My Top 5 Books of 2021
So hard to choose!
Before we turn the page from 2021 to 2022, I'm looking back at my favorite books from the past 12 months. In many ways, the titles I loved the most this year have little in common. There's historical fiction, a thriller, science fiction, and a collection of essays. However, the authors of all these books made interesting structural choices for their writing which powerfully struck me, and all have something important to say about what it means to be in relationship with one another.
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell is achingly beautiful. The fictionalized story of the short life and death of Shakespeare's real 11-year-old son is compelling and emotional. The novel's exploration of grief within a family and within a marriage is devastating at times. The true beauty of this book is in the smallest of details that seem to yield the biggest impact. I cried more than once while reading this exquisite prose. There's also a structural change about two-thirds of the way through the novel which indicates an important shift in the narrative. The character Agnes, Shakespeare's wife and Hamnet's mother, is one of my favorites in a long time. This book is one that has stayed with me.
The debut novel, The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris seemed to take the book world by storm this year, and I was happy to be a part of it! In this suspenseful work of literary fiction, 26-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at a New York publishing house. When another Black woman joins the firm, Nella is thrilled until a string of uncomfortable events leaves her shaken-- and then vaguely threatening notes begin to appear on Nella's desk. I was thoroughly taken in by this book. What starts as an engaging and unflinching look at navigating uncertain spaces-- working as a Black woman in a largely white industry-- evolves into a full-on psychological thriller. Just when you think you know what's going on, you definitely don't. I was not prepared for where this story went-- but I'm so glad it did. I've heard some complaints from readers about the ending of this novel. I won't give anything away, but I will say that you should not expect a nice and neat conclusion where everything is happily tied up. One other note... when I posted this picture of the book on my Instagram page, Zakiya Dalila Harris liked my post and shared it to her story so I had a complete fangirl moment!
My favorite nonfiction read of the year... Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong is a major achievement. This is a collection of 7 essays by the Korean American poet which explores her personal story alongside and within the larger context of race in America. This book is deeply personal, raw, and intricately crafted. One of her essays in particular, "Portrait of an Artist," was stunning in structure, storytelling, and emotion. Hong's book couldn't have come at a more important moment as the nation grappled with the recent (yet also longstanding) incidents of attacks and hate directed at the AAPI community.
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I thoroughly enjoyed Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. In this book, we meet an eclectic group of strangers who are suddenly taken hostage by a failed bank robber during an apartment open house. It turns out, everyone has their own anxieties and secrets which play out in unexpected ways. Backman's writing allows us to understand the inner emotions and motivations of all the characters. The author even addresses readers directly on occasion, which had a profound effect on my understanding of the story. The result is a building of compassion for these strangers who come to have a big impact on each other. You'll laugh and cry while figuring out the mysteries in this novel.
A book with an unusual premise turned out to be a surprising and utterly satisfying read. In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, science fiction author Becky Chambers explores questions of religion, philosophy, what it means to be human (or not human), and the quiet power of a cup of tea. Centuries earlier the robots of Panga disappeared into the wilderness, now one has emerged from seemingly nowhere with an intriguing question for the monk the robot encounters. Come to this story with an open mind and a freshly steeped cup of tea. This novella can be enjoyed quickly, but the story will likely stay with you for days or weeks afterward. It certainly did for me. A second book in this duology is expected to be released in 2022 so you can fully expect to see the sequel on my TBR list next year.
And now one honorable mention: Sea Wife by Amity Gaige is an engrossing novel about a family spending a year sailing the Caribbean Sea. However, the book is really a deep dive into a troubled marriage and two people trying to stay afloat in their own lives. This book is told from the dual perspectives of the wife Juliet, recounted after the journey by sea is over, and through the captain's log entries of the husband Michael written during the voyage. Readers have to piece together what really happened-- and what went terribly wrong-- on board the ship. Some people may not like the structure of the ending and the way it departs from the rest of the book, but I feel it's an interesting and enjoyable read.
Did you read any of these books during the past year? What were some of your favorite titles? Tell me in the comments!
Of course, 2021 isn't quite over yet! To check out what I'm reading this month, look at my TBR Stack for December. And if you need some last minute ideas for books to enjoy with children this holiday season, peruse my list of 12 Top Christmas Books for kids. Even as I wrap up my reading for this year, I'm contemplating my reading goals for 2022 and how to get the most out of my reading life. More on that soon! Until then, best wishes for further reading!
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