. She has written ten books for children and adults, the latest of which is The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers. She also writes for TOAST Book Club.
Photographs by David Vyce.