For the first part of 2021, my reading mainly consisted of Agatha Christie and John le Carré novels which I found were very easy to read with a tiny baby asleep on you. But as the year went on I found more time to read non-fiction and some more contemporary fiction. My top few of each were:
- Our lady of perpetual hunger by Lisa Donovan – best known as a pastry chef whose work in New Orleans gained her international acclaim, this is a book about far more than cooking. It’s a phenomenal memoir and inspiring parenting and professional tale. But it also makes you want to try some of those old fashioned desserts from the American South.
- The Premonition by Michael Lewis – there’s still nobody better at taking a technical and often bureaucratic system and making it into a gripping yarn. The Premonition is the story of the people who helped make sure that covid wasn’t as bad as it could have been under Donald Trump’s presidency.
- The Key Man – brilliant reportage about something very close to home in my day job. Abraaj was one of the first high profile international investment firms that called themselves impact investors. They had billions under management – the trouble was, it was all based on lies and fraud. There are lessons for all of us in the impact investing world from the book but it’s also a cracking good read as Wall Street Journal journalists Clark and Louch piece together what really happened.
- Everything I learned about life I learned from PowerPoint. Russell Davies settled down in lockdown to write this love letter to a piece of software that is both a wonderful piece of social commentary and a compendium of tips for how to give better presentations. I remember first seeing Russell do a presentation at a conference in Newcastle years ago and knowing straight away that he was a master of the craft.
- Contacts by Mark Watson – I think Mark Watson is one of the best comedians of his generation but he’s also a fantastic novelist. This is an alternative take on the power of social media and smart phones. I can’t work out whether it will feel dated in a few years time or whether it will still make sense. Having read all those Agatha Christie novels earlier in the year I think it might last.
- Broken Stars by Ken Liu. I’ve developed a liking for Chinese sci-fi and this year I read another collection of short stories. There are several that have stuck with me, particularly one where lives run in the opposite direction through Chinese history since 1945. It’s a phenomenal piece of creativity.
- Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky – this however was the best sci-fi I read in 2021. Adrian Tchaikovsky deservedly won the Arthur C Clarke award for this. So many nooks and crannies of imagination and you’re left thinking very differently about our possible place in the universe.