It’s that time of year! I am once more presenting my own Annual Literary Awards. I thought this was the third year of doing so until I checked last year’s posts and learned that I’ve been doing this since 2018. As ever, credit for the idea goes to the inimitable FictionFan who is running her own award series at the moment.
This little award series is a way for me to look back at the books I’ve read over the past year and revisit some of the very best. I include every book I’ve read from December 2020 and November 2021, except for any re-reads. The categories are made up by me and the shortlist and winner of each category is decided by me. The prize is the delight and surprise the authors will inevitably feel when they come across these posts while googling their own names.
This year’s categories are as follows:
Best Book Published in 2021
Best Translated Work
Best Canadian Book
Let’s get started!
Best Book Published in 2021
As I’ve gotten deeper into the book blogging world over the years, I’ve noticed that I’m not just reading more books, I’m reading more books closer to their publication date. With a combination of Advance Copies and a desire to keep up with what other readers are reading, as well as other (more legitimate) literary awards, I end up reading more books published in the same year than I used to. As such, I can start to notice trends or recurring themes. In 2021, we are seeing books written in and about the Covid-19 pandemic. We’re seeing books written about issues like racial inequality and climate change – things that aren’t new but have become increasingly difficult to ignore. Looking over the books I’ve read this year that were also published this year, here are some of my favourites that, I think, encapsulate something of our human experience right now. (You can click on titles to read my full reviews, where applicable.)
Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro
Set at some point in the future, Klara and the Sun is an idea of a future where Artificial Intelligence is a part of our life and where parents take huge risks to secure a certain lifestyle for their children. Neither of those plot points seem too strange or foreign to believe in today.
Satellite Love – Genki Ferguson
Ferguson’s first novel explores technology, mental illness, and loneliness. While not set in a specific time, humans have perhaps never been more isolated than we’ve been in the past two years, and never more reliant on technology. There is also some exploration of a character divided between two cultures, which I think is a topic of growing relevance in our world.
The Past is Red – Catherynne M. Valente
I don’t necessarily think that we’re going to one day live in a Water World-esque dystopia of floating garbage but I do think rising water levels and polluted oceans are going to be a big part of our future. (They are getting to be a big part of our present.) And I don’t struggle to believe that future generations may very well curse us and our reliance on plastic and the ease in which we toss it away. Of all the futuristic novels I read this year, The Past is Red is the one that has most stuck in my mind.
I Hope This Finds You Well – Kate Baer
This collection of erasure poems is comprised of several social media messages and comments, something that, again, is an increasing part of our daily lives. I think it speaks to the ways we communicate in 2021 and the things people feel comfortable saying to each other when they aren’t face-to-face. There is also a strong theme here of women and our place in society.
Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling – Esi Edugyan
This essay collection focuses on art and race, each essay focused on a different region of the world. Race is something so many of us are working to understand and think about in new and better ways and this collection was both enjoyable and eye-opening for me to think about the ways we view art and the stories we tell.
(I’ll be posting a full review of this book next week.)
And the Winner is…
What Strange Paradise – Omar El Akkad
Looking over my choices for books published in 2021, What Strange Paradise was immediately the one that jumped out at me as the most impactful. But does a book inspired by events of a few years ago deserve this precise spot? Yes, I think so. On its own, What Strange Paradise was a gut punch of a read for me. I still think about it. It was thought-provoking and had multiple angle over which I pondered what I read. The refugee crisis might not be what filled our news this year but maybe it should have been. Refugees and how we in the developed world respond to them is an ongoing and continuing issue and I think a book like this is all too important in examining what we value and how we treat those around us. Particularly those who are not in positions of power. And that is definitely a relevant question in 2021.
What about you? Do you read a lot of books as they’re published or do you tend to wait longer? What was the best book you read that came out this year? What do you see as some of the major themes addressed in literature in 2021?
(Some other books I really enjoyed that came out this year include The Arsonist’s City, We Want What We Want, Hao, Happy Hour, The Anthropocene Reviewed, A Womb in the Shape of a Heart, and Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch. They didn’t make it onto this particular list because I didn’t feel they were books about 2021 but they are each worthwhile reads.)