Best Reads of 2021

This year I read 51 books. 14 of those were audio books, and 11 were read aloud with the kids. One thing that made a big difference this year is that in the fall I got a Kobo e-reader. I was sure I’d always prefer the feel of a real book in my hand, the look of real books in my shelf, and the smell of real books in my nose. But I absolutely love my Kobo. Its small and portable, easy to load new books on from the store or library, and because its so easy to take around I’ve been reading much more than before. Its been great for my reading life.

Here are my favorite books from this past year:

  • “Olive Kitteridge” and “Olive Again” by Elizabeth Strout
    • I read these two one right after another, the experience of reading them went hand-in-hand. I really love the way Strout builds the character of Olive through seemingly mundane stories from various characters interspersed with bits of Olive herself. And Olive is so flawed and human but mostly likable, and the way she changes throughout the book feels true to life, not over-inflated or exaggerated for the sake of the story. As a younger woman, I really loved reading about someone in a more advanced stage of life than me (Olive’s son is grown and married, and Olive herself is on her second marriage), its a reminder that the right now is not everything that will make up the whole of my life. Growth continues to happen even as we age.
  • “Hamnet and Judith” by Maggie O’Farrell
    • I’ve loved everything I’ve read by O’Farrell (on of her books made my list last year too), and this one was no exception. This book tells the (fictional) story of Shakespeare’s wife and children, although he is never mentioned by name, and how the family deal with a heart-wrenching loss from the bubonic plague. Agnes was such a fascinating character to read, my heart broke right along with hers at her loss, and broke again and again at the way grief affected everyone in the story. Do not read unless you’re in the mood for a good cry.
  • “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer
    • I’ve had this one on my list for a while, but it was so worth it. This collection of essays blending indigenous wisdom with science blew my mind a little. Its shifted the way I look at the natural world around me and made me more aware of the indigenous perspective. Although I read this one cover to cover, because it was a collection of essays it would have been easy to dip in and out of over a longer period of time.
    • “Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”
  • “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune
    • The atmosphere and characters of this book are just so fun, quirky and light-hearted. Even so, the book deals with some serious subject matter- prejudice and acceptance. Its about a lonely, boring man who lives a lonely, boring, colorless life visiting a busy, loud, and loving foster home and the way that changes his life. The catch: this is a foster home for extraordinary children. This one was such a fun and delightful read I cant wait to read another book by Klune.
    • “We should always make time for the things we like, if we don’t, we might forget how to be happy.”
  • “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr
    • Although I didn’t think this one quite as good as “All the Light We Cannot See”, I’d still consider it a great read. This book was ambitious- it follows five characters in three different time periods, but it was so interesting to see how all these characters intersect in the end. Doerr deals with some big themes too, from climate change to economic hardship to war. But it was the themes of the book that made this one stand out for me, especially the power or story to lift the human spirit.
    • “I know why those librarians read those old stories to you,” Rex says, “because if its told well-enough, for as long as the story lasts, you get to slip the trap.”
  • “Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke
    • I was nervous to start this one, probably because I noticed it once in the fantasy section of the bookstore and fantasy is not a genre I gravitate towards, but I’m so glad I took a chance. Piranesi lives in a labyrinthine house whose bottoms floors fill with changing tidal waters. The house is his whole world. “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite,” Piranesi tells us. Its not vey far into the story that we begin to see cracks in his reality. This book read like a dream, it was atmospheric and so so engrossing.

Our favorite read alouds from last year:

  • “Adventures with Waffles” by Maria Parr
    • This book was adorable and hilarious. It follows the adventures of Lena and Trille, two children living in small a small town in Norway. We laughed out loud and we cried and we ate heart-shaped waffles just like Auntie Granny made. Its been nearly 10 months since we finished and my kids still talk about this one. Highly recommended.
  • “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by JK Rowling
    • I have been waiting until both kids were old enough before I introduced them into the world of Hogwarts. It was finally time. We listened to Jim Dale read this to us while eating Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean and looking at the beautiful illustrations from Jim Kay. We finished right before Halloween, so that weekend we all watched the movie together. It was an experience and I can’t wait to revisit Hogwarts again next year the second book.
  • “A Place to Hang the Moon” by Kate Albus
    • Finally, what has probably been my most favorite read aloud we have ever done, “A Place to Hang the Moon” follows three orphan children who are evacuated from London during WWII and their “preposterous plan” to find a new family to adopt them among the billets they get sent to live with. The story was sweet and heart-warming while it tugs at your heart-strings in all the right ways. The best part is the bookish love and references woven throughout, and the fact that the hero is a librarian. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. It reminds me of the CS Lewis quote, “A children’s book that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” This is the perfect book to be enjoyed by all ages, from child to adult.
    • “Fibs, you know, are entirely acceptable when they serve the purpose of getting one to the library.”

But now I’d really love to know, what were your best reads of the year?

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