Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2021 Reading in Review

It's difficult to look at a book-related website without seeing some sort of "Best Books of 2021" list. It's no different here today; I'm writing about some of the best books I read this year. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorites. These may not be the "absolute best books" (whatever that might mean) but for different reasons, I enjoyed each of them immensely. (The links will take you to Goodreads.)

Shuggie Bain  - I read this in May of 2021 after we chose it for Read With Us. I was a little concerned that it might be a difficult book to read because of the pain, sorrow, poverty, shame, and alcoholism, but there is also love, vulnerability, and perseverance contained within its pages. Months later I find myself still thinking about it several times a month. It was a remarkable book and one that I will re-read someday. 

Oh William! - This is Elizabeth Strout's third book in her Lucy Barton series, and I think it is one of her best. I've loved almost everything she has written, but especially this one where Lucy tells us about her ongoing and complex relationship with William, her first husband, their daughters, her career, and her childhood. 

Unsettled Ground - This was also a Read With Us selection, and the reason I put this one on the list is that it illustrated for me the importance of discussing a book and what I could learn from others through the discussion. Claire Fuller writes about people on the fringes of society and talking about this book helped me understand (and appreciate) some of the characters' actions.

What Strange Paradise - While this one was not enjoyable in the usual sense of the word, it was a great book because it provided me with a harsh but necessary look at the global refugee crisis through the eyes of children. Omar El Akkad has written the stories of the people involved, including the fear, suffering, risks, along with kindness and hope in a way that I won't soon forget.

The Five Wounds - I was surprised to find that I enjoyed a book in which so many of the characters are selfish and careless, but they are also realistically human and fiercely loving. Honesty, religion, faith, flaws, humanity (and windshield repair) - Kirstin Valdez Quade has written it all in stellar form in The Five Wounds. It's hard to believe that this is her debut novel, and I will gladly read anything else she writes. 

These Precious DaysWhile I've enjoyed several of Ann Patchett's novels (especially The Dutch House), I think I like her essays even more. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage was her first stellar collection, and These Precious Days is even better. 

The Tidal Zone - This book was my third Sarah Moss novel, and it was so good that I still want more. It's the story of Adam, a stay-at-home dad, and his family. One day Adam receives a phone call that his 15-year-old daughter, Miriam, has collapsed at school, and things unfold from there. I love Moss' language, intelligence, and extraordinary writing about the mundane and not-so-mundane.

Empire of Pain - This nonfiction book is horrifying, yet wonderfully researched and written history of the Sackler family. If that name isn't familiar to you, just think of the family as a group of ambitious, driven yet ruthless members who should be held accountable for the opioid crisis. The story is complicated and sordid and is still not over. 

Immune - I was delighted to find that this was a "Goldilocks" sort of book for me. Philipp Dettmer has written this with just the right amount of information - not too much to overwhelm and not too little to dumb down the complex immune system. I had a graduate course in immunology decades ago, but this is one of those subjects that has changed and been added to quite a bit in the intervening time. This is a brilliant book for explaining how the immune system works, how vaccines work, what happens when the immune system becomes too active, and so much more information that we all need to understand. 

So what is next in my reading queue? I've started The Sentence and The Lincoln Highway, two highly-rated books to carry me into the New Year. Some of the books that I'm eagerly anticipating have not been published yet, but they are on my tbr list so I can request them asap from the library. 

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Julie Smith (January 10, 2022)

The Final Case by David Guterson (January 10, 2022)

Lost and Found Kathryn Schulz (January 11, 2022)

Losing Our Minds by Dr. Lucy Foulkes (January 24, 2022)

Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman (January 31, 2022)

Life Without Children by Roddy Doyle (February 21, 2022)

and especially this one: Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart. We only have to wait until April 5th! 

If there is anything that you have read this year that you've especially enjoyed, I would love to hear about it in the comments. The same is true for any books you might be looking forward to reading in 2022. Here's to another wonderful year of reading for each of us!


  1. Thanks for sharing your favorite reads of 2021. I see some I need to add to my list!

  2. Thank you for that list of "coming soon" books! I promptly requested several from my library (and I am happy that the lists are SHORT!)

    I had so many good reads this year and have been contemplating the "short list" of best of. Two books stand out and I find myself thinking about them frequently... Braiding Sweetgrass and Finding the Mother Tree. Those books have filled a spot inside me that I did not know was seeking.

  3. You've had a great reading year Bonny! Some of my favorites were (in no particular order) "The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse," "The House by the Lake" by Thomas Harding, "Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White" by Melissa Sweet, "Miss Benson's Beetle" by Rachel Joyce, "Perestroika in Paris" by Jane Smiley, "Mudbound" by Hillary Jordan, "Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo" by Stephanie Storey and "The Sweetness of Water" by Nathan Harris. My TBR list covers a number of pages and just about daily gets added to. Two I'm looking forward to Fletch gifted me: "Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell" and "No Time to Spare" by Ursula K. Le Guin.

  4. I really like your approach to the books you selected -- sometimes the books that stay with us aren't necessarily the ones we think are the best or most highly rated.

    I've surprised myself with how many books I've read this year, and a lot of them were very good. It looks like I rated 18 books 5 stars. Of those, the ones that really stand out are Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, The Guncle by Steven Rowley, and The Sentence by Louise Erdrich.

  5. I think personal book favorites are much more meaningful than any of the published or official "best of" lists. Many of the books on your best-books-of-the-year list would also show up on mine! I'd include Still Life and The Island of Missing Trees on my best-of list for the year.

    And I'm really looking forward to MORE good books next year.

  6. Thanks, Bonny. I have not read most of these, so I have some new titles to put on my TBR list. I read a lot that I don't remember much about, but I also read some that have stuck with me. I loved A Town Like Alice (Neville Shute), and enjoyed Cloud Cuckoo Land, Ben Winter's trilogy The Last Policeman, Southernmost by Silas House, and The Orchard and The Guide by Peter Heller. And, of course, I just finished These Precious Days, and I really enjoyed that as well. Happy Tuesday!

  7. Thank you for sharing your favorite books of the year! I've read so many good books this year that it's hard to choose my favorites, but the ones that come to mind and that I look forward to re-reading are Still Life, The Sentence, Fresh Water For Flowers, and Oh William! I'm looking forward to reading many more good books in 2022. I just started Cloud Cuckoo Land and it I think it will be a good one!

    1. I've got Still Life in my queue, The Sentence is up next, Cloud Cuckoo Land is on hold, and I'll have to look for Fresh Water for Flowers. Happy reading in 2022, Debbie!

  8. Nice list, Bonny! You do know Sarah Moss has a new one coming out, I think it's April. I've pre- ordered.

  9. Nice list, Bonny! You do know Sarah Moss has a new one coming out, I think it's April. I've pre- ordered.

  10. What a great list of books. A few of my best reads of 2021: The Stationery Shop, The Vanishing Half, The Water Dancer, The Narrowboat Summer, Red at the Bone, Three Simple Lines, Horizon. I'm agree with Kym that personal favorites are more meaningful than those published lists.

  11. Thank you for sharing your favorite books. I also loved Oh, William and have Empire of Pain on my TBR. My favorites included: Still Life, The Sentence, Open Water, Aftershocks, and The Promise. Plus! I can't forget Cloud Cuckoo Land!


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