2021 favourite reads

Throughout the year I keep a track of the books I have read in my Notes app, then, as the year comes to a close I highlight some of my favourites. The books which still linger with me in some way, the books which have not blended into one another, the books I'd like for you to read if you have not already. This year, instead of choosing ten overall, I've chosen a few for three categories - non-fiction, fiction and poetry collections. Here they are, with a tiny blurb for each.

Non-fiction favourites

Black and British, A Forgotten History by David Olusoga

Olusoga is a historian I have admired for a long time, first becoming acquainted with his work through the BBC's Civilisations series. Olusoga is incredibly dedicated and this exploration of Black History in Britain and its former empire was thorough and enlightening, enriched by the inclusion of Olusoga's personal experiences.

Antigone Rising: The Subversive Power of the Ancient Myths by Helen Morales

I first read Helen Morales in the small Oxford A Short Introduction To... series. Morales' understanding on mythology but her critique of eurocentrism gripped me and so I was excited to read this book. I was not disappointed. Morales explores power, femininity, masculinity, gender fluidity, LGBTQ+ and how civilisations for thousands of years have used myth to create identity. Truly fascinating.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

I wish I had read this book far sooner. It completely reframed feminism for me as Kendall explores how housing crises, food poverty, prison systems and education systems are all feminist issues and how lacking feminism has been in regards to intersectional issues. It made me realise how white-centric my feminism has been and helped alter and refresh my perspective.

Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala

Akala's style was very different to Olusoga's but I found this book was a superb companion to 'Black and British'. I was glad I had read Olusoga's work beforehand as Akala's explorations, recounts and critiques are fast paced and certainly rely on a fairly good understanding of key events in British history. I enjoyed this for Akala's wit, humour and his ability to dismantle pre-conceived ideas, perceptions and perspectives which have been compounded in British society in relation to race and class.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

This was a re-read from just under ten years ago. I read In Cold Blood for the first time in college and found myself desperate to read it again. My first read concentrated on the true crime Capote chronicles in this book. My second was an appreciation of Capote's creative and journalistic work in this book. The writing is fantastic. His portrayal of all parties involved walks the fine line of fact and the imagined. And ultimately, it is Capote's rendering of the crime and its perpetrators that leaves any reader ruminating for weeks on humanity and the scope of compassion even when evil occurs.

We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

A beautiful memoir that is honest, humble and moving. Habib's experience of being both queer and muslim focused how community and family intersect, how love and friendship bloom and how the discovery of the self is never a journey which does not hurt in some way. I learned a lot about myself while reading this as well as about faith and the communities which do exist; communities which are open and loving, rather than just 'accepting and tolerant'.

Fiction favourites

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

I have briefly written about this book in a previous blog post with comparisons to books like The English Patient and Brideshead Revisited. My thoughts remain the same. The imagery and creation is stunning. It is a heady and heavy read as it explores the life of young Jewish boy rescued by a Greek archaeologist during the Holocaust. Simply cannot recommend it enough and will say no more so I do not spoil it.

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

I was clearly a Capote fan this year! I've always wanted to read the original story and although it made me sob, I do not regret it. I do think anyone who is a fan of the story and of the Holly portrayed by Audrey Hepburn will regret not reading the original though. The differences are stark and on reflection I'm now of the opinion that the film cannot do justice to the nuance and beauty of Capote's story telling.

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

A whole post was dedicated to this book and you can read it here. An incredibly moving story - one about grief and processing that came at exactly the right time for me.

The Confession by Jessie Burton

I have loved Burton's work since her debut, The Miniaturist, so I had been itching to read this one for months. In truth, it was a difficult read. Not because Burton's writing isn't sincere, beautiful and atmospheric, but because I found myself so much in this book. I ached the entire time and hurried to finish it to release Burton's hold on me. And I don't think a book can receive higher praise.

Poetry collections

Wilkes-Barre Cry Break by Casey Dean

Inspired by personal experience, Dean's debut and its exploration of memory, place and womanhood has never left me. Her words transport you wherever she wishes you to go. You become a witness. A full review is here.

History of Present Complaint by HLR

HLR is a writer I have admired for years after first discovering them on WordPress. I had the pleasure of providing an advance review for HLR's debut collection and I still haven't forgotten the experience of reading a collection like this. Spanning the past and present, this collection is brutal, raw and yet vulnerable. HLR opened my eyes to mental illness (beyond my experience) as well as the UK's response to mental health emergencies. An important read.

MANEATER by Jean Marie Bub

Bub is a formidable creator. Her work is visceral and superb. MANEATER goes beyond a collection of poetry and art, it is a mantra, a guide, and a companion when healing from trauma. I had to be kind to myself when reading this. I had to take my time. I appreciated Bub warning the reader to do this beforehand. It demonstrated an artist explicitly aware of the power their work can hold and wield. To say I'm excited for PURGE would be an understatement.

Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar

Again, a collection I have already mentioned here, but it remained a fast favourite. It has remained because of how Akbar's words moved and held me. Calling a Wolf a Wolf focuses on self-sabotage, alcoholism and recovery and I read this as I began my own journey with sobriety. I cried but I felt so welcome. I no longer felt alone. I will always be thankful for how Akbar laid himself bare in this collection.

And that's it! I hope if you choose to read any of the books above you enjoy them, they move you and they change you in some way. Even if that change is to reaffirm who you are. These books, cheesily, helped me find a way during a tough time both globally and personally. I hope they do the same for you.