Even though I read 55 books in 2021, it was not a good reading year. It was hard to stay focused with the world falling apart. I was super picky with what I read and if something didn’t grab me within the first 100 pages, I gave up. I did read a variety of genres thanks to super cheap Kindle books and regular visits to the library. I don’t know what I did before the library — it’s been such a blessing during the pandemic.
Here are a selection of the books I enjoyed in 2021.
The novel I loved: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawine Walton
This was my favourite book of the year. The characters and the writing sucked me in right away making me feel like I was watching everything play out in front of my eyes. There’s a scene at the end that was so vivid it felt like I held my breath the entire time I was reading it — that’s the kind of writing I was searching for this year and the was the only book that gave it to me. This was the novel I recommended to everyone that asked me what they should read. It felt so good to lose myself and get excited about a novel.
The novel I hated: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
I absolutely hated this novel. When a Black woman’s debut novel gets as much buzz as The Other Black Girl got I will always pick it up. This was a huge letdown. Bad writing, terrible plot, unrealistic dialogue that sounded nothing like how actual Black women talk. It felt like the novel wasn’t for me, it was for non-Black folks who have learned about Black people in just the last year. A huge disappointment.
Favourite romance: Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
I loved all three of the Brown sister novels, each of them were full of heart and made me cry. I especially love how each sister is not your typical romance novel heroine - they’re bigger women, they live with mental illness or chronic illness and are still sexy and loveable. The last one in the series about Eve Brown, the youngest sister, got me the most. Eve falls in love with a man who lives with Autism who helps her come to terms with her own Autism diagnosis. The sex scenes were great, the love story was fun and believable and heartfelt. I’m kind of sad this series is done.
Favourite memoir: Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
I read this collection of essays/memoir because it was a book club pick from my favourite podcast, Still Processing. It blew me away. Hong describes growing up in the States where the racial dynamic is Black and white and discusses how she sees herself as an Asian American. With the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes this year, this was such an important read.
Favourite non-fiction book: How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith
I was really in to reading about the history and impact of slavery this year. Clint Smith visits historical sites across America, including prisons, former plantations, cemeteries and museums to see how they talk about the history of slavery. I learned so much and came away with a lot to think about.
Favourite book I got from the library: Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
This novel was action packed, violent and exciting. Two fathers, one Black and one white, have to come together to find out who killed their sons who were married to each other. It was fun to read a novel that had a bunch of twist and turns and plot points I didn’t see coming. It was super fun to read.
Favourite short story collection: The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
I almost got in to Tin House this summer and had the chance to work with Danielle Evans. It didn’t happen. I was bummed. She is one of my favourite fiction writers. This collection made me wish I could write short stories. Evans is so skilled at putting so much in to one story. This is one I’m going to reread in 2022.
I was kind of obsessed with the concept of racial passing. The Vanishing Half was one of the first books I read this year and it made me mad at how well written and compelling it was. When the trailer of the Netflix movie based on the Nella Larsen novel was released this summer, I saw a lot of people tweeting that the novel was a short, good read. Passing literally took my breath away. It made me think about how we talk about race and what ‘passing’ meant. I started looking at people and asking my mother “could this person pass?” Then I read this essay by Brittany Luse and had to pick up Caucasia. I loved Danzy Senna’s novel New People. Caucasia was so well written and engaging. These are three novels that I can see myself revisiting in the future.
Book that didn’t live up to the hype: Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
I’m a huge Tia Williams’ fan. I’ve been reading her work since the mid 2000’s. I was super excited to read this novel but was left underwhelmed. The writing was great, some of the characters were really engaging and jumped off the page, but the love story was lacking. I didn’t feel it.
Book that taught me about myself: Where Beauty Survived by George Elliott Clarke
I’m always thinking about my grandparents, particularly this year which was the 20th anniversary of my grandmother’s death. George Elliott Clarke and I share a great grandfather, so I picked up his memoir from the library to find out more about my roots in Nova Scotia. My grandfather that I grew up with was mentioned in this book. Clarke describes the rich culture of Black Nova Scotians that I was too young to really get my grandparents to open up about but is where they come from. It was a meaningful book to read, especially this year.
Here’s to another year of reading in 2022!