Six books we want to read in 2021

Salt marshes, synchronised swimmers and the sex lives of water voles: fiction and non fiction for the year ahead

Reading in the bath may be the closest many of us will get to swimming for the foreseeable future, so it’s heartening to see that there is a wave of interesting new titles for 2021.

Here’s our pick of books published in the next six months.


Thin Places

By Kerri ni Dochartaigh 

Wildlife, water, history, politics and religion run through “Thin Places”, Kerri ni Dochartaigh’s memoir about growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Despite the grey concrete of her childhood homes, nature offers a respite from the grief and trauma she, her family and her friends face. Throughout the book there are accounts of the almost magical swims she takes as she tries to understand the world around her and make peace with her place in it.

Published by Cannongate, available to buy on Bookshop.



Adrift: Fieldnotes from Almost Motherhood

By Miranda Ward

A thoughtful account of a woman who is shocked to realise that becoming a mother is more difficult and painful than she imagined. Miranda Ward floats in the uncertainty of infertility, metaphorically as well as literally, during her time in swimming pools and among fellow swimmers as she realises that the control she thought she had over her body and her future was an illusion. “There is no way to navigate here… the wind will not fill your sails. You are powerless… all you can do is wait, and drift”.

Published by Orion Publishing, available to buy on Bookshop.



Elegy For a River: Whiskers, Claws and Conservation’s Last, Wild Hope

By Tom Moorhouse

One for nature lovers and fresh-water fans, this promises to not only give us a glimpse into the sex lives of water voles, but also the beauty and fragility of our rivers. A funny and impassioned look at the natural world rather than simply being another dose of “we’re doomed” gloom. Tom Moorhouse’s writing (he does fiction, too) reflects the years he’s spent beside rivers, fens, canals, lakes and streams researching British wildlife.

Published in March by Doubleday, Preorder at Bookshop.



Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey (New Edition)

By Roger Deakin 

First published in 1999, this is a new edition of the classic with an introduction by Bonnie Tsui (her book “Why We Swim”, published last year is also a must-read for bookish swimmers) and an afterword by OSS Patron Robert MacFarlane. If you haven’t read Waterlog, you are in for a treat. Deakin’s account of swimming throughout the British Isles is the closest thing wild swimming has to a bible, and I defy any swimmer not to long for their very own moat to dip in year round, as the late environmentalist had at his house in Suffolk.

Published in May by Tin House Books, available to pre-order on Amazon.



Swimming to the Top of the Tide 

By Patricia Hanlon

From the salt marshes of New England. Hanlon and her husband live next to the Great Marsh but only after they have raised their family do they start swimming the tidal estuary daily each day and getting to know the water intimately. Alas, the more they learn about their swimming spot, the more they realise the threats it faces. This is her first book and it sounds like a corker – in previews it’s been said that it’s “written with a swimmer’s spirit, a naturalist’s eye, and an ecologist’s heart”. 

Published in June by Bellevue Literacy Press, available to preorder on Amazon.



The Union of Synchronised Swimmers 

By Cristina Sandu 

A novel with an intriguing premise – six girls on the wrong side of a river separating East from West, meet each day in summer to swim as they wait for the Olympics and their visas. Can they escape from behind the Iron Curtain? Sandu’s debut novel, The Whale Called Goliath (2017), was nominated for the Finlandia Prize and The Union of Synchronised Swimmers will be her first book to be published in English.

Published in June by Scribe UK, available to preorder on Amazon.



Rebecca Armstrong