My Top Reads of 2021

In the past, I’ve welcomed the new year with a recap of every book I’d read the previous year—and as fun as those posts were to write (and hopefully read!), they could become quite long depending on how prolific I happened to be. So this time around, I’ve opted to write about my favorite reads of 2021, and ended up with seven I wanted to particularly highlight.

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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I hadn’t understood what people meant when they said a book “felt like home” until I read this story. John Ames, an ailing Congregational minister from the rural Iowa town of Gilead, writes a series of entries to his young son to read after John dies. His reflections shift from past to present, including John’s recollections of his grandfather, father, and older brother, as well as the scandal that befell his best friend’s son, Jack, as he reappears unexpectedly in Gilead. The narration is gentle, thoughtful, and philosophical, laced with more spiritual and theological discussions than I anticipated (ones that I welcomed, despite their Calvinist bent at times), and mixes an appreciation for the beautiful moments of life with the quiet realities of grief. It’s a book I want to read again in the coming year, if I can, and one that I foresee recommending often.

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Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

Psychology books—especially ones meant to be “self-help”—are one of my least favorite non-fiction genres, but Jordan Peterson’s two books are the exception to that rule (pun intended). Each of the 12 “rules” are grounded in a mixture of psychology, science, philosophy, history, literature, and antidotes from Peterson’s life (including experience as a clinical psychologist and a professor professor) that not only give practical application to the abstract ideas discussed but make you feel as if you’re sitting down to listen to a fascinating discussion or lecture. In particular, the sixth rule, “Abandon ideology,” the eighth rule, “Try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible,” and the eleventh rule, “Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant,” have stuck with me since first reading Beyond Order, and it’s yet another book that I want to reread in the future.

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A Little Beside You by Jenni Sauer

It should come as no surprise that A Little Beside You is on this list, especially if you followed me on Instagram this past year. I have such a soft spot for Sauer’s writing and thus far have been able to beta read three of her four published Evraft novels—but this story wormed its way into my heart almost immediately and has stayed their since. What can I say? Sometimes I need a comforting read to break up all of the serious historical biographies, and this book perfectly balances that hopefulness with complex characters, a solid plot, and meaningful themes. Just thinking about the book gives me all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings.

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Mystery books with good twists can sometimes seem overhyped—or, at least, it’s easy to look online at all the reviews saying “I never saw the ending coming!” and dismiss them. You’ll be smarter than everyone else! But I truly did not predict the ending of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Looking back, the clues were obviously there, and perhaps if I’d remained highly skeptical I could’ve avoided being swept up in the narrative—but that, I think, would diminish the fun. All of that to say, I think this Poirot mystery is one of the least predictable I’ve read thus far, and also one of my favorites. There’s a reason it kept popping up when I searched for “best Christie novels.”

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Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

In the middle of my summer-to-autumn Christie kick, I picked up Five Little Pigs, read it by the end of the day, and set it aside…only to have it linger in my mind, more than I ever anticipated (both on account of my feelings while reading and the general lack of fanfare I saw online). What made this mystery stick with me so much? Part of its staying power, I think, is the format—cold cases present their own set of difficulties that make for interesting sleuthing. Part of it is the particularly dysfunctional, close-quartered, art-driven dynamic at the heart of the crime. Part of it is the unusual format: Poirot interviews each of the living witnesses, then has them write their own account of the day leading up to the murder for him to review, meaning the reader experiences double the interrogation before the classic reveal at the end. Some may find it repetitive, but from a psychological standpoint I found it fascinating. And yet again, I didn’t guess the culprit, but I’m not too mad about it.

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Operation Grendel by Daniel Schwabauer

Operation Grendel was one of the first books I read in 2021, and apart from the review I posted shortly afterwards, I feel as if I haven’t talked about this story enough. Raymin Dahl, a military journalist, is forced to complete the peace talk negotiations he only intended to write about by impersonating the officer originally tasked with the job—which means he must risk his psychological independence by using the captain’s AI communicator. What follows is not only a twisty, suspenseful plot, but an exploration of the use—and dangers—of technology and propaganda in an increasingly invasive world. If you’re a fan of sci-fi in any capacity, or are in the mood for a clever story that leans dystopian as much as it does adventure, then give this book a shot.

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1984 by George Orwell

Do I consider this book one of my favorites? No. But this book is the most haunting fictional story I’ve read to date, which earns it a place on this list. There’s very little about this book that’s good—the characters are not likeable or moral, the world in which they live and work is grim and disturbingly like historical and current-day totalitarian regimes, and the ending is far from the victory one might want to see after trudging through so much psychological heaviness and literal torture—except that the story does precisely what it needs to do: warn. And that warning is as relevant today as it was when Orwell first looked at the rise of governments like the Soviet Union and recognized the threat they posed. So while I can’t say I loved this story, I think its importance is one that earns it the title of “classic,” and makes it a story worth reading.

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Have you read any of these books—or are any of them on your TBR for 2022?

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