My Favorite Books of 2021

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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?

Book Options for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge

A red book with glasses on top, sitting on white bed sheets

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Though I didn’t meet the reading goal I set for 2019, I did manage to complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge. If you’re unfamiliar, Modern Mrs. Darcy is a delightful book blog by Anne Bogel, who’s also an author and host of the spectacular What Should I Read Next? podcast.

I just want Anne to be proud of me, so I’m going to attempt her 2020 reading challenge. Today I’ll share some books that I’m thinking about reading for the prompts that will hopefully inspire you to take on the challenge yourself.

But first, let’s take a look at last year’s challenge and what I read for it. For most prompts, I read several books that could count, so I’m sharing my favorite per category.

What I Read for 2019’s Challenge

  1. Book I’ve been meaning to read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  2. A book about a topic that fascinates me: Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy
  3. A book in the backlist of a favorite author: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
  4. A book recommended by someone with great taste: Tenth of December by George Saunders
  5. Three books by the same author: I Found You, The Family Upstairs, and Watching You by Lisa Jewell
  6. A book you chose for the cover: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  7. A book by an author who is new to you: Normal People by Sally Rooney
  8. A book in translation: A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles
  9. A book outside your (genre) comfort zone: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
  10. A book published before you were born: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Possibilities for the 2020 Challenge

A book published the decade you were born:

Beloved book cover

I was born in 1987, and Beloved by Toni Morrison is what sounds most appealing to me from that year. Plus, it’s been sitting unread on my bookshelf for far too long.

A debut novel:

Such a Fun Age, Pizza Girl, and Creatures book covers

The debuts I’m most excited about right now are Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier, and Creatures by Crissy Van Meter.

A book recommended by a source you trust:

Book covers for The Dearly Beloved and The Dutch House

I’m a big fan of the Popcast podcast, and appreciate how often the hosts reference books. Co-host Knox McCoy said how much he loves The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. Since his literary tastes often align with mine, I’m looking forward to reading this story about faith and friendship.

I’m also eager to pick up Ann Patchett’s latest, The Dutch House, recommended by co-host Jamie Golden.

A book by a local author:

Book covers for Beautiful Ruins, The Arsonist, and Among the Dead and Dreaming

I’m lucky to live in a city with a several notable writers, such as Shann Ray, Samuel Ligon, Stephanie Oakes, Jess Walter, and Sharma Shields.

A book outside your (genre) comfort zone:

Book covers for The Two Lives of Lydia Bird and The City We Became

In 2018, I read Josie Silver’s One Day in December when I was seeking a lighthearted holiday read. I never read romance, but I enjoyed that book so much. I’m excited for her next release, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, even though the genre isn’t my typical fare.

In a preview of books coming out in 2020, I read about N. K. Jemisin’s new release, The City We Became. It’s a fantasy novel set in New York City about residents having to defend NYC from an ancient evil. Even though I never read fantasy, this book sounds intriguing.

A book in translation:

3 Haruki Murakami book covers

I first read Japanese writer Haruki Murakami over ten years ago when I randomly picked up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I’ve been a fan ever since. There are still several of his books on my shelf that I haven’t read, though, including Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Kafka on the Shore, and Killing Commendatore. I also want to read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

A book nominated for an award in 2020:

Book covers for Death in her hands, American Dirt, and Transcendent Kingdom

It’s too soon to say for sure what books will be nominated for awards in 2020, but based on history and current buzz, I’m willing to bet the new novels from Yaa Gyasi and Ottessa Moshfegh will get nominated for something, along with American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, her debut. (EDIT: Or maybe not.)

A re-read:

Book covers for Stoner, The Secret History, and The Remains of the Day

I hardly ever re-read books, but it’s a habit I’d like to start. I love Stoner by John Williams, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, so those seem like good options.

A classic you didn’t read in school:

book covers for East of Eden, A Farewell to Arms, and Their Eyes Were Watching God

There are many classics I haven’t read, but three came to mind immediately for this prompt: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. These titles have been on my to-read list for years.

Three books by the same author:

I’m looking forward to reading more from these prolific authors:

  • James Baldwin
  • Tana French
  • Rebecca Makkai
  • Ruth Ware
  • George Saunders
  • Jami Attenberg
  • Ottessa Moshfegh

Are you participating in the MMD challenge this year? If so, what are you most excited to read?

Checking in on My 2019 Reading Goals

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Since it’s about halfway through 2019, I think it’s time to revisit the reading goals I set for myself at the end of last year. I didn’t even remember all of the goals until I went back and read the blog post, which I took as a bad sign. I’m doing better than I thought I was, however, so I should probably get myself a book to celebrate.

via GIPHY

Goal #1: Read more books
by people of color. 

Last year, only 10% of the books I read were by a person of color. This year, I’m at 15% so far. I’m happy the percentage is higher, but I want that number to keep growing.

The 2019 books that meet this goal are:

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh

Goal #2: Read more books
in translation.

This category is my biggest failure since I’ve read 0 books in translation so far this year. Some of the unread books on my shelf that meet this goal are:

  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
  • Young Once by Patrick Modiano
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Goal #3: READ THE BOOKS
I ALREADY OWN.

