Tuesday, January 4, 2022

My Epic Reading Year (2021)

Recently I was paging back through my journal, and I noticed that in December 2020 I made a note to  "read what I enjoy, don't focus on the numbers." HAHAHAHA, well joke's on me because that is not how this reading year turned out. Last year I read 81 books, which was my highest total ever. Once I realized that I was reading at the same pace this year, I decided to really go for it and set my goal at 100. Who knew when I'd get this chance again?

I finished the year having read 101 books. I'll admit at times I stacked the deck in my favor by reading shorter books, and by December I was only choosing audiobooks that were less than 5 hours long. I also ended up reading some books I didn't really enjoy, because they were short or because I'd already started them and didn't want to give up and not have that book "count." 

Despite that, I learned quite a bit by completing this experiment. I learned what I like: memoirs of people doing dangerous or seemingly impossible things, any books on creativity, graphic novels (particularly memoirs in this format as well), stories told by multiple narrators over different time periods, and plot-driven books. Writing style is also important; I don't like overly descriptive text, and at the same time, writing that is too simplistic is not all that interesting to me.

Most importantly, I was able to put to rest a niggling existential thought I've had for quite some time. It's probably one that most readers have: "How can I possible read everything I want to, and everything that is good, before I die??" The answer to that is that it doesn't matter. Books can change how they affect you based on when you pick them up. Tastes change. Something that is "bad" the first time you pick it up might turn out to be your favorite book when you try it a year later. Also, a lot of books are frankly the same. This can be comforting, such as visiting your favorite detective in a series. Many romances are formulaic, but that's what we want! Most books we won't read. I'm sure someone has figured it out, and it's something like a small portion of a fraction of a percentage. The trick is to read what you enjoy and what speaks to you at the time. 

5-Star Reads

When compiling this list I realized that everything I rated as 5 stars in Goodreads was non-fiction. (Maus does feature talking mice as characters, but it's the true story of the author's father during the Holocaust.) I've always thought of myself as primarily a fiction reader, but as it turned out I had close to a 50/50 split between fiction and non-fiction.

I had planned to write a short review of each of these, but that is too much work! So just know that I loved these books, partially because they may have been what I needed to hear at the time, and if you want further details on any of them, leave a comment below.

  • Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood - Trevor Noah
  • 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea - Johnathan Franklin
  • Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking - David Bayles
  • The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are - Danny Gregory
  • Frida Kahlo at Home - Suzanne Barbezat
  • The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman
  • Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman - Lindy West
  • The Secret to Superhuman Strength - Alison Bechdel
  • Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals - Oliver Bukeman
  • What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat - Aubrey Gordon
  • Life in the Studio: Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity - Frances Palmer
  • The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love - Sonya Renee Taylor

Favorite Fiction (4 stars)

I didn't have any 5-star fiction reads in 2021, but below are my favorites. In terms of the most original and beautiful writing, Lily King and Mohsin Hamid are at the top. If any fans of Harry Potter are looking for something similar, the Nevermoor series seems promising.

  • The Plot - Jean Hanff Korelitz
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid
  • Young Jane Young - Gabrielle Zevin
  • Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow - Jessica Townsend
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker - Jen Wang
  • Writers & Lovers - Lily King
  • Exit West - Mohsin Hamid
  • People We Meet On Vacation - Emily Henry
  • The Last Garden in England - Julia Kelly
  • Moonflower Murders - Anthony Horowitz
  • Long Bright River - Liz Moore
  • The Janus Stone - Ellly Griffiths
  • The Midnight Library - Matt Haig
In 2022 I do want to read more fiction, and am seeking out well-reviewed and recommended titles instead of just grabbing what is new and shiny on the library shelf. I also have 44 books I own that I haven't read, and a long Goodreads to-read shelf that needs some attention. If from the above favorites you have any recommendations for me, I'd love to hear them!

