After the myriad pages and countless hours spent reading this year, I have assembled for you, dearest reader, my top 5 of 2021. Without further ado, here it is:
5: How Fiction Works was recommended to me through a podcast called Binge Mode. They described it as a useful framework for understanding the writer’s craft, and that is certainly true. Enlightening and drawing examples from great books that I’ve either read or need to read, it certainly opened eyes to what makes a story, a sentence, or a simple word, effective. I do not normally read very much nonfiction books, but this one exceeded expectations and I now consider it invaluable.
4: A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was added to my reading list for the poor reasoning that I already owned it and it was Russian. This book turned out, however, to be one of the most fascinating reads I’ve had in a long time. The book is Ellie Wiesel’s Night, Gulag Edition. It’s incredible to see all the ways man finds ways to survive and even thrive in the most challenging of circumstances. Ivan exploits the smallest advantages to gain an edge and continue to survive the harsh conditions. The level of exquisite detail and realism attest to the author's own experience surviving the Gulag.
3: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was one of my least favorite Harry Potter books when I first read it, because Cedric Diggory’s death upset me so much I couldn’t sleep. This year, however, I decided to revisit the series, and the decision has been incredibly fruitful. This series is not limited to a young audience; it’s truly a feat that anyone can appreciate. And to read it again and see how JK manages to make Mad Eye Moody’s every word and move have double meaning makes the revisit entirely worth it. I see now that my emotional turmoil as a child was actually a testament to Rowling’s incredible writing, plotting, and character development.
2: War and Peace, shocking to say, is not nearly as long as it could have been. It only follows about 7 years, whereas I thought it would follow an entire generation, considering its bulk. Even more incredible, if the book were longer, I’d have kept going! I loved learning about the Napoleonic wars, since that was never thoroughly addressed in any of my education. The descriptions of war and the thoughtfulness he has in breaking down the myth of ‘great’ men was fascinating. Tolstoy’s writing is smooth and modern, but his particular skill is understanding human psychology. Almost every chapter describes some minor aspect of how people behave, and it still holds amazing resonance. Only the ending was a bit of a slog and thus did not manage to be my favorite of the year.
1: Every now and then, you find a book that you simply want to press close to your chest as you sigh in rapture. It recalls the moment when you find the perfect wave, or the song that strikes your bones with its melody, and you say, “this is it! This is what I was looking for!” The White Tiger did that for me. Short, succinct, hilarious, and poignant, this book is one of the best novels written. Having been to India, the descriptions were especially vivid and revealing. The epistolary style was an effective choice in conveying the story, and, like with Ivan Denisovich, you see this man chart a path through an untenable situation, but it leaves you wondering whether it was all worth it, and whether the protagonist is a villain, or simply an entrepreneurial survivor.