• Abigail Woodruff

My Top 10 Books of 2021

Ahh! It's been so long since I blogged that I feel like I completely forgot how to do it, so remain patient with me while I try to dig up all of the wit and genius *cough* that is buried deep.... DEEP in my mind.


While my reading year was nowhere as impressive as last year's (hard to beat that 131 reading goal), I still managed to get 100 books under my belt and I find some real gems. This year was a lot more experimental for me. I picked up genres that I was not necessarily comfortable with and I stumbled upon a new-found obsession with reading translated fiction. I am excited to keep going with this trend and I have many Russian, Norwegian, Filipino, Spanish, and Portuguese books on my shelf to keep me occupied in the next year.


I found that I read a lot more e-books this year than I had in previous years (probably because I am cheap and buy a lot of my books on Kindle or get them from the library) and a lot fewer audio books as I no longer had a commute as an excuse to listen to them.


10.) You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry

Also known as 'People We Meet on Vacation' in the U.S., this romance was everything that I was looking for in a, well, romance novel. I do not consider myself a 'romance' reader and therefore I only end up picking a small handful a year, but I always enjoy myself greatly. I read a lot of Classics and heavy Literary Fiction, so I always appreciate the brain break and endorphins that a romance novel brings. This book follows my favorite romance trope of 'friends to lovers' and examines a wonderful friendship between Poppy and Alex as they go on a trip together every year for ten years. It combines my love of the trope with travel and some of the wittiest banter that I have happened upon in a very long time. Because Henry's other book 'Beach Read' appeared on my top ten list last year, I think I will need to keep picking up whatever she comes out with!


9.) Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

I picked up this novel because I decided to complete the PopSugar Reading Challenge this year and one of the prompts was to read an 'Afrofuturist' book. I truly had no idea what this was and fell down a deep rabbithole on the internet trying to figure it out. In case you are as woefully ignorant as I was, here is a description: Afrofuturism is a cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science and philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of African diaspora culture with technology.

I loved this book so much and was quickly drawn into the plot of a modern Black woman being pulled back in time to the Pre-Civil War American South. It managed to be educational, thrilling, and just superbly well-written all in one. I am very grateful for the challenge to push me outside of my comfort zone on this one.


8.) Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

This is the only book on my list that received less than 4 stars from me right after reading. However, for whatever reason, I still think about 'Convenience Store Woman' regularly. It was also my first dip into Japanese literature and I picked up multiple Japanese books afterwards, so I was obviously impressed with the very unique style and voice that Japanese writers seem to all employ. This novel is, to be honest, really bizarre, but I thought the commentary on women's roles in society was masterfully done. Here is part of my review: It makes you think about the societal norms that have been pounded into us and how much they color our views. This tiny little novel following a, you guessed it, convenience store woman explores breaking those norms and finding what makes you happy even if it isn't fitting the expectation of others.


7.) Things My Son Needs to Know About the World by Fredrik Backman

I think it's become a running joke at this point that my list each year is truly incomplete without one of Backman's works on it. I also had the distinct pleasure of reading 'Us Against You' this year as well, but it just didn't make me sob and melt into a puddle of feelings like like this little collection of letters did. I think the title is relatively self-explanatory in that it perfectly represents the fact that the book is Backman's snippets of knowledge that he wants to pass down to his son. I listened to this bad boy on audio book all in the space of one afternoon and I distinctly remember bawling at the tender way that he talked about his wife and laughing aloud at his reflections on all things parenthood. I look forward to reading it one day when I have kids of my own. Goodness knows i'll probably be an inconsolable mess by the end.


6.) The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo

Remember when I said not two paragraphs ago that 'Convenience Store Woman' was the only book on my list under 5 stars? Turns out that was a blatant lie. Apologies. My brain appears to be broken. Here is my review in all it's glory: This was SUCH a masterpiece. This has been the only classic to make me shed tears! It's so juxtaposed in that it is literally laugh-out-loud funny and also one of the most depressing novels I've ever had the pleasure to read. However, I just CANNOT justify giving 5 stars to a book that didn't even really touch the plot until 200 pages in. I have never EVER struggled through chapters like I did the first 3rd of this book. It is basically just listing French political figures and mapping out old Paris and is so dull (in my opinion). It took me 4 months to read the first 200 pages and 2 weeks to read the rest.


