Book Club

The year is drawing to a close. As I enjoy making a list or two, I thought I would share some of my favourite books published this year. I am but one person, so first I’d like to talk to you about books that I have read and loved, then I’ll mention a few books sitting on my bedside table, and I’ll finish with a couple of titles I have my eye on, based on other people’s recommendations. If you’re on the hunt for a new book to keep you company, look no further. Let’s dive in.

Some of my favourite books this year happen to be titles I’ve written about for the TOAST Book Club. Among them, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, an ethereal novel about other worlds, and Fifty Sounds by Polly Barton, a memoir-essay examining the art of literature in translation, were particularly enjoyable. In the summer, I also reviewed some titles I’d heartily recommend including Underbelly by Anna Whitehouse, a novel about two mothers and their relationship with social media; Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, a meticulously crafted book about all the things that nourish us; and Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles, a nonfiction book that perfectly dances across topics of food, water and belonging.

My favourite thriller of the year was Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke, which follows a true crime podcaster as she tries to solve a cold case, prompting a serial killer to reappear. It’s an incredibly well-balanced story in that it critiques society’s obsession with true crime while also being extremely gripping.   

A bit of a cheat is Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls. I say it’s a cheat because it’s a reissue, republished this year by Faber, with an introduction by Irenosen Okojie. I had to mention it as it is a short, sharp novel from the 1980s about a housewife who falls in love with a ‘frog-man’ called Larry; think Muriel Spark meets Nella Larsen meets The Shape of Water. It’s a fabulously tense book that you can easily devour in an afternoon.

Book Club

Book Club

Mrs March by Virginia Feito is perfect for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh; Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden is for those who like to let language wash over them (it’s particularly brilliant on audio); and A Still Life: A Memoir by Josie George is a wonderful nonfiction book about friendship, disability and parenthood.

Poetry-wise, All the Names Given by Raymond Antrobus and Honorifics by Cynthia Miller were my top two collections. Antrobus remains one of the best poets writing today: “I lose my hearing aids / and move more fluid / the same way I do / when I swim [...]” Miller’s use of colour gives me goosebumps; her imagery is captivating: “Thinking about pickling dark strips of stars and preserving them in vinegar.”

As for books that are still calling to me, I have heard excellent things about Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, a doorstopper of a book about a missing pilot. I’m also hoping to read Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan in the next few weeks, as it’s set during the run-up to Christmas (plus it’s only 128 pages!). Keegan’s writing is always rich and lyrical, tapestry-like in the way it paints community. On my bedside table I have a few larger books I’ve been saving for the holidays: Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, a novel about family, grief and music, and publisher Persephone Books’ latest, The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. This one is another cheat as it was originally published in 1930 but republished this autumn. At over 600 pages, it chronicles one woman’s life in the first few decades of the 20th century. Mona Arshi’s Somebody Loves You, a short novel about a girl who has stopped talking, is also one I’m hoping to get to before the year ends, as I’ve enjoyed her poetry very much in the past.

There are many other books I could talk to you about today, but I’ll leave you with those recommendations for now. If you’d like to share your favourite books of 2021 in a comment down below, I’d love to hear about them.

Jen Campbell is a bestselling author and disability advocate. She has written ten books for children and adults, the latest of which is The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers. She also writes for TOAST Book Club.

Photographs by David Vyce.

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7 comments

My favourite this year was Shuggie Bain, but loved The Bone Season books I read too. Mrs Death Misses Death was an outstanding read for me and am really keen to read it again soon. I also loved Ali Smith’s Autumn this year , even though its not a recent publication, it deserves my attention.

Michelle 6 months ago

I particularly enjoyed I am an island by Tamsin Kalidas Her story of moving to a remote Scottish island, her interactions with the natural world and the locals. The writing is poetic and heartrending.

Nicola 6 months ago

Thank you so much for your book recommendations. Here are a couple of books that I really enjoyed reading this year: Elizabeth Strout ‘ Oh William!’ I love her easy conversational tone. ‘Tenderness’ by Alison MacLeod, a fascinating story of DH Lawrence and the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial.

Lynn 6 months ago

One of my favourites this year has to be An Island by Karen Jennings. Deeply moving. An intelligently written, profound and haunting book, with so many layers of meaning.

Louise 6 months ago

I wish I had time (at the moment – 19 December and awaiting an operation jut after Christmas) to read even one of these recommendations. BUT I have just listened to the serialisation of “Small Things Like These” (Claire Keegan) on Radio 4, and it is one of the most moving stories I have ever heard, largely because one of the main themes, the inherent ‘goodness’ of the main character, is so well evoked by the narrator. A wonderful book. I hope others will enjoy it too, and I look forward to reading their comments.

ELIZABETH 6 months ago

Mine is a bit of a cheat too as it came out in hardback in 2020 but paperback this year. The Mission House by Carys Davies. Set in a hill station in India it tells the story of a man who washes up there during a trip to recover his mental health. A gripping story and written with Davies’ usual skill: spare, haunting, moving. I love all her books. “West” perhaps even more so and if you’ve never read the short stores in “The Temptation of Galen Pike”, you’re in for a treat.

Giselle 6 months ago

I loved Keegan’s Small Things Like These, the writing is beautiful and will take a second reading. Another favourite this year is Colm Toibin’s The Magician. It has really stayed with me and one that I have recommended again and again. I have The Promise on my list to read next and am also hoping to find Sarah Moss’ The Fell under the Christmas Tree next week. Thank you for your lovely reviews.

Ren 6 months ago