20 votes

What were the best books you read this year?

Any book you read this year counts — not just 2021 releases.

What were the best books you read this year, and what made them so good?

14 comments

  1. [7]
    wervenyt
    (edited )
    Link
    This year, I decided to read some of those books that people tell you you need to read. In no particular order: Vladimir Nabokov - Pale Fire I cannot express how dull, if tender, the central poem...
    • Exemplary

    This year, I decided to read some of those books that people tell you you need to read. In no particular order:

    Vladimir Nabokov - Pale Fire

    I cannot express how dull, if tender, the central poem reads. I'm unable to describe my hate for Kinbote. This book was insanely satisfying, hilarious, and disgusting, all at once. It asks a lot of the reader, as nearly the entire narrative is built by the interplay of poem vs prose, observer vs observed, real vs unreal, yet even in the most nauseating moments, the villains feel pitiful and reflect real humanity.

    Annie Dillard - Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    This book reads like a relaxing hike at dusk. It's a balm for the marks left on souls by the endless human interaction and judgment that our times desire.

    Gabriel García Márquez - One Hundred Years of Solitude

    It's a mystical look into the modernization of latinoamerican culture, dreamy and warped, even nightmarish, but endlessly gorgeous.

    Thomas Pynchon - The Crying of Lot 49

    The story of how nobody actually knows the song Wagon Wheel, a group of Mexican postal workers killed JFK, and the Walt Disney Corporation designs history. It's short, disregard the author, it's great, everyone should read it.

    Thomas Pynchon, Again - Mason & Dixon

    I actually read most of this between November and December of last year, but since I finished it jn January and began a reread about two weeks ago, I'm gonna count it. This was the first Big Ol' Complicated Book I've read, and, going through it again, I missed... a whole lot. Like, a lot. However, even so, disregarding any global conspiracies of Jesuits and automatonical ducks, in it, I see echoes of the essence of brotherly love. It's beautiful, plus George Washington rips the shit out of a homegrown blunt. #merica


    I've read these books as a result of a "curriculum" designed by our very own @krg. It took me over a year, and I'm still only halfway through Don Quixote, but I can't recommend this reading list enough. As one whose childhood love of reading was nearly extinguished by depression and compulsory texts for school, this set of works took me from simple literacy to wanting to dive in and untangle matted nests of paragraphs full of allusion and hidden meanings. Hell, I'm even starting to write for myself. Thank you, krg, for making this. You might have changed my life.

    12 votes
    1. [2]
      krg
      Link Parent
      I must admit I read this comment the day after it was posted and have been thinking of appropriate words to do this.. honor (for lack of a better word (so much for reading’s effect on...

      I must admit I read this comment the day after it was posted and have been thinking of appropriate words to do this.. honor (for lack of a better word (so much for reading’s effect on vocabulary…)) justice. Well, I still haven’t.. suffice it to say I’m very happy for you and that rekindled spark. ;)


      and..damn! this might be the coolest thing I’ve done for a person! def patting myself on the back for this one.

      8 votes
      1. wervenyt
        Link Parent
        I'm glad you appreciate the thanks. If anything, I've undersold how impactful this simple reading list has been for my mental health and intellectual growth in the last year. It's just a shame how...

        I'm glad you appreciate the thanks. If anything, I've undersold how impactful this simple reading list has been for my mental health and intellectual growth in the last year. It's just a shame how few people it can realistically be recommended to.

        4 votes
    2. [4]
      daturkel
      Link Parent
      Pale Fire is probably the best novel I've ever read, and The Crying of Lot 49 is another personal favorite. What's next on your list?

      Pale Fire is probably the best novel I've ever read, and The Crying of Lot 49 is another personal favorite. What's next on your list?

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        wervenyt
        Link Parent
        Yeah, it's really telling when you truly despise the narrator and the story being told, but love the form and themes explored enough to invest the time and effort to read it anyway. I really need...

        Yeah, it's really telling when you truly despise the narrator and the story being told, but love the form and themes explored enough to invest the time and effort to read it anyway. I really need to explore more of his work, but Nabokov's obsession with the despicable makes it a tough commitment.

        Lot 49 was so good that, the next morning after finishing it, I had no desire to read anything else, and so I began it again with breakfast. It really captures the transcendent and maddening aspects of paranoia, and no word feels unnecessary. That density is extraordinary.

        As I mentioned in the above post, I'm currently getting through Mason & Dixon, but also Kafka's The Trial, and Stephen Fry's Mythos. I suppose next would be the second half of Don Quixote once I've finished The Trial, probably either Salt by Mark Kurlansky, The Will to Change by bell hooks, or an Oliver Sacks book once I've gotten through Mythos, and then I'll be looking at various other, shorter, classics of literature like Dubliners, Notes from Underground, and The Old Man and The Sea once I'm done with M&D. I don't keep a strict reading list, so it's really up to chance what comes next.

        4 votes
        1. [2]
          daturkel
          Link Parent
          After Mason & Dixon, Don Quixote, and Mythos, you're going to plow through The Old Man and The Sea in a couple of hours. I tried listening to the Mythos audiobook over the summer but it's quite...

          The Old Man and The Sea

          After Mason & Dixon, Don Quixote, and Mythos, you're going to plow through The Old Man and The Sea in a couple of hours.

          I tried listening to the Mythos audiobook over the summer but it's quite long so I didn't make it all the way through. It's easy enough to pick up again at some point, though.

          Yeah, it's really telling when you truly despise the narrator and the story being told, but love the form and themes explored enough to invest the time and effort to read it anyway. I really need to explore more of his work, but Nabokov's obsession with the despicable makes it a tough commitment.

