The Books of 2021

Time for another year-end book list. Here’s my summary from Goodreads. Probably my biggest theme of the year was finishing off Robin Hobb‘s 16-book “Realm of the Elderlings” world (about 11 books this year, the others in 2020). The whole series is good, some of it great. Probably my favorite thing about the books, aside from the many interesting characters, is the way the separate stories relate and tie together, sometimes with the payoff or a-ha moment not coming for another 6 or 8 books; she obviously thought through the world she was constructing before writing any of it, and there are some beautiful moments of realization scattered throughout the series. My least favorite thing about Robin Hobb is her penchant for layering misery after misery onto her poor protagonists; sometimes it feels like too much. I did some rereading this year, returning to the Douglas Adams books I first read long ago and the N.K. Jemisin books I first read 5-6 years ago. Those were both good. Jemisin, in particular, held up well on a second reading; I forgot just enough to enjoy it all over again. Other than that, I’ll call out Sayaka Murata for the most disturbing book I read this year, Earthlings, and Yoko Ogawa for The Memory Police, which inspired me to write my longest review [spoiler alert] of the year.

– Robin Hobb – All the assassin and liveship things
– N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season, and the rest of that series, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and so on
– Jane Austen – Mansfield Park (yes, another reread)
– Martha Wells – The Element of Fire
– T. Kingfisher – A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
– JRRT – The Hobbit (another reread that holds up well)
– Austin Channing Brown – I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
– Susanna Clarke – Piranesi
– Deonn Tracy – Legendborn
– Tamsyn Muir – Gideon the Ninth

For fun let’s also talk about the 1/2-stars and DNFs. First, there’s The Wheel of Time. I read the first three books and that’s as much as I can manage. I didn’t think they were terrible, but the characters’ immaturity (have you ever spoken to an actual girl or boy?) and nonsensical thinking (why do you all hate the woman who keeps saving your lives and is nothing but decent to you?), as well as all the gender essentialism, were just too much for me to feel like trudging through another 11ish books with them.

– Robert Jordan – The Wheel of Time I could have spent reading something else
– Shannon Messenger – Keeper of the Lost Cities. Every YA cliche made as dumb as possible.
– Deborah Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand. A reread that did not hold up (DNF).
– Elizabeth Knox – The Absolute Book
– Fuminori Nakamura – Cult X. I started this, then read the reviews and decided it was not for me (DNF).
– Robin Hobb – Forest Mage. Sorry, Robin. This did not start great, and then I read reviews and realized it would get much worse (DNF).
– Tamsyn Muir – Harrow the Ninth. Remove everything that made Gideon the Ninth fun, add a bunch of meh, and then try to save it with an exciting finish. No.