• Isabelle Osborne

Reflecting on 2021: Novels, Memoirs & Non-Fiction

You may have gathered from perusing my blog or scrolling down my Instagram feed that I am an avid reader and proud book worm. This year has been another immense year of reading, sparking a newfound love of audiobooks and reaffirming my affinity for contemporary fiction and memoirs.

By the end of the year, I am hoping to have read a total of 60 books; from these 60, I have chosen three fiction and three non-fiction to feature in this bookish reflections blog post. This was, admittedly, a tough decision, as there were many strong contenders, but here are my ultimate favourites of the year...

Top 3 fiction

Passing - Nella Larsen

This book featured in my Mid Year Reading Review in June, and it remains one of my favourite books of the year. Passing is one I constantly reflect on, with it's masterful story, exquisite narrative, and thought provoking ambiguity, and I loved writing an essay earlier this year on the novel for one of my university modules. I often find myself recommending it to people, as it's such a fantastic piece of literature.

Next year, I'm hoping to dive into Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half, which is a contemporary remaining of Larsen's 1929 classic released last year; it was longlisted for the Women's Prize 2021 and for the National Book Award, so I'm expecting great things.

Rodham - Curtis Sittenfeld

This gem also appeared in my Mid Year Reading Review and it still deserves a place in my top 3 as it was a really incredible read. A Christmas present from 2020, I read this right at the beginning of the year and I fell in love with Curtis' writing style. I was totally engrossed in the story line from beginning to end, and it's become one of those books that you wish you could un-read just so you can have the privilege of delving into again with fresh eyes. Considering what life may have been like for Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton in another life was intriguing from the start, and although I still find it slightly ind-boggling that such a novel exploring a sort of 'new reality' could be published when both of the main characters are still alive, I enjoyed it very much. Next year, I'm hoping to check out American Wife, another work by Curits which is about the marriage of a First Lady of America.

NW - Zadie Smith

An unlikely contender for my 2021 top three when I sceptically delved into this ahead of studying it for university, I am ecstatic to be including NW on this list. I have been reluctant to immerse myself in Zadie's literature before NW, as I started with White Teeth a little too prematurely for my reading level, and after giving up half way through I settled in the belief that I didn't completely enjoy her experimental writing style. However, I have been completely won over, and I have since read many of Zadie's other works this year (including White Teeth, in fact!). I loved the way the narratives across the novel between the different characters were so varied, fresh and intuitive to their personalities and individual experiences, and I'm excited to re-read this early next year as I study it for my final university examinations. As well as looking forward to studying White Teeth in the Spring term, I'm also hoping to read Swing Time, Feel Free and On Beauty in 2022.

Top 3 non-fiction

The Yorkshire Shepherdess - Amanda Owen

Another one that featured in my Mid Year Reading Review, I still reflect on how enjoyable I found reading this memoir; memories of sitting in my favourite park in the sun following my second year university examinations, it was full to the brim with wit, honesty and beautiful insights into Amanda's childhood and family life. Since I read Amanda's first memoir, I have watched the newly-released Our Yorkshire Farm episodes (highly recommend you check the programme out), and I'm so excited to pick up the next instalments in the memoir series next year.

Manifesto on Never Giving Up - Bernardine Evaristo

A recent read of this year, I absolutely whizzed through Bernardine's new memoir in a matter of days as it was so enjoyable. I was lucky enough to see Bernardine in conversation with Afua Hirsch at the Southbank Centre in October as she marked the publication of this memoir; it was phenomenal to see such a revered and inspiring author in the flesh, and reading about her childhood, experience as a creative and her journey to winning the Booker Prize (which came at a rather late stage in her monumental career of theatre, poetry, writing and activism) was a really special and inspirational moment in my reading journey this year.

Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books - Cathy Rentzenbrink

Another one I finished recently, Dear Reader is one of the most charming books I have ever come across. Cathy takes us through her life, but in the most unique way, as we see everything through her reading ventures and how books were a stable constant through all her life experiences. I loved Cathy's musing on her favourite books, and found her experience in the publishing industry so insightful and interesting to read about. From one book worm to another, it was such a gift to read and share in someone's joy of literature. And, it probably goes without saying that I picked up many, many book recommendations from this wonderful memoir, as every other chapter was shaped by recommendations based on different themes depending on the stage of Cathy's life or recent themes we had just read about.

Honourable mentions:

As I read so many more amazing books this year, I simply couldn’t limit myself to only three books per category. So, after my top three's, here is a selection of ‘the best of the rest’ from 2021 (in no particular order):

  • The Lost Homestead - Marina Wheeler

  • Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata

  • Bad Feminist - Roxanne Gay

  • Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult

  • The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

  • A Burning - Megha Majumdar

  • The Thursday Murder Club - Richard Osman

  • Lady Sings The Blues - Billie Holiday

  • The Wife of Willesden - Zadie Smith

  • Failosophy: A Handbook For When Things Go Wrong - Elizabeth Day

I can't wait to see what's in store for reading in 2022 - watch this space for all my insights if you're interested. And, let me know what you've been loving this year over on Instagram; I'm always looking for new bookish recommendations!

Featured image courtesy of Javier Martínez on Unsplash. Image license can be found here. No changes were made to this image.

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