I’m happy to say that Goal #3 is going quite well. Out of the 35 books I’ve read in 2019, I own 54% of them.

Goal #4: Read 75 books.

According to Goodreads, I’m one book behind on keeping up with this goal, but that’s better than I anticipated, so I’m happy with that.


Are there any books by people of color or books in translation that you recommend? How are your 2019 reading goals coming along? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Book Options for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge

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I love reading, but I don’t love feeling as if I have to read something. I enjoyed many of the books I was assigned in college, yet didn’t always like having to stick to a syllabus. That’s why I’ve never participated in any online reading challenges. I don’t want reading to feel like homework.

One of my favorite book blogs is Modern Mrs. Darcy. I was looking at her 2019 reading challenge and realized this one actually excites me. At only 10 categories, it’s not too long, and there are plenty of options for every requirement so I won’t feel pressured to read specific things.

Today I’m sharing some possible reads for each category. Who knows if I’ll stick to this list, but at least I’ll have a plan. (And I love plans.) Maybe these books will inspire you if you’re doing the challenge, too.

1. A book you’ve been meaning
to read

This list could be ridiculously long since I have so many unread books on my shelves. (One of my 2019 reading goals is to lower that number.) For this task, I’m choosing a book that I’ve owned for at least a year. These are the ones I’m most excited to read right now:

2. A book about a topic that fascinates you

I’m fascinated by a lot of things, but my primary interests right now include:

3. A book in the backlist of a favorite author

Sometimes when I really love an author, I’ll hesitate to read everything they’ve written because I want to know there’s still a book out there by them I haven’t read yet. (Especially when there are many, many years between new releases, DONNA.) Is that weird? Maybe. Probably.

4. A book recommended by someone with great taste

Some friends have recommended:

5. Three books by the same author

I’d love to read more from Baldwin and French, and I haven’t read Ferrante at all.

6. A book you chose for the cover

I’m a sucker for a pretty book cover. These are the most recent ones that have caught my eye:

7. A book by an author who is
new to you

Thanks to some Christmas gift cards, I just bought a few books by authors I’ve yet to read, including:

8. A book in translation

I was happy to see this category on the list since reading more translated books was already one of my reading goals this year. At the top of my list are:

9. A book outside your (genre) comfort zone

This category is going to stretch me more than any of the others because I tend to read a bit narrowly when it comes to fiction. I mostly stick to literary fiction, thrillers, and mysteries. Here are some titles that are definitely outside my comfort zone, but intrigue me nonetheless:

10. A book published before you were born

I’m hoping this category will inspire me to pick up a few of the classics that have been sitting on my shelves for too long, such as:


So those are my ideas so far. If you have any suggestions to add, please let me know. I’m always up for book recommendations.


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My 2019 Reading Goals

A few years ago, I chose all kinds of reading goals for myself. I didn’t complete any of them, felt like a failure, and decided not to set any goals for the next couple of years. But even though I’m happy with my reading life, I know it can get even better, so I’m back to the goal-setting this year. There’s a caveat, though: I love reading, am a mood reader, and refuse to make it feel like work, so these goals are more like loose guidelines. I’d like to see these goals happen, but if they don’t, that’s okay too, as long as I tried. 

Goal #1: Read more books by people of color. 

Less than 10% of the books I read this year were written by a person of color. I’d like that number to be much higher for two reasons. The first is that reading helps develop empathy and understanding toward people who don’t look like me. The second reason is that people of color aren’t always provided with the same opportunities white writers are given, so it’s important to seek out and support their work. 

Goal #2: Read more books in translation.

I only read two books in translation in all of 2018. Two. That’s a shame since there is a plethora of great literature throughout the world that I’ve been ignoring. This goes along with goal #1,  but I’d like to read more about different cultures and experience new-to-me settings. If you have suggestions for this goal, I’d love to hear them. 

Goal #3: READ THE BOOKS I ALREADY OWN.

This goal is in all caps because I’m yelling at myself; it’s that important to me. I love working in libraries, but the one problem is that I’m regularly checking out new books. I read book reviews online, decide I need to read a book immediately, place a hold, and check it out so it can sit in a tote bag with 15 other new releases. This wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t have hundreds (yes, hundreds) of unread books at home. I’m immensely grateful for the books I have, and I need to follow through and acknowledge that privilege by actually reading them. I have plenty of titles by people of color and even a few in translation, so working on this goal will help me with my other goals, as well. 

Goal #4: Read 75 books.

Reading 50-60 books a year is my reading sweet spot. That’s my natural range, but I think I could read even more if I were consistently mindful of how I spend my time. I know I could read more if I scrolled Instagram less and read on my phone instead. I could read more if I remembered to put my Kindle in my purse every day. There are times when I’m tired and don’t want to think, and the mindless scrolling is perfect for those times. But I rely on it too often and know I can make better use of the hours I’m given in a day. 


Those are my four goals loose guidelines for 2019. Do you set reading goals? If so, what are some of yours? I’d love to hear them. 


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