My Books of 2021

Well, that was quite a year. Again. Kind of longing for a return to normality, but I can’t see it happening any time soon. Anyway, you’re hopefully here for the books and these are the favourites that I read during 2021. First up are some honourable mentions that I gave 4.5 stars to:

Fire, Storm & Flood – James Dyke

Fox Fires – Wyl Menmuir

Where – Simon Moreton

Thin Places – Kerri ní Dochartaigh

How To Be Sad – Helen Russell

Skylarks With Rosie – Stephen Moss

Shearwater – Roger Morgan-Grenville

Much Ado About Mothing – James Lowen

Light Rains Sometimes Fall – Lev Parikian

On Gallows Down – Nicola Chester

Springlines – Clare Best and Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis

The Heeding – Rob Cowen & Nick Hayes

Red Sands – Caroline Eden

Summer In The Islands – Matthew Fort

Slow Trains Around Spain – Tom Chesshyre

Water Ways – Jasper Winn


I can now reveal my books of 2021:

First are two books on books. The Book Collectors of Daraya is about people seeking out an existence in the war-torn country of Syria and how they collected books for others to read and find a little bit of inner peace. My second is White Spines; the story of Nicholas Royle and his obsession with collecting the Picador White spined books.


I finally finished the Discworld series this year. I had intended on doing it in 2020 but didn’t read these four. They are here because I think that he is a genius, his ability to shine a light on our world and the peculiarities of our society and make us laugh about it are unlikely to be equalled.



I read several books on London in 2021, but these two were outstanding. They are very different, but each has that special something that makes London such a different city compared to others in the UK.  Budden captures the surreal nature of the place in his book and Chivers shows how the very bedrock the city is built on can be traced if you know where to look.


Two of my favourite natural history books this year were The Screaming Sky and the Circling Sky. Charles Foster is obsessed with the swift and he has distilled that into this short volume. Neil Ansell’s book is more wide ranging, but equally well written. He takes us on many journeys into the 1000-year-old landscape that is the New Forest, recalling past trips there when younger. I was lucky enough to spend some time with him there this year too.


We live in a biased world and that bias is particularly prevalent when you look at how men and women are treated. Most things are designed for the male mind and body, which means that when women come to use them they are often put into danger. Not only could they hurt themselves, but some of these examples that Criado-Perez uses show how these poorly made product have killed. Eye-opening stuff and an essential read.

My final two books are travel. You didn’t think that I would not have any travel books on this list, did you? First is a book on the extraordinary Island of Madagasgar, written by John Gimlette. It is lavishly illustrated and his prose is top-notch as ever.


My final travel book and my book of the year for 2021 is The Bells of Old Tokyo. Anna Sherman has captured a part of Japan that I knew nothing about and her prose is sublime. Just get a copy and read it. A friend call Jeremy who runs Travel Writing World has an interview with her here.

Thank you to those that have read, commented and shared my post all this year. I know that there are not that many of you reading this, but I appreciate every one of you.


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  1. Liz Dexter

    What great books! I have one of your runners up in my best of, and Invisible Women was in my best of 2020. I could happily read all of your top ones for this year. And thank you for keeping blogging about such interesting books.

    • Paul

      Thank you, Liz. Lots more to come this year too

  2. Helen Williams

    What a great list of books – some to add to my wish list there! I have Invisible Women – somewhere – my books are packed in bags at the moment while the wall in my office is repaired. I’ll pick that one up sooner rather than later, it counts for #beatthebacklog! Thanks for your blog, Paul, I guess it may be a dying art but I enjoy reading them and yours is always interesting. Best wishes for 2022

    • Paul

      Thank you, Helen. Happy Reading for 2022!

  3. Rebecca Foster

    The Ansell and Foster made it onto my best list as well! And I’d be keen to read Gimlette’s book on Madagascar. I’ve read a couple of his other travel books and it’s a fascinating place.

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Quite a year! Totally agree about White Spines – what a book!!

    • Paul

      It does feel like 2022 is going to be the next dreadful instalment in the trilogy too. I loved it. But then I like buying books too. (Bought nine so far this year)

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