• Kit Eyre

How Did the Reading Jar Work in 2021?

I decided to do something a little different with my reading in 2021. Thanks to being paralysed by indecision when I'm looking to start reading a new book, I decided to adopt a more random method - the TBR jar.


I split my books down into fiction and non-fiction, wrote the titles on slips of paper and shook them all up in a jar. The idea was that I could decide whether I was interested in reading fact or fiction then choose a random book to read. Overall, the experiment was partly successful.


During 2021, I read 54 books and 29 (54%) of them came out of the jar. Another 9 (17%) were print books that came from a book subscription service I was using and the rest were books I just decided I wanted to read. This last group really took over at the end of the year and only 3 of the last 10 books I read in 2021 came out of the jar.


Having the jar on hand definitely removed some TBR paralysis, although I will admit to putting a few slips of paper back in because I just wasn't in the mood for that title at that time. I've got a lot of true crime in my TBR library and sometimes it really isn't appropriate for how I'm feeling.

Favourite Books of 2021


I've had a look at the 54 books I managed to read during 2021 and picked out my favourites. To be honest, there weren't many stand-outs this year and maybe that's because I mostly picked them out of the jar or they came from subscription boxes.


Here's my top five for each.


Non-Fiction

  • The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 edited by Garrett M. Graff - I knew I wanted to read this book in 2021 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. It was an incredibly difficult book to read but hearing the recollections of the people who survived such traumatic events was also incredibly important.

  • Failures of State: The Inside Story of Britain's Battle with Coronavirus by Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott - I'm not sure what possessed me to read a book about the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic while we were still stuck in the never-ending Covid-19 vortex but it was an illuminating read that made me very, very angry.

  • Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga - My knowledge of Black people, their heritage and their communities was fragmented but reading this book helped fill in some of the gaps. It was also another book that made me angry - I'm sensing a pattern in the books that had an effect on me in 2021!

  • The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore - This examination of the effects of radium on groups of workers in the early 20th century was heartbreaking (and, yes, infuriating) to read. What makes it all the more agonising is that profitable exploitation like this is still going on across the world.

  • Bean Counters: The Triumph of the Accountants and How They Broke Capitalism by Richard Brooks - Why not round off the list with another book that made me blisteringly angry? This expose of how big accountancy firms work and feed off each other made me even more disillusioned with the world.

Fiction

  • Gallows Court by Martin Edwards - I wasn't expecting to enjoy this historical novel as much as I did. The characters were engrossing and I didn't see many of the twists coming. I immediately read the second in the series which tells you something about my feelings on it!

  • Old Baggage by Lissa Evans - What happens after a suffragette has done what she set out to do? This was a funny and enlightening novel about a woman who doesn't want to give up being a world-changer but who doesn't always go about it in the right way.

  • The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson - This wasn't the best book I've read in terms of plot and character but it's a haunting book that still has me thinking about it many months after putting it down. There's a little too much maritime discussion for the average reader yet it still retains its potent horror.

  • A Life's Morning by George Gissing - Another book that isn't necessarily the greatest in the world, this one makes the list because it's one of the few Gissing works that is predominantly set in my home town of Wakefield. I can't resist following in the local footsteps of an author.

  • Death and the Brewery Queen by Frances Brody - I can always rely on Frances Brody and her Kate Shackleton series for a quality read and this one was no different. Just like the other novels on this list, there were some scenes that I still think about even after I've long closed the book and moved on.

So, those were my top reads of 2021 and it seems that I favour non-fiction books that make me angry and fiction books either set in or written in another time period. I'm sure there's a psychological connection to be made somewhere!


I'm carrying on with the TBR jar in 2022 but I'll still be picking up books as and when they appeal to me. I'm liking this hybrid model and this year I'm determined that I'm going to hit 100 books - honest!

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