It’s the time of the year for best-of lists. Here is my selection of books you won’t (in my opinion) be sorry to read. This is based on my version of Tony Thompson’s version of Goodreads’ version of a list
First book of 2021: My first 2021 books were published in 2020. The first was Death Leaves the Station, an absolute cracker of a first novel by Alexander Thorpe, witty and suspenseful both; and Cassandra Pybus’ heartbreaking and fascinating exploration of the life of Truganini, which both describes, as far as is possible from the limited records we have, the lives and rituals of the Nuenonne in Tasmania and the soul-curlingly cruel treatment they and all the other original inhabitants received from the white ‘settlers’.
Last book of 2021 (probably): Natalia Ginzburg’s Happiness, As Such: if you haven’t read any of her work before, I urge you to – her ascerbic and hilarious observation translates from last century and from the Italian effortlessly.
Best Novel: Karen Foxlee’s Dragon Skin. If you loved Lenny, you’ll love Pip. This book rent my heart from the first page, and ends with Foxlee’s trademark, hard-won optimism that is absolutely respectful to readers old and young.
Best Non Fiction: Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff, about decision making with reference to poker.
Best Memoir: I can’t possibly name the best one: I’ve read some astonishing ones this year (some I’ve been slow coming to) including: Kathryn Heyman’s Fury; Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why; Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s The Erratics; Damian Barr’s Maggie and Me (thanks Amber!); Alice Pung’s Unpolished Gem; Georgia Pritchett’s My Mess is a Bit of a Life (which had me snorting my coffee out of my nose more than once); and Miriam Margolyes This Much is True. I have also (see below) re-read Howard Norman’s I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place.
Author Most Read: Howard Norman, for reasons which will become clear in 2022. Howard Norman is a novelist from the US: his books aren’t widely available here, but when I first read The Bird Artist, which was a finalist in the National Book Award (USA) in 1994, I was entranced by the lyricism, poignancy and deep humour in his work. A friend (thanks Loraine!) recommended him and we are both of the opinion his work gets better and better.
Book I Couldn’t Put Down: Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This. Take Meg McKinlay’s advice: do NOT look up any reviews/spoiler alerts before you pick this one up.
Best Book about Elephants: James Foley’s Stellarphant (which everybody should buy for the child in their life).
Book I’m Still Reading: The 35 books in my TBR pile.
For the category of Worst Book, I quote Tony Thompson: Books take a long time to write and people should be kind. If you don’t like a book, there is no need to give it one star on some vile website and be horrible about it. No one sets out to write a lousy book.
To which I would add: Even if you don’t like a book, it doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t read it, or won’t love it, or won’t have their lives changed by it. Even if others don’t like it either, it won’t do them any harm to find that out all by themselves. And also, be kind.