Best Books of 2021

Books, Nature Writing, Science-Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Luna agrees, these books are also high up on her list of all-time favourites

Sure, 2021 feels like a decade ago, especially because, thanks to Covid-19, that whole year felt like a very long day. But this was also a very fruitful year reading-wise for me, and before I wanted to share three of the books that stayed with me and that I still keep thinking about to this date. A list of interesting readings from 2022 shall follow in due course…

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

This book goes directly to my list of all-time favourites. A mixture of gorgeous language and poignant science proves that arts and sciences are not mutually exclusive. The author is a First Nations American poet and biologist. The book is written in short chapters, each a condensed narrative around a specific plant and its intricate connections with a global ecosystem. Thanks to this book I learned about primaeval forests, how pecan trees communicate with each other to produce fruit all across the land at the same time (yes, this isn’t science-fiction), the gift economy and much more. If you’ve ever felt climate grief or are disenchanted with the human race and life in general go read this book. 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. 

Some species of reptiles change their reproductive organs according to temperature. Inspired perhaps by this idea, this science-fiction novel is one of the first explorations of gender fluidity in this genre. I found the beginning a bit slow, and dense, and I did wonder if I was going to enjoy this classic as much as I’d expected. But this is Le Guin after all, and by the second third of the book, the pace took off and became relentless until the end. If this novel can teach you something as a writer, it’s the importance of taking time to construct your main characters in a longer piece of fiction. By doing this, you assure the readers connect with them emotionally and thus, get truly invested in the world-building and the plot. Yes, she had to sacrifice the pace at the beginning. Does it pay off? Absolutely. Reading the last chapter brought tears to my eyes and I’m not to cry with books. The Left hand of Darkness is an essential piece for science-fiction and queer literature lovers alike. Note, though, that it was published in 1969 and lacks some of the most accepted gender(less) terminology that we use these days (Le Guin wrote an essay about how she wouldn’t have used the masculine pronouns as universal if she’d written the book later on). You can also read this insightful review of the classic published in The Paris Review blog and written by author Charlie Jane Anders here.

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawasaki. 

This novel is divided into two parts, and I found the first one better written and structured, with the second one tending towards rambling and a somewhat frustrating slow pace. That said, after reading some of its reviews, this could be (to a point) a translation issue. The main character and narrator in this novel is from Osaka (a large city on Honshu, Japan’s main island), famous for its distinctive Japanese dialect. This dialect was used to write the novel in its original version, but the translators opted for plain English – which I’m not sure did the narrator’s voice any favour. Language and structure apart, this is a book that gives a humane face to some controversial topics. For example, how do you feel about breast augmentation? What impact does a procedure like this have on a woman? And those around her? The novel opens with the story of two sisters from a working-class family – the older one, who works as a hostess, is considering getting ‘a boob job’ and the younger one is horrified. Fast-forward ten years, and now the younger sister has finally come to terms with both her asexuality and her desire to become a mother. Trying to find a sperm donor proves challenging. This method of conception is still taboo in current Japanese society, only allowed as a possibility for married couples who can’t have biological children any other way. Almost all the female characters in this book are living in ways that challenge stereotypes of femaleness present in Japan and beyond. Only for that, this is a brave book worth your time.

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