Looking back on the fiction I read in 2021, nothing jumps out at me as exceptional. Let me rephrase that, nothing struck me as “Wow, you have to read this book!” Instead, there were lots of “Hmm, that was interesting.” These were books that held my interest but didn’t wow me; books that make you want to drop what you are doing so you can block out a chunk of time to read. Or maybe the pandemic has just taken the luster off of everything…
As an aside, as I mentioned in my 2021 Reading By the Numbers post, with Goodreads, I have a tendency to overrate books; giving 4 stars when looking back I don’t feel like I “really” enjoyed it. There is such a fine line between enjoying a book and really liking it. Which is why I have been wishing for half stars for many years.
Nevertheless, I did read some entertaining and interesting novels in 2021. Here are five that stood out:
The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann
A sort of dark and gritty espionage novel but with a supernatural element haunting it and a Kafkaesque style. At first it reads like a typical missing person/spy story but then the combination of the paranoia that comes from living in an authoritarian state where the government is spying on everyone, and everyone is spying on each other, plus a mysterious illness (and perhaps a mental breakdown) leads to things begining to spin.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Grabbed this on Kindle for $2 so that is a plus. I enjoyed reading this and found it fascinating but it also felt like there was deeper meanings that I was missing or some key to the whole thing that I just couldn’t quite grasp. I am not really very good at unpacking symbolism and layers in fiction.
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
Quick but enjoyable read. I really enjoyed the mix of Ghana, futuristic and fantastical elements. Has a sense of the mythological even as it is science fiction.
How to Betray Your Country by James Wolff
More espionage and more dark humor. A sort of noir espionage thriller that is dark and yet with a kind of wit and humor. A psychological exploration of grief and depression through the eyes of a spy. I really like Beside the Syrian Sea so not surprised I liked this as well.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
This was one I struggled with rating. I enjoyed it and found it creative and in some ways insightful. But it was also rather depressing and hard to read at times. My natural prudishness didn’t help given the plethora of F-bombs, etc. But it kept me reading and a unique and imaginative debut.
I am hoping to offer more detailed posts on each of these books as I go through the books I read in 2021 but given my track record I wanted to highlight them as among my favorites.