It's that time of year again, when I reminisce on all the great books I've read in the last twelve months.
And wow, what a year it was!
The books I read in 2021 allowed me travel to such far-off places such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Cuba. They pulled me into the lives of immigrants facing deportation, female actresses navigating Hollywood, children growing up in the segregated South of the 1960's, even the fascinating, silent but vibrant world of trees.
Out of all the great reads of 2021, I have hand- selected my favorites to share with you here, so I hope you enjoy!
1. The Overstory
by Richard Powers
Real joy consists of knowing that human wisdom counts less than the shimmer of beeches in the breeze.
I will never look at a tree the same.
I read this book while driving through Wyoming and Montana last summer, where I saw first-hand the impact of climate change on the natural world. Dying trees, wildfires, droughts, shrinking landscapes -- I was getting a first-hand account of the struggles depicted in this story by Richard Powers. But as I read, I also had the gift of sitting quietly in nature, feeling it's resilience, and hearing the trees talk to one another in the silence.
The Overstory is for anyone who sees past the folly of the human condition and is discouraged by the detrimental impact we've had on the planet. It's for anyone who longs get back to the healing power of nature, and for anyone willing to look past the superficial realities we've carved for ourselves in our daily lives, to the miraculous beauty of the real world around us.
If you read one book in 2022, in fact in your lifetime, this is the one I recommend.
2. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Oh, I know the whole world prefers a woman who doesn't know her power, but I'm sick of all that.
Taylor Jenkins Reid made my list in 2020 with Daisy Jones and the Six, and she does it again this year with her fascinating account of a famous actress with a secret past.
This story has it all - interesting characters, suspense, love, glitz and glamour. But it also delves into a topic that isn't talked about as much as it should be, even after the #metoo movement and Harvey Weinstein debacle -- what it's like for women navigating the masogynistic world of Hollywood.
I could not put this book down, and devoured the entire story in a couple days. If you need a page-turner for your next vacation, this is the one for you.
3. Music Of The Ghosts
by Vaddey Ratner
Perhaps home then, in the simplest and profoundest sense, is the center of one's faith, the belief that shelters and moors a soul tossed to drift in the open sea.
Cambodia has been on my short list of places to visit ever since I first went to Asia in 2019. However, I'll admit I knew very little about the country's history and culture before reading this book. That is one reason I love to read historical fiction so much -- you can learn so much about a place and people through story-telling.
The author of this novel is a survivor of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and, while the story she tells is fiction, it's clearly rooted in truth. Music of the Ghosts is the story of a Cambodian refugee who returns to her homeland to find answers about her past and her family. It's a story about nostalgia, resilience, and the bonds of family. It's about the past that haunts all of us, and the power of music to connect us to the ones we've lost. If you're considering traveling to Cambodia or want a more personal account of the country's history, I highly recommend reading this book.
4. Of Women And Salt
by Gabriela Garcia
Maria Isabel had thought it had always been women who wove the future out of the scars, always the characters, never the authors. She knew a woman could learn to resent this post, but she would instead find a hundred books to read.
Look out, literary world, Gabriela Garcia is about to take over. I bought this book on a whim because I was intrigued by the title, and I was not disappointed.
Of Women and Salt is a beautifully written account of women immigrating to the United States, and it is about the struggle of women throughout history - to be heard, to be respected, to survive. It covers topics such as Cuban history, immigration law and deportation, addiction, and the complicated bonds between mothers and daughters. Garcia writes so poetically that I paused frequently to just stare at the words she'd written and marvel at her talent. This is her debut novel, and I can't wait to see what she has in store for us next.
5. The Bookseller of Kabul
by Asne Seierstad
"When the Taliban arrived, all female faces disappeared from Kabul's streets."
When the US pulled out of Afghanistan in summer of 2021 and Americans began arguing over what we really should be doing "over there", I could think of only one thing: what would become of the women of Afghanistan? I am still haunted by a photograph I saw, of a man in Kabul, spray-painting over an image of a woman's face. It was the day that the American troops left and the Taliban once again took over, and that one photograph seemed to symbolize all the progress that had been erased overnight.
That same week, I found a used copy of this book in my favorite local store. It's written by a Norwegian journalist who moved in with a family in Kabul shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks and wrote about the experience from a unique perspective -- that of a female journalist observing the inner lives of Afghan women. It's an older, somewhat obscure book, but I found it at a very opportune time. It helped me to understand what life is like for Afghan women, and made my heart break all over again to know what they are going through in today's political climate.
I will turn you into ash
If I only for one moment turn my gaze toward you
- Poem by Anonymous Afghan Women
6. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
by Mitch Albom
"In life, as in music, there are measures to play and measure to rest."
Attention all music lovers: this is an absolute must-read! In The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie creates a magical world written from a unique perspective - that of Music itself - and details the incredible life of it's beloved disciple, a war orphan raised by a blind musician, Frankie Presto. This story is an ode to the power of music to change the world, and reads like a beautiful melody.
7. Behold The Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
"People like him did not visit America. They got there and stayed until they could return home as conquerors - as green card-or American passport-bearing conquerors with pockets full o dollars and photos of a happy life. Which was why on the day he boarded an Air France flight from Douala to Newark with a connection in Paris, he was certain he wouldn't see Cameroon again until he had claimed his share of the milk, honey, and liberty flowing in the paradise-for-strivers called America."
I really wanted to hate this book. Mainly because it covers a difficult topic, and it doesn't deliver it in a neatly packaged, easily digestible form that I could walk away from feeling satisfied.
Similar to Of Women and Salt, this is a novel that discusses the challenges and heartbreak associated with immigration and deportation in the United States. It also tackles the illusion of "The American Dream" and the many cracks that are present in that beautiful facade the rest of the world so admires. Behold The Dreamers is an eye-opening, often-times difficult book to read. But like any good story, it left a lasting impression and I found myself thinking about it's characters long after I turned the last page.
8. The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah
"If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we found out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. "
There are so many great World War 2-era novels out there, but this is one of my favorites. It's a story about two sisters navigating Nazi-occupied France, and the lengths they will go to protect their family and homeland while living through unimaginable circumstances.
I hear there is a movie coming out this year starring sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, so if you'd prefer to watch this on the big screen, you'll have your chance soon.
9. The Queen of Palmyra
by Minrose Gwin
"Mama said the devil's food with angel icing should be a lesson to me about how both bad and good could look pretty and taste sweet. How they could get so mixed up, each with the other, that sometimes you couldn't tell which was which. What a danger those kinds were."
This story is told from a unique perspective - that of a young white girl growing up in the poor South during the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement. Racial tensions are high in the sleepy Mississippi town where the young protagonist is growing up, and she's caught navigating a world divided between a white supremacist father, a kind-hearted but absent mother, and the Black women who are so intricately involved in her up-bringing.
It's another book that I found while sifting through the shelves at my local used bookstore, and while I'd never heard of it before, I was pleasantly surprised by what a beautiful, well-written story it turned out to be.
BONUS INSPIRATIONAL READ:
10. The War of Art: Break Through The Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
by Steven Pressfield
We must do our work for it's own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.
Warning: This author does not sugar-coat his message for easy consumption. But if you're looking for inspiration to get off your ass, do the work, and finally get those creative projects out of your cluttered head and out into the real world, this is the book for you to read in 2022!
So there you have it. My favorite books from 2021.