December 2021 books and 2021 roundup

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging at the end of October 2023. Every six-ish days, I’ve been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I’ve found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

I started the month still recovering from COVID, and did not venture far, except for exploring another of Jan Christiaan Hansche’s ceilings, at Perk, and also an expedition to find the Goddess Nehalennia in Brussels. (This was the famous occasion when the guard asked if little U really needed her spoon in the museum.)

U and Nehalennia

I reviewed sf novels and films set in 2022. The DC Worldcon finally happened, with massive controversy over the site selection process which nonetheless ended with the bid that got the most votes being declared the winner. And I continued my ten-day plague posts.

I read 34 books that month.

Non-fiction 9 (2021 total 53)
The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence, 1918-1923, by Charles Townshend
The Mind Robber, by Andrew Hickey
An Introduction to the Gospel of John, by Raymond E. Brown
Black Orchid, by Ian Millsted
The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Head is Really Up To, by Dean Burnett
A Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff, by Neil Gaiman (more non-fiction than sf content)
The 48 Laws Of Power, by Robert Greene (Did not finish)
Northern Ireland a Generation after Good Friday, by Colin Coulter, Niall Gilmartin, Katy Hayward and Peter Shirlow
The Young H.G. Wells: Changing the World, by Claire Tomalin

Non-genre 3 (2021 total 30)
Staring At The Sun, by Julian Barnes
Ann Veronica, by H. G. Wells
Lying Under the Apple Tree, by Alice Munro

SF 9 (2021 total 131)
A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine
The Secret, by Eva Hoffman
“Blood Music”, by Greg Bear
Black Oxen, by Elizabeth Knox
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Startide Rising, by David Brin
An Excess Male, by Maggie Shen King
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
Jani and the Greater Game, by Eric Brown

Doctor Who 7 (2021 total 30, 40 inc non-fiction and comics)
Doctor Who Annual 2022, by Paul Lang
This Town Will Never Let Us Go, by Lawrence Miles
The Life of Evans, by John Peel
Night of the Intelligence, by Andy Frankham-Allan
The Wonderful Doctor of Oz, by Jacqueline Rayner
Doctor Who – The Mind Robber, by Peter Ling
Doctor Who – Black Orchid, by Terence Dudley

Comics 6 (2021 total 48)
Seven Deadly Sins, by Roz Kaveney, Graham Higgins, Tym Manley, Hunt Emerson, Neil Gaiman, Bryan Talbot, Dave Gibbons, Lew Stringer, Mark Rodgers, Steve Gibson, Davy Francis, Jeremy Banks, Alan Moore and Mike Matthews
Les Mondes d’Aldébaran: L’Encyclopédie Illustrée, by Christophe Quillien
Barbarella vol 1, by Jean-Claude Forest, tr Kelly Sue DeConnick
Barbarella vol 2: The Wrath of the Minute-Eater, by Jean-Claude Forest, tr Kelly Sue DeConnick
Once & Future Vol. 1: The King is Undead, by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvilain
Once & Future Vol. 2: Old English, by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvilain

9,300 pages (2021 total 77,200)
13/34 (2021 total 124/296) by non-male writers (Hayward, Tomalin, Munro, Martine, Hoffman, Knox, King, Rayner, Kaveney, DeConnick x2, Bonvilain x2)

Two very good non-fiction books this month, The Republic, by Charles Townshend, which you can get here, and The Young H.G. Wells, by Claire Tomalin, which you can get here. It was also great to return to The Martian Chronicles, which you can get here, and The Lord of the Rings, which you can get here.

On the other hand The 48 Laws of Power is fascist incel rubbish; you can get it here but please don’t.

2021 roundup

I read 296 books in 2021, the fifth highest of the nineteen years that I have been keeping track, and the highest since 2011 (though exceeded again last year).

Page count for the year: 77,200, eighth highest of the nineteen years I have recorded, closer to the middle.