5.) 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Another collection of letters to make it to my list! Maybe I am becoming an epistolary novel lover and I didn't even realise it. The reason that this teeny tiny little book still sticks in my head is because it is literally a collection of letters between an American woman and a British bookstore. This is ME! In bookish form! It marks a beautiful love affair between Helene and literature with wonderful cross-sections of American and British wit. My aunt and uncle sent me this book for my birthday and I was intrigued to say the least, since I had never heard anything about it before, but now I feel like I need to force it upon every book-lover that I know. I should warn you, though, if you are at all emotionally inclined, I would be surprised if you were not a little bit misty-eyed at the end. If you do pick this up, make sure you have 'The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street' on hand to read immediately afterwards!


4.) Know My Name by Chanel Miller

I think that I have cried at least 3 times trying to explain how difficult this memoir was to read when talking to my mom about it. However, I think it is also one of the most empowering things I have ever read in that it gave this strong, beautiful woman her voice and her experience back. She no longer had to be a 'victim' or a 'spectator of her own life'. I remember being in university when the Stanford Sexual Assault Case was going on and feeling the unfairness from afar. This memoir, I assure you, will make you even angrier. However, Miller manages to handle it all with generosity and grace. I would highly encourage you to read her witness statement if you haven't done so before (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra)


3.) Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

Words will never be able to describe how beautiful this novel was for me. I will say that I was watching someone's review of it recently and I wanted to fall over and die of shock when he said, and I quote, 'This was really boring'. EXCUSE YOU, SIR. YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY MISTAKEN. Just kidding, you all know that I am a firm advocate for differing opinions on novels, but really... This book blew me away. It follows Shakespeare (who is never named) and the grief he experiences when his young son 'Hamnet' passes away. The chapter Maggie O'Farrell wrote of the movement of the black plague will forever stick in my mind as an example of superb literature, but will simultaneously pale in comparison to her most perfect written portrayal of grief. Also, if you don't want to read 'Hamlet' right after finishing this, I don't want to be friends. Kidding! Or am I..


2.) The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Jonathan and I went to Bath about two weeks before the UK went into full lockdown in March 2019. I had the wonderful pleasure of leisurely strolling through their beautiful bookstores there and happened upon the most gorgeous bind-up of three of Edith Wharton's most popular works. I had heard of her name, of course, being an ex-English literature student, but had never delved to any of her written word before. Man, oh man, am I glad that I picked up that bind up and took the time to get lost in 1870's New York with Newland, May, and Ellen. I read one review that coined the romance in this book as the most perfect love triangle, and I truly have to agree. I also loved and admired the (admittingly modern) male view of female imprisonment by society. It was so very refreshing. I can't wait to visit this story over and over again.


1.) The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune

Alrighty folks, are you ready for this? Not only has this beautiful, wonderful, perfect piece of literature stolen the number one spot on my list this year, but it has stolen the number one place in my heart and soul. I have officially moved 'The House in the Cerulean Sea' to the very tippy top of my favourite reads of ALL TIME. I read this book twice this year. Once, at the very beginning of the year in which I sat and silently cursed myself for peaking so early on and then later on in the year with a small bookclub that I had created with fellow online ESL teachers (because I had to share this treasure I had found). The discussion that followed the reading of this book was tear-streaked and vulnerable, and one of the last times I got to chat about the meaning of life with a dear friend before she decided to leave the world a little too early. The characters in this book walk by me every day and the lessons taught within the pages give me hope for a more accepting and beautiful future. I cannot be more pointed when I say to you that this book completely changed my life and I hope that you will give it the chance to do the same to yours.


Alrighty folks, that's it! That is my round up of the year. I read so many more wonderful things (always feel free to follow me on Goodreads if you want more frequent updates), but this was the top 10% that wowed me! Please let me know what your top reads of the year were and let me know if you plan to read any of my top 10!


Happy reading,


A.C. Woodruff

xx

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