2021 In Books
It looks like this is becoming an annual thing.
This year I read 14 books, not quite achieving my 15 books reading challenge on Goodreads, but still an improvement to last year’s 10 (click here to read my “2020 In Books” blog post). I didn’t have any particular reading theme for 2021, so the books I read pretty much all fall into my typical fiction and non-fiction genres.
Overall, I’m a pretty easy reader to please. And although I’m going to cover each book down below, there were a few standouts. The books that have a * by their title were my favorites from this year. As always, these are just my opinions and you’re entitled to your own if you give these a read.
In chronological order, here is my year in books:
(Note: like last year, I've included an affiliate link to each book, where you can purchase a copy from an independent bookstore through my page on Bookshop.com. It’s a great way to support independent booksellers as well as the Written World blog!)
1. *Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
After reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming in 2020, I learned I really like memoirs. Born a Crime had been on my list ever since it came out in 2016 and I’m SO glad I finally got around to reading it. The book follows Trevor Noah, comedian, and host of the Daily Show, as he grows up in South Africa during the Apartheid era. Each chapter tells a story that describes his experience as a biracial child and then a young man, dealing with racism, classism, and just growing up. Noah switches effortlessly back and forth between sincerity and wit, and explains Apartheid and social issues far better than school ever taught me. Overall, Born a Crime was heartwarming, hilarious, thoughtful, and eye-opening. I’d recommend this book to everyone and anyone.
“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”
2. *The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
I tore through this book almost as quickly as I read In Five Years by Rebecca Serle last year. Similar to In Five Years, The Light We Lost deals with the choices we make and whether or not fate really plays a role in how our lives unfold. The main characters, Lucy and Gabe, meet on 9/11 in New York City, and that day changes them forever. Over 13 years, they weave in and out of each others’ lives, making decisions that keep them apart and bring them back together. By the time I finished this book, I was in tears. If you’re looking for a more serious contemporary romance book, this is it.
“…some relationships feel like a wildfire—they’re powerful and compelling and majestic and dangerous and have the capability to burn you before you even realize you’ve been consumed…some relationships feel like a hearth fire—they’re solid and stable and cozy and nourishing. She had other examples—a bonfire relationship, a sparkler… but the wildfire and the hearth fire are the two that I remember most.”
3. Literary Places by Sarah Baxter
This book is equal parts essay and beautiful illustration. Literary Places covers 25 cities/regions around the world where famous novels and literary works take place. For example, the first chapter is a literary walk through Paris, France from a Les Misérables perspective. The first line reads, “Do you hear the people sing?” referencing the famous song from the book’s musical. It then goes on to discuss the Paris of Jean Valjean and how the city has continually transformed itself. Because there’s no specific plot of the book, it can be picked up and put down whenever. Overall, it’s a beautiful coffee table read.
After reading and being *emotionally wrecked* by Call Me By Your Name last year, I was eager to read this sequel. Obviously, sequels get a bad rep, but Find Me was the perfect runner-up to its masterpiece predecessor. The book is broken up into three character sections (Elio’s father, Elio, and Oliver) which was a nice change from the neverending paragraphs in Call Me By Your Name. Still, the writing style is intimate, detailed, and has sections that can be read like poetry. Lastly, if you haven’t read Call Me By Your Name, go do that first and then come back.
“Perhaps all I truly want is to reconnect with the person I used to be and lost track of and simply turned my back on once I moved elsewhere. I may never want to be who I was in those days, but I do want to see him again…”
5. Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland
As a ballet dancer myself, I had always been curious to learn more about Misty Copeland’s rise to success in becoming the first African American principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. Her story is well known (at least throughout the U.S.), but Life in Motion definitely fills in the gaps and better details how Copeland has really defined the phrase “defying the odds.” Her childhood and adolescence were anything but stable, making it easy to understand why and how ballet gave her a voice and space to shine. Anyone can read this memoir, but I’d especially recommend it to dancers, as the book is filled with ballet-specific references and terms.
“... we had to meld so many parts—our brains, our emotions, our bodies—to put on a performance that hid all the strings, leaving only stardust for the audience to see.”
6. Homo Irrealis: Essays by André Aciman
After being captivated with the writing style of Call Me By Your Name and Find Me, I was eager to read more of Aciman’s signature prose. What I found inside the pages of Homo Irrealis, was a series of intimately abstract and conceptual essays that reach another level entirely. Although the book is made up of a series of essays, it’s tied together by one concept, something called “irrealis moods.” Irrealis moods can be defined as “a category of [verbal] moods that indicate that certain events have not happened, may never happen, or should or must or are indeed desired to happen, but for which there is no indication that they will ever happen.” Frankly, this book made my head spin a bit and required real focus and awareness to actually understand and comprehend the essays and book as a whole. I liked some essays better than others, but overall, the book had a lot of great passages that explore life and art through the lens of time. If you’re looking for something challenging that really makes you think, this could be an interesting read.
“Art is not just the product of labor; it is the love of laboring with unknown possibilities.”
7. Again, but Better by Christine Riccio
As soon as I read the synopsis of Again, but Better, I knew I had to give it a read in order to catapult myself back into some study abroad nostalgia. It did the job, though. The story follows Shane, who, after realizing her college experience is not going how she planned, decides a semester abroad in London is what she needs in order to shake things up. There, she attempts to fill in the gaps of all her decisions-not-taken and learns what happens when you live outside your bubble. I’ll admit that this book felt a little too young for me, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. If I could, I would’ve recommended it to 18-year-old me, or 18-year-old anyone, for that matter. A bonus: Again, but Better had a great plot twist I didn’t see coming.
