My Favourite Reads of 2021

2021 was yet another dumpster fire of a year but at least we all have books. Here are some of the best books I read this year.

I think we’re all a little hesitant about what 2022 could possibly bring considering how the last few years have gone. We’re all approaching it with cautious optimism and concern. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t made a resolution since 2019 and I’m not mad about it. Regardless of what 2022 will bring and the shit show that was 2021 (and 2020, and 2019…) at least we have books. I struggled to meet my reading goal this year for the first time in years. I blame the stalemate that the pandemic has created as we all wait for our lives to get back to normal. I know many places have resumed some form of normalcy but Hong Kong is living in a twilight zone due to its zero-covid goal, meaning our borders have practically been shut for two years now. It’s hard to leave and pretty much impossible to return with a mandatory three-week hotel quarantine meaning travel is out of reach for your average joe-schmoe. To make matter worse, despite not having any local covid cases in over 80 days we still have social restrictions. Here’s hoping we can escape in 2022…

Non-Fiction


5. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

A book club selection that I finished at the tail end of 2021. This non-fiction explores how the psychopath test came to be and how it’s been used in criminology and science. Jon Ronson is known for his humour which created an interesting and entertaining read.

Review to come.


4. Underground by Haruki Murakami

If you follow my blog you know how much I love Murakami. This book is very different from the normal whimsical fiction he writes. Murakami interviews the victims of the sarin gas attack that happened in Tokyo in the 90s and he pieces out the events of the tragedy through the words of the people who lived it. This was another book club selection but I would have eventually read it anyway as I’m very near having read almost everything by Murakami.



3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Another book club selection that really surprised me. I knew little about Trevor Noah when I started this book and was surprised by how much I enjoyed Trevor’s writing and tone. The book recalls his life growing up ‘coloured’ in South Africa during the apartheid, in which he was literally born a crime since white and black people were not allowed to be together.


2. The Choice by Edith Eger

A holocaust memoir unlike any other I’ve read so far. Dr. Edith Eger is a working psychologist and holocaust survivor. At 16, Edith was an aspiring Olympic gymnast before those dreams were robbed by Hitler. Only she and her sister survived the camps but little did she know that the hardest part was still yet to come. Edith gives the details of her life and how she struggled to overcome the horrors of the holocaust and how it led her to her current profession and her desire to help others.


1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This book hit me hard and is one of the most beautiful pieces of non-fiction I’ve read to date. Paul is a young and reputable neurosurgeon who finds out he has stage 4 cancer, meaning that it cannot be cured. While he pursued science, literature was his first love and he had always dreamed of writing a book. This is Paul’s effort to come to terms with his impending death and to leave one last impression for the daughter he was won’t get to see grow up.


Fiction


5. Blankets by Craig Thompson

This graphic novel came highly recommended but it took me ages to get a copy. This book is warm and full of nostalgia as the author details his first love and wrestling with his faith and upbringing.


4. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A stunning graphic novel about one woman’s recounting of growing up in Kabul amidst some of its worst unrest. It’s a coming of age story unlike any I have read before and was a poignant read considering the recent events of 2021 with Afghanistan with the return of the Taliban.


3. Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

This graphic novel really took me by surprise. It’s beautifully illustrated and tells of the author’s experience of abruptly moving to America with her mother against her will. The story details the issues she experienced growing up as an immigrant and the troubles she faced with her family.


2. Rodham by Curis Sittenfeld

If someone told me I would love a fiction about Hilary Clinton I would have laughed at them. When this book was picked for my book club I was not looking forward to it. This premise of this novel speculates how things might have turned out if Hilary didn’t marry Bill. It’s extremely well written and provoking. I thoroughly enjoy this novel.

Review to come.


1. Diamond Hill by Kit Fan

This was novel was a Netgalley find from a local Hong Kong author who now lives in the UK. This novel has Murakami qualities the melds the feel of historical and modern-day Hong Kong. Rich in actual history and set in the 1980s, this is the unique story of a drug-addicted Buddhist monk who finds himself inside a temple in Diamond Hill. He meets an array of unique characters who come to feel like a dysfunctional family. The story captures the feel of Hong Kong while exploring some of its difficult history and future. The writing is exquisite and I can’t wait to see what else this author has to offer.



Longing and Other Stories by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

“When I go out into the world, will I have to endure the same suffering and distress as my parents?”

3/5 stars.
ebook, ARC.
Read from November 29, 2021 to December 6, 2021.

A big thanks to Netgalley for the ARC copy of this book and for continuing to expand my reading repertoire. Considering my love for Japanese writing, it’s weird that this was my first time reading something by this author. I intend to add a few more of his works to my TBR pile.

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki was one of Japan’s most prominent modern writers in the early 20th century. He passed away in 1965 and was known for writing honest accounts of family life that was not often depicted out in the open within Japanese society. This collection of short stories was written early in his career between 1916-1921.

This collection contains three short stories, ‘Longing‘, ‘Sorrows of a Heretic‘, and ‘The Story of an Unhappy Mother‘. Longing details the dreamlike sequence of a boy trying to find his way back home to his mother. What he encounters is eerie and complete with a sad revelation at the end. Sorrows of a Heretic is about a despicable young university student and his relations with his family and friends. He is a liar, a cheat, and relentlessly selfish, even in the face of the death of people he deems close to him. His narcissism is hard to stomach throughout this story. The Story of an Unhappy Mother is another one that will make you feel uncomfortable. By all appearances, the mother in this story seems to have the perfect family with her doting sons. However, she has expectations of them that they can’t seem to be able to meet. After her one son gets married she crashes their honeymoon of which an accident occurs that no one wants to speak of. The mother falls into a deep depression and is never the same afterwards. This results in tragedy in which the real outcome of the accident is finally revealed to the reader and remaining family members.

There is some arguably autobiographical content in this book as it relates to the stories. Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s mother passed away of a heart attack in 1917 and he was not able to make it to her death bed.

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki has a great way of setting a distinct tone for his stories that create the unnerving atmosphere he is trying to instil in his readers. These stories are meant to make you uncomfortable and the fact, that 100 years on, these stories can still evoke these feelings showcases the author’s talent. Jun’ichirō Tanizaki had a way of merging ideas and shifting perspectives that made his writing approachable while also making readers uncomfortable as he showed them stories and ideas that may have been taboo or in bad form to discuss. With this collection, he specifically discusses family and how society perceives what makes a good family and asks the question about how far our duties extend to our family and what exactly do we owe them? This also shows the clash of Confucian ideals with that of the West in early 20th Japan.

Overall an engaging read that made me want to explore what else this author has to offer.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

2/5 stars.
ebook, 309 pages.
DNF 50%: July 13, 2021 – August 1, 2021

I’m going to keep this review brief because I was severely underwhelmed and bored by this book. I did give it a good go though as I made it about halfway through before throwing in the towel.

Part of the reason for my feelings on this book is that all of the content in it already feels familiar. I know that when this book was first published it was absolutely groundbreaking, meaning I’m a bit late to the party in reading this. I was working at a bookstore when it first came out in 2008 and I recall how popular it was. Since then the stats in this book have been used and referenced many, many times since then creating a sense of familiarity for me, despite having not read it before. It also doesn’t help that I never read business or success-related books because I don’t find them appealing or interesting, however, this was a book club selection and I’m committed to my club, ya know? So, the lack of general interest and sense of familiarity created a DNF for me.

The leader of this discussion in our book club was so passionate about this book that it made up for some of the boredom I experienced reading it. There are definitely some intriguing stories and statistics in here so I can appreciate the appeal of this novel if you are business-minded and enjoy books of this nature. This, however, was not a book for me.

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