          I don't know what other Nabokov you've already read, but from what I've read:

          • Pnin: hilarious and much more light-hearted than other Nabokov
          • Invitation to a Beheading: extremely Kafkaesque (though Nabokov denied having read Kafka at this point) but more metaphysical; not worth it IMO
          • Lolita: extremely well-written and worth reading if you can handle it

          I think you'd probably like The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov too.

          4 votes
          1. wervenyt
            Link Parent
            Hah, we'll see. Mythos slows down a bit near the end, narratively, but there's some lovely prose and it's very cozy in tone. I'll definitely be reading the rest of the series. Re: Nabokov Oh, I...

            you're going to plow through The Old Man and The Sea in a couple of hours.

            Hah, we'll see.

            Mythos slows down a bit near the end, narratively, but there's some lovely prose and it's very cozy in tone. I'll definitely be reading the rest of the series.

            Re: Nabokov

            Oh, I have no doubt that eventually I'll read most, if not all, of his published works. As it stands, there are plenty of other authors I have no experience with, whose worlds and philosophies I'd like to explore before diving deep into his, since I'm already kind of doing that with Pynchon. Nabokov might be next though. Thanks for the briefers, and I'll have to check out Bulgakov.

            3 votes
  2. krg
    Link
    well… my reading has been quite sparse this year.. sigh, etc. however, I do have one pretty damn good one under my belt: Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl. what a damn...

    well… my reading has been quite sparse this year.. sigh, etc.

    however, I do have one pretty damn good one under my belt: Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl.

    what a damn fine tapestry that was! intelligent immigrant mother recounting her history to a precocious daughter while shifting from the present to the past-as-present in what amounts to a bit of a familial epic that spans from pre-Nazi Germany to post-Eastern-Bloc Germany that feels kinda 100 Years of Solitude (sans magical-realism)… well worth a read.

    5 votes
  3. vegai
    Link
    Dark Forest by Liu Cixin -- the second part of the Three Body Problem trilogy. Almost everything I could tell about it would probably constitute a spoiler.

    Dark Forest by Liu Cixin -- the second part of the Three Body Problem trilogy. Almost everything I could tell about it would probably constitute a spoiler.

    5 votes
  4. skybrian
    Link
    I haven’t gone back through what I read, but the two that I remember most positively are Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu and Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series.

    I haven’t gone back through what I read, but the two that I remember most positively are Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu and Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series.

    4 votes
  5. IBArbitrary
    Link
    I have recently gotten back the reading habit during the last quarter of this year. Since then I have read couple of dozen books. Of them the best I would consider is The Devotion of Suspect X by...

    I have recently gotten back the reading habit during the last quarter of this year. Since then I have read couple of dozen books. Of them the best I would consider is The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. This book has got to be the one of the best books I have read in my life indeed. The book packs so much values that I connect with, and left me pondering for various hours. I won't spoil it for fellow folks here, but please read this book atleast once in your life.

    4 votes
  6. Jedi
    Link
    I think my favorite overall this year would have to be Why We’re Polarized (2020) by Ezra Klein. It provided some excellent insight on today’s politics and a nice historical view of how we got...

    I think my favorite overall this year would have to be Why We’re Polarized (2020) by Ezra Klein. It provided some excellent insight on today’s politics and a nice historical view of how we got here.

    As for fiction, I finally got around to reading the fourth and final compendium of The Walking Dead (2019) by Robert Kirkman, made me want to reread the whole series—maybe one day.

    If I’m forced to pick books that have been published this year, I’ve not read many, but Later (2021) by Stephen King was a fun short read about a kid who can communicate with the dead. I just started reading The Premonition (2021) by Michael Lewis about the Coronavirus and have been pretty engrossed by that, but I can’t rate it before finishing.

    Oh, and honorable mention to All About Me! (2021) by Mel Brooks, he’s got some fascinating stories and his narration on the audiobook is excellent. Plus, he started me on egg creams! Delicious.

    4 votes
  7. Arshan
    Link
    The book that stands out to me is Blessed is the Flame. It has a lot of historical information about rebellion within the Nazi extermination camps. Its obviously a super dark book, but most of the...

    The book that stands out to me is Blessed is the Flame. It has a lot of historical information about rebellion within the Nazi extermination camps. Its obviously a super dark book, but most of the stories were new to me. It is also an anarcho-nihilist text that argues for focusing on the wild liberatory feeling of rebellion and at least to some degree, ignoring the perceived chance of long term change from the act of rebellion. I kinda agree with its take, I definetely agree in the context of the holocaust, but there is something about it that doesn't quite connect with me.

    4 votes
  8. eladnarra
    Link
    Definitely Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. I waxed lyrical about it in another thread, so I'll just copy some of that here: I also read the latest installment of the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha...

    Definitely Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. I waxed lyrical about it in another thread, so I'll just copy some of that here:

    I won't say what it's about, since part of the intrigue is discovering things about the character he no longer knows himself. But it touches on themes of memory, identity, and isolation (including how isolation interacts with and influences memory and identity). The author has a chronic illness like me, and I can very much see how it influenced what she wrote. It was also strangely timely for COVID and lockdowns, so the isolation part might resonate for more people than it otherwise would. Aside from the themes, it's also simply a very atmospheric and engaging book, with a fascinating setting and very likeable (yet unreliable) narrator.

    I also read the latest installment of the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells - these stories are always quick, fun reads.

    On the nonfiction side of things, I really enjoyed The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It was a long read, and I've already forgotten most of it, but I love biology and genetics in particular.

    4 votes