You know, I read so many great books in 2021 that coming up with five favourites has been very hard. I was almost tempted to take a leaf out of Fiction Fan’s book and do a whole elaborate awards ceremony with several categories, or at least fiction and nonfiction lists, but I have resisted. I read 52 books – which is peanuts compared to some of you, and not as much as I usually read, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I actually feel like I had a great reading year, in terms of quality if not quantity, and that’s what counts, right? Work projects have taken up a lot of time this year, and I also did Nanowrimo for the first time in about a decade – unfortunately November was my month of illness so I didn’t win, but I’ve produced about 55000 words of fiction over the course of the past few months, which is more than I’ve written in a very long time. So I read less, but I did other things – and I’m happy with the balance.

Shards of Honour – Lois McMaster Bujold
I really, truly loved this space opera – partly because it accomplished the rare feat of getting me to invest in a romance, but also because of the wonderful worldbuilding, and the integration of political and philosophical debate with a page-turning plot. It has something of the feel of a really good episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which probably tells you whether you would love it or hate it. I have the next book lined up to read soon, and I’m looking forward to it so much.

The Anthropocene Reviewed: The Instant Sunday Times Bestseller: Green, John: 9781529109870: Books

The Anthropocene Reviewed – John Green
Green’s essays about “the human-centred planet” have stayed with me in a way that few books ever have. I have been reminded them of in different ways and at different times ever since I read them, most recently when I was seeing family and friends over the Christmas period. (Any comments about this being irresponsible should be directed to I love this time of year, and having friends round for a big meal is nearly as important to me as seeing my family – in 2020 neither was possible. Spending Advent and Christmas alone in 2020 was one of the most challenging parts of the year for me. I think the way Green wrote about his primary relationships, especially his friendships, genuinely helped me to pay attention to the time I was spending with my loved ones this year, rather than fretting about what might be around the corner. For all that it’s a cheesy phrase, I think that reading The Anthropocene Reviewed has made me more mindful – more apt to think about the moment I’m living in – and for that I will always be grateful. I also have to say that I think this is probably my favourite review of the year – not because I think the post itself is great, though it’s definitely on the more personal side, but because I really enjoyed the discussion with you all in the comments, and so it became more of a shared experience.

A View Of The Harbour: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics): Elizabeth Taylor: 9781844083220: Books

A View of the Harbour – Elizabeth Taylor
I love Elizabeth Taylor’s writing – so restrained and quiet and minimal, but with a great deal bubbling underneath, all loss and loneliness and love. A View of the Harbour is basically a character study of a fading English seaside town in the 40s, and it was just beautiful and captivating. It’s difficult to summarise, but it makes me eager to get to more of Taylor’s work. Wonderful characters, beautiful prose, and a world you want to spend time in even as it falls apart on the page.

The Butchering Art

The Butchering Art – Lindsay Fitzharris
Joseph Lister is a long-time hero of mine, and I loved this biography of him, which focused primarily on his contributions to the development of antiseptic technique and safer surgery in general. Fitzharris also did a great job weaving in the many different professional and scientific arguments that dogged medicine throughout the nineteenth century, as well as inter-city beef between Glasgow and Edinburgh – a lot of very complex issues were integrated into the biographical material, without ever derailing it. If you’re interested in medical history but don’t know much about it, this might be an interesting place to start, since a lot of the debates we’re having now had their origins in the arguments of the nineteenth century. (Though please heed the word “grisly” in the subtitle, and approach carefully if you’re squeamish).

Read So Big Online by Edna Ferber | Books

So Big – Edna Ferber
Normally I say that these five favourites are in no particular order, but this year it’s not completely true. The first four took almost no deliberation, but for this fifth and final, I was torn several ways. Why did So Big edge out The Whale and the Cupcake, or The House of Mirth? Ultimately, it’s because I love Ferber’s writing so much – her characterisation and scene-setting are second to none. This story, which follows Selina Peake from her teenage years through to her fifties, is a complete delight. Selina is just such an enjoyable person to spend time with. She’s clearly cut from the same cloth as all those other early 20th century Independent Woman Who Has Fallen On Hard Times heroines (including others by Ferber), but she’s so fabulously well-written that she really takes on a life of her own. This is certainly a novel I will be revisiting.

So there we have it – five favourite books from a year that, at the very least, contained a lot of great reading. I never count rereads in these lists, but if I did, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South would be my runaway book of the year. It was so very good. I also have to give an honourable mention to Ludmila Ulitskaya’s The Big Green Tent, which I have thought about very regularly ever since I read it. I don’t think it will ever be a favourite book, exactly, but I think it’s probably one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Happy New Year, everyone! I’ll have a post with my plans and priorities for the upcoming year up soon, and I’m looking forward to getting started on what will hopefully be another year of great reading.