Books by non-male writers in 2020: 124/296, 42% – a new record in both absolute numbers and percentages.

Books by PoC in 2020: – 42/296 (14%) – highest absolute number, second highest percentage.

Most-read author this year: Neil Gaiman.

1) Science Fiction and Fantasy (excluding Doctor Who)

131 (44%): highest total ever, fourth highest percentage.

Top SF book of the year:

I was really impressed by Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls, by Matt Ruff, winner of the James Tiptree Jr Award in 2003, a story of multiple personalities and strange things in Seattle; the author went on to write Lovecraft Country, now a TV series. (get it here)

Honourable mentions to:

My votes for the BSFA Award for Best Novel and the Hugo for Best Novel went to, respectively:
(BSFA) Comet Weather, by Liz Williams, a great English fantasy (get it here)
(Hugo) The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin, a great New York fantasy (get it here)

Welcome rereads:

Favourite classics:
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (get it here)
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury (get it here)

BSFA Award winners:
River of Gods, by Ian McDonald (get it here)
The Separation, by Christopher Priest (get it here)

Short fiction which won both Hugo and Nebula:
“Sandkings”, by George R.R. Martin (get it here)
“Stories for Men”, by John Kessel (get it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:

A collection by new-ish British writer Priya Sharma, All the Fabulous Beasts – not sure why she is not better known, I think her writing is great (get it here)

The one to avoid:

The 2002 collection of Roger Zelazny’s short stories with the title The Last Defender of Camelot – not because of the content, but because of the lazy and incompetent formatting; the 1980 collection of the same name is much better (get it here)

2) Non-fiction

53 (18%): joint ninth highest total of nineteen years, so squarely in the middle; only 16th highest percentage, near the bottom.

Top non-fiction book of the year:

Carrying the Fire, by Michael Collins; more on that below.

Honourable mentions to:

Goodbye To All That, by Robert Graves, mainly about the First World War but also about his privileged background and family (get it here)
A Woman in Berlin, a first-person account of the collapse of the Third Reich, particularly the attendant sexual violence (get it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:

I was very sorry that The Unstable Realities of Christopher Priest, by Paul Kincaid, did not win the BSFA Award for Non-Fiction. I like both author and subject, as writers and also as people, but even without that I think it’s a great insight into a great writer. (get it here)

The one to avoid:

Exploding School to Pieces: Growing Up With Pop Culture In the 1970s, by Mick Deal – sloppy and contributes very little to our knowledge of a well-researched era. (get it here)

3) Comics (and picture books)

48 (16%): highest total ever, second highest percentage. I’ve padded a little (but only a little) by including a photo book and an art book here, but that wouldn’t change the rankings.

Top comic of the year:

Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, by Rebecca Hall – brilliant and timely historical exploration of slavery in places where we don’t often think of it as having happened (get it here)

Honourable mentions:

Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, by Damian Duffy and John Jennings – the only thing I voted for that actually won a Hugo; great treatment of a classic story (get it here)
Le dernier Atlas, tome 1, by Fabien Vehlmann, Gwen de Booneval, Hervé Tranquerelle and Frédéric Blanchard – a great start to a counterfactual series; I felt the other two volumes didn’t quite live up to the promise of the first, but still worth reading (get it here)
My Father’s Things, by Wendy Aldiss – lovely lovely book about dealing with grief (get it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:

Mijn straat: een wereld van verschil, by Ann De Bode – beautiful portrayal of a diverse Antwerp street (get it here)

The one to avoid:

Kaamelott: Het Raadsel Van de Kluis, by Alexandre Astier and Steven Dupre – based on a TV series, does nothing new (get it here in Dutch and here in French)

4) Doctor Who

30 (10%), 40 (14%) counting non-fiction and comics. I ended my sabbatical from DW reading late in the year. 14th highest total, 16th highest percentage for DW fiction; 15th highest total and again 16th highest percentage for all DW books.

