We have finally waved goodbye to 2021. After filling in 365 pages, a fresh set of 365 days has been provided to us. With the conclusion of a year is the commencement of a new one. 2021 was filled with uncertainties as the pandemic continued to wreak havoc across all parts of the world. The vaccination drive kicked off as well but the threat of the Omicron variant is about to reverse all the gains made. Nevertheless, hope still springs eternal despite the uncertainties that shroud the future.
Staying true to what has become my annual tradition, I am kicking off the new year by looking back to the previous year, its hits, and of course, its mishits. It is also an opportunity to take a glimpse of how the coming year is going to shape up. This book wrap-up is a part of a mini-series that will feature the following:
- 2021 Top Ten Not-So Favorite Reads
- 2021 Top Ten Favorite Books
- 2021 Book Wrap Up
- 2021 20 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part I)
- 2021 20 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part II)
- 2021 New Favorite Authors
- 2022 Books I Look Forward To List
- 2022 Top 20 Reading List
In 2021, I was able to complete reading 92 books, from 91 different authors. This resets my personal record for the most number of authors I read in a year since I started reading; my previous best was 88 authors in a year in 2020. Of these 91 authors, 65 are authors whose works I am reading for the very first time, which is a number fairly lower than my 2020 figures. Nevertheless, it was still a scintillating reading journey for it allowed me to delve deeper into the vast world of literature. From these 65 new authors, there were those who truly made a deep impression on me. Here are these authors who impressed me with their works. I am looking forward to reading more of their works.
Works read: Bewilderment
I initially dismissed Richard Powers when I encountered The Overstory, his Pulitzer Prize-winning work. I felt that the book was not to my taste. I would have forgotten about him had his latest novel, Bewilderment not been shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, actually touted as one of the frontrunners. This made me reconsider reading his works and I am glad I did for Bewilderment enchanted me. Yes, it contained several political elements but Powers’ prose still shone through. I actually acquired The Overstory and I am looking forward to reading it this year.
Works read: Beauty is a Wound
Prior to 2020, I have never heard of Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan. Things changed after I saw some of his works being sold by online booksellers. It piqued my interest and a quick Google search further made me curious about the Indonesian writer. I can’t also recall reading any work of any Indonesian writer so I saw it as an opportunity of gaining a better understanding of our Southeast Asian neighbors. Kurniawan more me a different perspective of Indonesia, its culture, history, and people. Beauty is a Wound is certainly a complete package, with Kurniwan reeling me in with his brand of magical realism. Because of this, I am looking at reading more works of Indonesian writers.
Works read: Zorba the Greek
Even before 2020, when I acquired a copy of the book, I kept encountering Zorba the Greek in several must-read lists. However, it didn’t catch my interest maybe because the title wasn’t as enticing (HAHA). I also thought that it was a work of nonfiction, something that I am not really too keen on right now. I got finally convinced after repeated encounters with the book. I even included Zorba the Greek in my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. Quite unexpected, the book abounded with philosophical intersections. While I found several of these philosophies outdated, I was captivated by Kazantzakis’ ability to hook readers with his spellbinding storytelling.
Works read: Watership Down
Like Zorba the Greek and The Overstory, I had my own misgivings about Watership Down which made me avoid it. I initially thought that it was a book about the Second World War. How wrong I was! When I learned that it was actually a story about a group of rabbits, I was hitting myself for my erroneous impression of the book. When my own copy of the book arrived, I included it in my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. I wasn’t actually surprised that the book would reel me in. And don’t be fooled by the fact that the main characters are rabbits! It belies the seminal subjects the book explored, further complimented by Adams’ prose.
Works read: A House in the Country
For the first time since I started reading, I had a South American and Caribbean Literature Reading month; I previously covered every other major continent. The Chilean writers certainly made their presence felt. Jose Donoso’s A House in the Country continued the tradition of the South American brand of magical realism. It wasn’t an easy or even a beautiful read. The book, with its raw and powerful prose, helped gain Donoso a fan in me. I was invested and invested is always a good thing in reading.
Works read: Go Tell It On The Mountain
One cannot easily miss James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain. The book is quite popular and is listed in several must-read lists; it was also listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It was for these reasons that I have been on the lookout for a copy of the book. It took some time before I was finally able to acquire my own copy of the book, which I then included in my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. The book, obviously, was deeply personal. Religion was a motif but the focus was on the characters and how they developed. It was the signature American literature but it also showcased Baldwin’s distinct prose.
Works read: Crossing the Mangrove
It was during the lead-up to the announcement of the winners of the 2018/2019 Nobel Prize in Literature that I first heard of Maryse Condé. She was touted by several betting sites as a top contender; unfortunately, she was not declared the winner. Despite this, the encounter was enough to pique my interest; I was pretty sure that she is a writer I am going to love. And I did! My first Condé novel, Crossing the Mangrove provided me glimpses of her prose and I must say it was interesting. She invited me into Caribbean life through the events surrounding her mysterious character Francis Sancher. What I have read made me want to read more of her works, starting with Segu, a book I recently purchased.
Works read: The Savage Detectives
And the second Chilean novelist on this list is Roberto Bolaño, considered by many as a pillar of contemporary Chilean literature. I can’t recall how many times I have encountered The Savage Detectives, perhaps his most popular work, in must-read lists. It didn’t take much convincing to add it to my growing reading list. What made The Savage Detectives distinct was its structure, which can be a bit of a challenge. However, the complex narrative made me delve into the Chilean writer’s own brand of prose. It was interesting, to say the least, and it made me look forward to reading his other works, such as 2666.
Works read: A Gentleman in Moscow
Unlike most writers, Amor Towles’ literary career started later in his life; this is similar to Richard Adams’ case. His debut novel was a success and his second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow ushered in more success. To be honest, the reason I bought the book was that it was cheaper than most new books at the bookstore. I wasn’t actually too keen on the book’s cover. I overcame my prejudices and started reading the book. The pace was slow at the start before it picked up midway. One thing that Towles was good at was conjuring an image of a time and place through words. I am hoping I will have the same experience with The Lincoln Highway.
Works read: Kitchen
Japanese writers also took the limelight; I always have a grand experience reading works of Japanese literature. Of these Japanese writers I was reading the first time, it was Banana Yoshimoto who left the deepest impression. It was kind of expected for I have been looking forward to Kitchen, a book that many will encounter in several must-read lists. It was no surprise that Kitchen was a literary sensation when it was first published in Japanese. It challenged norms. The only thing I regret about the book was that it was a little too short. I wished it was longer. Nevertheless, it was enough to make me look forward to reading more of Yoshimoto’s works.
With the number of writers whose works I have read in the past year, it was difficult choosing authors for this list. To recognize them, here are the special mentions.
Nathan Harris, The Sweetness of Water
Anuk Arudpragasam, A Passage North
Nadifa Mohamed, The Fortune Men
Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood
William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch
Ashley Audrain, The Push
Mirza Hadi Ruswa, Umrao Jan Ada
Wole Soyinka, Aké: The Years of Childhood
How about you fellow reader, which authors impressed you in 2021? I hope you get to share it in the comment box as I am more than interested in knowing your answers.
Happy reading everyone!