The books I read in 2021

There are many reasons to read. Maybe you want to learn about a subject, gain a new perspective, or go on an adventure. This year, perhaps more than any other year, I turned to books for comfort. Sometimes this meant reading about nature. Other times it meant picking books read and/or recommended by loved ones to feel closer to them. Further, I sought out some lighter material more than I usually do (although I did fit in some dark and gritty titles, too).

Despite this, there were points where I just could not read. I could not focus. But what proved to be true, time and again, is that I always came back to reading, and the books were there waiting for me for when I was ready for them.

Here are some reflections on what I read in 2021.

Stand-out books

The longest book I read

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (852 pages)

The shortest book I read

Neighbourhood Watch by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette (128 pages)

The book I didn’t expect to like but ended up loving

The Wild Laughter by by Caoilinn Hughes. This book and I didn’t get off to the best start. I had a hard time getting into it. But it was a gift, and I wanted to make sure that I gave it a fair shot. I am sure glad I did. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s a family drama with a good share of humour set in rural Ireland. The book really picks up when the father makes a request of his sons that could have devastating consequences for the whole family.

The book that broke my heart

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson. You might think you don’t want to get your heart broken, but trust me: You will want to read this beauty of a book. This novella is exquisite in its exploration of how exterior elements can be internalized and stand in the way of love.

The book that made me LOL

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams. This book is good fun for any word nerd. It alternates between the story lines of two characters working for the same publisher in different time periods: a lexicographer in the Victorian era and an intern in present day. The stories are connected as the intern goes through the dictionary to extract fictitious entries added by the jaded lexicographer a century earlier.

The book I read at the perfect time

Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium and And a Dog Called Fig: Solitude, Connection, the Writing Life, both by Helen Humphreys. I’m sort of cheating here, not only because I am choosing two books, but also because And a Dog Called Fig isn’t out until next year (I was lucky enough to have recieved an advance reading copy). But I couldn’t really include one and not the other because I read them right next to each other, at a time when I was having trouble concentrating on anything other than my own anxiety.

I’ve mentioned before that I will read anything Humphreys writes. I simply adore the way she crafts a sentence, so it doesn’t matter much what the subject matter is. In Field Study, Humphreys’ insights about the natural world and the people recording its history comforted me. In And a Dog Called Fig, I read the story of how one my favourite authors became and continues to be a writer, paired with stories of the various dogs she’s had over the years. On top of this, Humphreys sprinkles in anecdotes of other writers and their dogs. As a Humphreys fan, a writer and reader, and a lover of dogs, this book was absolutely what I needed.

The books that had me saying “Just one more chapter”

  • The Push by Ashley Audrain: A suspenseful and sometimes uncomfortable story about motherhood, told from the perspective of a woman who wanted nothing more than to be a mother and who ends up afraid of her child.
  • Fight Night by Miriam Toews: A fun book about three generations of females, narrated by a nine-year-old girl who lives with her mother and grandmother. It’s the characters that make this novel so hard to put down. They are so well crafted and enjoyable and feel like real people. I didn’t want to stop reading because I didn’t want to let them go.
  • A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson: A stunning novel that connects the story lines of three very different characters in a town called Solace.

My 5 favourite books read in 2021

  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro: A remarkable novel that centres around an Artificial Friend named Klara, an unforgettable character whose observations give insight into what makes us human and what it means to love. My favourite book read this year.
  • The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex: A beautifully written mystery that builds steadily, providing glimpses into the minds and lives of multiple characters.
  • The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker: A disturbing and moving novel told from the perspective of an eight-year-old girl who has killed a younger boy.
  • Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium by Helen Humphreys: A comforting book that follows Humphreys as she spends a year visiting the local herbarium, connecting the present to the past through examining nature and its specimens.
  • Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance by Jesse Wente: A powerful book that examines points in history, popular culture, and Wente’s personal experiences in a call for the nation of Canada to begin building a new relationship with Indigenous peoples.

By the number

Books bought: 47%

Books borrowed from the library: 33%

Books received as gifts: 12%

Books borrowed from friends: 8%

Books written by Canadians: 18%

Books published in 2021: 54%

Fiction: 78%

Non-fiction: 22%

Books and bakes #21: The Quiet Zone and butter tarts

The bake

It’s still summer, but fall is in the air, which means I’m about to get serious about baking again (along with making soup and drinking hot apple cider and wearing cardigans). Last week, there were a couple of days when the temperature dropped low enough to wear a light sweater while outside. And, so, I had the urge to bake something–something that didn’t even have a summer fruit in it.

I’ve made these butter tarts from Little Sweet Baker a few times, so I knew the recipe worked well. They are a real treat! I know some people have strong feelings about whether butter tarts should include raisins or nuts, but I prefer them plain. These are so simple to make. A bonus? The recipe makes enough pastry for two batches, so you can stick the leftover dough in the freezer, making it even easier to whip up a dozen of these babies the next time you have a craving.