Top Doctor Who book of the year:

(Black Archive) The Massacre, by James Cooray Smith – second and best so far of the Black Archive analyses of past Doctor Who stories. (get it here)

Honourable mentions:

(Comics) Old Friends, by Jody Houser et al – the Doctor meets the Corsair (get it here)
(Novelisation) The Crimson Horror, by Mark Gatiss – adds a lot to the TV story (get it here)
(Official BBC spinoff) Adventures in Lockdown – somewhat random collection but it works (get it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:

(Non-BBC spinoff: Lethbridge-Stewart) Night of the Intelligence, by Andy Frankham-Allen – pulls together a lot of threads in this excellent series (get it here)

The one to avoid:

(Non-BBC spinoff: Erimem) Angel of Mercy, by Julianne Todd, Claire Bartlett and Iain McLaughlin – you know what’s going to happen really very early in the book (get it here)

5) Non-genre fiction

30 (10%): 13th highest total, 16th highest percentage, so pretty far down; not quite sure why that is.

Top non-genre fiction of the year:

Joint honours to two novels which were both the basis for Oscar-winning films:
The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris – chilling story of a mass murderer (get it here) and
Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally – chilling story of mass murder (get it here)

Honourable mention:

Jack, by Marilynne Robinson – another look at the same events she has told us about before, from a new perspective (get it here)

Welcome reread:

Middlemarch, by George Eliot – one of my favourite books ever (reviewget it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:

The Ice Cream Army, by Jessica Gregson – ethnic tensions in WW1 Australia (get it here)

The one to avoid:

Forrest Gump, by Winston Groom – also the basis of an Oscar-winning film; awful film, worse book (get it here)

6) Others: poetry and scripts

I read four works of poetry, of which the best new read was Maria Dahvana Headley’s Hugo-winning translation of Beowulf (get it here); and four script books, of which the best were the first two Welcome to Night Vale volumes, Mostly Void, Partially Stars (get it here) and Great Glowing Coils of the Universe (get it here)

My Book of the Year for 2021

My Top Book of 2021 is Carrying the Fire, by astronaut Michael Collins. Funny, moving, gripping, who would have thought that the best account of the first Moon landing would be written by the guy who wasn’t there? (And died aged 90 earlier this year.) Absolutely worth reading, not just for space exploration fans but for anyone interested in the human side of one of the most famous events of the twentieth century. You can get it here.

Other Books of the Year:

2003 (2 months): The Separation, by Christopher Priest (reviewget it here)
2004: (reread) The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (reviewget it here)
– Best new read: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin (reviewget it here)
2005: The Island at the Centre of the World, by Russell Shorto (reviewget it here)
2006: Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles, by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea (reviewget it here)
2007: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel (reviewget it here)
2008: (reread) The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, by Anne Frank (reviewget it here)
– Best new read: Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray (reviewget it here)
2009: (had seen it on stage previously) Hamlet, by William Shakespeare (reviewget it here)
– Best new read: Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi (first volume just pipped by Samuel Pepys in 2004) (reviewget it here)
2010: The Bloody Sunday Report, by Lord Savile et al. (review of vol Iget it here)
2011: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon (started in 2009!) (reviewget it here)
2012: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë (reviewget it here)
2013: A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf (reviewget it here)
2014: Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell (reviewget it here)
2015: collectively, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, in particular the winner, Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel (get it here). However I did not actually blog about these, being one of the judges at the time.
– Best book I actually blogged about: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, by Claire Tomalin (reviewget it here)
2016: Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot (reviewget it here)
2017: Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light (reviewget it here)
2018: Factfulness, by Hans Rosling (reviewget it here)
2019: Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo (reviewget it here)
2020: From A Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb, by Timothy Knatchbull (reviewget it here)
2021: Carrying the Fire, by Michael Collins (reviewget it here)
2022: The Sun is Open, by Gail McConnell (reviewget it here)