In the dim distance of the first lockdowns, my book of the year for 2020 was The Lacuna (Barbara Kingsolver) for its richness of characters, historic events and scenery, its distances travelled and its wonderful overall arc.
So, aside from books by friends (some of which I’ve blogged in previous posts) here are a few notes on 2021’s reading highlights:
This year, on Mother’s Day, my son dropped his Kindle into my lap and insisted, ‘Read this, Mum.’ It was All Systems Red by Martha Wells, the first in her Murderbot Diaries Series. Murderbot’s voice is superb and I was hooked. I promptly read the full series and my book of the year for 2021 is Network Effect (now winner of the Hugo Award for best 2021 novel, while the Murderbot Diaries won best series, so just for once I’m on trend). More about Murderbot and Wells in something else soon.
That set me off on a SFF spree, devouring books by Nnedi Okorafor and N K Jemisin and Adrian Tchaikovsky (more on these another day too). My second favourite series of the year was Yoon Ha Lee’s Machinery of Empire trilogy, starting with Ninefox Gambit because the ideas are so brilliantly complex and so cleverly woven together. I had to re-read it as soon as I’d finished to pinpoint the foreshadowings slipped sneakily into such an immensely dense plot. The story is a total mind-fuck with its calendrical warfare and suicide calligraphy: best to go with the flow and marvel at the speeding imagery. Online I saw people complaining they don’t “get it” because (I guess) they want it to make more immediate sense. Stick with it: there is a complete universe by the end of book 3 – though I think YHL could make considerably more of a few scenes.
Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radach (Ancillary) series comes close third. Also not a simple read but compelling.
My one-off novel favourite was Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, with its skilful blending of genres from fantasy through thriller to police procedural and even romance. Again, it’s the narrator’s voice that draws the reader in and onwards, sharing the character’s incredible world and unexpected thought processes. Also again, it’s necessary to trust the author and let the flow take you as a reader.
Talking of going with the author’s flow, I’m more tolerant of opening pages not grabbing me straight away, but less tolerant if I am part way through a book and it’s still evading me. I won’t mention the (few) books I gave up on (and none of them was hurl-across-the-room bad, which is better than in the past).