My Favourite Books of 2021: Part One – The 746

With just a few weeks left of 2021 I’m taking a look at my favourite books of the year.

As with previous yearly round-ups, I’m breaking my end of year list down into three posts: best from the 746, best newly published books (or new to me), and best books by Irish authors.

Which is really just a cheeky way of having a Top 15 Books of the Year, rather than a Top 10!

I had a great reading year, with a successful Reading Ireland Month, a completed 20 Books of Summer a second record-breaking Novellas in November challenge and my Brian Moore at 100 Readalong event, which finishes with the final book next week.

Despite being back at work full-time for over half of the year, my reading was really consistent. I had set a target of 100 books on Goodreads and have, up to today, read 130, which I am really pleased with. This is the second year running that I have read over 100 books so I’ll set that as my target again for the coming year.

Today I am starting with the books I’ve enjoyed most from the original 746. I have finally made it into the 300s in my challenge and hope to hit the half way point early in the New Year!

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

In my review of Rules of Civility I called it a ‘joy to read’ and I honestly think that this was the book I most enjoyed reading in 2021. I was swept up in the tale of Katey Kontent, the bookish daughter of a Russian immigrant determined to make a life for herself in the publishing industry in Manhattan and her relationship with the wealthy and handsome Tinker Grey. Filled with elegant writing, a stunning sense of time and place and an irresistible heroine, this novel was both a love-letter to New York and a gorgeous piece of story-telling.

Like Life by Lorrie Moore

I included Like Life in my 20 Books of Summer reading challenge at the last minute but am so glad I did. Moore is an absolute master of the short story and this collection is one of the best I have read in a long time. These 12 perceptive and poignant stories could ask themselves, feature characters who find themselves adrift struggling with disappointment, displacement and the lack of stability in their lives. Moore writes with a wry tenderness and a subtle humour, her prose bursting with heart and hope.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

I hadn’t read any Jeanette Winterson in over 20 years but really enjoyed thisshort, hypnotic and vibrant novel set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s tumultuous campaigns in Europe and Russia in the early 1800s. The Passion interweaves the stories and destinies of two remarkable characters. Henri, is a simple French soldier and Villanelle the flame-haired, cross-dressing, web-footed daughter of a Venetian boatman, who makes her living as a croupier and pickpocket.  The nature of passion itself – sexual, spiritual, and familial – is woven with both splendour and subtlety throughout and Winterson deftly fuses the surreal with the worldly to create a brilliantly vivid tale that is undoubtedly an instant classic.

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

I really loved this smart and playful novel by Helen Oyeyemi even when I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on! A novel about writing, creativity and inspiration, Mr Fox retells various myths (mainly Bluebeard, Fitcher’s Bird and Reynard the Fox) through the love triangle of writer St John Fox, his third wife Daphne and his imaginary muse Mary, who comes to life. I found the energetic imagination on display here a delight. Oyeyemi eschews a linear approach for atmosphere and style and has created a wondrous fairy tale all her own.

A Kiss before Dying by Ira Levin

I had a tough time choosing between two Ira Levin novels for a place in my Top Five. I was enthralled by The Boys from Brazil, but ultimately chose A Kiss before Dying on the basis that it is one of the most expertly structured books I have ever read. A Kiss before Dying is a bravura thriller, full of magnificently taut writing, a palpable sense of suspense and a structure and plotting that enhance and heighten the power of the novel as a whole. Levin is an absolute master of genre, always exploiting the commercial aspects of his novels, but never short-changing his readers. He taps into that primal fear that we can never fully know who someone else is and few writers depicts the banality of evil better.

Special Mention: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

I read Blood Meridian at the start of 2021 and have yet to manage to write a review of it. It is possibly the most beautiful novel I have ever read and simultaneously the most horrific. Blood Meridian is a terrifying subversion of the conventions of the Western, an epic tale of violence and horror that is to be endured as much as it is to be relished.  McCarthy can move from gorgeous descriptions of desert flora, fauna and rock formations into bloodthirsty and shocking violence in a matter of sentences and yet he writes with such skill and beauty that I highlighted too many passages to count. This is a completely unique and unforgettable book, hellish, yet stunning.

Check back tomorrow when I’ll be writing about my favourite books of the year by Irish writers and on Friday I’ll decide on my Top Five new (or new to me) books of 2021.

The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

42 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi Cathy – great list – I read Rules of Civility a long time ago – I feel like I should re-read it. Have you read A Gentleman in Moscow? I thought it was fantastic. Also, I have been wanting to read Mr. Fox – several people I know have recommended it. Looking forward to your other favorites! And Happy Holidays 🙂

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  2. Yes, ‘Rules of Civility’ was a great start for Amor Towles although he was already 46 years old when he published this, his first novel.
    I have read all these authors except Oyeyemi. I must have read ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by Ira Levin back in the 1960s.

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  3. As always Cathy I really enjoyed the post (I’ve been “off” the blogs for a bit & am only starting to catch up). The only book on your list that I’ve read is Rules of Civility, which I enjoyed very much for its sense of time & place. I HAVE enjoyed othe books/collections by Lorrie Moore (particularly A Gate at the Stairs) & Ira Levin (I agree he’s generally underrated). Despite my best intentions, however, I’ve yet to get to Helen Oyeyemi (next year maybe?); as for Winterson, well, that fantastic cover makes me want to start reading now!

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  4. Blood Meridian is an experience, alright! That was my first from McCarthy and it was hard to get through, but also hard to look away from.

    I keep meaning to read Rules of Civility and might use it being the 6 Degrees starting point next month as my excuse to finally get to it.

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  5. Well done on a great reading year and for getting on so well with the original 746! And a good idea to do three blocks like this. I’m on 172 books so far and might make it to 180 so I think I’ll allow myself 15 in my best of …

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  6. Great selection! I loved Rules of Civility too, and enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow although not quite as much. I’m just about to start his new one, The Lincoln Highway. And your review persuaded me to add A Kiss Before Dying to my new Classics Club list. 🙂

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  7. I’ve completely missed Amor Towles, never getting around to Gentleman in Moscow or this one and now Lincoln Highway. Reading about Rules of Civility here give me the push to get started – I think I’ll enjoy it. Also love reading about the Ira Levin. Would be fun to pick that up!

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  8. One day I’d love to reread those early Winterson’s. I remember them so fondly esp, The Passion.
    Back when FB was pretty new, I read Rules of Civility and loved it so much I created the book page for on fb so that other people could mark it as a favourite too!! I have no idea whatever happened to that page, no doubt it vanished as did my hopes for fb to bring us together in a creative, intelligent way!

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  9. Wow 130 books! Well done! I have not read any of these you have listed, however I thought The Boys From Brazil was great. I really need to read more by Ira Levin, so looks like I need to add A Kiss Before Dying to my list. 😃

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  10. Out of these five books, you’ve really made me want to read A Kiss Before Dying. I have fond memories of reading Boys from Brazil, even though it was a gazillion years ago. I can still picture it perfectly on a shelf above my father’s desk with his other novels that he kept separately from my mother’s bookshelves. His were mostly science-fiction, like Dune and Contact.

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