So Covid’s sophomore year was pretty lit, am I right?
Like 2020, I was hoping 2021 would be the year I gave up my Twitter addiction and replaced the hours I spend surfing the ‘net with quality book time. What can I say? I am a creature of routine. And that routine is Insta, FB and Twitter. Lots of Twitter. (Looking for some good accounts to follow? @RexChapman, @ClueHeywood, @ZillowGoneWild, @M_Crouton, @Bestofnextdoor, @RichardMarx …)
My 2020 habits got the best of me, too — my sourdough starter, Kamala, is still alive and kicking and fed once a week, but I am making decidedly less bread after the annual trip to the doctor revealed gross amounts of cholesterol. And I read, I swear I did. But shows like Ted Lasso and Succession and Cobra Kai and the Great British Baking Show sucked me in. And I’ve still got the day job. (Our Content Marketing team is the best, y’all.) And I still have the big dumb dog. And the cats, which at 14 are puking on the regular. Which means lots of spot cleaning while shooing the dog away from the piles ‘o puke. I’m revisiting a love for cooking. I added things like shakshuka to our dinner rotation. And I took up knitting again. A pandemic blanket that’ll never be finished.
My year-end tally? 26 books, a whopping 12 less than last year. I’m a little embarrassed, honestly. And I tried to make a hard run just yesterday to finish up “Harlem Shuffle” but I’d be cheating to include it here.
I have to ask you all that somehow read 100, 200, even 300 books a year — HOW ARE YOU DOING THAT? And is reading that much like a thing for you? Do you even remember what you read? Audio books? Being read to while you sleep? Laying your hands on a book and just sucking it down a la osmosis? (OK, more than a little jealous of the commitment to the goal. And honestly curious as to how people get it done.)
If you are new to my blog, a brief history: this annual post is the entire reason I have a blog. I’ve been sharing out my year-end list with my friends that love to read for probably close to 20 years now. Mostly, because I just love talking about books. And hearing about what my friends like. My reviews are almost never negative — I am a big believer that for every book, there is a fan. And while I will note below which were my favorites, I stopped doing a “Best” list because there’s absolutely no way to really know what’s best thanks to the sheer volume of what is published every year. And honestly, whatever is “best” is what YOU like the most. If I play some sort of role in turning you on to something new, I’m thrilled. The gift for me in all of this is friendship, fellowship, and learning about authors I would have otherwise never picked up.
This year’s breakdown:
Authors of color: 4. I chalk this more up to the fact I read less in general, but still. Eww.
Repeat authors: 9. Not bad, in that I really do like to find new favorites.
Nonfiction: 4. OK, so I think I figured out where I dropped off in reading this year. Maybe because Trump’s out of office and I didn’t feel the need to read any more tell-alls …
Here’s the list — enjoy! And please please please tell me what you loved, so I can add it to the queue:
I love Stephen King so this was a no-brainer selection for me. And, as always, it did not disappoint. King’s protagonist, an assassin-for-hire struggling with life choices, takes one last job. A job that didn’t feel quite right from the get go. Now he’s both on the run and on the hunt and trying to put his life right. Bonus? An Overlook Hotel cameo!
Thank goodness for friends that are persistent with me in their reading recs — Corrigan’s cancer/mid-life/parenting memoir had been on my bucket list forever until I was gifted with a copy. Honest, funny and devastating all at once. Appreciate your parents as much as you can for as long as you can.
An author’s book about about an author on a book tour is enough of a brain puzzle, but to make it all the more intriguing, readers have to discern whether imaginary friends are truly real as well. Candid storytelling, deeply flawed, but human characters, and well, Soot. Hell of a Book won National Book of the Year for a reason. Definitely worth your time.
One of several advanced reader copies I enjoyed in 2021, Haight’s novel about a Boston women’s clinic counselor hits bookshelves in February. Don’t pass it up. I happened to be reading it around the same time Texas decided that my next door neighbor should be able to tell me what I can or can’t do with my body, and I only wish we all had a Claudia in our lives to turn to.
One of my few nonfiction reads this past year and incredibly motivating. As someone who deals with anxiety on the regular, this book was a kick in the pants and a powerful reminder that we all have strength, we all have purpose, and we all have the capacity to do more and be better.
Hahahaha, this book. It was not what I thought it would be, and I am absolutely OK with that. A juicy thriller about the ins and outs of the world of publishing with a sci-fi twist I didn’t expect. Ugh, Nella, I hope you’re OK.
Lordy, this family! I think this book may be one of those that people either love, or hate, but because I am a huge fan of dysfunctional family drama, I sucked this up in no time flat. The Briscoes are a hot mess and I loved every minute of their misadventures.
