Um, I’m sorry, how can it be time for an annual reading recap for the year 2021 when we are clearly still in 2020? Just me?
Even if it feels like time has stood still, in fact I had a pretty solid reading year this year. I got back into book blogging and joined Bookstagram, which spurred me to read more than I did last year, and that had been one of my best since college.
How to narrow down the best books of the year? For me, it’s about which ones still spark something for me after I’ve closed the page, the books I will recommend and revisit as the years go by. And while I’ve read a ton of phenomenal books this year, only a few can hold the best of the best title. Let’s get down to business, shall we?
(Full disclosure: Book links are affiliate links for Bookshop.org. Mentions of Book of the Month are referral codes that earn you a discount and me a free book!)
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
Month Read: January
Format Read: Print (Book of the Month edition)
Why I Loved It: This book is a multi-generational saga for readers who don’t think they like multi-generational sagas. A Woman is No Man follows three generations of conservative Arab women living in America as they explore their identities and navigate American culture. This was Etaf Rum’s debut novel, and wow does it pack a punch!
This book is a rich, complex novel that explores what it means to be a woman and how to balance the different expectations across generations. I love a book that challenges and expands my understanding of beliefs and cultures that differ from my own, and this was definitely one of those reads for me. It was the first thing to pop in my mind when I thought about my best of 2021 list. You should 100% read this one.
While poking around on Goodreads to remind myself about the synopsis, I also saw that Etaf Rum’s second book, Evil Eye, has an anticipated publication date of July 2022, so that’s something to look forward to!
Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas by Alexi Pappas
Month Read: February
Format Read: Audiobook
Why I Loved It: The top reason I love Bravey is that it brought me here. Back to blogging about books. Back to writing consistently. Back to pushing myself to do impossible things.
In this memoir-in-essays, Pappas explores her career as a runner and as a filmmaker, tackling the big questions of how to stay motivated, chase your dreams, and handle setbacks. Time will tell whether it just hit me at the right moment, but as a runner and creative myself, I found the stories shared in these pages “like, crazy inspirational” (that’s a Mindy Project quote, which feels apt since Kaling provided a blurb for this book).
After reading this book I decided to stop being afraid of writing. I began writing regularly on Medium, re-started my book blog, and started writing my own memoir. Now I kind of sound like a self-help infomercial for this book, and I’m sorry about that, but… maybe read it?
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizbeth Gilbert
Month Read: March
Format Read: Audiobook
Why I Loved It: Eat, Pray, Love may be the only book that I, a nonfiction writer, have ever lied about reading.
But, after the aforementioned book set me off on reclaiming my writing life, I encountered Big Magic atop many a writer’s list of best books about writing. So, I snagged it on audio and drove around town in a sometimes-slightly-annoyed awe at Gilbert’s tenacity. Her philosophy around how ideas work is a bit mystical, but then, so am I, so it kind of… worked?
I plan to revisit this one in print format in the coming year so I can underline some key quotes and tape them up around the house, or something.
There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura, Translated by Polly Barton
Month Read: May
Format Read: Paperback
Why I Loved It: There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is a book about which I can truly say I’ve never read anything like it. Not that I didn’t try, after loving it so much.
This weird, quirky, kind of maybe slightly magical book follows the narrator as she takes on a series of odd jobs after suffering from burnout in her former career. She strives to be the best whatever it is she’s being, in ways that are bizarre and hilarious and endearing all at once. I’ve never really read a book that focuses on someone’s work life so exclusively, or with a narrative voice quite as idiosyncratic as this one.
My full review lives over at the wonderful Coffee Time Reviews if you’d like to hear more about why this book makes my top picks of the year.‘There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job’ Explores How Work Defines Our Lives
I never imagined reading about odd jobs would be so fascinatingmedium.com
How Not to Fall In Love by Jacqueline Firkins
Month Read: May (ARC, Expected Publication December 21st, 2021)
Format Read: Digital Galley (via NetGalley)
Why I Loved It: You know how some books fall so solidly into your wheelhouse that you kind of worry the author somehow infiltrated your brain? How to Fall In Love was one of those books for me. This books blends the friends-to-lovers tropes with a teenage love triangle and sprinkles in some Funko Pops and a little bit of LARPing (that’s live action role playing, as in, kind of like a Renaissance Faire but moreso). It is 100% my kryptonite and I cannot wait for this book to come out so other readers can share my joy.
I’ve got a full review of this one over at Coffee Time Reviews, as well if you’d like to hear more. It’s out December 21st of this year, so you still have time to read it in 2021 and make it the best book of your year, too!Falling in Love With ‘How Not To Fall In Love’
I stayed up past my bedtime to keep readingmedium.com
Cultish by Amanda Montell
Month Read: October
Format Read: Audiobook
Why I Loved It: This book is pretty much everything I look for in an audiobook. It’s investigative nonfiction with a dash of narrative, telling us the story behind why the author became invested in this particular topic and what it was like learning more about it.
Cultish is Montell’s linguistic exploration of how words build our world and can be used to change how we view it. This kind of thing feels especially relevant in these us vs. them political times when it does kind of feel like real-life “brainwashing” has occurred. I put that term in quotes because Montell objects to it as a concept in the book. Which you can learn when — not if — you read it because this book is just that good. I’d throw it down everyone’s chimney for the holidays if I could (but I think that’s probably a criminal offense of some kind?)
Here’s my full review if you’d like to hear more about why I loved it:“Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism” Sheds Light on How & Why We Hold Our Beliefs
This exploration of language and cult-mentality is relevant to our timesmedium.com
That’s my top six picks for the year 2021! This really was a great reading year, and I enjoyed so many of the books I read, not to mention getting back to sharing those books with the interwebs through my revived book blog.
I’m really looking forward to another year in reading, including my annual tradition of downloading the Read Harder challenge list and making my way through no more than half of the items.
First, though, I’ve got to ask — how was your year in reading? What were your favorite reads?
Thanks so much for reading and supporting Your Book Friend! If you want to join me for another phenomenal year of reading in 2022, give us a follow here, on Medium, and/or on Instagram. If you’re not a Medium member yet but would like to join, you can support me and YBF by signing up here.
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