Among other things, 2021 was a great year to read. Reading is an activity ready-made for COVID: it’s done alone, often at home, but it also creates communities—both on the page and around the world.

With that in mind, here are the books that brought me the most connections—those prized, ever-rare bonds—whether they be good ones (great worlds or characters, great reading groups…) or bad ones (commiseration or, occasionally, straight-up amusement).

THE BEST

DARK ACADEMIA DELIGHT

One of my (and the world’s) favorite books this year was The Atlas Six. It is just one of a group of new books that slide easily into the category of “dark academia” but make space for nuance and are quick to point out the flaws in the actual world of academia. Check out my post about the newly inclusive, highly critical group of books that make up dark academia.

DUELING DUMAS

First I read The Three Muskateers. Then I read The Count of Monte Christo. Both are criminally underrated—at least for the general public. Dumas is super easy to read, smooth and engrossing, and his content is both accessible and fantastical. I loved getting sucked into these worlds for a month at a time, and I never wanted to leave. Especially during COVID, when new and faraway worlds are, er, highly desirable.

DUNE, DUNE, DUNE!

Dune has been my favorite book of all time for several years. I have read the series up to God Emperor of Dune at least four times. Imagine my pure, blissful joy when Dune exploded into pop culture with Denis Villenueve’s stunning adaptation (of the first third of the book. The first THIRD! Do you know how hard it is to find a climax in the first third of a book that is the first of a long, long series??). I love the feeling of other people discovering a world you’ve loved for years and years and loving it just as much as you do.

Alongside Dune (again), I also read some absolutely stunning pieces of Science Fiction. I went on a Frank Herbert binge and read Whipping Star and The Dosadi Experiment, both more developed versions of many concepts that appear in Dune. I also read the cyberpunk fever-dream that is Neuromancer and the triumph of linguistic expertise and inclusive imagination that is A Memory Called Empire.

THE WORST

Bad Books I…yeah, I suspected might be bad.

…but they were bad. Zodiac Academy is a strange blend of juvenile, sloppy, and poorly-edited writing style and adult themes. It made my skin crawl. Den of Vipers, at least, was laughably bad, and I respect it for being pretty much what was advertised.

TIMING TROUBLES

This isn’t a particular book. In general, I make it a habit to DNF books I think are bad, so most of the books review have at least some redeeming quality. And I really believe most books do. Most have an audience or a purpose or a virtue of some sort.

My biggest adversary this year, then, was not a particular book but rather an unpredictable palette. As a young adult, sometimes my life was just too busy to spend large chunks of time reading (even during COVID, surprisingly. In Korea, life mostly goes on).

I also found myself in several reading slumps I couldn’t blame on my schedule at all. I finished a book and just wasn’t compelled to read anything else. None of my usual favorite genres drew me, and all the genres that are slightly more unfamiliar to me held an equally weak luster.

Mostly I just had to wait those slumps out. They were usually followed by really great periods of wonderful books and enthusiastic reading, and I suspect this is just how it goes.

I’m curious—have you felt the same ineffable slumps? Or do you generally have consistent reading patterns?

Let me know in the comments! And happy New Year!

One thought on “The Best and Worst of 2021: For Readers Only

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