Following on from last year’s inaugural end of year reading/listening summary, and under the continued spectre of COVID-19, I have once again attempted to make a conscious effort to read/listen to books for pleasure. It still feels far too easy to lose an hour at the end of the day messing around on your phone, or scrolling on Twitter, but it was noticeable to me last year how beneficial it was to disconnect and to pick up a book or listen to an audiobook.
As you see from this year’s list — again including a number of re-reads, annotated by [⟳] — it’s largely dominated by fiction (primarily sci-fi/fantasy, including some easy listens from my teenage years), but with an eclectic smattering of science, history and autobiographies. I was again surprised at how many books I’d finished this year, but acknowledge the distinct shift to audiobooks over reading physical books (primarily whilst running or cycling). However, my consumption is still worryingly disconnected from the number of books I still purchase, adding to the stack of books that I’ve been collecting over recent years.
So, in reading/listening order for 2021:
- The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth (1999) by Paul Hoffman
- Ramble Book: Musings on Childhood, Friendship, Family and 80s Pop Culture (2020) by Adam Buxton
- The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse (2019) by Charlie Mackesy
- The Three-Body Problem (2015) by Cixin Liu (Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy Book I)
- The Dark Forest (2016) by Cixin Liu (Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy Book II)
- Dune Messiah (2007) by Frank Herbert [⟳, but first time audiobook]
- Death’s End (2016) by Cixin Liu (Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy Book III)
- Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives (2019) by Mark Miodownik
- The Sandman (2020) by Neil Gaiman
- The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Developers, Digital Disruption, and Thriving in the Age of Data (2019) by Gene Kim
- Norse Mythology (2017) by Neil Gaiman
- A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner (2020) by Chris Atkins
- Hitch 22: A Memoir (2011) by Christopher Hitchens
- Neutrotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently (2016) by Steve Silberman
- The Story of Wales (2013) by Jon Gower
- Red Storm Rising (2014) by Tom Clancy [⟳, but first time audiobook]
- Without Remorse (2014) by Tom Clancy [⟳, but first time audiobook]
- Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson
- The Last Kingdom (2014) by Bernard Cornwell (The Last Kingdom series Book 1)
- The Pale Horseman (2014) by Bernard Cornwell (The Last Kingdom series Book 2)
- Lords of the North (2014) by Bernard Cornwell (The Last Kingdom series Book 3)
- Sword Song (2014) by Bernard Cornwell (The Last Kingdom series Book 4)
My favourites of 2021 were as follows:
- The excellent Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (2015-2016) by Cixin Liu, which describes a future where the Earth is awaiting an invasion from the closest star system. Not only grounded in engaging science and technology (current and potential), it is also framed by morality, ethics and rationalism — including the existential dilemma of “where could/should mankind go from here”.
- The Sandman (2020) by Neil Gaiman; in which Morpheus, the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination, is caught and imprisoned for decades. On escaping, he must restore his power, crossing paths with characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history. This audio adaptation of Gaiman’s best-selling graphic novel, adapted and directed by Dirk Maggs, is performed by an ensemble cast with an original score, and narrated by Gaiman himself.
- And an honourable mention to the hugely informative Neutrotribes audiobook (2016) by Steve Silberman, offering the wider historical context and evidenced-based insight into autism spectrum disorder and neurodiversity.
While I absolutely love epic fantasy and sci-fi, I never managed to enjoy Dune – I found the writing to be too grammatically odd (missing conjunctions especially being something that grated with me, filled me with disappointment); for me, an eccentric writing style is a risky gambit – you might well end up losing bits of your potential audience that focus on the writing itself as well as the story.
I also – perhaps unfairly – judged Dune harshly for being the fifth or sixth series that I attempted that followed the “young lad gets drawn on a long journey and discovers his true enormous role in the universe” path; by the time I got round to it, I’d done Star Wars, the Belgariad, the Wheel of Time and the Sword of Truth, and probably a few more.