Best Books Read in 2021 Part 1: The Stats + One Outstanding Read of the Year

In 2021 I read approximately 80 books. Less than in 2020 which was an exceptional year, when reading basically replaced external social activity and travel.

This year I’m sharing the best reads of the year over three separate posts; the overview and bigger picture seen from the stats here in Part 1 + My One Outstanding Read of the Year, Top Fiction Reads in Part 2 and Top Nonfiction in Part 3. And a few special mentions along the way.

Christmas reads literature in translationMy habit and ritual is to read a book a week, to read half an hour every morning and every evening, without fail. Now that I’m no longer required to fulfill the needs of little people in the early morning, a few pages accompanies my hot beverage to start the day and is like a reliable sedative that ensures I fall into easy sleep at night.

This year, it turns out I read a book and a half a week.

This change in rhythm and habit may explain why I’m reading more nonfiction, less escapism and imagination, more contemplative immersion.

Writing about reading is not only a pure joy it’s a way of decluttering; write a review, get rid of a book off the shelf, donate to the vide grenier!

So thank you to those who read and share the fun with me and apologies for email subscribers if I fill up your inboxes too rapidly at times.

The Stats

Over the years, I’ve made a conscious effort to read more women authors, to reverse a subconscious trend that had been occurring based on the exposure to reviews in traditional types of media. So now you could say I have a conscious bias towards women authors, this year representing 86%.

I know I’m missing out on some great storytelling, but I’ve become a little bit of a literary activist in this respect, so while Dalmon Galgut, the South African writer won the Booker Prize this year, I’m less likely to read The Promise, instead favouring another South African author Sindiwe Magona and her twin autobiographies, To My Children’s Children and Forced to Grow, two exceptional titles that deserve to be more widely known and read.

Reading Around the World

In 2021, I read books from 28 different countries, 87% of them were written in English and 13% translated from other languages. As you can see from the pie chart above, the Anglo-Saxon countries continue to dominate, although there was a much greater focus on Ireland than the UK, due to participating in the Brian Moore 100 read along.

The countries where authors originated from were US, Ireland, UK, South Africa, Australia, Uganda, New Zealand, Argentina, France, Canada, Uruguay, Italy, Cameroon, Nigeria, Lebanon, Jamaica, Zambia, Haiti, Chile, Antigua, Iran, Guadeloupe, Mexico, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Trinidad, Colombia, Japan.

Women In Translation

Best Reads of 2021At 13%, this was down on 2020 when 32% of my reads were in translation. This year I spent July/August focusing on a personal writing project so I didn’t participate in the usual Women in Translation August reading challenge.

Below, the breakdown by region.

Read Around the World 2021

Fiction Rules, Nonfiction Rises

Being a big fan of fiction, I was surprised to see this year that my nonfiction reads increased from 30% to 35%. It’s been a struggle to come up with a limited shortlist of favourites, as there were so many!

I read more multiple books by the same authors this year, for example in Nonfiction Sindiwe Magona (South Africa) and Deborah Levy (South Africa/UK), while in Fiction Brian Moore (Northern Ireland) and Sara Baume (Ireland).

Audio Books, E-Books, Paperback or Hardbacks

This year 78% of my reading came from off my bookshelf while 21% were e-books I read on a kindle.

Best Reads of 2021

There has been a significant upward trend in the reading/listening world towards audio books, a change I have not jumped into. I do have a daily half hour commute, but it’s through the countryside of Provence and being present to the local landscape is a pleasurable, mindful lead-up to the work I do.

I think it is interesting and encouraging though, that many are rediscovering literature through having someone read to them aloud, something that each generation has valued, from the radio listening days before television, to podcasts to audiobooks, not to mention the nostalgia of childhood, having stories read to us. I can still remember the excited anticipation of sitting on the mat in primary school, at that hour of the day that the teacher would continue with a longer story that was being read to the class.

What Mood of Book Do We Gravitate Towards?

There’s a new app for storing your reading library called The Storygraph. It’s interesting though I don’t think it matches what I get from Goodreads yet, but one thing it does is analyse your reading by mood and pace. So I have discovered that I tend to read more slow and medium paced books, only 2% are fast paced! So it appears I’m fast at reading slow paced books and slow at reading fast paced? Here’s the breakdown for 2021.

Mood of Book 2021

The three main moods of the books I read according to this are Reflective, Emotional and Challenging!

Outstanding Book of the Year 2021

Best Books of 2021 Autofiction Forough FarrokhzadAnd so to my One Outstanding Read of the Year, which thinking about it, combines a little of everything that appeals to me.

It is fiction, but based on the real life of a woman, so it has the best of what fiction offers through being able to reimagine a voice and the authenticity of nonfiction in using the life, the achievements, the poetry and self expression of a woman to channel her story. And it takes me to another country and culture, to open the mind and yet observe the universal.

Beyond Black There is No Colour : The Story of Forough Farrokhzad by Maryam Diener not only is my favourite and One Outstanding Read of 2021, but surely it is one of the least publicized and underrated books of the year.

Forough Farrokhzad, poet, mother, feminist, film-maker, radical, was one of the most iconic dissenting voices in modern Iranian history.

Maryam Diener reimagines the life of the young revolutionary poet in this heart-felt novella, portraying a young woman who desired to be authentic and write from the core of her being about her emotional life, loves and losses, in a way that no woman in her country before her had ever dared.