The book

I’m just over the halfway point in The Quiet Zone: Unraveling the Mystery of a Town Suspended in Silence by Stephen Kurczy. Kurczy is a journalist who spent time in Green Bank, West Virginia–a town that limits radio frequencies that could interfere with technology used by astronomers at the Green Bank Observatory. This quiet zone has attracted people from all over who are looking to live differently, including those wanting to be off the grid and “electrosensitives,” who say technology can make them physically ill. It’s these people who Kurczy spends time with that drew me in. However, I am curious to see what the final conclusion will be. Does technology cause us more harm than it helps us? And how much can we participate in today’s society without it? (Also curious to see if I’ll decide to throw away my smartphone after I finish reading. But I doubt it.)

Books and bakes #20: A Town Called Solace and blueberry peach pie

The bake

I don’t know if it has anything to do with aging, but I find that the older I get, the more excited I am about local produce. In Ontario, blueberries and peaches are both in season. As you may remember from my last post, I’m into peaches in a big way. So I was all set to make a peach pie. But seeing as I had picked up some Ontario blueberries from the market, I thought, why not look for a recipe that uses both blueberries and peaches? That’s how I came to make this blueberry peach pie from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

The pie turned out heavenly–a little taste of Ontario summer in every bite. For the pastry, I used the recipe from Canadian Living that I have used so many times before and that I know I like (both to work with and to eat). The hardest part of making this pie is peeling all the peaches, which really isn’t difficult at all, just a little messy. This is definitely worthy of making again.

The book

I’m about a third of the way through A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson, which I started reading last night. The novel was recently long-listed for the Booker Prize. To be honest, I’d heard of it before it made it to the long list, but it didn’t really catch my interest. However, when I returned The Guest List to my mom last weekend, she lent me this one.

Set in a small town in northern Ontario, the novel alternates between three perspectives: Clara, a seven-year-old girl whose teenage sister has recently run away; Elizabeth, Clara’s elderly neighbour who has gone into the hospital and has asked Clara to look after her cat; and Liam, a stranger to the town of Solace, who has moved into Elizabeth’s home. I’m not quite sure where the story is going to take me, but it has certainly lured me in.

Books and bakes #19: The Guest List and peach crumb bars

The bake

Peaches are one of my favourite fruits–quite possibly my absolute favourite. But let me clarify that the peaches must be local and perfectly ripe. Biting into a peach that isn’t in season is a different experience entirely. So when I heard Ontario peaches were out this year, I grabbed a basket as soon as I could.

The thing is, while I love peaches, eating a perfectly ripe peach can be a little tricky. Or at least I haven’t mastered the art of it. They are so deliciously juicy that you basically have to eat one over the sink. (It’s worth it, but it’s just not ideal.) Luckily, there are so many things you can do with peaches. You could make a cobbler or a crisp, slice them up and eat them with some whipped cream or ice cream, dice them and toss them into pancakes or muffins. You can grill them and/or add them to a salad. Did I mention I love peaches?

Last year, I made these peach crumb bars from Brown Eyed Baker after buying a few too many peaches that I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat before they went bad. But this year, I bought the peaches specifically so I could make these bars. I liked them that much! The shortbread crust and topping provide an excellent balance to the peach filling. Try to stop at just one.

The book

I gave The Guest List by Lucy Foley to my mother as part of her most recent Christmas gift. I had heard such good things about it, and I know my mom enjoys a good thriller just as I do. And I guess a part of me knew she would be willing to lend it to me after she’d finished it, which she has.

The story is about a group gathered for a wedding taking place on an island off the coast of Ireland. There are multiple perspectives told in the first person, but smartly, the author begins each chapter with not only the name of the character whose perspective we’re getting, but also includes their role in the wedding. It really helps keeps everyone straight. I am about a third of the way through, and the tension is building. I can’t to see where the story goes.

Books and bakes #18: The Wild Laughter and banana chocolate chip muffins

The bake

As I mentioned in my last “books and bakes” post, I haven’t been baking as much since it has gotten hotter. However, I had three overripe bananas sitting on the counter, staring at me. I usually make banana bread when I have overripe bananas, but I decided to do something different this time. OK, who am I kidding? These muffins are just banana bread baked in a muffin tin instead of a loaf pan. It might not be a different flavour, but it’s a different shape! That still counts as changing it up. Plus, I used a recipe that was new to me (favourite banana chip muffins from Taste of Home).

I was a little skeptical of the 1/2 cup of chocolate chips; it seemed a bit stingy. I went with it, though, and I found the ratio between chocolate and banana bread to be on point. These muffins were flavourful, moist, and light–perfect to pair with my afternoon cup of tea.

The book

I just finished The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes. This slim family drama is set in rural Ireland in 2008 and centres around adult brothers Cormac and Hart and their parents. The family farm that Hart is supposed to take over is struggling and his father’s health is rapidly declining. And then Cormac and Hart’s father makes a request of his sons that could have devastating consequences for the entire family.

I enjoyed how Hughes illustrated the complexities of familial relationships, particularly between the parents and sons, and especially between the brothers. Alongside all of this, there is so much humour, making the heavy parts of the story much lighter. To be honest, I wasn’t drawn into the book right away, but when I did get into it, I was very into it. And that almost makes me want to go back to the beginning to see if I might get more out of it now.