“It’s weird how we have to get a little older to realize that people are just people. It should be obvious, but it’s not.”
8. Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
Similar to the previously mentioned book, Emergency Contact felt a bit young for me. Still, it was cute, quirky, and an enjoyable read overall. The storyline follows Penny and Sam, two self-proclaimed outsiders who meet due to a “collision of unbearable awkwardness.” Over the course of Penny’s freshman year in college, the two get to know each other almost exclusively through text. A modern day, Gen-Z love story if you will. The book switches back and forth between Penny’s and Sam’s perspectives, giving the reader a glimpse into both sides of the story.
“Fiction was fine, but real life was the true freak show.”
9. *Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’m not one to go for historical fiction, but I’d heard so many good things about this book that I had to give it a try. And I wasn’t disappointed. As someone who was raised by a huge Rolling Stones fan as well as just being a 70’s music fan myself, reading Daisy Jones & The Six was like being dropped straight into that late 60’s, early 70’s rock scene of music, chaos, drugs, and a whole lot of doing whatever the hell you wanted. Written interview-style, it’s easy to feel like you have front-row access to these characters, making the whole thing feel real instead of fictional. Although the book largely follows the two main characters, Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne, the real star of the novel is the era itself.
“It’s like some of us are chasing after our nightmares the way other people chase dreams.”
10. *The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Imagine finding yourself in a library where every book on the shelf offers you access into an entirely different life you could’ve had, if you’d made just one decision differently. This is the premise of The Midnight Library. In my opinion, this is one of the coolest book concepts I’ve ever come across, and I wish I’d come up with it myself. This book is all about lives unlived and answering the famous “what if?” question. For main character, Nora Seed, experiencing these alternate realities could mean the difference between choosing to live or deciding to die. No matter what type of reader you are, The Midnight Library is a good one to pick up.
“You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.”
11. *The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
The *perfect* summer read. Granted, I read this in the fall, so any season is doable, but if you’re looking for next year’s summer read, this is it. It’s the classic enemies to lovers trope—a plotline that ensures the story is perfectly romantic, funny, and a tad cheesy. The book follows main characters, Olive and Ethan—sworn enemies who are about to become in-laws. When Olive’s twin sister, Ami, marries Ethan’s brother, Dane, a bad case of food poisoning takes out the entire wedding party—except Olive and Ethan. As a result, they’re forced into going on Ami and Dane’s all-inclusive, non-refundable honeymoon in their place. To state the obvious, Olive and Ethan start to fall for each other. Overall, it’s such a fun read and the perfect rom-com-y book.
“I see all these choices unrolling in front of me—career, travel, friends, geography—and despite things being insane and hard and messy, I don't think I've ever liked myself more than I do now. It's the strangest feeling to be proud simply because I'm taking care of me and mine. Is this what it's like to grow up?”
12. The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need by Joanna Martine Woolfolk
Full disclosure: I didn’t actually read this book in its entirety. BUT, I did read some good chunks of this 500+ page book so I’ll claim it as “fully read” for the sake of my Goodreads Reading Challenge. Astrology became one of my newest interests this year and this book was so helpful in diving deeper into the topic. There’s a reason why it’s called “The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need.” If you’re interested in learning more about the stars, planets, and everything cosmically in between, I’d recommend this as a good starting place. But if you’re not, I’ll take no offense to you disregarding this book and continuing to scroll.
For funsies though, drop your birthday in the comments down below, or your sun, moon, and rising signs if you know them—I’m curious :)
13. Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr
I’m a sucker for any book that takes place in Italy, so obviously, I had to give Four Seasons In Rome a try. This travel memoir details writer, Anthony Doerr’s experience living in Rome with his wife and newborn twins for a full year under the Rome Prize fellowship. In his book, he describes the nuances and mishaps that happen to someone when they move abroad or just find themselves wrapped up in an unfamiliar place. Doerr witnesses the Rome that emerges with each passing season, all in conjunction with his experience becoming a new parent and attempting to write a book he’s too distracted to write. I think anyone who is a parent might enjoy this book a bit more than I did since I obviously can’t relate. I did however enjoy Doerr’s keen observations on Rome and its history.
“Not-knowing is always more thrilling than knowing. Not-knowing is where hope and art and possibility and invention come from. It is not-knowing, that old, old thing, that allows everything to be renewed.”
14. Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren
I love a good “fate brought them back together” story, and this was just that. Though not exactly the same (and frankly, a little more light hearted), Twice in a Blue Moon reminded me a bit of Jill Santopolo’s, The Light We Lost, as the story chronicles the relationship of the two main characters, Tate and Sam, as 18 and 20 year olds, to adults who reconnect fourteen years later. Twice in a Blue Moon was a sweet, heartwarming, and easy-going read. I’d recommend it to anyone searching for a classic contemporary romance novel.
“I don't know why people think permanent denial is better than temporary disappointment.”
Before you go…
Thanks for reaching the end of this blog post! I loved having the chance to read a bit more this year, and doing these annual reading roundups is a fun way for me to reflect on all the stories I’ve taken in. I aim to expand my book count each year (so hopefully 20 books for 2022?), so if you have any recommendations of your own, drop them in the comments down below! Happy New Year and happy reading!