Friday 14 January 2022

2021: My Year in Reading—A Retrospect

Around this time a year ago, I published a retrospect on my 2020 reading. Now I’m back, a year on, with a similar post, looking back on the 60 books (10 more than the year before!) I read in 2021. 

In 2021, I read 45 novels and 15 works of non-fiction. I favored books by women writers, reading 49 books penned by women, 10 by men, and one mixed anthology. Ten of the books I read were by writers of color. And, unsurprisingly for a writer of historical fiction, “hist fic” remained my favorite genre, making up nearly half (26 books) of what I read this year.


Just like last year, I’m chickening out and not crowning a favorite read of the year, but in no particular (okay alphabetical) order, here are my top five fiction recommendations:

Milkman, Anna Burns (2018)

An original, lyrical, Booker Prize-winning novel set in Northern Ireland (where I grew up)? Of course, I was going to love this book! Be warned: Milkman isn’t an easy read, but it’s a rewarding one.

The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue (2020)

We’re living through one pandemic, so do we really want to read about another? The answer is yes, but only if that book is Emma Donoghue’s story of the Spanish Flu, set in Dublin in 1918. A gritty insight into a nurse battling on a maternity ward as Europe is ravaged by war and disease, coupled with a queer love story, this novel is a winner for historical fiction fans. 

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

I also read Ishiguro’s newest release, Klara and the Sun (2021), this year. I enjoyed it too, but his 2005 novel of an English boarding school that isn’t quite what it seems wins my vote.

Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

Everyone was raving about this novel about Shakespeare’s wife in 2020. I didn’t get to it until 2021, but believe the hype—this is one beautiful book!

The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters (2009)

I love a Gothic ghost story with a stylish historical background and a great twist. Above all, Sarah Waters is a great storyteller—expect to fly through this one. 

Feeling Arty?

One theme I noticed in my reading in 2021, was that I was very drawn to books that deal with other art forms beyond the literary. Here are some recommendations if you’re into…

Visual Arts:

Novels—Leonora in the Morning Light, Michaela Carter (2021); What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt (2002); The Improbability of Love, Hannah Rothschild (2015)

Non-Fiction—Old Mistresses, Rozsika Parker & Griselda Pollock (1982)


Novel—The True Memoirs of Little K, Adrienne Sharp (2010)

Non-Fiction—Apollo’s Angels, Jennifer Homans (2010)


Novels— Simon the Fiddler, Paulette Jiles (2020) (review here); Along the Infinite Sea, Beatriz Williams (2015)

Memoir—Sounds Like Titanic, Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman (2020)

Or Want to Feel Scared?

Another theme was books that deal with the strange, the spooky, and the downright frightening. In addition to The Little Stranger, which I wrote about above, I also read Shirley Jackson’s classic The Haunting of Hill House (1959), Mimi Matthews's gender-swapped retelling of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre with a vampiric twist, John Eyre (2021) (review here), and Ghostly Tales: Spine-Chilling Stories of the Victorian Age (2017), an anthology of nineteenth-century ghost stories. 

For a survey of the horror genre, also check out Stephen King’s non-fiction book, Danse Macabre (1981). As someone who loves both The Sound of Music and horror movies, I couldn’t get behind everything King writes here, but his overview is well worth reading.

Discover Fascinating Lives

Finally, the biographies I read in 2021 are reflective of my interest in lesser spoken about historical figures, who I think led lives worth remembering. 

Join me by taking an interest in…

Denis Diderot, French philosopher, art critic and writer (1713-1784): I read Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely, Andrew S. Curran (2019).

Danish father of fairytales, Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875): I read Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller, Jackie Wullschlager (2001).

French poet Theophile Gautier (1811-1872): I read Joanna Richardson’s 1959 biography, Theophile Gautier—Hist Life and Times.

His daughter, Judith Gautier (1845-1917), a poet, writer, and lover of Chinese culture: I read Joanna Richardson’s 1987 biography, Judith Gautier.

I’ll be back at the end of this year or the start of next with a summary of what I read in 2022. In the meantime, let me know if you have any reading recommendations for me. I’d love to know what books are on your nightstand. If you’re looking for a book to read, check out my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress (2020). And, remember, you can always contact me, here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. Happy reading! 

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