This year started with the reverse of last year – in the long winter lockdown I couldn’t stop reading, and it was books that got me through the weeks of isolation and being trapped at home. I then had another burst of reading in the summer as I made up for the lockdowns with lots of holidays down to the south-west, where reading was a big feature. My highs and lows of 2021 are below, with links to the blogs I wrote as I went along. I hope it provides some Christmas shopping inspiration.
Most likely to change the world - A Promised Land by Barack Obama is a great book by someone who has changed the world, and is a book with the power to inspire others to do so and to remind us all that politics can make a positive difference.
Learned most from - This year it’s a novel rather than non-fiction that I learned most from – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I learned a lot about Ghana through these fictional characters and about the lived experience of the legacy of slavery.
Most captivating - The wonderful novel The Autumn of the Ace by Louie de Bernieres weaved a spell on me. It is the final book in a trilogy and takes you through the forty years of Daniel’s life after the second world war and tackles ageing, searching for life’s meaning, and the complexity of relationships, in a way that it is hard to surpass.
Most changed my everyday life - The Stoic Challenge by William B Irvine and The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, which I now use every day, have definitely changed my life for the better. A bit of Stoicism really helps deal with the crazy world we are living in right now.
Most enjoyment from - I loved The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. It’s the story of twins Desiree and Stella and the very different paths they take in life, having grown up together in the small town of Mallard in Louisiana. A clever and very enjoyable read.
Most able to make a complex subject easy to understand - The Tyranny of Merit by Michael J Sandel is a great read. I hope this book leads to a questioning of the assumption that as long as we focus on mobility, it’s OK to live in a hugely unequal society.
Most un-put-downable - A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins was definitely un-put-downable and I loved following the thriller through the streets of Islington and trying to work out who was responsible.
Least enjoyment from - I got The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton for my birthday, but just didn’t really enjoy the historical piece of crime fiction set aboard a ship of the Dutch East India company. The setting wasn’t my cup of tea, I didn’t get into the characters and the ending left me felt cheated.
Most surprised by, in a good way - I had considered reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell when I read the reviews, but decided against it as it didn’t sound like my kind of thing. However, when I was given it for my birthday I duly read it and was deeply moved.
Would most recommend for holidays - The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett - over 800 pages of perfect escapism, back to the year 997. You can really lose yourself in this world and it is one for when you have time on your hands.
Talked most obsessively about - What Does Jeremy Think? by Suzanne Heywood was the book I talked most about with past and current colleagues. It is a great read for anyone who is interested in politics, policy and the inner workings of government in the UK.