As I write this, I’ve read 154 books so far in 2021. It’s been a great reading year and it is really hard to pick my favorites. I was introduced to some new authors this year, some new series that I can’t wait to dig back into, and I also revisited some favorite authors and characters.
Even though it was challenging, I’ve compiled my top ten lists for fiction and non-fiction reads from the year. I hope you’ll find something to add to your own to-read pile.
- Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir: I loved this book. It was creative, fun, and full of adventure. I highly recommend it to those who love science, stories set in space, and buddy narratives.
- The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson: I read this book over the Thanksgiving break and it was such a pleasant read. Any book set in a library or with a librarian as a main character will be a favorite for me!
- Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay: I had never read this author before, but I saw people mentioning on social media how scary his writing is. I had to try one of his novels over the Halloween holiday. This is a kind of zombie story mixed with a pandemic narrative, so trigger warning if that’s the opposite of what you need right now. That said, I did find it entertaining and read it in just one or two sittings (late at night, of course!).
- Afterlife by Julia Alvarez: I loved this book about a recent widow and how she was coping with various events in her family and community. The language was simple and beautiful, and I always loved squeezing in a couple more chapters over my lunch break.
- The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison: Trigger warning for another pandemic narrative (as well as sexual assault and violence), but I thought this novel was creative and engrossing. The general plot is about a sickness that causes the death of almost all women and creates challenges for the remaining women to bear children. The range of possibilities that the author opens up from this premise were impressive.
- Hairpin Bridge by Taylor Adams: If you want a thriller that doesn’t always make the most sense plot-wise, but has some satisfying combat scenes, then this book is for you. I had so much fun with this one, but I did have to lower my expectations of how tied this book was to reality. (Trigger warning for suicide.)
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: While I’ve read some Neil Gaiman, I certainly am not well-versed with his style or the universes that he creates. I loved reading this novel about two worlds, one above ground and one underground in London. It was magical, creative, and left me wanting more time with these characters.
- We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker: I really enjoyed this literary novel about a family in crisis and the community that supports them. It’s a book that will break your heart a little, but it’s worth the read. (Twigger warning for drug abuse and child endangerment.)
- The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman: As I mentioned above, I love books about libraries and librarians, but I should add books about bookstores and bookstore clerks to that list as well. Bring on all the literary references! This sweet romance was a fun read and I appreciated the themes around family, both biological and chosen.
- Dear Child by Romy Hausmann: I read a couple of children in peril books this year and this one had some twists that I didn’t see coming. It has an unreliable narrator throughout, which keeps you on your toes regarding how everything will wrap up in the end. (Trigger warning for sexual assault and child abuse.)
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean: Did I mention that I love books about books? I listened to this book about a fire in a library in Los Angeles on audio and it was so fascinating. I immediately looked into every other book written by this author. Highly recommended for book lovers or people interested in arson as a crime.
- The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor: I read a few really amazing memoirs this year and this was one of them. The author is a priest who shares about her grieving process after the death of her young child and her mother in a short time frame. (Trigger warnings for alcohol abuse, suicide, and child death.)
- Range by David Epstein: I’m pretty sure that all academics should read this book. It’s a great argument against getting too specific in your career and instead encourages broadening what you know about and know how to do. I loved it.
- Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad: Another great memoir that I read this year. The author shares about her experience of being diagnosed with leukemia in her early 20s and how it both disrupted her life and taught her to live life to the fullest.
- Beginners by Tom Vanderbilt: I snort laughed more than once while reading this book about a man who attempts to learn several new skills so that he can experience the feeling of being a beginner. I learned a lot about surfing, singing, drawing, and a lot of things in between.
- There I Am by Ruthie Lindsey: This memoir about a woman experiencing chronic pain after a car accident was really well written. Even though I haven’t experienced a lot of what the author shared, I felt like I could understand her emotions, challenges, and decisions.
- Managing Transitions by William and Susan Bridges: I recommend this book to all the professionals I know who are leading teams through change. The book includes great case studies, some wonderful checklists, and really just helped me feel like I wasn’t alone in helping others to manage transition and change during this pandemic period.
- Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker: I think I heard about this book on a podcast and I’m so glad I picked it up. A large family has several brothers who are all diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The book explores the science behind why and the current treatments of this mental illness.
- Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation by James and Wendy Kirkpatrick: This is the nerdiest book on my list. I read this as part of the studying that I did for my certification in talent development and I thought the framework offered for how to assess training programs was so interesting and useful!
- Thunder and Lightning by Natalie Goldberg: Memoirs about writing are one of my favorite sub-genres and Goldberg does this incredibly well. She often includes musings from her experiences as a zen Buddhist practitioner as well, which I always find interesting and meditative.
What did you read and love in 2021?