by Susanna Clarke (2020)
This is a novel with some gorgeous worldbuilding.
The protagonist lives in “the House”, an endless series of halls filled with statues, sea, and sky. His reverence for the house is infectious, and I love the world that’s been created. He records his life in journals, and the story is told through its entries. He believes he’s lived there his whole life, and assists “the Other” in scientific experiments, but the truth – which is only revealed gradually – is much more horrifying.
I was initially quite confused, and I took a while to get into it – but I think that’s intentional. The setting is a bit mysterious and fantastical, and we don’t just get answers on a silver platter. It’s a book that gives you a lot to think about.
I listened to this as an audiobook, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor. He brought a lot of depth to the character, and I think I enjoyed it more than if I’d read the text first.
by Alexandria Bellefleur (2021)
This is the sequel to Written in the Stars, which was one of my favourite books last year.
It’s a romance novel, this time between Darcy’s brother Brendon and her best friend Annie. Where the first book used the fake dating trope, this one leans into big romantic gestures. It’s a charming tale of them both learning to be vulnerable and loving, and navigating each other’s love languages.
It’s a sweet book, and I inhaled it in a day. Everyone is nice and bubbly, the friendships and love feel warm and genuine, and I enjoyed spending more time with these characters. These two books are very much comfort reads, and I expect to return to them again and again.
This is the second part of a trilogy, which concluded with Count Your Lucky Stars. I read that this year also, but I didn’t enjoy it as much – Hang the Moon is the high point of the series for me.
by qntm (2021)
This book makes my head hurt.
It’s about “anti-memes” – ideas that you literally can’t remember. It’s a clever and mind-bending concept, dialled up to 11 in a mix of sci-fi, horror, and intrigue. The Foundation agent who forgets they work in antimemetics. A monster that eats your memories and then other people’s memories of you. A pet antimeme that has to be fed with trivia and useless facts. Pure nightmare fuel.
It’s a mixture of short stories and a longer narrative, and I was absolutely gripped. I’ve read it three times and I still don’t completely get it, but I think that’s the point.
edited by Laura Kate Dale (2021)
This is an anthology of essays about different people’s experiences of gender, focusing on a sense of joy rather than despair. It’s lovely to see such a variety of perspectives on gender, and how even tiny moments can bring such happiness.
I really enjoyed getting the different perspectives, some of which resonate closely with me, others which are very different. I like that it has a diverse selection of authors, in multiple dimensions – not just the white, binary, trans women who often dominate such conversations.
Particular favourite essays were “Gender-Creative Parenting”, “The First Signs Hormones Were Working for Me”, and “Punks Against Gender Conformity”.
by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (2020)
This is a charming little book about a café with a novel approach to time travel. You sit in a chair, drink your coffee, and you can go and meet people from your past and future. But there are rules – you can’t change what happens, you can’t get up from your chair, and you have to leave before your single cup of coffee goes cold.
This is part of a series that also includes Before the Coffee Gets Cold and Before Your Memory Fades. I discovered it this year, I read all of it, and I loved it.
Each book is a collection of short stories about different people who choose to sit in the chair – every one with a beautiful tale of emotion, heartbreak, and love. A man who goes back to visit his long-dead best friend. An orphan who wants to meet the parents they never knew. A mother who goes forward to see their grown-up daughter. It’s a clever idea, executed well.
by Jonathan Waldman (2015)
This is a book of stories about rust, and the people whose job it is to make it go away. It sounds like a dry topic, but it’s a real page turner. Each chapter focuses on a different group of people with a good mix of technical information and lighter anecdotes.
Some particular favourite chapters include Coating the Can (about creating canned drinks which are safe for customers), Pigging the Pipe (monitoring the state of corrosion in long oil pipelines), and Indiana Jane (photographing rusting buildings). I took a lot of notes, because I found it fascinating.
I was struck by the parallels to software engineering – in particular the difficulty corrosion engineers have in getting others to care about their work, and how many people want to chase the new shiny rather than maintain the existing thing.
I originally came across this book as a joke – I was looking for a “Rust Book” that wasn’t about the programming language to mention in a sarcastic tweet. I’m glad it stuck in my brain.
by Jodie Chapman (2021)
This is the story of Nick and Anna, two teenagers who meet while working a summer job together, and the way their lives drift alternately further apart and closer together as they get older. I was expecting a traditional “happily ever after” romance, but it’s so much more than that.
It’s a beautiful book about flawed, messy humans, and the love between them. It explores different aspects of the human experience: love, memory, grief, regret. The characters have depth, complexity, and I cared about what happened to them. There are some profound and lovely lines, and I wrote down a lot of quotes.
This recommendation comes with caveats: it’s quite a heavy story, and needs content warnings for suicide, family trauma, and religion. But if you don’t mind those, I think it’s a rewarding read.