10 Books That Helped Me Survive 2021
From Absent in the Spring to Things Fall Apart — and everything in between.
In many ways, 2021 was an extraordinary year. I spent a good chunk of it hunkered down in a tiny studio apartment in Manchester, probably the rainiest city in the world. I had no human contact, no winter jacket, and no job. If it wasn’t for books, I would have lost my sanity as well.
This year, I read 42 books. The dubious honor of inflicting the most pain goes to Gustave Flaubert. Madame Bovary is a classical tale of woman’s fickleness¹, written by a man who had the emotional range of a teaspoon². Madame Bovary, c’est pas moi!
But I also read books that took me to faraway places, made me question my beliefs, reminded me that magic is real, and broke my heart, again and again. Here are my ten favourites.
Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott
If you had nothing but yourself to think about what would you find out about yourself?
Joan Scudamore’s life if perfect. She is attractive, happily married, loved by her children, respected by her neighbors. Or is she?
Stranded in a desert outpost in the Middle East on her way back to England, Joan reexamines her past. The truth she uncovers beneath unimportant trivialities and elaborate self-deceptions is disturbing. The choices she makes as the veil of self-ignorance is lifted are chilling.
Achingly beautiful and profoundly uncomfortable. What if I am Joan?
You are alone and you always will be. But, please God, you’ll never know it.
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
A tale of carefree summer affairs. Of sexual disillusionment. Of losing one’s innocence. Of love and loss.
When the book is done, what’s left is deep sadness and unexplained longing.