The last week of the year is when we look back on the months before and begin to plan for the year ahead — especially when you want to reminisce about all the books you might have enjoyed, and the ones you might have added to that ever-growing To Be Read pile! But it's also when publications — and podcasts like our very own Boundless Book Club, which you can find below — decide to publish or share their end of year "Best Of" lists, summarising their favourite reads from the last twelve months.
However, as much as reading can be a solo activity, it's also fun to chat about books with other readers so you can discuss what you liked best and what you felt could have been done better! So that's why the Emirates Literature Foundation team has decided to put together our own "Best Of" list for the titles we felt were the best book club selections of 2021. Whether it was as part of one of the official ELF book clubs, or more casual ones we held with our co-workers and friends, here are some of the books we felt were best read as a group. So let us know what you think down in the comments as well!
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
If this international bestseller flew under your radar for all of 2020 and 2021, then consider 2022 the perfect year to dive into this quirky and charming exploration of memory and time travel all set in a tiny hidden coffee shop in Tokyo. Visitors to the Funiculi Funicula cafe receive the rare opportunity to visit a specific moment in their pasts without changing it. The only catch? They must return before their coffee gets cold. Kawaguchi's writing is gentle and thoughtful, while the yarn he's spinning is an eye-opening slice of life that will make you reconsider each interaction you've been in. The perfect start to a year full of book club meet ups as you look ahead ot a year of reading!
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Bennett's second novel is a book club favourite that's also garnered plenty of prestigious literary awards — and all with good reason! Her story of twin sisters who run away from their small town at the age of 16 only to return as adults leading starkly different lives, is rife with rich themes. Over the course of the novel — which spans from the 1950s to the 1990s — Bennett examines the intersections of community and race, and explores just what it means to be family. The Vanishing Half showcases Bennett's talents at their finest, while also serving up a lot of meaty fodder for discussion.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
This Booker Prize long-listed debut will strike a chord with its evocative style of writing that follows two Chinese American orphans as they navigate life in the wild west. Zhang's lyrical storytelling is simultaneously epic in its ambitions and deeply intimate in its execution as it infuses its tale with Chinese symbolism to present a wider, more inclusive sort of "American" history that is almost mythic in nature. Amidst the family secrets threatening to spill, and the sibling rivalry threatening to boil over, is a deeper question of just who gets to tell these stories and why? The answers are certainly book club-worthy.
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Maybe not the best selection for a group of people gathering for a specific reason... But who doesn't love an Agatha Christie-esque mystery?! A skilled thriller writer, Foley is definitely in high form with what is only her second novel as she spins the tale of a wedding weekend gone awry thanks to an unexpected murderer having been on the titular "guest list." Readers will be at the edges of their seats as the characters race to figure out whodunnit. It's the perfect book to discuss at a monthly book club, because the twists and turns offer up the perfect points of discussion.
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
There's plenty to love about Ali's debut novel, and it's recently published sequel (Misfit in Love)! There's Ali's ability to capture the teenage experience in a way that's as relatable and grounded as a John Hughes film — while also featuring an Egyptian-Indian muslim girl at its center. There's also the gentle tact her work displays while dealing with tough topics, the ones that even many adults find hard to discuss. But maybe most of all, there's the journey of self-discovery her teenage protagonist goes through as she tries to navigate the various aspects of her own identity. It's perfect for fans and non-fans of young adult fiction alike, which will allow for plenty of rich discussion.
