Following my annual tradition, this is a quick round up of some of the best books I read in 2021. For previous roundups, see 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021) For a full list of books I read in 2022, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Grid of nine book covers. From top left, the Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, written in white capital letters on an abstract background of two women's faces combined and merging. The Gods of Tango, by Carolina de Robertis, a deep red cover with the silhouette of two people dancing together, the man's back visible and the woman's face. Afterlives, by Abdulrazak Gurnah, the title in bold yellow capital letters on a light blue background, with a single image of a Black soldier in colonial attire. When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold, by Alia Trabucco Zerán with Sophie Hughes (Translator), a white cover with cut out images of four women's eyes scattered across the cover. You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi, a bright red cover with a photograph showing part of a black woman's face with a tree behind her and a red flower, the title text written in white handwriting style font across the cover. Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes through Indigenous Science by Dr. Jessica Hernandez, text written in yellow on a red background with green leaves behind the text. Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, by Angela Garbes, labor written in large black capitals with an abstract image of a woman holding a baby behind the text. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, with a dark blue silhouette of a person's head layered on top of a colourful landscape behind, text written in uneven handwriting in white. We Do This 'til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice, by Mariame Kaba, text in white on a dark blue background with an abstract drawing of a light with a path leading towards it.

I can’t quite believe it’s this time of year again – the annual book blog post! Books - choosing them, thinking about what to read, and actually reading – took up a tiny portion of my brain this year. I’m astonished to find that I read more than 10 books, in all honesty. I didn’t track them, didn’t think about what I was reading, barely added books to my to-read list, and went to a bookshop more rarely than I have before.

Now that I’ve retroactively added the books I read to Storygraph (I’ve been totally off Goodreads for a copule of years now, and am still on the look out for people I know to follow on there - let me know!) - the only guiding principle seems to have been the Literature Festival in Berlin. I read 6 books by Bernardine Evaristo, who I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with (short write up in the Exberliner here), and two by Maaza Mengiste, who I also interviewed there. Interviewing authors whose books I read remains truly one of my all-time favourite things to do, and I’d love in the future to figure out how to do this more often.

In total, I read 37 books this year, according to Storygraph. Amazingly given I paid no attention to what I was reading and didn’t track it at the time, 28% were nonfiction and 72% fiction, which is one percentage point different to 2021! 32 were by women or non-binary authors; 35 of the 36 were by authors of colour, by my own guessing (all identity mistakes my own!); just 3 were translations.


Last year, Carolina de Robertis’ book Cantoras was one of my top three books – this year, I decided to try some of her others, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Gods of Tango was such an ambitious book but one that fully took me with it on the journey. I now think of de Robertis as one of my favourite authors!

Similarly, going back to another of my favourite authors, I read two more books by Akwaeke Emezi (You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty, and Bitter) and loved them. I can’t tell you how much. I’m astonished at their level of output (I think it’s been a book a year, at least, for the past few), and how exquisitely unique their writing is. I’m envious of anyone who hasn’t read their books yet, because you have the joy of picking them up for the first time yet to come! Start with You Made a Fool of Death.

And finally, though I know I’m late to this party, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett fully deserved all the praise and awards that it got. It was almost, but not quite, an hard-to-believe premise told in an extremely believeable way, with vivid characters and full of empathy.

Top 9

Afterlives, by Abdulrazak Gurnah was one of very few books I’ve read that focuses on German colonialism. It wasn’t an easy read in a few senses, but mostly in that it was a complex tale which needed concentration to follow and keep up with. That said, it was incredibly worth it. Gurnah won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2021, and has a huge body of work examining the effects of colonialism, which I’m looking forward to diving into more in the coming years.

When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold, by Alia Trabucco Zerán with Sophie Hughes (Translator) arrived in my postbox thanks to a subscription I have with And Other Stories, an indie publisher based in the UK who publishes contemporary writing from around the world. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the title caught my attention, and the book itself was so fantastic. The author, Alia Trabucco Zerán, reexamines four cases of Chilean women who committed homicide, going back to look at the events themselves, the media furore around it, the causes and the patriarchal structures that created those conditions. It’s almost like a book version of a true crime podcast, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes through Indigenous Science by Dr. Jessica Hernandez was like nothing I’ve read before. Dr. Hernandez is an Indigenous environmental scientist who combines her Indigenous knowledges with environmental scientist, and does so in the way that the story is actually told. The book crosses genres and styles in a way that feels so much more true to the topic of the environment, bringing it back to nature and living things, knowledge that was passed down through generations, and knowledge that doesn’t typically get valued or included in Western understandings of science. If you enjoyed Braiding Sweetgrass, you’ll also enjoy this one.

Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, by Angela Garbes, is a book that I’ve now recommended a lot of times! I offer the recommendation with the big disclaimer that it is very US-centric – some of the political structural problems and issues brought up are, at least in the form they’re described there, not so relevant for many other parts of the world. But I really enjoyed the premise and learned a lot from the analysis, and despite the geographic specificities found myself nodding along to large parts of the book. I would love to read a similar analysis rooted in other parts of the world, too. But the general premise: that “the act of mothering offers the radical potential to create a more equitable society”, and that mothering is highly skilled work that is deeply undervalued, remains true all over the world, and it made me rethink my own role as a mother. It also opens up the possibilities of mothering being done by more than just the formal ‘mother’ in a family, but aunties, uncles, relatives, friends.

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste was at times brutal, but I couldn’t peel myself away from the pages. It was such a joy to talk to Maaza about the book (the video recording is here if you’re interested!) because there was so much in there to delve into. Of particular interest for me was the fact that the book considers the brutal war (it’s set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia) from various perspectives, including from that of Italian soldiers and an Italian photographer, which must have taken an incredible amount of empathy to do. The book also focuses on the role of women during the war, a deeply overlooked role in the historical record.

We Do This ‘til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice, by Mariame Kaba with Naomi Murakawa (Contributor) and Tamara K. Nopper - gave me so much food for thought. It’s a combination of original essays, reprints, and interviews, all examining abolition and transformative political struggle. I’m so appreciative of Mariame Kaba’s work and approach, and have enjoyed listening to her speak on podcasts like Finding Our Way. Her commitment and practice of hope and generosity, while being at the frontlines of hard struggles, is incredibly inspiring.

Notable Mentions

Books that almost made it to the Top 9 grid but didn’t quite:

  • Mr Loverman, by Bernardine Evaristo - this took me by surprise, the wry humour and unexpectedly deeply human storytelling being in some ways very different to Girl, Woman, Other (but in other ways, also very similar.) Of all the books I’ve read by Evaristo, this is the funniest.

  • Pollution is Colonialism, by Dr. Max Liboiron – gave me so much to think about, offered up new approaches and learnings in such an accessible and generous way, and connected so many dots in my head that I’m sure I’ll be thinking about for years to come. I’ve also never enjoyed reading the footnotes of a book as much as I did here!

  • A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times, by Meron Hadero - Hadero was meant to join us on the panel at the ILB with Maaza Mengiste, but ended up not being able to come, to my disappointment! But I got the chance to read this fantastic collection of short stories in advance anyway. Each one left me a little speechless, with plot twists or just such spectacular storytelling all in just a few pages. I’m so in awe of short story writers who can fit so much in so few words.

  • You have not yet been defeated, by Alaa Abd El-Fattah - this was a tough read at times, and it hurts my heart to know he’s still in prison for utterly ridiculous and fabricated charges. His courage shines through, his commitment to democracy and to his country and to those he loves is in brutal contrast to the way he’s been treated by Egyptian state forces.

  • Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami with Sam Bett (Translator), David Boyd (Translator) tells the stories of three women in Japan. It’s unexpected and bittersweet in some ways, and tells stories of contemporary womanhood in ways that I hadn’t come across before.

All the books


  • Iza’s Ballad, by Magda Szabó translated by George Szirtes

  • The President and the Frog by Carolina De Robertis

  • His Only Wife, by Peace Adzo Medie

  • Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami with Sam Bett (Translator), David Boyd (Translator)

  • Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

  • Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

  • Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi

  • Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

  • All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

  • You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

  • A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times by Meron Hadero

  • Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

  • Soul Tourists by Bernardine Evaristo

  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

  • Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

  • The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

  • Djinn City by Saad Z. Hossain

  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

  • Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

  • Love Marriage: A Novel by Monica Ali

  • The Good Children by Roopa Farooki

  • A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

  • Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

  • The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis

  • The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam

  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett


  • Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

  • You Have Not Yet Been Defeated: Selected Writings 2011-2021 by Alaa Abd el-Fattah

  • Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change by Angela Garbes

  • Manifesto: On Never Giving Up by Bernardine Evaristo

  • Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes through Indigenous Science by Dr. Jessica Hernandez

  • Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software by Nadia Eghbal

  • Pollution Is Colonialism by Max Liboiron

  • We Do This ‘til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba with Naomi Murakawa (Contributor), Tamara K. Nopper

  • The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

  • When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold by Alia Trabucco Zerán with Sophie Hughes (Translator)