What a year, huh? Never mind Covid — a real buzz kill — but in 2021 we moved house twice, and a couple weeks ago we celebrated the birth of our daughter. Despite all that turbulence, I managed to read 151 books this year (including graphic novels; a real saviour recently, when reading prose has felt far too hard an undertaking). You can check out my favourites here.
According to Goodreads, I read 43,911 pages. Based on their stats, my average book length was 290 pages. My longest was Ken Follett’s Never (816 pages) and my shortest was The Dry Heat by Natalia Ginzberg (86 pages).
That’s 14 fewer than last year, for those keeping score, and I imagine that number is going to be reduced further in the years that follow as my regular reading time is absorbed by parental commitments. But it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality and enjoyment.
Anyway, we’ll talk about 2022 next December. Let’s carry on with my 2021 breakdown.
Most years I split my “favourite” stacks into regular fiction and crime fiction, but this time round ― mainly because we just had a baby, and I’m typing this with one hand while my other comforts our daughter ―I decided to just grab the ten books that most entertained, moved me, or provoked the most thought, and highlight them together.
Everything below was published in 2021, but I read plenty this year, published previously, that deserve special mention, particularly “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters, “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker, and “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by Michael Chabon.
If 2020 was good for anything — besides, y’know, moving in with my girlfriend, getting engaged, and being named Young Bookseller of the Year — it was reading. And this year I totalled 165 books, which is 18 more than last year, but not as many as my best year in 2018 when I read 166. I know, right? A couple more graphic novels or short story collections and we’d be celebrating a monumental year. Sorry, folks. We almost made history.
I’ve already listed my Favourite Crime Novels 0f 2020 and Favourite Fiction of 2020. But lets dig a little deeper into all those books, eh?
Maybe it’s indicative of the year we’ve had, but my favourite fiction of 2020 was almost universally harrowing, sometimes outright devastating. The endings of several still haunt me weeks and months later. I’ll never forget the final pages of Leah Swann’s “Sheerwater,” or the coda to Aravind Adiga’s “Amnesty,” or the epilogue to Sophie Laguna’s “Infinite Splendours;” never mind the total gut-wrenching experience of Tiffany McDaniel’s “Betty.” This was the year I demanded books that shook me to my core, that shredded me emotionally, or at the very least induced the smallest cut.
Say what you will about 2020, but it’s been packed with some phenomenal crime fiction and thrillers, and it was so difficult culling my list of favourites to a measly ten. In any other year, Peter Swanson’s “Rules For Perfect Murder” would feature; so too the new Rankin (“A Song for the Dark Times”), at least one of Connelly’s (“The Law of Innocence” and “Fair Warning”), and Silva’s “The Order.” But when I sat back and reflected on my year of reading, these were the ones that resonated.
This year I managed to read 147 books, which is 19 less than in 2018, which is a lot, but then, 2019 has been a much better year for me personally, so it’s hard to complain. I’ve already posted about my favourite books of the year, but as I’ve been doing since 2016, this year I tracked my reading by a variety of categories, the results of which are below.
This year I reached as close to gender parity as I ever have before, and I hope to continue closing the gap. In fact, I’d love an even split in 2020. I read far less crime than last year, but it’s still the genre I read most. And my reading continues to be dominated by American authors; I’d love to read more nationalities, and that’ll be another mission next year. Interestingly and unintentionally I listened to far fewer audio books. And despite the avalanche of proofs several publishers supply me, I actually buy most of the books I read.
When I started making this list, I had more than 40 books scrawled on a piece of paper. Getting it down to 20 books was difficult. Whittling it down to 10 was excruciating. I could actually feel it in my gut each time I crossed one out. Fact is, this list would probably be slightly different depending on the day you asked me to make it. On any other day, Favel Parrett’s There Was Still Love, Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, and R.W.R. McDonald’s The Nancys — not to mention a whole host of others — might’ve made it. But ultimately I think my Top 10 fairly and evenly represents the books that I think stand above the rest this year.
As I deliberated over my favourite books of 2019 so far, I realised: Oh my God, I’ve read a lot of great books this year. And also: Oh my God, the back half of the year is packed— packed! — with amazing books, including the thriller of the decade (Adrian McKinty’s The Chain) and an Australian love letter to Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men (Ben Hobson’s Snake Island). Not to mention a new Sarah Bailey, Nina Kenwood’s stunning YA debut, Tristan Bancks’ Detention…
But this list — The 10 Must-Read Books of 2019 – So Far! — is about books available from your local independent bookshop today. Don’t worry about the future. There’s plenty to enjoy now.
We’ve reached that point of the year when the tower of 2018 proofs on my bedside table (and on my floor, behind the door, so visitors can’t see the madness) wobbles precariously with even the gentlest footfall. Which means it’s time to pull the plug on 2017 and start diving into next year’s titles. But before that, there’s the small matter of declaring The Best Books of 2017… otherwise known as my favourites. There are so many books I haven’t mentioned here that I adored, but what follows are the ones that my brain simply refused to forget.
A graphic novel, a brilliant retelling of a Shakespeare play, a standout second novel from the 2015 Miles Franklin winner Sofie Laguna, a couple of mile-a-minute page-turners, and a brilliant debut literary crime novel from a fresh Australian voice; these, and more, are my picks for the books that have already made 2017 a stellar year for reading. And we’re only halfway through it!