Last year, I revealed my top five reads of 2021, and now another year has passed, and I find myself digging through all the books I read last year and trying to come up with the top five again. I thought my choices for 2021 were very arbitrary, but looking back, I feel I’ve mostly made a solid choice. My reading this year has been a bit less varied, focused on getting through some major authors’ works, like Jane Austen or P. D. James. I think I’m realizing that I love to read new work, but old favourites keep returning to me. Last year, four of my five top fives were rereads. This year it is three out of five.
So once more, in order of author’s last name, are my top five reads of the year. These are the best books. Read them.
Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
James Frey’s glorious novel of Los Angeles will always hold a special place in my heart, with its fierce urgency, its glorious, kaleidoscopic diversity and its relentless, emotional drive. It follows a whole host of characters with basically unrelated lives, but through the whole story is the story of the dream of Los Angeles, of the truth of Los Angeles, of the harsh place where those two meet, and the beautiful, human stories of those caught in between. It’s also, increasingly, the story of an era, of the naughties, of the time before hope was lost and the economy stalled. It’s a story that will make you feel it all.
Fallout by Sadie Jones
Fallout is one of my favourite novels ever, the novel I never saw coming but which I’ve returned to again and again and again. It’s the simple story of two people who shouldn’t fall in love but do. It’s about theatre in the 70s. It’s a film in prose, lyrical and gorgeous, a book that touches you and absorbs you and doesn’t let go once it starts. I always want to go back to Luke’s burning energy, to Nina’s damaging need, to stodgy Paul and nervous Leigh, to the imperfect friendships they formed, and the way their lives dodged and weaved through the gritty, messy world that was London in the 70s.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T J Klune
This has been the most hyped book of the year it seems from book lovers, and I knew I was going to have to get round to reading it. It’s a story of pure, warm joy, about a man who learns to give up drudgery and love again, about five children who are different and deserve to be accepted for who they are. It is full of whimsy and laughter and humour, full of magic and full of moral lessons directly told. It is a fairy tale for our age, a story that feels exactly like the cover does, one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. Pick up a copy, and take a trip to the cerulean sea.
A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin
Warning: The fourth and last image in the slideshow contains a spoiler for the ending of A Game of Thrones.
There is probably no story that is better known in recent times than A Game of Thrones, except perhaps Harry Potter. This is the book that started it all, a story so richly imagined it sucks you in and never lets go. This is the story about a kingdom at the edge of war, of the noble, lordly Ned Stark and his family; of the witty, sharp-tongued Tyrion Lannister; of exiled, strong-willed Daenerys Targaryen. It is brutal but epic, grand but human, a story about imperfect people in an imperfect world, struggling for the highest stakes. It is the ultimate story about war and power, and what happens to the people caught in the eve of a struggle.
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson
This is a fantasy book that does what only fantasy can do. It is an extraordinary idea about a beautiful piece of magic, the art of forgery, or altering an object’s past so it can become something different. The Emperor’s Soul is about a captured woman whose life depends on completing an impossible task: to turn her art to people, and forge a new soul for the Emperor. In this tense thriller filled with exquisite magic, Sanderson makes us think about the nature of art, the nature of our humanity and the importance of cultural curiosity. This is a story that will never leave you.