Last month I asked readers of this blog–and my friends–to help build a list of books that got us through 2021. Now that December is upon us, I’m delighted to share it. It’s a little different than the bestseller lists, so maybe it will give you some new gift ideas–or new year’s resolutions?.
I wasn’t interested in the top-selling or most-read books of 2021. I just wanted to know what people most enjoyed reading in the year we’re about to lose.
Some of these were on my 2021 list too. But there were many surprises that truly expand my reading horizons. And, interestingly, quite a few of the books, even the many about dystopias, illness, and warfare, were packed with hope.
Reader Favorites in 2021
The top fiction books were:
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger
The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Sentence by Louis Erdrich
“The Sentence” is exactly what I lusted for, a real story about real human beings that still inspires and appeals to the better soul that is buried inside of us without being saccharine or trite. Add to Erdrich’s usual skill of building characters, a little bit of mystery, and revealing dialog, a story that largely takes place in a bookstore with a ghost! It’s almost decadent in it’s many gifts to the reader including basically being a name-dropping of best books and authors.Lyn Horan
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Rosewater by Tade Thompson
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
“If pressed I’d recommend anything by James Lee Burke. His stories are sometimes disturbingly graphic, but his writing is magnificent. He writes mostly about New Iberia, Louisiana (though also about west Texas and Montana), and I was so enthralled by the descriptions that I made a trek to New Iberia (and have been back several times), just to see where his characters lived. I also discovered there’s a whole industry around JLB in New Iberia, “kind of like Hemingway in Key West. I can hardly wait for each of his new books, and his are about the only books I buy in hardback, as soon as they’re published. Most other authors, of which there are MANY that I love, I can either get at the library or wait until they hit paperback!”Margo Keyser
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Walker
The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny
The Great Alone pulls a few sucker punches with pacing which is annoying, but it’s a good read with fun characters. And it’s well edited (except for the suckered punches – you’ll know when you get there).Cara Rose
What We Loved in Non-Fiction
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kemmerer.
Sapiens by Yuvai Noah Harari
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford.
Humankind: A Hopeful History contains a lot of scientific “truths” you’ve heard over and over may not be as true as you thought. The stories in this book are sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes inspiring, but every one of them worth reading.Claudia O’Keefe
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman.
Code Name Madeline: A Sufi Spy in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Arthur J. Magida
It’s a treat to enjoy documented history that has the plot and prose of a novel.Nancy Daffner, on Code Name Madeline
How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr