The Fourth Annual Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards

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

Best Classic

Best Non-Fiction

Best Fiction

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.)

Honourable Mention:

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.)

11 thoughts on “The Fourth Annual Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards”

  1. Hurrah, the Karissas are back! Some interesting books there and I particularly remember your review of The Past is Red, maybe because of all the horrible things we’re doing to the world choking the oceans with plastic is the one I hate the most, because it’s only a few decades since we were perfectly able to live without disposable everythings so it should be easy to get back to that if we really want to. I did find for several years after I started blogging that I was reading far more new releases but in the last couple of years I seem to have reverted back to older books and classics.

    1. It’s shocking how dependent we’ve become on plastic, isn’t it? I see that as a major failure of corporations who are unwilling to give it up. Because I try and purchase as little plastic as I can and it’s very hard to find alternatives.

      I think several of your new releases are actually re-releases of old stories, right? Like the British Library collections?

    2. Yes, though I’ve tried hard to read some really new new releases too. Must admit they’re often the ones that end up on my abandoned pile though! Which makes sense – classics and re-issues are books that have stood the test of time, whereas new books have yet to be judged…

  2. I don’t think I tend to read a lot of new releases – the best book I read published this year was The Anthropocene Reviewed, but it’s only in competition with about three others. I have found that a lot of contemporary fiction published recently – which is what I tend to read for my book club – is very bleak and hopeless, which perhaps explains why I’m not reading that much of it!

    I am really looking forward to Klara and the Sun – I love some of Ishiguro’s work, and can’t stand some of it, so I never know what I’m going to get when I pick it up. This is on my shelf and I’m hoping to read it over the Christmas break.

    1. I really like Ishiguro’s work but I can see why some don’t. Klara was very in line with what I see to be his tone and themes. Which of his work have you liked before?

    2. I absolutely loved The Remains of the Day, and to a lesser extent Never Let Me Go – I didn’t like When We Were Orphans or Nocturnes. His work always provokes strong feelings in me either way!

    3. Hmmm… you might like this one then but I also don’t want to hype it up too much for you! I liked When We Were Orphans but it was the first I read from him so I’m not sure I would feel the same way now. Nocturnes and Unconsoled were the only two that I really struggled to connect with. And I loved Buried Giant which I know a lot of people didn’t.

  3. Your book about floating plastic also stuck with me. When I read the synopsis on the library website, I feel conflicted. It doesn’t sound like your synopsis, though that isn’t to say yours is incorrect. In fact, I always trust blogger synopses more than publishers’ because they’re trying to make the book have a certain aesthetic for sales, and bloggers are most honest.

    1. Looking at the blurb on goodreads doesn’t match the way I remember or would describe the book either. It does have a fantasy/YA flavour to it (though definitely not YA). I tend to go with blogs and reviews over blurbs too though I could see this as a book where different things jump out at different readers.

  4. I really want to read What Strange Paradise, and your awards (and the giller!) really clinched it for me. I still think about the book The Boy on the Beach I read a few years ago, about the death of that little boy whose body washed up on the beach – that really brought the refugee crisis home for me, but it was quite painful to read too. No doubt Omer’s book would make me feel similar – horrified, saddened, and hopefully motivated to make a difference.

    1. Haha! Love seeing my recommendation up there with the Giller! I definitely think this is worth reading. That news story is one that stuck with me too.

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