Narrowing my annual reading list to just five or six favorites is an enjoyable self-directed task. Oddly, I love that I do this nerdly thing each year because the time spent in reflection is a gift I give myself.
So much of what we read serves a purpose: to entertain, inform, learn or improve ourselves. However, regardless of why we read, books are an outright pleasure. My reading list this past year was a rolling loli-gag from one gorgeous work to the next. As the books found me, I let each story fold into the following. I read 30 books in 2021, about two-and-a-half titles per month.
My favorite books of 2021 were again a combination of Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Memoir:
The Nightingale and The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge
Dipped In It by Bethany Harvey
My favorite book of 2021 was Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. Gorgeous in every detail, Hamnet takes its readers back in time to the young man who would one day become William Shakespeare. We learn about his love/family-life, and a glimpse at what could have been his story before his fame. I chose to follow this book with Shakespeare: The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson as I realized I did not know a lot about Shakespeare, the man. As it turns out, neither does anyone else; thank you, Bill Bryson! It was a delight to read Hamnet, which has opened up a new interest for me, as I plan to read Hamlet (the play) this spring.
Kristin Hannah is a master storyteller. Both her books, The Nightingale and The Four Winds, were every word interesting, thoughtfully written, and chock-full of brilliant historical relevance. Epic stories and fully developed characters bring you into their respective worlds and keep you there. If you are in the market for a good story to get lost in, choose one of these.
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. Wow, just wow. This is a complex, well-told story of immigrant families and their struggle with religion, family hierarchies, and social dilemmas as they try to conform to a mundane American way of life. Exquisitely written, A Place for Us is hopeful, crafted from multiple points of view. Each character tells their story, and in the end, we love – but most importantly, learn to understand – them all. This is a beautiful story.
West With Giraffes changed my life. I will never think of a giraffe the same again, and I plan to buy a membership to the nearest zoo to spend any amount of time with these long-legged beauties. Based in 1938 America, this book hits all the marks. A quick and lively adventure with historical context (based on a wild-but-true story) and characters you feel like you have known your whole life.
Bethany Harvey’s memoir is a joy. Dipped In It is an extraordinary book (written by a friend) about loss, love, grief, parenting, and life’s messy, hilarious humility. I loved this book so much; it earned its place as my chosen “girl gift” this Christmas.
Can I give an Honorable Mention? This goes to Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. Any parent with a high school student simply needs to read this to help set reasonable college-bound goals. Grounded in statistics, Bruni’s wisdom is cemented in the real world as it pertains to college applications. Bruni helps bring down to earth the inherently stressful process and most teens’ emotional attachments to the outcome. A restorative guidebook for parental sanity, this book helped me enormously during our college search and applications process this past year.
I am forever grateful for all the great writers who put their pens-to-paper for the rest of us book-snobs to love or hate. I admire you all. As we slide into another year of this seemingly eternal pandemic, you are my spiritual first-responders. Thank you.
Full List | 2021
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout; More Than Enough by Kara Stevenson Anderson; Sea Wife by Amity Gaige; The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah; Looking For a Full Ride by Renee Lopez; Bear Town by Fredrik Backman; What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer (poetry); The Midnight Library by Matt Haig; A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza; Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; I Used to Have a Plan by Alessandra Olanow; Dusk Night Dawn by Anne Lamott; A Promised Land by Barack Obama; The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman; Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni; How to Be an American by Silvia Hidalgo; Dipped In It by Bethany Harvey; Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell; Four Winds by Kristin Hannah; Shakespeare: The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson; The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett; Beach Read by Emily Henry; Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery; West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge; The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid; Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys; Frank: Sonnets by Dianne Seuss; Deacon King Kong by James McBride; Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley; Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho
I hope any of these soulful titles will find their way to your nightstand in 2022 – ❤️
Happy New Year, and as always, happy reading!