The Best Reading of 2021 (for me)

Skip to the category you favor if you don’t want to read them all! Search this site if you’d like to see the more complete review of each — I’m too lazy to put in all of the links.

NON-FICTION:
• Facing the Mountain By Daniel James Brown — The acclaimed author of The Boys in the Boat (which I loved) tackles Japanese Americans in WWII — both those interned in camps following FDRs Executive Order 9066 and those who served in the military’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team — the single Japanese American unit, which also happened the most highly decorated.
• Her Honor by LaDorris Hazzard Cordell — Well-structured and fascinating memoir of Cordell’s experiences as a Judge in Northern California.

LITERARY FICTION:
• Early Morning riser by Katherine Heiny — The biting inner commentary of a second grade Michigan school teacher following an unexpected path through her own life.
• The Human Zoo by Sabina Murray: Filipino-American writer Christina Klein (Ting) travels back to the Philippines — ostensibly to write a book about an episode in Filipino history featuring a headhunter tribe’s role in Coney Island’s “human zoo.”
• The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich: The novel is based on the experiences of Erdrich’s grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, in his determined fight against the proposed termination of his Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa named in House Concurrent Resolution 108 passed in August of 1953. Profound, brilliant, amazing, etc. — have been rendered meaningless through overuse. So just think about what they used to mean and apply here.
• The Sentence by Louise Erdrich: A Minneapolis bookstore is haunted by its most annoying (and recently deceased) patron. It’s not just any bookstore — it’s Birchbark Books — the very real bookstore owned by none other but the author herself who makes cameo appearances in the story. It’s a tender, multi-faceted story with characters that are so real, so nuanced, and so vibrant it made me cry to know that I would never actually be able to meet them.
• Horse by Geraldine Brooks: Rich, insightful fictionalized history of slavery, a champion racehorse, and the modern day research tools that bring the story to life.
• Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams: Motherless Esme grows up in the Scriptorium (OED prime editor James Murray’s repurposed garden shed) playing under the table as her father and other lexicographers labor over entries for the decades long effort that will result in the magnificent Oxford English Dictionary.
• Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler: a recast of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew — brilliant, witty, impossible to put down and with a completely different set of messages (we like the “shrew” from the beginning).
• American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld — Fiction loosely based on the life of Laura Bush (the names have been changed to protect the innocent!). Very, very, well-written.
• Maud’s Line by Margaret Verble — Beautifully written, eye-opening, 1926 Cherokee life for young girl who wants more out of life.
• Booth by Karen Joy Fowler: A fictionalized history of the Booth family from 1822 to 1865 when its most infamous member — John Wilkes — shot Abraham Lincoln. John Wilkes is kept as an important but minor character throughout until his action at the end tears everything apart. Great breadth of character and story.

FICTION:
• This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub — Bizarre, upper West Side, limited time travel story with good insight and character depth.
• In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner — coming of age story, from rural East Tennessee to elite private high school scholarship. Clashing experiences and values.
• Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: Elizabeth Zott — master chemist — trying to do science in a late 50s / early 60s world that treats women as incapable, inferior, and irrelevant. But don’t worry about her — she gets places and keeps us laughing the whole way. Fun!
• Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner: great story that manages to combine a fascinating bit of history and early feminism with a literary mystery, historically accurate relationships, insightful writing, in-depth characters, and some great historical characters tossed in (Peggy Guggenheim, Daphne DuMaurier, Samuel Beckett to name a few)
• Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman: A light and fun novel that allows us to inhabit a happy, kooky world full of lovable characters with more intellectual curiosity than I typically expect in this genre.
• Apples Never Fall by Liane Morarity: Impossible to put down, this is a twisted, gripping, family drama / mystery that explores the violence and cruelty as well as the compassion, kindness, and personal development of ordinary people.
F&SF:
• A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow: Zinnia Gray of Ohio is the Dying Girl. Afflicted with GRM — a malady that always kills before its victims reach 22 — she has become obsessed with all things Sleeping Beauty (a girl with very similar problems). What follows is a funny and piercingly acute adventure through alternative narratives where an array of women try to alter the “crap” storylines they were given.Clever and funny with plenty of gender benders, surprise twists, and sass.

MEMOIR:
Marry Him by Lori Gottlieb — Hysterically funny and simultaneously insightful memoir on middle age dating
MYSTERY:
• A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear: Historical mystery at its best. Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs (a “psychologist and investigator” well connected with both the war office and the local chapter of Scotland Yard) continues to solve complex crimes while the timeline moves from early WWI (the first volume) through 1942 (WWII) in this 17th installment. The plot of A Sunlit Weapon centers around the women pilots who comprise the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).
WOMEN’S FICTION:
• The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang — a deeply reflective novel that masquerades (well!) as a steamy romance.
YOUNG ADULT:
• The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo — A novel-in-verse coming-of-age story about an Afro-Latina teenager with an intensely religious immigrant mother and a father who is absent even in his presence.

One thought on “The Best Reading of 2021 (for me)”

  1. I am looking forward to perusing your best reading of 2021. I have started reading “Her Honor” and am finding it riveting. Thank you.

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