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%