At the beginning of every year, I make a list of ten books I want to read that year. There’s only one rule: all of the books on this list must be books I already own. I’ve been doing this since 2019, and it’s proved to be a great way to get myself to read books that have been on my shelves for a long time, or books that I find intimidating. I always view this list as my priority for the year; if I don’t read anything else, at least I’ll read these ten books.
Even though this is the third year I’m setting this challenge for myself, I’ve never actually done a wrap-up for this list, and I think I know why. Up until 2021, I’ve always had to scramble to finish the last book on the list by the end of December. This year, however, I managed to finish the final book by the 11th of December, which is such a nice feeling! It also gives me plenty of time to wrap up the list. I’ll tell you all about them, in chronological order of when I read them.
1. She is Fierce by Ana Sampson (read in January)
I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I was excited when my boyfriend gave me this book of “brave, bold and beautiful poems by women” as a gift. Because I’m not a big poetry reader, however, I don’t tend to pick it up (I just kind of forget it exists), which made it the perfect book to put on this list. I made my way through the collection throughout the month of January and really enjoyed it! The poems are grouped together by theme, which I enjoyed, but I do think the structure could’ve been improved upon a little bit. Although the book does include short biographies for each poet, they are all collected in the back in alphabetical order instead of in order of appearance, which made it a bit of a chore to find the right one and read them. This caused me to only read a handful of them, while I probably would’ve read them all if they’d been included with the poems themselves.
2. He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (read in March)
Sáenz is one of my favourite authors and at the time of compiling this list, this was the only book of him left on my shelves that I hadn’t read. I decided to put it on the list as a bit of a break from the more intimidating or difficult books. As expected, I really enjoyed it, although it did resonate a little less with me than his other books that I had read up until that point (as you might remember, there was a new release this year that really disappointed me). There’s something about the way Sáenz lets his characters come to life through his beautiful writing that feels quite magical, and that was definitely true for this novel as well.
3. Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë (read in April)
I love the Brontë sisters and when I read Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall last year, I was blown away. If it wasn’t for my nostalgic connection to Wuthering Heights, it would be my favourite Brontë novel, and I was excited to read her first book, Agnes Grey. It isn’t as good as Tenant and doesn’t hold the same suspense and intrigue, but it was still very enjoyable. I loved getting an insight into the life of a governess in the mid-nineteenth century, and seeing what Anne’s life must have been like. Her writing is beautiful as well; her descriptions and the way she conveys emotions struck me as particularly wonderful.
4. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (read in May)
The large majority of the books I own are books I bought myself, or books I specifically asked for. But, every year for my birthday, my parents get me a book I usually have never heard of before, and History of Wolves was their gift to me in 2017. This year, I finally read it and I’m so glad I did! There’s something about reading a book you’ve never heard anyone else talk about before that’s really special. It’s also just a really good book. The suspense builds up beautifully as you get to know more and more about what happened. My favourite aspects, however, were the setting and the writing. They fit the story perfectly and really enhanced the atmosphere.
5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (read in June)
A classic that I’ve been meaning to read for years and years! That makes it an excellent candidate for this list and I’m so glad I’ve now finally read it. Frankenstein is often seen as the first science fiction novel, which makes it a very important book in literary history. Plus, Mary Shelley wrote it when she was only eighteen! I have to admit that the novel didn’t blow me away, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. The writing is magnificent and I enjoyed the big topics the book discusses. Even though I had a good idea about what the story was about before I started reading it, there were still elements that surprised me, which I thought was fun.
6. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (finished reading in September)
Ah, the most intimidating book on my shelves (apart from maybe Le Morte d’Arthur) and I have now actually read it! This had been on my shelves for a few years and it’s definitely a book I would never have picked up to read on a whim – and I also wouldn’t have added it to a readathon TBR due to its size and density. That means there was only one way I would end up reading it, which was putting it on this list. And I loved it! It took me quite some time to read it, but I enjoyed it a lot. All of the intertextuality and the historical backdrop to this story were very interesting to me, and the murder mystery at the heart of it had me intrigued from start to finish. A modern classic for a reason (but probably not for everyone)!
7. Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday (read in September)
Another book I’d never heard of before when I got it as a gift from my parents-in-law – although this one was actually quite the literary sensation, as I found out later. Out of all of the books on this list, this is the one I enjoyed the least. The writing was beautiful and there were some insights into writing and fiction in general that I enjoyed, but the disjointed nature of the different parts were a bit of a letdown for me. I didn’t see how they were connected until I read an article about it after finishing the book, which I don’t think is a great sign.
8. Troy by Stephen Fry (finished reading in November)
This is by far the newest book that I added to the list (it only came out towards the end of 2020) but I foresaw me putting off reading it if I didn’t add it (I was probably right). I love Stephen Fry’s retellings of Greek mythology and this one was no exception, although I did feel like I learned a little less after already having read The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller in the past few years. Nevertheless, this was a very enjoyable read, mostly thanks to Fry’s excellent writing style and his extraordinary knack for storytelling.
9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (read in November)
A modern classic – and another book that has always intimidated me. It took me all of November to read it (although I did read some other books at the same time) and it was such an incredible ride! I do have mixed feelings on it, though. Although the first half of the book had me entirely enthralled from start to finish, the second half fell a little flat to me. The writing is superb, the suspense in the first half is amazing, but because of the way the novel is structured, my attention slipped in the second half. It is still a great novel, but I felt slightly disappointed upon finishing the book.
10. The Red Notebook by Paul Auster (finished reading in December)
The last one! This collection of musings, prefaces, essays and interviews was a very interesting read and I’m glad I added it to the list, as it is another one of those books I kept forgetting about it. I adore Paul Auster’s writing and it was fascinating to get an insight in the way his mind works, mostly through the interviews, which were my favourite parts of the book. The collection also included a few prefaces he wrote to other books, which felt rather random and weren’t all that interesting to me (I skipped a couple of the pages on French poetry). The parts about writing and literature more than made up for that, though.
And that’s it! Those were the ten books I set out to read at the start of 2021. I’m so pleased I enjoyed all of them – it was a good reading year! Did you read the books you set out to read this year? And have you read any of the books on my list? Let’s chat in the comments!