2021 was a year of ups and downs. This year, I experienced an exciting career change. I cooked delicious food, meditated, took long walks, and danced as much as I could! I focused my energy on finding my passion and reconnecting with my inner child. I made some amazing memories and have a lot to be thankful for. That being said, 2021 was still a difficult year! A new variant of Covid is rippling through the country and climate disasters are threatening biodiversity and destroying homes. For me, books provide a form of escapism from the stress and responsibilities of “real life”. When I’m reading, I unplug from technology and become completely engaged in a different world for a little while. Lucky for me, I read some really wonderful books this year. To celebrate the end of 2021 and the start of 2022, I compiled my list of top ten favorite books of the past year (in no particular order).
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: Starting off on a somber note, Crying in H Mart is a beautiful ode to the author’s mother. Michelle Zauner is a Korean-American singer/songwriter and author. In her memoir, she reflects on her late mother’s battle with cancer and discusses the all-encompassing nature of grief. In the aftermath of her mom’s death, Zauner turned to food to stay connected to her mom and her Korean heritage. Make no mistake, Crying in H Mart is not an easy read. It was particularly difficult to read about her mom’s physical deterioration due to her illness. The author doesn’t mince her words; Though she loves her mom, Zauner is honest about their complex relationship. This memoir speaks to the sometimes dissonant yet boundless love shared between mothers and daughters.
Little Weirds by Jenny Slate: You may be familiar with Jenny Slate as a comedian from Saturday Night Live. In this quirky memoir, her unique voice absolutely shines. Slate’s humor is childlike and bright. Every sentence she writes is so colorful, using words like doink and boob-bags to bring levity to serious conversations. I felt like an eager passenger on a wacky literary journey. Slate cruises through topics ranging from nature to the patriarchy, to strange dreams, love, and the ghosts that haunt her childhood home. This book is a true delight!
Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls: A highly anticipated new novel from the writer of One Day (a favorite of mine). Sweet Sorrow is a coming-of-age story that reminds me what it feels like to be a young teenager in love. Charlie Lewis feels un-extraordinary and unmemorable in every way. When he meets boisterous Fran Fisher, she turns his drab life around. In order to spend more time with Fran, Charlie reluctantly joins The Company, a theatre group that performs Shakespeare plays. While the plot was a little unmemorable, I could honestly read David Nicholls’ grocery list because he is such an engaging writer.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: After 12 long months, I’m still thinking about the first book I read in 2021! The Vanishing Half follows black twin sisters, Desiree and Stella, who mysteriously leave their hometown without saying a word. Years later, Desiree returns home with her daughter, Jude. Stella, on the other hand, creates a new life for herself completely cut off from her sister and family. Due to the lightness of her skin tone, Stella is able to pass as white. We follow Desiree and Stella’s diverged storylines and see how differently their lives become as one twin embraces her black identity while the other masks it.
Verity by Colleen Hoover: This novel is a true page-turner! Struggling author, Lowen Ashleigh, gets an opportunity to co-write three books for legendary writer, Verity Crawford. Unbeknownst to the public, Verity was in a major car accident that has left her brain dead. To review Verity’s writing files, Lowen temporarily stays in the Crawford home with Verity’s husband and their young son. When she stumbles on Verity’s secret diary, Lowen can’t help but read it. To her shock, Lowen uncovers dark secrets about Verity and the Crawford family. I got goosebumps reading this book and absolutely could not put it down!
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: This classic should be a mandatory reading assignment in high school English curricula. David is left alone in Paris after his girlfriend, Hella, goes to Spain. On a night out, he meets a young man named Giovanni. They start an affair, which leads David to reflect on his past and sexuality. David eventually moves in with Giovanni into a small apartment. Going back and forth in time, we follow their story with the dreaded foresight that Giovanni will be killed by the story’s end. I felt anxious the entire time I was reading this book. More so than that, Giovanni’s Room conveys nuanced reflections on sexuality, masculinity, gender, and identity that seem way ahead of its time.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: This book was just what I needed to reinvigorate my creative juices. Gilbert, the bestselling author of Eat Pray Love, writes about the creative process as a magical energy source that we all have within us. This self-help book reminded me that a key component to creating beautiful art is finding the courage to just do it. Told with an earnest love for writing and a reverence for the powerful energies in the universe, Gilbert’s words are inspiring. I can’t wait to read this one again when I need a little pick-me-up!
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh: I’m a sucker for the strange and absurd, and this book absolutely delivers in that department. Tired of her life, the unnamed narrator doesn’t know how to face the many demons that plague her every waking moment. Just as she’s reaching rock bottom, she finds an unhinged therapist who supplies her with virtually any drug she asks for. In order to fix her life and start fresh, the narrator decides to quit her job, isolate herself from everyone she knows, and take a year off to sleep. If you’re a fan of Fleabag, the narrator reminds me of the headstrong yet flawed female protagonist in Fleabag.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami: This is one of those books that you need to experience without the insights of a detailed synopsis. The novel starts with a young boy who goes by the name Kafka when he runs away from home. In this surreal realist novel, the line between the real world and the dream world is blurred. Although I think Murakami’s female characters are too one dimensional, I really admire his writing style. I dove headfirst into this nonsensical dream world packed with symbolism, mythological retellings, and theories about multiple, overlapping realities. A strange and fascinating read!
Just Kids by Patti Smith: This is probably my favorite memoir of all time. Patti Smith is a singer-songwriter, poet, and artist. As soon as she was old enough, Smith ran off to New York to chase the bohemian artist lifestyle. Not long after moving to the city, she met a fellow artist named Robert Maplethorpe. The pair became young lovers, and later lifelong friends. They relied on one another to survive and create art in the big city. Smith infuses cultural and artistic references in every passage. Her run-ins with now iconic artists and musicians make this book a fascinating deep dive into 1970s NY culture.
Although I didn’t achieve my reading goal this year, I absolutely loved the books I did read. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year. Until then, I’d love to hear what your favorite books were in 2021!