Are You Enjoying? by Mira Sethi
Sethi's collection of short stories means there's something for everyone, even if your tastes might vary! From an actress' who encounters more drama off-screen than on, to someone embarking on an illicit affair to quell her anxieties, Sethi's provocative, yet funny style allows her to hold up a mirror to modern day Pakistan. Her ability to flip traditional views on their head while also examining how people search for love and the way it affects them marks her as an author to keep following, and one whose work is worth discussing.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
Step back in time to 1950s India for Joshi's rivetting tale of a young woman who escapes an abusive marriage, only to reinvent herself as Jaipur's most sought after henna artist, trusted with keeping the secrets of all the rich women she serves. Only, soon enough the past comes crashing in as not only does her husband track her down, but he brings with him the sister she never knew she had. Joshi's ability to deliver a timeless story that feels set in the present is a testament to her skill, and one of the big reasons to dive into this trilogy.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman
A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman
There's a thin line between comedy and tragedy and Grossman skillfully threads that needle in this Man Booker Prize-winning novel. As a comedian walks the audience (and the readers themselves) through his stand up routine, it veers into a deeply human memoir in which he looks back on the sins of his past, all on a quest to redeem his future. Grossmans ability to craft and frame an entire story in a way that feels like a stand-up special is reason alone to convene a book club meeting, with the conversations it might provoke being nothing but an added bonus.
Broken by Jenny Lawson
Laughter is the best medicine. So is talking about what's troubling you. In this laugh out loud collection of essays, Lawson walks readers through her thoughts, feelings, questions, and struggles with depression and anxiety, with the skill of a deft-handed magician. Readers will find themselves on a roller coaster of emotions, but one that's worth riding. Lawson's blend of blistering honesty and raw humanity are exactly what many people might be searching for to feel less alone with the issues they may be facing. As always, Lawson provides lots to talk about — even if you struggle with sharing your own struggles.
My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
Jones' latest novel is a love letter to the horror films he loves so much, and the perfect jumping in point for fans of horror — and for anyone seeking a good "scary" story. My Heart Is a Chainsaw sees a young teenage girl attempt to deal with the many hardships of her life through the lens of the horror movies she loves so much. However, when she finds herself living out a sequence like in the films, she can't help but feel like this is what life's prepared her for. What follows is a riveting (and at times, heartbreaking) thrill-ride of the likes that Jones is becoming known for. Like most ghost stories, this will be one you'll want to unpack while sitting huddled around a table with your fellow readers.
Rabbit Hole by Mark Billingham
Billingham's latest is also his funniest, and possibly his most twistiest. In Rabbit Hole he introduces to a new lead character, one who used to be a detective but is now in an acute psychiatric ward for treatment for her PTSD, as well as her reliance on drugs and alcohol. However, when her fellow patients start turning up dead, it's up to her to solve the mystery. There's only one problem: she's not sure if she can trust herself. But if there is something readers should trust, it's Billingham's ability to tell a story.
Future Perfect by Felicia Yap
A dead fashion model. A future where technology can predict the likelihood of your demise each day. And a high concept mystery that spans decades. Yap's mind-bending and future-twisting second novel is filled with moments to spark discussion as her lead detective must go on the hunt for clues while she also unpacks the various dangers of a tech-driven future and mixes in a tender love story. Perfect for any book club looking for their mysteries with a side of science fiction.
My Best Friend's Murder by Polly Phillips
Not all friendships are as true as they should be. Some even end violently, as in the case of Phillips' best-friend-ship gone sour as one of the duo is now tragically dead, while the other stands suspected of her murder — no thanks to her trail of toxicity. Phillips' debut is fast paced and tightly written, as it keeps readers guessing till the last page. It's the kind of title that will spark all kinds of discussion and make for a lively meet up.
Mercy by David Baldacci
Baldacci's fourth book in his Atlee Pine series sees his lead character make a stunning discovery: not only is her missing twin sister Mercy still alive, but she managed to escape her captors all those years ago. Now it's a search for her long-lost sibling against all odds, with Atlee taking some of her biggest risks yet, all in the pursuit for truth. As with all series, there will be a lot to talk about, which makes this an ideal book club selection.
The House of Whispers by Anna Kent
Readers might be familiar with Kent's work under her other published name: Annabel Kantaria, but The House of Whispers is her finest thriller yet as she unpacks a tale of toxic friendship that will have readers doubting themselves as they rip through the pages towards the nailbiting conclusion. No doubt, there'll be plenty to discuss. Perhaps even enough to move up a book club meeting.
You can see some of these authors and more at this years Emirates LitFest. For more news on what the Emirates Literature Foundation is up to, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. And to keep up with the rest of our book-filled discussion, you can listen to the latest episode of our Boundless Book Club podcast, featured down below!