My 2021 reading round-up and reading recommendations (+ tips to find good books)
2021 started slow, and the fall and winter have been intense months of reading :D In total, I read 102 books in 2021. I’m not going to share all of them here, but only my favourites. I’ve also made a very conscious effort to diversify my reading in 2021, as you probably will notice from my recommendations! :)
Novels for adults
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is possibly the best novel I’ve read. In a weirdly poetic format where punctuation barely exists, she tells the story of one person (usually a woman) in each chapter, all of them interacting with the others, knowingly or not, most of them in London. Some chapters feel like they’ve changed my entire life (and yes, Morgan’s chapter was a big part of my gender identity journey this past year), and I’ll definitely re-read it and keep recommending it to everyone I know.
- Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley is a thriller and crime novel in which a young college student who lives on a First Nations reservation on the border between the US and Canada starts unraveling a big plot to circulate drugs between the two countries, plaguing her own community with addiction. (Be advised that in addition to the drug and alcohol plots, the novel has a very strong sexual violence storyline.)
- Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge is a contemporary Chinese urban fantasy novel. It follows a zoologist who studies Beasts, (mostly) humanoid creatures who live in human cities but are victims of hate crimes and othering. In each chapter, she learns about a new type of beast, as well as about herself; we follow her adventures in academia, but also with her friends and family, as both stories get more and more intertwined at every turn.
- The Sower’s Parable by Octavia Butler is a dark post-apocalyptic novel following a young woman’s quest to stay alive and to share her vision of God and of fate. Octavia Butler mixes the post-apocalyptic genre incredibly well with more deep race and gender issues in this masterpiece.
- Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen follows five young Greenlanders, most of them LGBTQ+ and coming to terms with it in one way or another. Touching, painful, and incredibly well-written, and set in a culture that I did not know at all - an amazing read all around.
- In Girl at War, Sara Nović tells us about a young woman who lives in the US. Mandated by the United Nations to talk about her childhood, she reminisces on her life during the Yugoslavian civil war. A harsh but fascinating read.
- Women Dreaming by Salma follows several women across a few families in one small Muslim village of Tamil Nadu, as their environment becomes more and more religiously conservative and each generation struggles to find their place and do what they love.
Teen novels (I know I’m not a teen, I just love teen novels, ok?)
- The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimmons follows the adventures of a young trans man who is very good at soccer, but whose parents, afraid that he’ll get hurt in such a masculine environment, want to pull him off the team. Of course, it includes a very cute romance, because that’s how I do things.
- The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar has a Bangladeshi high schooler living in Ireland as its main character. For an entrepreneurship project at school, she launches a henna stand; but her crush-slash-nemesis does the same, with blatant cultural appropriation and petty fights galore.
- The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris was an excellent read. I picked it up completely randomly when Humble Bundle did a Black History Month bundle and am really glad I did, it was interesting and inspiring!
- Yes, You Are Trans Enough: My Transition from Self-Loathing to Self-Love by Mia Violet is actually an autobiography more than a self-help book, which means that if you’re not trans enough, you may still greatly enjoy this read :) My girlfriend owns one copy, and as I was helplessly writhing about how I was definitely a girl and probably just feeling like this for attention, she just threw the book at me and told me to talk to her when I’d be done. A few days later I was updating my pronouns on all my social media accounts.
- Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War is Leymah Gbowee’s autobiography. She won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in bringing peace to Liberia, and is sometimes known as the "sex strike" activist - the sex strikes takes about one paragraph in the entire story, and is honestly the least interesting part of it. We follow her life through both a horrible war and a violent marriage and her interaction with NGOs and governments.
- Women, Race and Class is an Angela Davis classic. Last year, I read Are Prisons Obsolete?, loved it, and decided to read more of her writings, so here we are, and it was also an excellent read. Give it a chance!
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness by Michelle Alexander compares racial violence in the US between the Jim Crow era and in the current prison-industrial complex. A very eye-opening read, that starts with a very strong assertion and then convinces you with statistics and excellent reasoning.
- The Rodchenkov Affair is a memoir by Grigory Rodchenkov about his experience as head of the anti-doping labs during the 2014 Winter Olympics, and how he and his team fudged doping results to give Russia the advantage. I am a winter olympics enthusiast and jut had to read it, and it delivered on its promises!
- Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson is a short stories collection, mixing the North American urban environment and Caribbean myths.
- Special Topics in Being a Human by Saul Freedman-Lawson and S. Bear Bergman is an illustrated guide to life, spanning topics such as "how to argue without fighting" and "how to improve at something you’re bad at". Honestly the best "personal development" book I’ve read in years.
How I find books to read
A friend asked a few weeks ago where I find all these books to read, and I gave her a pretty long answer, so I thought I might as well share it here for anyone else who likes looking for inspiration!
Impulse buying I found an independent one close to where I live and every time I go I miserably fail to have self-control and leave with half a dozen books. Oops! (Also, I love public libraries - if you have a public library nearby, it might be a better option than a bookshop!)
Recommendations My recommendations usually come from friends, bookstagram, blogs or podcasts I like (usually not dedicated to books, but interviewing authors / mentioning books about the theme they focus on), groups like this one, etc. I also keep an eye on Kickstarter for self-edited books, and when I really love a book, I check out the publisher, which often has similar titles in the same collection. Also, many publishers have Bundles where you sign up to receive X books over the year as they come out, so you get suprise books at random times of the year. I love it!
Having a clear to-read list I regularly open my list and order one or two books from the bookshop referenced above. I also have a public wishlist that I share to my family and friends for Christmas and my birthday. When I didn’t have this list, I heard of a book, then forgot about it, so it didn’t drive my desire to read it. Now, I don’t forget, so when I’m out of ideas I just open the list and there I go again!
My publisher recommendations
Most of my favourite publisher are French, but here are two English language ones that brought me some of my best reads: Charco Press is a Scottish publisher focusing on translating books from Latin America to English. The books are usually amazing, the translations are really good (you can see how much they care about it), and the covers are really pretty! I especially loved Havana Year Zero from them. Tilted Axis Press also does translations and is also based in the UK, and I found out about them with their "Translating Women" Kickstarter at the end of 2019, which brought me 2 of my favourite 2021 books with Strange Beasts of China and Women Dreaming. Can’t wait for their 2022 subscription offer to be live!
I took part in quite a few reading challenges this year! (Also, The Storygraph shows you which books others have added to prompts in your challenges, which is really useful for finding new reads.)
Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge is a classic and they just posted their 2022 prompts. They always have 24 prompts. 2021 Reading Women Challenge is also a challenge I love, as I try to read a large majority of books by women & people of marginalised gender identities. Silver Valkyrie's 2021 Reading Challenge is much smaller, I found it completely randomly, and it has guided a good part of my reading in 2021 so I’m excited to see the 2022 edition!
I also take part in two geographical challenges that span over several years:
- MyReadingChallenge54 is a challenge to read a book by a woman from each of the 54 African countries
- The Around The World Challenge is exactly what it says on the tin: read one book from every country in the world. (I usually love island countries of Oceania and the Caribbean. For this challenge, I do not.)
I also happen to track all of my reading, reviews, and MANY reading challenges on The Storygraph (like Goodreads but not Amazon-owned, and also prettier, and also cooler stats for the nerds out there), so feel free to follow/friend me!