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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

2021 Top Ten (+1)

 Okay, my last post on here was to announce the birth of my baby girl... and she's 5.5 months old now... so that's how things are going. But! I will never stay away forever because babies grow up and seasons pass and I find more pockets of time in my schedule and that continual itching to write about books and life never leaves. So I'll always be back.

The year is not over yet, but between now and New Year's Eve I have to finish my grades and wrap up the semester, celebrate the heck out of my-sister-in-law's wedding, pack like crazy, and take my whole family to Hawaii for Christmas (and not take my laptop), so this is kind of my last chance to get this post written before January (which is when I usually write these end of year wrap-ups, but hey, let's try doing things early for once in my life.)

So far this year I've read 71 books, and while I will likely hit at least 75 (after all, I still have that trip to Hawaii ahead of me), it's still not a banner year for me. This is the first time in three years I'll be under 100, but considering 2017 (when I only managed to read 67 books) was the last time I had a baby under one, I anticipated this year would likely be a struggle. On the one hand, I have all that nursing time to read, but on the other hand, my brain is sleep-deprived and fried.

And 71 books means I've still had a fair chance to read some pretty amazing books this year. In order that I read them, here are my top eleven reads from the year (I tried to narrow it down to ten, but hey, this is my blog, I make the rules).

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

It's about two couples, two co-ministers of a church in New York through the sixties and beyond and their wives, how they came to be friends, their relationship with faith and God, doubts, and trials. It was beautiful, but not perfect. I wanted more from it, I wanted the story to go on, I wanted more things explored and explained. And there are people I know who didn't care for this book as much, found it went on too long or whatever. But there were passages in here that made me feel so much, moments I still haven't forgotten a year later. I loved it.


Wintering by Katherine May

I read this one back in January or February (a good time to read it), and I don't remember everything about it, but the things I do remember have really stuck with me and kept me thinking. It's not a perfect book, with a bit of a strange imperfect mix between personal narrative and research about winter, coldness, depression, and all sorts of things. But I still highly recommend it, I think, especially if you struggle with winter. I don't hate winter the way many people do, I don't struggle with depression, but I still found the message here resonated with me about why a season of dark, cold, and rest is necessary for life.


A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A feminist retelling of the Iliad and Odyssey, or at least, a retelling from the women's perspective. The chapters jumped around from story to story, and often I found myself just getting invested in a character's story when we'd be ripped away to the next one. But I still loved this perspective of these classic stories, especially Penelope's letters to Odesseus. 





The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

I've heard this book criticized for being "gimmicky" or having a plot device that's a little too allegorical or hit-you-over-the-head with it's theme and message. Sure, but it's a really good and powerful message, and I actually thought Haig navigated his plot structure (which could've gotten old, or really Groundhog's day, or actually, whatever the opposite of Groundhog's day is, really fast) quite skillfully. It's the same message as It's a Wonderful Life about your life regrets probably mostly being unfounded, and the value of the life you've lived that you feel is worthless. I don't have many regrets in my life, but I still found this book resonating deeply.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I debated about whether or not to add this one. The experience of reading this book at the beginning is completely disorienting and strange and beautiful, but by the end has reduced down into something knowable and understandable and maybe even mediocre. But I don't know that I would've liked the beginning at all if it hadn't answered most (not all) of the questions by the end. But yes, something of the beautiful mystery had to die with the answers. Anyway, it's a very different book, and I recommend this one in print over audio. It's strange, be prepared, but just stick with it.


The Power of Writing It Down by Allison Fallon

For someone who makes a living inspiring and helping other people write, the writing in this was actually mediocre at best. But the message, despite it's self-help packaging and regurgitated cliche's, in one that resonates and speaks to my soul. The message is simply that we figure our lives out through writing about our lives. I believe this message, and I will preach it forever. And I think this book is worth the read if you can handle the self-help tone and style.




The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

I almost gave up on this one early one, because while I found the (based on real life) culture and history of these Jeju women divers to be fascinating, it took a while for the central conflict and direction of this plot to get going. I was getting impatient and a little bored, but I'm so glad I stuck with it. It got dark, super dark, but in the end this story has had some serious staying power with me. It was beautiful.




Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

A graphic novel about high school basketball has made my top ten list for the year. No one is more surprised than I am. But guys, this book was so good, and so interesting, because it's mostly based on a true story, and it was just fascinating to see how Yang chose to frame the truth of it, the parts of real life that didn't fit neatly into some perfect narrative, and while there was triumph, there wasn't perfect resolution in everything. And it was just so compelling and clever and fascinating to see what can be done with the graphic novel genre. In short, this was brilliant, and I highly, highly recommend this.


Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Wow. My brother's comment about reading this book is that he's just so sad he'll never get the experience of reading this for the first time again, and I feel exactly the same way, because the first time through reading this book is so. much. fun. It's a thrilling ride, hilarious, with an insane amount of science, and it's just so good. I wouldn't say anything about this is super deep (I mean, the science is deep, but not necessarily the themes or philosophical side of it), but the writing is incredible. And so fun. I mean, can I say it enough? This might have been the most fun reading experience I've ever had. Full stop. Highly recommend.


More Than a Body by Lindsey Kite and Lexie Kite

Nonfiction about the cultural objectification of women's bodies and how it causes massive shame and horrible problems. Here's the thing, we all know this is a problem. We all know women have too much shame and pressure around their bodies and looking young and thin and perfectly beautiful and it causes major mental health problems. But also, we are so much inside the culture that we don't realize how bad it is. And that's how it was for me reading this book, knowing that our culture objectifies women, but still needing this book to get me to see just how pervasive and harmful it is, and how we need to think more deeply about all of this. Read this, then talk to me about it, because it's going to take some digesting.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Not quite as good as A Gentleman in Moscow in my opinion, but still so, so good. This was another one where I just loved the experience of reading it, loved being in the middle, and didn't want it to end. Towles is amazing at characters, and these characters are incredible. The plot gets a little over-drawn by the end, and that ending! I don't think it was the right ending! But I want to talk to you about it, because that is an ending that I just want to talk about forever and ever. I want to re-read this book again and again because I feel like there are so many layers to peel apart here. In essence, a worthy meaty book that leaves me already anxious for the next one Towles will write. I'm here for it.

Okay, there's the list! In the unlikely event I read another fantastic one before the end of the year that deserves a spot here, I reserve the right to come back and edit this list, but for now tell me which of these you've read so we can talk about them!


2 comments:

  1. I'm in the middle of Wintering and The Lincoln Highway now, actually! Both solid reads for sure, although I agree that I wanted a bit more from Wintering overall.

    I was on the fence about reading Hail Mary or The Midnight Library, but I think you've convinced me to give them a shot!

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    1. Yes! Read both Hail Mary and The Midnight Library, and let me know what you think of them! I don't know where you fall on science fiction, but I'll recommend Hail Mary to anyone. (Agreed, Wintering isn't perfect, but solid and thought-provoking.)

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