Best books I’ve read 2021

In year two of the pandemic I read 52 books and joined a book club. There’s a distinct theme to some of my favourite books this year, but first some other highlights.

Among contemporary novels, SL Lim’s Revenge, Nardi Simpson’s Song of the Crocodile and Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail all found new ways of tackling abuse, power and colonisation. I enjoyed the riddle and spirit of Susan Clarke’s labyrinthine Piranesi.

It was a great year for collections. I loved Winepress, Gabriela Mistral’s last collection of elemental poetry, translated by Ursula Le Guinn. Likewise Evelyn Araluen’s playful, potent collection Drop Bear that upends the tropes of Australiana. Liminal Magazine’s first anthology of fiction, Collisions, enchanted me with different, speculative visions of Australia from Indigenous writers and writers of colour.

In non-fiction I was outraged and inspired by Fourteen, Shannon Malloy’s harrowing memoir of growing up queer in regional Australia. Under The White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert’s follow up to The Sixth Extinction, painted a very strange, terrifying and vaguely hilarious vision of our environmentally changed future.

As always, you can find all Certified Gay books here.

Without further ado, here are my favourite four books of the year.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters – Everything I want in a novel – smart, hilarious, sexy. That it also upends comfortable notions of sexuality and gender is a bonus.

The Wild Iris by Louise Glück – Glück imagines a three-way conversation between herself, god and her garden plants. There’s lots of insight here, but it’s the voice of those plants – by turns acerbic the pitying – that really thrills.

Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald – MacDonald traipses lands familiar and strange in her ongoing investigation of our relationship to nature. On a sentence level I’ve read few things that induce such wonder.

Light by Eva Figes – Eva Figes set out to recreate a single day in the life of the Monet family in Giverny in this novella. But it becomes so much more. Funny how a day can become a lifetime, a garden a whole world.

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