My Favorite Books of 2021

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Like I imagine it was for most people, 2021 was filled with highs and lows. I ended the year grateful yet eager for the fresh start of a new year. There were some months where I read a lot and others where I finished very little or nothing at all. Despite the stops and starts of my reading life, I finished 55 books in 2021. Keep reading to see my favorites!

2021 Releases

Crossroads book cover

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

I don’t rank my favorite books, but Crossroads is easily number one. I love everything about this book, which tells the story of the Hildebrandt family navigating life during the 1970s. We follow Russ, a pastor who feels adrift and out of touch, as he longs for a woman who isn’t his wife, Marion. She feels invisible to Russ and struggles to understand her children. The oldest is Clem, an idealistic college student who’s trying to sort out his feelings about Vietnam. Becky is the only daughter, a popular teen who has her eye on a boy with a girlfriend. The last character we follow is Perry, a young drug dealer who seeks to be reformed and finally do the right thing.

If you like character-driven novels, don’t miss this book. Jonathan Franzen writes characters so well. By the time I finished Crossroads, I felt I knew these people intimately. This title is the first book in a trilogy; I cannot wait to be reunited with the Hildebrandts. 

Beautiful world where are you book cover

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You was one of my most anticipated 2021 titles. I loved Sally Rooney’s previous book, Normal People, so I had high hopes for Beautiful World. Thankfully, I ended up loving this one too.

The book follows four friends: Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon. Alice is a novelist who barely knows Felix yet invites him with her on a work trip to Rome. Eileen and Simon are longtime friends but maybe more. Sections of the novel are epistolary in form thanks to the letters Alice and Eileen exchange about their romances, work, and hopes for the future.

If you’re looking for an exciting plot, you won’t find it here. What you will find is excellent character-driven fiction that’s perfect for people who can see themselves in the wanderers and wonderers of the world.

Hell of a book book cover

Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

If this book looks familiar, it’s because it won the 2021 National Book Award for fiction. After I read it, I understood why. This novel is exciting, engaging, and provides excellent commentary on today’s racial and political tensions.

The plot is hard to explain, and I think this book is best read knowing little about it anyway. All you need to know is that the story follows a Black writer who shares his name and book title with Jason Mott. Jason can’t escape the news of the most recent police shooting and keeps encountering a boy who may or may not be real as he tours the US promoting his new book. 

Hell of a Book is just that: an unputdownable, timely novel. 

In book cover

In by Will McPhail

2021 was the year in which I realized I really do like graphic novels. I grabbed In on my library’s new books shelf, knowing nothing about it except that it was pretty. This time, judging by the cover worked out quite well. 

In follows a man named Nick, an adrift illustrator who feels like he’s missing out on something. As Nick interacts with family and begins to fall in love, the real human connections he forms make his world more colorful. This book is a beautiful look at the power of relationships to save and restore us. 

The plot book cover

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

When I think about The Plot, the first word I think of is “fun.” This novel is a book within a book, perfect for suspense and literature lovers. 

The story revolves around Jacob Bonner, a once-popular author who teaches creative writing at a failing college. It’s there where Jacob meets Evan Parker, a student who arrogantly assumes he has the perfect plot to ensure a bestselling book. After hearing it, Jacob agrees. 

Years later, Jacob learns that Evan is dead and had never published his book. What does an author do with a great plot except tell the story? Jacob does, and then things begin to escalate out of his control. 

If you ever find yourself in a reading slump and need a book to get you out of it, choose The Plot

Assembly book cover

Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly took me by surprise. I first heard about the book when a Goodreads friend posted his review. He said the book didn’t work for him, but the story sounded interesting, so I grabbed the book from the library, not expecting much. Thankfully, this little book exceeded my expectations. 

Assembly follows an unnamed Black woman living and working in London. The story is nonlinear, which is why I thought I might not like this book, yet it flows beautifully. This book is only 112 pages, yet its explorations of race, womanhood, capitalism, mortality, and belonging have stayed with me since I read it. I plan to revisit this one soon.

Small things like these book cover

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These is another short but powerful book. It takes place in Ireland during the 1980s and follows a man named Bill Furlong. He sells coal and delivers it to a local convent, where he discovers something disturbing around Christmas time. 

This book tells a lovely story about compassion and love, and it does so without being preachy or too sentimental. This little book is a gem.

Quick Thoughts About Backlist Titles I Loved

So you want to talk about race book cover

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

This is the best antiracist book I’ve read so far. If you’re passionate about social justice and reading diversely, don’t miss this.

Jesus and John Wayne book cover

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

If you were like me and wondered how the evangelical church ended up where it is today, read this book ASAP.

Know my name book cover

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

I thought this memoir couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, but it did. Though hard to read, Know My Name is an essential, beautiful book.

The Stats

I always track my reading in Book Riot’s customizable reading log. (Click here for the 2022 version.) That makes it easy to see my yearly reading statistics, which delights the nerd in me.

  • Fiction vs. nonfiction: 52% of my reading was fiction; 48% was nonfiction.
  • Book format: 60% print, 30% digital, and 10% audio.
  • Diversity: 32% of the books I read were by a BIPOC author. I’d like to increase that percentage to 50% in 2022.
  • Book source: 55% of the books I read in 2021 came from the library. Support your local libraries, kids!

2022 Reading Goals

  • Read 75 books with 50% of those by a BIPOC author.
  • Slow down with book-buying. Read what I have and rely on the library for new releases.
  • Pick up some of the big books that have intimated me.

This post is always a lot of fun for me to write, so I hope you enjoyed it too. What were the best books you read in 2021? What should I add to my list in 2022?

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