It’s that time of year! The time of year when I gush about all of the fantastic books I read throughout the year. And there were a lot in 2021. I feel like this was an especially great year for reading. I track everything I read and here is a list of the books I rated the highest in 2021. Most of the books I ended up reading were fiction but I’ve included one non-fiction title for good measure!
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
It’s December 23, 1971, and the Hildebrandt family is at a crossroads. The patriarch, Russ, the associate pastor of a suburban Chicago church, is poised to break free of a marriage he finds joyless—unless his brilliant and unstable wife, Marion, breaks free of it first. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college afire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has veered into the era’s counterculture, while their younger brother Perry, fed up with selling pot to support his drug habit, has firmly resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.
Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout
The Pulitzer Prize-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author traces the enduring bond between a divorced couple in a poignant novel about love, loss, and the family secrets that can erupt and bewilder us at any point in life.
A masterful exploration of human empathy, Oh William! captures the joy and pain of watching children grow up and start families of their own; of discovering family secrets, late in life, that rearrange everything we think we know about those closest to us; and the way people live and love, despite the variety of obstacles we face in doing so. And at the heart of this story is the unforgettable, indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who once again offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. This is the way of life, Lucy says. The many things we do not know until it is too late.
Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross
An award-winning psychologist reveals the hidden power of our inner voice and shows how to harness it to combat anxiety, improve physical and mental health, and deepen our relationships with others.
In Chatter, acclaimed psychologist Ethan Kross explores the silent conversations we have with ourselves. Interweaving groundbreaking behavioral and brain research from his own lab with real-world case studies–from a pitcher who forgets how to pitch, to a Harvard undergrad negotiating her double life as a spy—Kross explains how these conversations shape our lives, work, and relationships. He warns that giving in to negative and disorienting self-talk—what he calls “chatter”—can tank our health, sink our moods, strain our social connections, and cause us to fold under pressure.
Brilliantly argued, expertly researched, and filled with compelling stories, Chatter gives us the power to change the most important conversation we have each day: the one we have with ourselves.
Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
A Black father. A white father. Two murdered sons. A quest for vengeance.
Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years, with not so much as a speeding ticket in all that time. But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid. The last thing he expects to hear is that his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Ike had never fully accepted his son but is devastated by his loss.
Derek’s father Buddy Lee was almost as ashamed of Derek for being gay as Derek was ashamed his father was a criminal. Buddy Lee still has contacts in the underworld, though, and he wants to know who killed his boy.
Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, hardened men Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices about their sons and each other, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.
Billy Summers by Stephen King
Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?
How about everything.
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
More bodies have washed up on the shores of a small island. Another overfilled, ill-equipped, dilapidated ship has sunk under the weight of its too many passengers: Syrians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, all of them desperate to escape untenable lives back in their homelands. But miraculously, someone has survived the passage: nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who is soon rescued by Vanna. Vanna is a teenage girl, who, despite being native to the island, experiences her own sense of homelessness in a place and among people she has come to disdain. And though Vanna and Amir are complete strangers, though they don’t speak a common language, Vanna is determined to do whatever it takes to save the boy.
In alternating chapters, we learn about Amir’s life and how he came to be on the boat, and we follow him and the girl as they make their way toward safety. What Strange Paradise is the story of two children finding their way through a hostile world. But it is also a story of empathy and indifference, of hope and despair—and about the way each of those things can blind us to reality.