My Fave Books of 2021 by Marci Evans
It’s January and well, I won’t say Happy New Year, because most people I talk to right now aren’t jumping with joy right now.
Things are a bit rough my friends, so it really seems like no better time than to escape into the land of books.
For the third year in a row, my January newsletter features some of my favorite books from the year prior. 2021 was a big year of reading for me so I’ll share with you some of the books that hit the tippy top of my list.
For a full rundown of what I was up to, check out my Goodreads here to see all the books I’ve read!
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff
I believe that healing doesn’t happen without self-compassion so think of this book as a must-read. Neff misses the boat when she references food examples but not so glaringly awful that I’d urge readers to stay away.
#VERYFAT #VERYBRAVE: The Fat Girl’s Guide to Being #Brave and Not a Dejected, melancholy, Down-in-the-Dumps Weeping Fat Girl in a Bikini by Nicole Byer
This is more picture book than book book – basically a ton of photos of Nicole in various bikinis alongside some hilarious musings. If you don’t like swears, this one isn’t for you.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
This book broke my heart wide open. As someone who knows very little about the justice system in America, reading it was a bit of a shock. Stevenson’s writing reads like fiction – a literal page turner that I didn’t want to put down even though certain stories were very VERY hard to read. If you are an American, put this one to the tippy top of your reading list.
More Than A Body: Your Body Is an Instrument, Not an Ornament by Lindsay and Lexie Kite
Hands down, this is one of the very best books on body image available. Lindsay and Lexie will flip your perspective of body image on its head and leave you motivated to excavate your own internalized self-objectification. Buy this one for yourself and someone else you love.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
I do not have the skill to do this book justice. Wilkerson is such an incredibly captivating writer and the perspective she unearths through her research is pretty jaw dropping. Her framing of racism through the lens of the case system is utterly brilliant and has totally re-shaped the way I understand racism in America. Love love loved this book.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Reid takes on issues related to race and household labor in this entertaining, cringy, and super engaging novel. Prior to reading it I honestly wasn’t all that drawn to the plot. But it was getting such rave reviews I gave it a go – it totally exceeded my expectations.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
I understand that there are sexual abuse allegations against Alexie and that he has proven to be a problematic person for a number of reasons. But I had had this YA novel on my “to read” list forever so tackled it last winter. I cannot properly express how much I loved this book. I loved the protagonist with all of my heart and soul and Alexie powerfully weaves together so many complex issues into one short novel. I devoured it in 24 hours.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Makkai travels through 1920’s France, 1980’s Chicago, and modern day Paris to bring us a novel that I have found unforgettable. Makkai brings to life the devastating AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s, a time I knew little about, within a larger storyline about the fraught nature of relationships. Strong recommend but parts of this book are quite devastating and hard to read.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Well this is a classic for a reason. Plath’s writing is just plain brilliant but if you aren’t looking for a book that pulls you into the mind of a young woman who is slowly unraveling, perhaps save it for another time.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
For better or worse, I had no idea of the enormity and gravity of this book when I picked it up. So to say my reading experience was layered with a bit of shock would be an understatement. Morrison mixes slave history with the flavorings of a ghost story that is thought-provoking, unsettling, and indelible.
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
This collection of essays covers an array of topics including beauty, money, race, bodies, and more. Tressie rocked my world with her writing and admittedly I’ll need to go back to read and re-read many of the essays. The title says it all, her writing is THICK.
The Undocumented Americans by Kalra Cornejo Villavicencio
I selected Villavicencio’s book because she tells stories about a group of people I know nothing about – stories of undocumented immigrants – layered against her own story as a DREAMer. It was humbling to get a glimpse into the complex lives of people who are often spoken about with disdain and treated as pariahs. Villavicencio has given me a lot to think about.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
I have been wanting to read more books by American Indian authors and holy smokes, Boulley did not disappoint. This YA novel was absolutely outstanding. In Firekeeper’s Daughter you get so many fast-paced twists and turns (family mystery, undercover drug investigation, deception, and love) alongside sprinklings of native tradition and culture. Absolutely fantastic.
How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
This should be mandatory reading for all Americans. Smith has reconfigured how I understand and relate to US history while simultaneously captivating me with his lyrical writing style. His poetic voice makes for an excellent audiobook.
Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel
While I deeply love Dan Siegel’s work I find it takes me a long time to finish his books. I’m not sure what about his writing style feels so effortful for me. But if you are looking for a book that is informed by neuroscience with an emphasis on building healthy attachment with your children, I highly recommend it.
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates is a truly inspiring woman. I deeply admire how she has utilized her privilege and platform to act as an agent for change. Learning more about her as a person and the work of the foundation was both interesting and inspiring.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Oh how I love a good old psychological thriller. This one got me good.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
I absolutely loved this book. The weaving together of a devastating personal family story alongside the history of the research and treatment of schizophrenia was expertly accomplished. If you share a love of science, mental health, and personal stories, this book is for you.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
This book grabbed right a hold of my heart and didn’t let go. I loved learning about a piece of US history I had had no clue about alongside characters I came to deeply care about.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
This is now on my short list of “books that have permanently changed me.” Miller’s story is crushing yet her writing is so stunning. It’s odd to be drawn into such captivating prose while the actual content is so awful. I listened to this on audio and I was grateful for her steady, calm voice reassuring me through so many painful moments. This ought to be mandatory reading. I can’t wait to see what else she creates.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
The author’s words and voice are poetic, full of love and an invitation to consider relating to our physical world from a (for me) wholly new perspective. While it took me time to get through, entering each chapter felt like entering a new realm, I am grateful to have absorbed her wisdom. The blending of science with indigenous wisdom has shifted something in me – my place in the world and relationship to the earth. Deeply moving.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
O’Farrell writes beautifully about the tragic death of Shakespeare’s youngest – speculating on how it occurred (as we don’t actually know) and how it impacted him, his wife, and their relationship. Have your tissues ready as this one really hits you right in all the feels.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
This YA novel was an absolute delight – filled with unique characters and at times hysterical circumstances that filled my heart right up. If you want a whimsical and heart-warming escape, this one’s for you.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
Expertly researched, brilliantly written. Empire of Pain is an essential contribution to understanding the opioid epidemic. The audiobook is fantastic – I simply did not want to stop listening. But be prepared to feel shocked and enraged.
What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey
An accessible and thought provoking conversation about trauma – it’s impact, the way it shows up, and how we can re-shape the ways we attend to it at both the individual and systemic levels. The audiobook was exceptionally well-done and a compelling way to present the information. Strong recommend for any person who has relationships with other people.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
This was an incredible 400 year journey. 90 writers, activists, leaders, teachers shared a unique piece of history and shifted my perspective forever. Strong recommend.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
I came in with low expectations but simply adored this book. The twists and turns satisfied my mystery loving self. But the way Backman speaks to the human condition gets me right in the heart. This book was a delightful surprise and I gobbled it up in a couple of days.
How to Nourish Your Child Through and Eating Disorder: A Simple Plate-by-Plate Approach to Rebuilding a Healthy Relationship with Food by Casey Crosbie and Wendy Stirling
Hands down, this is the best book out there to coach parents on the specifics of nourishing their child through an eating disorder. It’s also a fantastic resource for nutrition professionals working with adolescents and their families.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
Gives me a giggle to review The Anthropocene Reviewed. Too bad I’m no John Green. This was an absolute delight – my first exposure to John Green’s work. I loved the randomness of each chapter, the heart in his beautiful words, the way he uncovers fascinating information on topics I’ve never considered. His writing is sad and true and beautiful and poignant and made a lovely audiobook. Wish I could give it 4.5 stars.
So that’s a wrap for some of my very favorite books of 2021. And I’m dying to know, what did you read and love last year? And what’s on the docket for 2022? My book stacks are piled HIGH. Here’s just a couple of titles I’m really excited about (in no particular order).
- Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brené Brown, PhD, LCSW
- Becoming Safely Embodied: A Guide to Organize Your Mind, Body and Heart to Feel Secure in the World by Deirdre Fay MSW
- Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’Shaun L. Harrison
- Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy: Awareness, Breath, Resonance, Movement and Touch in Practice by Susan McConnell
- Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
- The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
- The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
- Fierce Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff
I hope you get to do a bit of what delights you this year. I’ll just be over here with my book pile.