OH MY GOD THIS BOOK. Out in just a few days, Chan’s dystopian tale of a mother’s sentence to a reformatory school for parenting is going to end up on all kinds of “Best of 2022” books so do yourself a favor and just read it. It is horrifying and funny and torturous in how much you come to care for Frida. An honest-to-goodness must-read.
Having had the pleasure of meeting the author in person, and thinking she’s just plain cool, of course I’m going to have a soft spot for her work. Early Morning Riser takes it even a step further with a character that could just as easily be someone right out of my life, and knowing that taking care of that person is everything to me, this book jumped right into my heart. Jane, you are my hero.
Reid’s ode to the 80s and the rock star/model/surfer lifestyle is brain candy — the perfect read to take on vacation and plop by the pool with. Engaging storytelling with a hopeful ending that doesn’t disappoint.
One of Summer 2021’s “it” books, this mystery is another one of those books where people seem to either love it or hate it. I for one loved the ending in that sometimes, the bad guy does get the brass ring.
Peters’ widely lauded tale of a love triangle, transsexuality and ticking biological clocks could at first be a little challenging to follow, but once you get the characters straight, you’re drawn into their quest to create a new kind of family. On a lot of “must read” lists, it’s a reminder that love takes many, many forms.
My “coming of age” read for 2021, and just an absolute crazy wild ride from start to finish. Set in the 70s, our protagonist spends her summer sitting for a little girl with decidedly different parents than hers, and is exposed to a whole new world, complete with all the anxiety her parents have successfully sheltered her from. It’s time for Mary Jane to grow up and we’re just lucky to be able to go along for the ride.
Bohjalian seems to be on pace for a novel a year these days and I am here for it. While I tend to enjoy his contemporary tales more than the historical fiction, this story of a young woman accused of sorcery in 1600s Boston was extremely compelling. Men are awful, I tell you.
I really do believe I’d go to the mattresses for Helen Ellis. She’s a national treasure. Someone who says all the quiet stuff out loud, and so damned funny. And honest. Her storytelling is right up there with Sedaris. Do not pass this up.
If you haven’t read anything by Wiley Cash yet, what’s wrong with you? Are you trapped under something heavy? Do you need help? Do yourself a favor — if you enjoy just plain old good storytelling, pick up his latest — a North Carolina mystery with a gut wrenching ending.
To be straight, this was the only book on my list that when putting this post together, I had to sit for a minute to try to remember, but once I did, it was with an, “Oh yeah! This was good!” More family drama set across the Pond, with Millie Gogarty mixing it up for her son Kevin — who already has enough on his plate with his wife and kids.
It’s not a year of reading if I don’t have a dose of Sedaris at some point. (Once I get my hands on “Carnival of Snackery,” that’ll be my 2022 entry.) Some of this was a re-tread for me, as I pretty much read every essay compilation he puts out, so it was a chance to re-visit and enjoy great satire. And if you haven’t read Sedaris before, this is a great way to hit the highlights.
I’m pretty sure I drove my coworkers crazy with my constant evangelizing for Grant’s latest. I love books that make you sit back and really think about HOW you think. A real eye opener.
If you were at the end of your days, how would you want to spend it? For Daniel, this isn’t a hypothetical. And lives hang in the balance. Solving a mystery it is!
A thoughtful, kind look at how people grieve, set on an island where everyone knows everyone and the outsiders stick out like sore thumbs. If you’re looking for a little bit of mystery mixed into a sweet love story, here it is.
I fell into Brandon Taylor’s world with “Real Life” and was never more excited to get access to an ARC than with this collection of short stories. He is an epic talent and if you don’t read his newsletter, you are MISSING OUT.
If you force me to choose between Sweeney’s latest and her breakout novel, “The Nest” I’d tell you to read the latter. That said, “Good Company” is fantastic storytelling — great for a long weekend or vacation. I mean, when your best friend keeps a horrible secret ….
This was on just about every 2020 “best” list and, not wanting to miss out, I made it one of my first reads for the year. So. damn. heartbreaking. And good. Tragic, but good. When all you want is to make one person happy, to fulfill them, and you can’t, well … I don’t know that you every can truly stop trying.
I had a few qualms about the ending, but if we could have had this over TFG, I would have been just fine with that. What a fun trip down the “Can you imagine if?” side of Bill and Hill.
A bucket list read come to fruition because I was gifted a copy — so good, and with two to follow it up, I love knowing that Olive is still out there mixing it up and giving readers something to look forward to.