2021 Reading Summary

  • The novel most enjoyed: new (to me) writers: 

M John Harrison: The Sunken Land Begins to Rise; Conor O’Callaghan: We Are Not in the World; Douglas Stuart: Shuggie Bain

  • The novels most enjoyed: older writers: 

Richard Flanagan: Gould’s Book of Fish (a novel in twelve fish); Cormac McCarthy: The Border Trilogy; Willy Vlautin: Don’t Skip Out On Me

  • The most striking non-fiction work:

Laura Bates: Men Who Hate Women

Leon Trotsky: The History of the Russian Revolution

  • Any novel that disappointed, or simply didn’t like:

Bohumil Hrabal: All My Cats; also, Coupland’s Generation X has not aged well

  • The year’s most striking fictional character:

Elena and Lila from Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels; Horace Hopper from Don’t Skip Out On Me

  • …and the most-dastardly villain(s):

“The System”: the patriarchy, the racist, capitalist, climate change denying system.  

  • The best authors encountered for the first time this year:

Conor O’Callaghan and Douglas Stuart

  • The most beautifully written novel:

Shuggie Bain & Gould’s Book of Fishsome sections of Waymaking were transcendent

  • Poetry most enjoyed: 

Introducing my own second sub-section (as I am allowed to do in my own list), then the most urgent poetry I read last year was Caleb Femi’s Poor, which has so much to recommend it, that I don’t know where to start.

Discounting people I know / count as friends (which is quite a few in this year’s list), it would be Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa and Li Po’s Selected, in the runners-up slots, but by far my favourite was Stephen Watts’ Republic of Dogs / Republic of Birds.

  • Memorable passages from books read this year; #75 from Republic of Dogs

“The flock of starlings burst from the rowan again and set up new geometries in the static air. And they tried to establish new speech patterns and remembered a protest song.

Then a solitary heron flew in from the moor with the breath-pulse of its wing beat and another looked up from its fish-watch down on the wrack. And two cormorants flew straight out of the sun – black, black, black, charred pieces of air and veered past the convening rock and looked back and swerved their bodies out towards the nesting cliffs and clamour. Young ones in the nests fell out and sank in the lake. High above great gulls wheeled in slow circles and still higher brent geese barked out their reports; the state of a besieged city, the burning of libraries worldwide, the migration of whole peoples, the bandaged sun, and all the farcical haloes of inane cruelty.

Lapwings from their moor meadow’s hollows, oyster catchers with their long orange beaks and gulls from their nests on tiny tidal islands would whorl about and dive intruders’ heads to save their young and their eggs. And the return to peck at the herbs or the wrack. Sandpipers and avocets, long-legged waders and even the hidden corncrake came in to say their beakful. The snow owl and the passing whooper swan, the wild merganser with its orange ring, the wrens and the water wagtails, the cuckoo and the crow that had its taste for lambs and their tiny tongues, the raven, carrier of seed from island to island.

Skuas and Arctic terns, their paper wings bouncing on the tides of air. And then a gannet with its superb design, with its unrepeatable, aerodynamics, with its beak and its wing-tips dipped in yellow, fell into the sea, wings strained backwards, and came up to the surface again with its food fish in the straightforward triumph of its everyday action.

A wind got up and had words with the still calm air.

The wren came back and cocked its head, to listen to what might be being said.

Hawks and choughs and other birds that need have no dealings with us.

In that place cleared of people, their republic was their own. Their language was the language of birds.

And they were their own republic under the sun.”

BOOKS 2021


Boschwitz, Ulrich Alexander: The Passenger

Coupland, Douglas: Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture

Crace, Jim: Quarantine

DeLillo, Don: The Silence

Diaz, Junot: Drown

Diop, David: At Night All Blood is Black

Ditlevsen, Tove: The Faces

Ferrante, Elena: The Lying Life of Adults; My Brilliant Friend; The Story of a New Name

Flanagan, Richard: Gould’s Book of Fish (a novel in twelve fish)

Forster, EM: Maurice

Harrison, M John: The Sunken Land Begins to Rise

Himes, Chester: Lonely Crusade

Hrabal, Bohumil: All My Cats

Hunter, Megan: The End We Start From, The Harpy

Jansson, Tove: The Summer Book

Kawakami, Meiko: Heaven

Mars-Jones, Adam: Box Hill

McCarthy, Cormac: All the Pretty Horses; The Crossing; Cities of the Plain 

Mishima, Yukio: The Frolic of the Beasts

Mort, Helen: Exire 

Myers, Benjamin: Turning Blue

Newsham, John: Killing the Horses

O’Callaghan, Conor: We Are Not in the World; Nothing on Earth

O’Farrell, Maggie: Hamnet

Okri, Ben: The Famished Road

Porter, Max: The Death of Francis Bacon

Rankin, Ian: Standing in Another Man’s Grave

Roth, Philip: Everyman

Ryan, Donal: The Spinning Heart; From a Low and Quiet Sea

Stuart, Douglas: Shuggie Bain

Tillman, Lynne: Weird Fucks

Trevor, William: Cheating at Canasta

Trocchi, Alexander: Young Adam

Tuomainen, Antti: Little Siberia

Vlautin, Willy: Don’t Skip Out On Me

Zamyatin, Yevgeny: We


Anthology of women’s adventure writing, poetry and art: Waymaking

Morag Anderson: Sin is Due to Open in a Room Above Kitty’s

Colin Bancroft: Impermanence

Rachel Bower: These Mothers of Gods

Jo Burns: Brink

Anne Caldwell: Alice and the North

Aziz Dixon: Because of the War

Lorna Faye Dunsire: Fiery Daughters

TS Eliot: Collected Poems 1909-35

Steve Ely: The European Eel

Mike Farren: Smithereens

Caleb Femi: Poor

Anna Greki: The Streets of Algiers

Seamus Heaney: The Aeneid VI 

Ted Hughes: Remains of Elmet

Amanda Huggins: The Collective Noun for Birds

Ilya Kaminsky: Dancing in Odessa

Harry Man & Endre Ruset: Utoya Thereafter

Andrew McMillan: Pandemonium

Helen Mort & Katrina Naomi: Same But Different

Ian Parks: Citizens

Don Paterson: The Landing Light

Jill Penny: In Your Absence

Li Po: Selected

Pauline Rowe: The Ghost Hospital

Sophie Sparham: The Man Who Ate 50,000 Weetabix

Stephen Watts: Republic of Dogs / Republic of Birds

Neil Young: After The Riot

Nidhi Zak / Aria Eipe: Auguries of a Minor God


Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche: Notes on Grief

Akala: Natives

Laura Bates: Men Who Hate Women

Extinction Rebellion: This is not a Drill

Christiane Ritter: A Woman in the Polar Night

Sophie Roberts: The Lost Pianos of Siberia

Carlo Rovelli: The Order of Time 

Maria Stepanova: In Memory of Memory

Olivia Sudjic: Exposure

Leon Trotsky: The History of the Russian Revolution (Vol 1, 2 & 3)

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