Storysmith Books of the Year 2021

Another chaotic year comes to a close, and we reflect on the very best things we read. No matter what else happened to be going on in the wider world, amazing books still got published, and this list represents our booksellers’ most raved-about titles.

No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood

We’re putting this one at the top because it’s the one book we all decided that we simply had to include. Somehow balancing the experimental, the caustically funny and a gear shift in the second half that could possibly end you emotionally for quite some time, we were bowled over by how effective and delightful a novel could possibly end up with a major publisher and such a brilliant commercial reception too. About as close to perfect as you can get.

Chosen by Callum, Dan, Emily & Siubhan (literally everyone)

The Breaks, by Julietta Singh

A determinedly-hopeful powerhouse of a book. Much in the vein of Maggie Nelson, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Julietta Singh’s The Breaks is as much a letter to her daughter as it is a manifesto for radical pedagogy, queer family-making, and utopian thinking. This is the kind of book you read and then find yourself buying for everyone you know.

Chosen by Callum and Siúbhan

Cursed Bunny, by Bora Chung (trans. Anton Hur)

A collection of genre-defying Korean short stories that jump between the ridiculous and the terrifying. Dive in to find Angela Carter-style fables, body horror, ghost stories and science-fiction – it begins with a talking head in a toilet bowl and sort of goes on from there. Nuts, but brilliant, and not for the faint-hearted.

Chosen by Callum and Dan

Oldladyvoice, by Elisa Victoria (trans. Charlotte Whittle)

Marina is on the cusp of the adult world, but spends her time surrounded by the vernacular of the elderly. She can’t relate to her peers, but she can judge and comment on them with spike to spare. This tragic and tragically loveable character is our way into Elisa Victoria’s eccentric tale of growing up unusually, and the days we spend with her at her grandmother’s house while she waits for news of her sick mother are gem-like instances, finely and sharply observed.

Chosen by Emily

Amnion, by Stephanie Sy-Quia

In this epic poem/family memoir/auto-biography Sy-Quia tenderly and carefully- all the while questioning the veracity of her memories – traces her family tree around the world. It’s a testament to her family and chosen family-all the love it takes to make a person, and is utterly beautiful. Hard to believe it’s her debut collection.

Chosen by Siúbhan

Elena Knows, by Claudia Pineiro (trans. Francis Riddle)

Elena Knows is an agonisingly good novella set over the course of a single day. After Rita is found hanged in the local church, Elena refuses to believe her daughter died of suicide. Hampered by the ebbs and flows of her Parkinson’s disease, Elena embarks on a torturous journey to the other side of Buenos Aires looking for answers. For fans of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and Death in Her Hands.

Chosen by Callum

Luster, by Raven Leilani

Luster is that most unique of books that publishers (and booksellers) dream of: one that treads the fine line between accessible and artful without the need for diluting either aspect. Edie is a black woman in her twenties who embarks upon an affair with a married white man two decades her senior, and it’s fair to say that from this point things become intensely, terribly, painfully awkward for all concerned (including Eric’s wife and daughter). Big themes are tackled in this small story, of race, tolerance and self-esteem, but also some supreme set pieces.

Chosen by Dan

Sterling Karat Gold, by Isabel Waidner

A warm-hearted experiment that doesn’t dodge the darker stuff, this uncategorisable novelette is one of the most purely entertaining books of the year. The titular character, our hero, begins the book as the wronged party in a Camden bullfight gone wrong, and very quickly the narrative expands and contracts to let in time-travelling spaceships, the life and times of Justin Fashanu and a community theatre production mounted as a criminal trial. There’s a sense of freedom and abandon in the writing as it rebels against strictures both literary and institutional, a joyous one-off that we’ll be recommending hard for years yet.

Chosen by Dan

What Artists Wear, by Charlie Porter

Seamlessly pieced together (perhaps, like a good outfit?) and obsessively researched, What Artists Wear is a singular investigation into the lives, work and wardrobes of the most interesting artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Suits, denim, paint splatters – Porter shows us how each garment can be a performance, a mission statement, or a work of art in itself. 

Chosen by Callum

There’s A Ghost In This House, by Oliver Jeffers

The design of this typically sumptuous picture book from Oliver Jeffers is simply ingenious – far from straying into pleasing the adults more than the kids, it is at its heart a simple and eminently loveable story about the things we cannot see, the things we fear and the things we maybe don’t want to see. Join our young host for a tour of a gorgeously gothic house in which there can’t actually be any ghosts hiding… can there?

Chosen by Emily

Rotten Days In Late Summer, by Ralf Webb

Ralf Webb’s debut collection was nominated for the Forward Prize for Poetry and not without good reason. The collection deals with a variety of themes, including youth, death and grief, masculinity, queerness and mental health delicately and deftly. The sequence ‘Tree Tops’ is particularly striking.

Chosen by Siúbhan

Coming Timing, by Holly Pester

Every Granta poetry publication so far has been an absolute gem, and this is no exception. Pester examines subjects such as landlordism and renting, worker’s rights, and abortion. It’s deeply political and yet, entirely beautiful and Pester’s narrative voice is so inviting, so unique that she carries you steadily and easily along. ‘Comic Timing’ is perhaps the best piece of writing I have read on abortion ever.

Chosen by Siúbhan

The Netanyahus, by Joshua Cohen

It is SUCH enjoyment to read this one-man monologue: impeccably written, paced with luxurious restraint and detail, punctuated by stabs of shocking humour. Ruben Blum is reflecting on his career and life and especially his association with one Benzion Netanyahu and his family, with wit, academic know-it-all-ness and maybe just a pinch of Pooterishness? He retells the events of the weekend the Netanyahus descend on his family home and disrupt his relatively cushy lifestyle in ways he cannot quite comprehend.

Chosen by Dan

My Phantoms, by Gwendoline Riley

Gwendoline Riley takes the potentially difficult topic of fraught family relationships, and tackles it with such warmth, humour and achingly sharp social observations that reading My Phantoms feels like a catch up with your best friend. Savage recommend!

Chosen by Emily

A Little Devil In America, by Hanif Abdurraqib

Writing about pop music is meant to be more prosaic than this. Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib seamlessly blends his own personal experiences into this sumptuous account of black performative excellence, with writings on topics from the culture of dance marathons to the death of Michael Jackson, via the precise vocal brilliance of Whitney Houston. It’s an effortless read, and an impassioned one, a brilliant balance of enthusiasm and heart and scholarly rigour.

Chosen by Dan

Buy every book on this list and save 15%!

Location 236 North Street, Bristol, BS3 1JD Phone 0117 953 7961 E-mail Hours Tuesday-Saturday: 10am-6pm | Sunday: 11am-4pm | Monday: closed
%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close