In 2021, I read approximately 27,071 pages across 105 books. Per habit, tradition, ritual, etc., I’ve compiled some of my favorites here for your perusal. I hope these stories share something of hope from my bookshelf (and reading community) to yours.
*Some of these words are taken from my Goodreads reviews, lest you believe I’m plagiarizing myself.
— fiction —
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue | V. E. Schwab
What is love but memory all bound up with hope?
The Starless Sea | Erin Morgenstern
I named my Sky: Children of Light game character “Bee” in a nod to the acolyte figures in this narrative. So. Big impact.
The Return of the Soldier | Rebecca West
My “Modernism: 1900-1939” classmates and I were wildly divided on whether this text ought to constitute “good literature.” Academia aside (and good riddance), something about the stakes and consequences in this novella made me ache.
To the Lighthouse | Virginia Woolf
I read this aloud to my roommate while she was recovering from a concussion. We cocooned ourselves in fuzzy blankets, ate warm chocolate chip cookies baked by kindly neighbors, and giggled about Woolf’s sprawling verbiage. “I just need little GIFs of Virginia Woolf’s writing,” she said. “There’s too much to handle in the fullness of it.”
Housekeeping | Marilynne Robinson
No booklist of mine can ever be complete without this stalwart literary hero. Her words speak for themselves: “For why do our thoughts turn to some gesture of a hand, the fall of a sleeve, some corner of a room on a particular anonymous afternoon, even when we are asleep, and even when we are so old that our thoughts have abandoned other business? What are all these fragments for, if not to be knit up finally?”
The Girl Who Drank the Moon | Kelly Barnhill
A gorgeous tale spun from the wonder of beauty and kindness. It put me back in touch with my childhood self: that little girl falling in love with stories for the very first time.
Dandelion Wine | Ray Bradbury
Call me a fraud, but I had no idea Bradbury was such a prolific writer until this year. In the way of fiction, close on the heels of Dandelion Wine came The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes, which were all disturbingly, hauntingly beautiful.
My Name is Asher Lev | Chaim Potok
An exquisite exploration of the danger of separating art and faith.
Jayber Crow | Wendell Berry
I wasn’t so sure about this book, and it took me a long time to read. In the end, I wept. “Sometimes the shut door opens and you go through it into the same world you were in before, in which you belong as you did not before.”
The Near Witch | Victoria Schwab
Think magical children’s bedtime story for grownups, and you get this wonderful tale written in Schwab’s lyrical voice that never disappoints, with the perfect amount of spook. I agree with the anonymous Guardian reviewer from the front cover, “One for Neil Gaiman fans.”
— poetry —
Survival is a Style | Christian Wiman
Wiman is a master of poetry’s sonic qualities and of bringing together fragments of existence and disjointed beauty in ways that always feel right, like they were meant to be seen that way all along.
The Wild Iris | Louise Glück
I just happened to finish these poems in the thirty minutes between golden sunlight and blue evening which, given the arc of the narrative of loss told through this collection, could not have been more perfect in its timing.
Nobody: A Rhapsody to Homer | Alice Oswald
This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read.
Breathing the Water | Denise Levertov
Breathtaking and thought-provoking, as Levertov always is.
Macbeth | Shakespeare
Not really sure this fits into the “poetry” category, but this is the only Shakespeare play I’ve been riveted by from beginning to end. (Having read or otherwise experienced many of those olde texts.)
Thirst | Mary Oliver
One of my most favorite collections of Oliver’s poetry. And dare I say, I’ve read many.
… in summer there is
everywhere the luminous sprawl of gifts,
the hospitality of the Lord and my
inadequate answers as I row my beautiful, temporary body
through this water-lily world.
(from “Six Recognitions of the Lord”)
Why I Wake Early | Mary Oliver
My other favorite. I have fallen hopelessly in love with these poems and will gladly read them over and over and over again. These poems in particular confirm my desire to live in a cabin in the woods, preferably by a lake and with lots of birdlife.
Sight Lines | Arthur Sze
I read this on a plane in September, on my last day of being 22, watching as we chased the setting sun westward.
Refusing Heaven | Jack Gilbert
Poems about divided selves haunted by yet healing from the past.
God’s Silence | Franz Wright
A poet’s pursuit of heaven, reckoning with brokenness and hope.
— nonfiction —
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry | John Mark Comer
Thankful to have been reminded just how deeply the Lord calls us to quiet and still living. The prose of this text is conversationally light, but the impact is weighty.
A Circle of Quiet | Madeleine L’Engle
L’Engle is among those I respect most deeply, even if I don’t always align with her theological musings. Here, she reflects on the meaning of home, the discipline of writing, and the beauty of attention.
Charitable Writing | Richard Hughes Gibson and James Beitler III
Quite honestly the best book on writing I have ever read. What an honor to have studied with these two professors at college! Forever grateful for the lessons gleaned in lecture and workshop alike, as well as for this book’s trusted encouragement to pursue faith, hope, and love through unhurried reading, writing, and fellowship with God and neighbor. A true gift.
Gentle and Lowly | Dane C. Ortlund
These words and their faithful, scriptural reminders provided both challenge and comfort amid major life decisions this year.
Zen in the Art of Writing | Ray Bradbury
Bradbury expertly weaves memoir-esque essay with useful practices and teachings for those pursuing a writer’s life. What, he demands, is the point of a “writer life” if that life does not make real, loving impact on its readers?
Crying in H Mart | Michelle Zauer (aka Japanese Breakfast)
Unflinchingly honest and welcomingly human.
It’s refreshing to finally have found an Asian American female author whose words felt like home and a little outside of home all at once, who carried her anger and her love in humble examination, who invited me into her life rather than simply holding it up in fists like I’ve so often found elsewhere. She made me cry. She made me laugh. And through every word she made me feel hope, at last, in the way of making space for this kind of writing among minorities, who are so often expected to only be angry or expected to only write about race (both by the majority and by fellow minorities, unfortunately), as if other aspects of our identity can just be erased. As if there was nothing else about me that can resonate with others. As if what made me like other humans was less important than what made me different. As if my simple, watchful presence wasn’t enough.
I’m finding that beneath anger, there is an endless well of grief, and that through art, through painful yet persistent pursuit of light, we can actually cry together, voice our laments together, and that is sometimes worth far more than anger that often only alienates further the people we long most to draw near.
Prayer in the Night | Tish Harrison Warren
This year’s hellish amount of grief found space to breathe in this humbly crafted work.
Revelations of Divine Love | Julian of Norwich
At times theologically shaky, but nonetheless a rich and encouraging text.
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain | George Saunders
A thematic quote from the book itself: “Fiction helps us remember that everything remains to be seen. It’s a sacrament dedicated to this end. We can’t always feel as open to the world as we feel at the end of a beautiful story, but feeling that way even briefly reminds us that such a state exists and creates the aspiration in us to strive to be in that state more often.”
A Room of One’s Own | Virginia Woolf
It seemed necessary that this was my 100th read of 2021.
Going home for Christmas, as my flight from Seattle descended onto the runway in Philadelphia, I turned the page from 97 to 98. Just as the wheels hit the ground, I read, “…after being divided, it had come together again in a natural fusion.”
I’ve resolved to read 100 books (again) in 2022. Drop your recommendations below, please!