There’s a great Icelandic word that expresses the glut of books published in the last months of the year: Jólabókaflóðið. It roughly translates as ‘the Christmas book flood’ and speaks to the Icelandic tradition of gifting books to loved ones—probably highly relatable to anyone who loves the written word!
Our gift to and from The Literati community is a flood of recommendations of books and other literary loveliness. Group members highlighted the titles below as ones that lodged in their brains in 2021, in the best possible way!
Times gone by, real and imagined
Historically inspired or (actually history) in book form
Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller
NPR science reporter Miller’s non-fiction debut is a wild mix of science, biography, love story, and memoir — all wrapped in beautiful writing.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Written from the perspective of Jesus’s wife, this is a heart-warming, infuriating, brutal story that might just bring forth tears of joy and gratitude — even if you’re an atheist like the recommender.
Twice Born by Margaret Mazzantini
An intense read about loss, motherhood, generosity, and grief set against the backdrop of the Bosnian war. The story is also a film with Penélope Cruz and Emile Hirsch.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Set in Moscow during the Stalin era, Towles depicts a Russian count under house arrest in the servant’s quarters of a luxury hotel with flair and humour.
Unflinching, personal, accessible: fiction and nonfiction that doesn’t back down
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
In what was one of the most talked about novels of 2021, Peters candidly portrays three women (transgender and cisgender) as they’re forced to examine gender, motherhood, and sex.
How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
Winner of the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Thammavongsa’s idiosyncratic short stories delve into the tragedy and humour of the daily lives of immigrants.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
With a focus on plants through the lens of Indigenous traditions, Kimmerer weaves her personal story with botanical history, Indigenous culture, and scientific perspective.
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
A story of intergenerational friendship between patients in a Glasgow hospital, Cronin’s debut novel is a tear-jerker in the most life affirming way.
‘How to Learn Everything: The Masterclass Diaries‘ by Irina Dumitrescu
A personal essay about binging the online learning service we’re all sick of seeing advertised. Spoiler: there’s not much actual learning.
Escape into other realms with recommended sci fi
The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey
A succession of novels, novellas, and short stories (and a forthcoming tenth novel expected in 2022 to complete the series) that simply cannot be put down.
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Breathtaking descriptions pepper this epistolary novel told by two time travellers in different futures, which won the Nebula Award for Best Novella of 2019 and the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella.
All Octavia Butler, all the time
From Kindred through to Fledgling, Butler’s deep understanding of human nature, pointed calls for socio-political, and ability to transport readers to new worlds shine through her books and short stories.
Not yet convinced? Ayana Jamieson and Moya Bailey break down why you should read this sci fi superstar in this 4-minute TEDEd video.
Synergy in motion
Interactive resources that go beyond the page
The Audacity by Roxane Gay
Gay’s amazing Substack newsletter, with her hand-picked newsworthy stories, WTF moments, and the most meme-able Twitter content.
The FOLD’s Reading Challenge
Presented by The Festival Of Literary Diversity (hopefully happening partially online again in May 2022), these monthly reading and listening recommendations prompt encourage book lovers to thoughtfully consider their reading lists and ask one important question: Who’s missing?
Elif Shafak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
Shafak chatted with Lemn Sissay in support of her most recent novel, The Island of Missing Trees—and impressed with her insight, warmth, and eloquence. Available on-demand until, February 25, 2022.
Many thanks to everyone who recommended something for this list. My ‘want to read’ list has certainly gotten longer! Thankfully there’s usually a pause this time of year (and a couple long flights) that should help me whittle that down.
We’ll kick off the new year with an online get together on Tuesday, January 18—hopefully with some excellent recommendations from our own Jólabókaflóðið over the holidays!
Image adapted from a photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.