My 2021 books in review

I read 296 books in 2021, the fourth highest of the eighteen years that I have been keeping track, and the highest since 2011. I was less distracted by real-life politics and by Hugos this year, and also I admit to reading some very short books which bulked up the numbers

(Full numbers: 266 books in 2020, 234 in 2019, 262 in 2018, 238 in 2017, 212 in 2016, 290 in 2015, 291 in 2014, 237 in 2013, 259 in 2012, 301 in 2011, 278 in 2010, 342 in 2009, 371 in 2008, 236 in 2007, 207 in 2006, 144 in 2005, 149 in 2004)

Page count for the year: 77,200, eighth highest of the eighteen years I have recorded, closer to the middle; as mentioned, there are some very short books in there.

(70,400 pages in 2020, 64,600 in 2019, 71,600 in 2018, 60,500 in 2017; 62,300 in 2016; 80,100 in 2015; 97,100 in 2014; 67,000 in 2013; 77,800 in 2012; 88,200 in 2011; 91,000 in 2010; 100,000 in 2009; 89,400 in 2008; 69,900 in 2007; 61,600 in 2006; 46,400 in 2005; 46,800 in 2004)

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

(77/266 [29%] in 2020, 88/234 [38%] in 2019, 102/262 [39%] in 2018, 64/238 [27%] in 2017, 65 [31%] in 2016, 86 [30%] in 2015, 81 [28%] in 2014, 71 [30%] in 2013, 65 [25%] in 2012, 65 [22%] in 2011, 65 [23%] in 2010, 68 [20%] in 2009, 49 [13%] in 2008, 53 [22%] in 2007, 34 [16%] in 2006, 30 [21%] in 2005, 33 [22%] in 2004)

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

(25/266 [9%] in 2020, 34/234 [15%], in 2019, 26/262 [10%] in 2018, 17/238 [7%] in 2017, 14 [7%] in 2016, 20 [7%] in 2015, 11 [5%] in 2014, 12 [5%] in 2013, 15 [5%] in 2011, 24 [9%] in 2010, 16 [5%] in 2009, 6 [2%] in 2008, 5 [2%] in 2007, 8 [4%] in 2006, 4 [3%] in 2005, 2 [1%] in 2004)

Most-read author this year: Neil Gaiman, as I worked my way through the Humble Bundle of his books acquired in 2015. This is the second time that he's been my most-read author of the year.

(previous winners: Kieron Gillen in 2020,  Brian K. Vaughan in 2019, Tove Jansson and Marcel Proust in 2018, Colin Brake and Leo in 2017, Christopher Marlowe in 2016, Justin Richards in 2015 and 2014, Agatha Christie in 2013, Jonathan Gash in 2012, Arthur Conan Doyle in 2011, Ian Rankin in 2010, William Shakespeare in 2009 and 2008, Terrance Dicks in 2007, Ian Marter in 2006, Charles Stross in 2005, Neil Gaiman and Catherine Asaro in 2004).

1) Science Fiction and Fantasy (excluding Doctor Who)

2021/ 2020/ 2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/ 2008/ 2007/ 2006/ 2005/ 2004/
131 114 77 108 68 80 130 124 65 62 78 73 78 54 75 68 79 76
44% 43% 33% 41% 29% 38% 45% 43% 27% 24% 26% 26% 23% 15% 32% 33% 55% 51%

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. (reviewget 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 (reviewget it here)
(Hugo) The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin, a great New York fantasy (reviewget it here)

Welcome rereads:

Favourite classics:
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (old reviewget it here)
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury (not yet reviewed; get it here)

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

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





2) Non-fiction

2021/ 2020/ 2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/ 2008/ 2007/ 2006/ 2005/ 2004/
53 50 49 50 57 37 47 48 46 53 69 66 88 70 78 70 42 42
18% 19% 21% 19% 24% 17% 16% 16% 19% 20% 23% 24% 26% 19% 33% 34% 29% 28%

Joint eighth highest total of eighteen years, so squarely in the middle; only 15th 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 (reviewget it here)
A Woman in Berlin, a first-person account of the collapse of the Third Reich, particularly the attendant sexual violence (reviewget 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. (reviewget 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. (reviewget it here)




3) Comics (and picture books)

2021/ 2020/ 2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/ 2008/ 2007/ 2006/ 2005/ 2004/
48 45 31 28 29 27 18 19 30 21 27 18 28 6 20 6 8 8
16% 17% 13% 11% 12% 13% 6% 7% 13% 8% 9% 6% 8% 2% 8% 3% 6% 5%

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 (reviewget 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 (reviewget 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 (reviewget it here)
My Father's Things, by Wendy Aldiss – lovely lovely book about dealing with grief (reviewget 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 (reviewget 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 (reviewhere in Dutch and here in French)


4) Doctor Who

Novels, collections of shorter fiction, etc excluding comics
2021/ 2020/ 2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/ 2008/ 2007/ 2006/ 2005/ 2004/
30 18 32 32 51 39 43 59 72 75 80 71 70 179 27 28 5 1
10% 7% 14% 12% 21% 18% 15% 20% 30% 29% 27% 26% 19% 48% 11% 14% 3% 1%
All Who books including comics and non-fiction
2021/ 2020/ 2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/ 2008/ 2007/ 2006/ 2005/ 2004/
40 25 43 42 55 42 54 68 81 75 87 78 80 180 49 32 5 1
14% 9% 18% 16% 23% 20% 19% 23% 34% 29% 29% 28% 23% 49% 21% 15% 3% 1%

I ended my sabbatical from DW reading late in the year. 13th highest total, 15th highest percentage for DW fiction; 14th highest total and again 15th highest pecentage 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. I flagged it up to actor Annette Richardson, and was thrilled to get a brief but happy reply from her. (reviewget it here)

Honourable mentions:

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


5) Non-genre fiction

2021/ 2020/ 2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/ 2008/ 2007/ 2006/ 2005/ 2004/
30 40 45 36 26 28 42 41 44 48 48 50 57 24 33 35 9 19
10% 15% 19% 14% 11% 13% 14% 14% 19% 19% 16% 18% 18% 6% 14% 17% 6% 13%

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 (reviewget it here) and
Schindler's List, by Thomas Keneally – chilling story of mass murder (reviewget it here)

Honourable mention:

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

The one to avoid:

Forrest Gump, by Winston Groom – also the basis of an Oscar-winning film; awful film, worse book (reviewget 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 (reviewget it hereWelcome to Night Vale volumes, Mostly Void, Partially Stars (reviewget it here) and Great Glowing Coils of the Universe (reviewget it here)

My Book of the Year

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.

Previous Books of the Year:

2003 (2 months): The Separation, by Christopher Priest.
2004: The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread).
– Best new read: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin
2005: The Island at the Centre of the World, by Russell Shorto
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
2007: Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
2008: The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, by Anne Frank (reread)
– Best new read: Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray
2009: Hamlet, by William Shakespeare (had seen it on stage previously)
– Best new read: Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi (first volume just pipped by Samuel Pepys in 2004)
2010: The Bloody Sunday Report, by Lord Savile et al.
2011: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon (started in 2009!)
2012: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë
2013: A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
2014: Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
2015: collectively, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, in particular the winner, Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel. 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
2016: Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot
2017: Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light
2018: Factfulness, by Hans Rosling
2019: Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
2020: From A Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb, by Timothy Knatchbull

Poll

Since nobody much is on LJ these days, I've outsourced my 2021 book poll to Surveymonkey. How many have you read?

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1 Response to My 2021 books in review

  1. sfred says:

    I should read this, then.

Comments are closed.