I read fewer books than usual this year. I attribute that mainly to the fact that I had a hard time finding books I really loved. When I love a book, time ceases to exist. I’ll stay up reading until I can no longer physically hold my eyes open. If it’s an audiobook I’ll invent chores that MUST BE DONE RIGHT NOW to have a reason to keep listening. But if I don’t love a book… I read it in small chunks and it either takes forever and then I quit halfway through because it’s keeping me from the good stuff.
Also, I probably watched more TV than usual; one of our pandemic purchases was a TV in the summer of 2020. The last time I had one in the house was 2009, but I don’t know if I even count it because it was my roommate’s and I could never figure out the remote control. I can’t say I like it more than our e-bike (another great pandemic purchase) but it’s really nice not to have to crowd around a laptop to enjoy a show together.
Anyway, the books. I read a total of 42 books in 2021. In no particular order, my nine favorites were:
Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang (memoir)
This one should be required reading for every American. In it, Wang tells the heart-wrenching story of her family’s experience as undocumented immigrants. She lays bare the trauma, the small joys and the triumphs of her life in a way that has you hanging on her every word. Her story is captivating and so relevant right now, as our democracy feels more tenuous with every passing day.
Group by Christie Tate (memoir)
Wow wow wow. If you liked “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottleib, you’re in for a treat. This is a heroine’s journey if there ever was one. It’s the funny, poignant, and unbelievably honest story of a woman who faces her fears and in so doing, saves her own life.
The Lazy Genius by Kendra Adachi (personal development)
It’s a self-help book that feels like a pep talk from your cool aunt. The Lazy Genius is all about being a genius about what matters to YOU and being lazy about the rest. And what Kendra keeps coming back to (both in the book and in her excellent podcast) is connection.
Starfish by Lisa Fipps (YA fiction)
I double dog dare you to read this one without crying. Themes include fatphobia, self-love, xenophobia, racism, and body image. I read it to my kids but I would have been more than happy to read it to myself, too. More of my thoughts here.
The Push by Ashley Audrain (fiction)
I tore through this one in two or three days. A psychological thriller that explores themes of motherhood, mental illness, loyalty, and being believed. I dare you not to read this one in less than five sittings.
Bravey by Alexi Pappas (memoir)
You can tell Pappas is a poet because her writing is just so juicy (but never flowery). In her memoir, this young (and wise) Olympian shares her story, including her family history of mental illness and her own struggles with depression with candor, sharp insight, and humor. I listened to this as an audiobook, which I highly recommend.
Empty by Susan Burton (memoir)
I originally heard Susan Burton on Dani Shapiro’s podcast, Family Secrets, and I was enthralled by her story and bought the audiobook. In her memoir, Burton talks openly about the eating disorder that consumed her for most of her life with painstaking honesty and zero fluff.
Self Care by Leigh Stein (fiction)
I read this one at the very start of 2021 but I still recall it as being really hard to put down. It pokes fun at and explores themes including feminism, work, influencer culture, hustle culture, and authenticity. Would make an excellent beach/vacation read.
Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad (memoir)
A beautiful, gripping memoir about Jaoud’s harrowing battle with cancer in her early 20’s — and her intense, unexpected struggle to return to a “normal” life once she received a clean bill of health.