Who doesn't love a list, especially at this time of year? It's nearly 2021, and so the time has come to go through my bookshelves, select the very best books I have read this year, and present them to you here. Think of this as a festive cheese board, but with books. There is definitely something here for everyone.
Let's begin with nonfiction. How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell presents itself as a walk through a forest: long, winding paths of conversation examining how we spend our time, and why. I found it incredibly refreshing and illuminating. Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig is the best book on ableism I've read. Writing this as a disabled person myself, this book is one I want to thrust into the hands of many. It is a kind, armoured toolkit and the audiobook is also wonderful. Tiny Moons by Nina Mingya-Powles made me so ridiculously hungry; honestly, I had to keep making snacks whilst reading it. It's a charming 100-page book, talking about the dishes that have defined her life, especially the food she ate during one year in Shanghai. It is told with such warmth and love.In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado deconstructs the narratives we tell ourselves about relationships; the fairytales that descend into shadows. I have never read a memoir quite like it.
My favourite poetry collection this year was How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil. Her poems dissect the home, as society dissects the self. They examine displacement and transplantation, racism and inclusion. My top short story collection was by Japanese writer Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Ted Goossen. People from my Neighbourhood is a series of palm of the hand' stories, brief flash fiction, packed full of magical realism. A grandfather has two shadows; townsfolk turn into pigeons. Reading this little book is a wonderful way to fill an afternoon.
Let us remember that middle-grade books aren't just for children. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is about courage and destroying monsters. I can only describe it as A Monster Calls meets Angels of America. A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll is a magnificent debut. The story of Addie, petitioning to place a plaque in her local village to remember those persecuted by witch trials. It's a book with so much heart, and an important Own Voices book about being neurodivergent. The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill is a graphic novel that warmed my soul. A beautifully told story about dragons who grow Japanese tea. Please look it up.
Many of my favourite novels were ones I chose for TOAST book club: Summerwater by Sarah Moss, House of Correction by Nicci French, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, Summer by Ali Smith, Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, and The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld, but allow me to mention a couple more. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a book that has received a lot of hype and for very good reason. It is an expertly crafted generational story about colourism, following in the footsteps of Passing by Nella Larsen. I'd recommend Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam for fans of the film Parasite. It's one of the most unsettling books I've ever read, where two families are stuck in middle of nowhere, trying to work out if the world has ended. Likewise, Pew by Catherine Lacey is a mixture of Get Out and Shirley Jackson, with the population of one town deciding the fate of a person who has arrived with no identity.
For those who fancy something a little lighter, This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik perfectly balances serious conversations with humour. Bilal is tasked with building a mosque in his sleepy English village, and not everyone is happy about it. Finally, The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow is the perfect reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of Mary. The audiobook, narrated by Kristin Atherton, will make you smile for hours on end. Her Mrs. Bennet is essentially Alison Steadman from the 1995 BBC adaptation. I listened to Hadlow's novel whilst painting our flat in January and found myself exclaiming Oh, Mr. Bennet!' at regular intervals, simply for the joy of it.
Images by Roo Lewis.