Best Books From 2021

A year of reading, and escaping

My partner and I are combing our Goodreads page to remember our favorite reads from the year. I compiled my list with a few tidbits about each book, but for more in depth book reviews I have linked the following Medium authors: , , , , .

#1: Why Fish Don’t Exist (Lulu Miller)

Even though we humans try throw most all things in a category to try to understand the world, this book helped me reflect on the idea that just because something doesn’t fit neatly into a category doesn’t mean it’s not valid. This book also helped me reflect on the necessity of drawing hard lines though when human life is not being valued equally.

“That it is our life’s work work to mistrust our measures. Especially those about moral and mental standing. To remember that behind every ruler there is a Ruler. To remember that a category is at best a proxy; at worst, a shackle.”

#2: There, There (Tommy Orange)

I haven’t read a book so lyrical, complex and yet simple in a very long time. This book reminded me of my favorite Collum McCann books (Let the Great World Spin), in it’s ability to take on so many different voices and yet feel complete, full and connected in each. This book centers urban Indigenous voices set in Oakland past and present.

“An Urban Indian belongs to the city, and cities belong to the earth. Everything here is formed in relation to every other living and nonliving thing from the earth. All our relations.”

#3: Circe (Madeline Miller)

Perfect reading for isolation, a new take of the Greek myth of Circe from the witch Circe’s point of view. I’m a sucker for mythology, especially when it ramps up against patriarchy.

“I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”

#4: Her Body and Other Parties: Stories (Carmen Maria Machado)

I honestly can’t even remember individual stories from this collection, but all I know is I couldn’t stop reading it. Lyrical, haunting and strangely intoxicating.

“When you think about it, stories have
this way of running together like raindrops in a pond. Each is borne
from the clouds separate, but once they have come together, there is
no way to tell them apart.”

#5: Thirty Names of Night (Zeyn Joukhadar)

Lyrical, folkloric, vulnerable, healing. Centering a transman’s narrative with a focus on gender, inter-generational family and birds.

“I think to myself, It is terrifying to be visible, and then I think, I have been waiting all my life to be seen.”

#6: Children’s Bible (Lydia Millet)

Recommended as one of the top books of 2020 by NYT, this book was like a fever dream to read during the COVID pandemic and other existential emergencies taking place.

“If you could be nothing, you could also be everything. Once my molecules had dispersed, I would be here forever. Free.”

#7: Fake Accounts (Lauren Oyler)

This book reminded me of how fun it is to get lost in your own thoughts and be solipsistic, and also how lonely and isolating it is.

“Throughout my childhood, I had been warned that I would spend a significant portion of my time doing something I could barely stand, but I had been lead to believe I would be paid for it.”

#8: Barbara the Slut and Other People (Lauren Holmes)

The best short story collection I’ve read all year. Each story pulls you in immediately, shocks you, and soothes you in its own way. Also the name.

“I was thinking I might want to study public health, but I was also thinking I might want to move to the forest and eat berries and mushrooms and hibernate with the bears in the winter.”

#9: Self Care (Leigh Stein)

A satire book on the wellness industry and white feminism’s privileged and commodified power in the world today.

“Leaving New York was always a reminder of the millions of people who would never choose your life or your lifestyle, the one you fought so hard to have, to prove how special you were.”

Books I read that I wish were better:

  • Mexican Gothic (Silvia Moreno-Garcia) — liked this book in the beginning, but couldn’t get into the horror genre vibes. That being said, great metaphors for colonialism and the insidious nature of white supremacy
  • Overstory (Richard Powers) — the first half of the book was excellent though depressing, the second half was just preachy and I lost interest.
  • The Silence (Don Delillo) — seemed condescending of younger generation’s use of technology

Read a lot of escapist mystery fiction:

  • All of Ruth Ware (One by One, Turn of the Key, Woman in Cabin 10,
  • The Push, Sisters, Magpie Murders, 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Guest List, Nine Perfect Strangers

Currently finishing:

  • Cloud Cuckoo Land (Anthony Doerr)
  • Crossroads (Jonathan Franzen)
  • Detransition Baby (Torrey Peters)
  • Broken in the best possible way by Jenny Lawson
  • Steal this book by Abbie Hoffman
  • We Do This Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba
  • The Sun Collective by Charles Baxter

Most overrated book I read this year: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

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That’s it! I’m going to try to read less fluff fiction in the coming year (i.e. all the mystery suspense stuff that has become repetitive… but was helpful in a year of pandemic uncertainty). Stay tuned for a list of books I want to read, but have no time to do so right now.

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midwestern librarian, writer, activist

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