The Best Books I Read in 2021

Due to a combination of things (lockdown, no social life, a really good to-read list), I completely obliterated my yearly goal of 52 books. I hit my goal by the end of May, and by the end of 2021 I had read (or listened to on audiobook, it was around a 70/30 split) 100 books. And folks, most of them were very good.

I’m pretty much a pro at only choosing books I’ll enjoy these days. This is good, because I hate to DNF (did not finish) a book. Luckily, I know whose reviews I trust, both among friends and pros, which tropes I love and hate, which authors I’ll follow to the end of the earth, and so on. That doesn’t mean I never pick up a dud, or that I never take a risk with something that may (or may not) surprise me, but when you look at my Goodreads and see heaps of 4- and 5-star reviews, it’s more because I know how to pick ’em than because I’m not discerning.

Speaking of Goodreads, I’m trying to transition to Storygraph this year, or at least use it in addition to GR, although I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. So if anyone’s on it, add me!

Anyway, my best books of the year. I couldn’t narrow it down further than 15 fiction and 10 nonfiction favourites, so here they are:

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What I read in October and November

First of all, I managed another successful NaNoWriMo this November, writing 50111 words over the course of the month. Hopefully this will finally be the year I actually stick with the story and continue working on it. Because of NaNo, I didn’t do as much reading as I usually might, but I still managed to read a couple of the best books I’ve read all year. Plus, plenty of reading from October. Choosing my end-of-year best-ofs is going to be tough this year for sure.

I’ve split them between fiction and nonfiction and put them roughly in order of how much I liked them.

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Scannáin na hÉireann

Long before I ever stepped foot in Ireland, I’ve loved Irish literature. When I was a kid, I had an audiobook on cassette tape with a number of classic ghost stories, including Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Canterville Ghost’, which I listened to incessantly. In college, I found a love for Irish plays as well, reading several (including Translations by Brian Friel, which became an all-time favourite) in a historically-focused theatre course. Naturally, this played into my motivations for applying to an MA in Literature & Publishing in Galway, and once I moved over I discovered so many wonderful contemporary Irish authors from Donal Ryan to, of course, Sally Rooney.

Ireland has an outsized cultural influence, with an incredible amount of internationally-acclaimed art in every medium considering the relatively small size of the country. Some of the world’s best poets, musicians, and more hail from the Emerald Isle. And as I’ve lived here I’ve gotten to know a lot of work by artists of different types.

But one medium that I feel has passed me personally by a bit for the most part is Irish cinema. I’ve seen a few of the most well-known Irish films across a number of genres — The Commitments, Once, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Quiet Man — but there are far more iconic Irish films that have passed me by. On this list, for example, I’ve only seen six.

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What I read in August and September

Whoops, I missed a month again. I did do plenty of reading though, mainly thanks to several long plane trips. But look, if you’re after books that will see you through spooky season, there’s a couple of horror novels on this list that are definitely worth checking out (and to be fair, a couple that aren’t). Read on…

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Women’s Prize 2021 Shortlist, Ranked & Reviewed

Tonight, my favourite literary prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, announces its 2021 winner. Every year, I eagerly await this award—I’ve read every winner so far (you can read my ranking of all the previous winners HERE). This year, regardless of who takes the prize, I’ll have already read the winning novel, as I’ve read all of the nominees on the 2021 shortlist. While there were two books on the list I particularly loved, any of the six shortlisted novels would be a worthy addition to the list of winners.

I’ve already shared my reviews on each of these books on my Goodreads account and in my monthly reads posts, but if you need a refresher or you’re trying to decide which of these fabulous shortlisted novels to add to your own TBR, here is my ranking and my thoughts on this year’s shortlist.

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Wowed by Waterford

When you look at a list of the top things to do in Ireland, Waterford doesn’t often get a mention. It appears nowhere on this list, nowhere on this one, and even on a list of hidden gems rates only a single mention. And while it’s true that if I were recommending essential spots to someone coming to Ireland for only a few days Waterford probably wouldn’t make the list, after visiting a couple of weeks ago I would say that if you have a bit more time to explore, it’s definitely worth a visit.

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