At only 150 pages, Diener has chosen certain events in Farrokhzad’s life from her childhood, marriage, her success with poetry and its contribution to the dissolution of her family life, her love for her son and the way she pours herself into her creative output, including film.

“What sets [Farrokhzad] apart from her predecessors and even her contemporary women writers is her rendering of quotidian experience with no intention to guide, to educate, to lead…(her) poetry is an accurate portrayal of the pain and pleasure of a whole generation undergoing radical change.” Iranian Scholar, Farzaneh Milani

It’s Outstanding and like nothing else I have read this year. This is the one slim book that rises to the top of the pile for me, one that haunts the reader, that leaves a legacy, that cuts a path for other women to step in to and follow.

And so next up My Top Fiction so 2021…

Did you have one book that stood out from all the rest this year? If so, share it in the comments below.

19 thoughts on “Best Books Read in 2021 Part 1: The Stats + One Outstanding Read of the Year

  1. Gosh, quicker than me on the stats for the year! The book I waited all year for was Olga Tokarczuk’s latest, The Books of Jacob. It is wonderfully translated by Jennifer Croft, and shows why Tokarczuk is a Nobel winner. As the review on my blog notes, not an easy read by any means, but well worth the effort. I don’t read many books by women writers, but did revisit some of Olga’s other novels this year, and also Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Visitation, which I really enjoyed.

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    • Yes, I’m a bit early this year as I’m planning to be away for the last week of December, I don’t usually post till the 31st!

      I do have an Olga Tokarczuk novel to read now, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead and I’m really looking forward to reading it. And to reading your review of The Book of Jacob.

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  2. I’ll echo Litgaz: you are early this year!
    As usual I am mulling over whether I will do my annual stats, My initial thoughts are that although I find other people’s stats interesting nobody is interested in mine except me, and then I look at the stats for the four annual stats posts that I’ve done since 2017 and they get more comments than almost anything else.
    But as you well know, it’s a lot of work…
    PS No, really, do read The Promise…

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  3. Excellent post! You are widely read my Dear. I too have joined Goodreads and I plan on spending more time on the Storygraph than Goodreads. The Story graph is coming along quite well. Goodreads is boring me these days. hat exactly do you use on Goodreads that you can’t on The Storygraph that you wish you could?

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    • It’s the group readalongs and discussions, especially in the Read Women group, where they do different themes each quarter, even if I don’t read the book, it’s the ease with which to follow the discussion and the ongoing interactivity with other readers. This month I’m reading Braiding Sweetgrass with them, last month Corregidora. It’s less about saying look what I’m reading and more about the benefit of reading and discussing at your own pace throughout the month. It’s the aspect of community.

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      • Just to say that I’d been hoping for more of a sense of community on Storygraph too (I’ve recently left) because there were some really neat features, though I suppose it depends whether one is mostly using it for logging or tracking or to add to one’s TBR and chattering.

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    • I usually do mine on 31 Dec, but this year I will be occupied the last week of December, so I know I’m unlikely to read more than the two I added in, and decided it was ok to be early than to not be able to do it at all. Watch this space for my Top 10 Fiction tomorrow. I look forward to seeing how your year panned out too Liz.

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  4. Pingback: Best Books Read in 2021 Part 2: Top 10 Fiction – Word by Word

  5. I’m impressed by the geographic range of your reading. I managed 19 different countries this year (I decided to put Wales, England, Scotland all under UK heading). How do you find books from so many countries?

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    • Thank you, I do love women writers voices and storytelling from Africa and the Caribbean, and I guess I have a bit of a radar for spotting them. I do read and follow Brittle Paper, an online literary magazine that highlights African literary works. In the past I also used to refer to Margaret Busby’s Daughters of Africa, the anthology and reference of women writers of African descent. And now the follow up book New Daughters of Africa.

      I subscribed to Charco Press so that gives me a source for Latin America and of course I always follow the women in translation blogs and posts. I also make myself think twice before picking up books by authors from the dominant publishing countries, which is very hard since those publishers have really inflitrated the blog space. So a little bit of sacrifice involved.

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  6. I always look forward to your year end post, Claire. Especially, I love to find out which was your outstanding read of the year. So glad to know about Maryam Diener’s book. Loved what you said about it. I’ll add it to my reading list. Sindiwe Magona’s twin autobiographies sound wonderful too. I’ve always been surprised that black South African writers are missing from the literary conversations online which is odd, because black Nigerian writers are literary stars. I’ve always wanted to read a book by a black South African writer. I think I’ll start with Sindiwe Magona. Thanks so much for these two recommendations. Will look forward to reading your next post.

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  7. Like Vishy, I’ve added Maryam Diener’s novella. It sounds amazing. (I’ve friended you on GR too but had to type in your name as the recommender, so you won’t get a notification that I’ve added it after all.) You’re definitely ahead of the game with your stat’s…whereas I still have a small stack of books that I’m hoping to finish this year on some quiet days ahead. I love all your colourful graphs. And I know my non-fiction has increased this year too. (Mine was lower last year though, to begin with.) I hope you find all sorts of inspiring and informative reading in 2022.

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  8. Some impressive and wide-ranging reading across this year, Claire. And numerous recommendations over the weeks, many of which I hope to tackle in the coming year, including your outstanding book which does indeed sound wonderful. I’ve not heard of The Story Graph, I’m off to take a look now. Thank you for all your posts – always stimulating and informative 😊

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