If you’re looking for something new to read in 2021 or beyond, check out everything I read this year! I did a similar list of everything I read in in 2019, and enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d see what gems I find in 2021. I’ll be updating the list throughout the year, so make sure to check back for more reviews in the coming months!
1. Sourdough – Robin Sloan
Like many people, I baked a lot of sourdough in 2020. I love my sourdough starter dearly (her name is Velma) and I think the sourdough baking process is incredibly interesting. I love to bake and was hoping this book would be a new favourite. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite turn out to be the case. The story follows Lois, a software developer working a soul-crushing job in San Francisco whose life is changed when she’s given a mysterious sourdough starter. I found the characters very two-dimensional, especially Lois. I know very little about her personality or what she wants in life, which isn’t helped by the fact that whenever strange things happen (and quite a few do), she has no emotional reaction whatsoever. Similarly, the two brothers who gave Lois her sourdough are almost entirely defined by their ethnicity. Belonging to a culture called “the Mazg”, we’re given tidbits about this group that seems more focused on making them appear mysterious and exotic than like a real (or even believable) culture. All of these tidbits are fed to us through a strange chapter format that begins as a series of emails to Lois, but moves in and out of that format for no discernible reason.
In the same vein, established facts about the story’s world are dropped almost as soon as they’re established. For example, we’re told that Lois has to work so long and so hard that all she does is work, sleep, and drink Soylent-style sludge specifically designed for busy tech workers like her. That is, until she doesn’t. She has this job for most of the story, but suddenly has time to experiment with bread and open a stall in an experimental food market when the plot requires it. There were so many inconsistencies in this story that I couldn’t connect with it. I didn’t care about Lois, I didn’t believe anything that was happening, and the missed opportunities that could have made this book salvageable frustrated me. if you’re looking for a fun book about bread, look elsewhere.
2. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
I found this book difficult to separate from its film adaptation, which has made it tough to review as an independent piece of work. I think being a fan of the film actually made the book more enjoyable for me, and I suspect that this might be one of those rare occasions where the film is better than the book. While other films might cut your favourite scene in a book for a smoother plot or shorter run time, The Princess Bride‘s book-to-film process just saved us from a long-winded, half-fictionalised version of the author’s life that, because I was reading the 25th anniversary addition, were made longer by a second introduction and an epilogue about a pretend sequel. That said, the core Princess Bride story is still at the heart of this book. The film adaptation really leaves very little out here, including almost all of the lines word for word, and almost every scene apart from a creepy series of nightmares Buttercup has. The one element I do wish had made it into the film was the deeper insight into Inigo and Fezzick’s friendship, because it is absolutely adorable. Overall, I wouldn’t be recommending this to anyone other than die-hard fans of The Princess Bride and even then, that recommendation would need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
★ ★ ★
3. Foundation – Isaac Asimov
I find that sci-fi often feels like a mirror being held up to the society in which it was written- all you need to do is look at the plethora of contemporary dystopian stories to see what I mean. Written in 1951, I think one of Foundation‘s most impressive attributes is how timeless it feels (occasional references to the popularity of smoking and paper communication aside). Foundation introduces the reader to the concept of psychohistory, a mathematical and psychological science which a uniquely brilliant man named Hari Seldon uses to predict the future of the universe, tens of thousands of years in advance. The novel is more like five short stories, beginning with Seldon’s plan to save the Galactic Empire from thirty thousand years of suffering, and jumping across decades to see if things really happen they way he thinks they will. While Foundation can definitely be classed as sci-fi, the core of its intrigue is political. Foundation‘s timelessness is done so well because no matter what year it is and what planet you’re on, people will act the way people always do.
★ ★ ★ ★
4. Persuasion – Jane Austen
I’ve loved every Jane Austen book I’ve ever read, and Persuasion was no exception. It has all your classic Austen features- a sensible heroine in a silly family; long walks through the countryside; and a will-they-won’t-they that mainly involves quietly yearning for a man in tights from across various drawing rooms. I think the satire of Austen’s writing is easier to pick up on in this book than some of her others, something which I think makes it easier for modern readers to connect with the story instead of being bogged down by etiquette details that feel strange and counter-intuitive. I think the characters were my favourite part of the book, and while Anne Elliot might not be right up there with Lizzie Bennett and Elinor Dashwood in terms of great Austen heroines, I think she’s very, very close.
★ ★ ★ ★
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