Full List of Books Read

  1. The Midnight Library - Matt Haig
  2. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood - Trevor Noah
  3. Troubled Blood - Robert Galbraith
  4. The White Coat Diaries - Madi Sinha
  5. The Janus Stone - Elly Griffiths
  6. When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People - Jeannie Gaffigan
  7. Pretend I'm Dead - Jen Beagin
  8. Naked In Death - J.D. Robb
  9. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley
  10. The Perfect Mother - Aimee Malloy
  11. Cosy: The British Art of Comfort - Laura Weir
  12. At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life - Fenton Johnson
  13. Long Bright River - Liz Moore
  14. The Rosie Effect - Graeme Simsion
  15. 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea - Johnathan Franklin
  16. The Pharos Gate: Griffin and Sabine's Lost Correspondence - Nick Bantock
  17. Walking, One Step at a Time - Erling Kagge
  18. Making Comics - Lynda Barry
  19. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption - Bryan Stevenson
  20. Magic Lessons - Alice Hoffman
  21. Moonflower Murders - Anthony Horowitz
  22. Fortune and Glory: Tantalizing Twenty-Seven - Janet Evanovich
  23. Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking - David Bayles
  24. Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are - Danny Gregory
  25. The Four Winds - Kristin Hannah
  26. The Things We Cannot Say - Kelly Rimmer
  27. The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are - Danny Gregory
  28. Frida Kahlo at Home - Suzanne Barbezat
  29. Parable of the Sower - Octavia E. Butler
  30. The Big Book of Less: Finding Joy in Living Lighter - Irene Smit, Astrid van der Hulst
  31. The Switch - Beth O'Leary
  32. The Last Garden in England - Julia Kelly
  33. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times - Katherine May
  34. The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman
  35. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed - Lori Gottlieb
  36. North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail - Scott Jurek, Jenny Jurek
  37. Wherabouts - Jhumpa Lahiri
  38. Broken - Jenny Lawson
  39. The Authenticity Project - Clare Pooley
  40. The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience - Jennifer Phar Davis
  41. Something in the Water - Catherine Steadman
  42. When the Stars Go Dark - Paula McLain
  43. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman - Lindy West
  44. The Best American Comics 2018 - Ed. Phoebe Gloeckner
  45. The House at Sea's End - Elly Griffiths
  46. A Runner's High: My Life in Motion - Dean Karnazes
  47. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor - Lynda Barry
  48. Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness - Scott Jurek
  49. Artist's Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures - Cathy Johnson
  50. Adulthood is a Myth - Sarah Anderson
  51. The Three Rooms in Valerie's Head - David Gaffney, Dan Berry
  52. The New Mindful Home: And How to Make it Yours - Joanna Thornhill
  53. City of the Lost - Kelley Armstrong
  54. The Last Thing He Told Me - Laura Dave
  55. The Stationery Shop - Marjan Kamali
  56. Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love - Jonathan Van Ness
  57. A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean - Tori Murden McClure
  58. The Secret to Superhuman Strength - Alison Bechdel
  59. When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Guide to Staying Put - Vivian Swift
  60. Food: A Love Story - Jim Gaffigan
  61. The Best American Comics 2019 - Ed. Jillian Tamaki
  62. In a Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson
  63. People We Meet on Vacation - Emily Henry
  64. Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life - Ali Wong
  65. Just Eat: One Reporter's Quest for a Weight-Loss Regimen That Works - Barry Estabrook
  66. The Bookshop Girl - Sylvia Bishop
  67. The Comfort Book - Matt Haig
  68. A Room Full of Bones - Elly Griffiths
  69. Exit West - Mohsin Hamid
  70. The Painted Garden - Mary Woodin
  71. Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light - Helen Ellis
  72. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit - Michael Finkel
  73. The Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War II - Madeline Martin
  74. The Salt Path - Raynor Winn
  75. Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics - Dolly Parton, Robert Oermann
  76. Running Like a Girl - Alexandra Heminsley
  77. The Last Flight - Julie Clark
  78. The Library Book - Susan Orlean
  79. A Long Walk to Water - Linda Sue Park
  80. Writers & Lovers - Lily King
  81. Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals - Oliver Bukeman
  82. The Postscript Murders - Elly Griffiths
  83. Fitness for Every Body: Strong, Confident, and Empowered at Any Size - Meg Boggs
  84. The Prince and the Dressmaker - Jen Wang
  85. Billy Summers - Stephen King
  86. The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers - Lynn Bycznski
  87. What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat - Aubrey Gordon
  88. The Lost Apothecary - Sarah Penner
  89. The F.I.R.E. Planner: A Step-by-Step Workbook to Reach Your Full Financial Potential - Michael Quan
  90. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow - Jessica Townsend
  91. Young Jane Young - Gabrielle Zevin
  92. Life in the Studio: Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity - Frances Palmer
  93. Fault Lines - Emily Itami
  94. The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid
  95. Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates
  96. In the Clearing - Robert Dugoni
  97. The Plot - Jean Hanff Korelitz
  98. No Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Need to Hear - Kate Bowler
  99. The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love - Sonya Renee Taylor
  100. Before We Visit the Goddess - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
  101. A Line to Kill - Anthony Horowitz

9 comments:

  1. "Memoirs of people doing dangerous or seemingly impossible things" - I love the same.
    I remember the first time I read a biography and had a lightning bolt realization that I really prefer nonfiction. The caveat to that is classic fiction (I went through a Dickens streak last year) and a few honorable mentions to new authors that are just so good (for instance, I LOVED A Gentleman in Moscow).
    I am drawn to sports memoirs (I see you read North this year, which I mostly enjoyed), especially people that compete in feats of endurance.

    Happy Reading in 2022. That is a VERY impressive book list for 2021!!!

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    1. I own a copy of A Gentleman in Moscow, and I've heard so many great things about it! I hope to get to it soon. Sports memoirs are the best! It's hidden in the list, but you may also like A Pearl in the Storm. It's about a woman rowing solo across the Atlantic.

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  2. Wow 101 books in a year! I read 11, that is not even one a month. I am always amazed when I read lists like this how few books I have heard of, I have read two on this list, 66 and 74. I read 66 to my daughter, the author has written three others, we have read two of them and have the other to read sometime soon.

    I am a non-fiction reader through and through. I read so little fiction these days, not a single one of those 11 was a fiction book. I reserve my fiction reading for reading to my daughter who is 12 and dyslexic and long way off being able to read chapter books so I read to her instead, perhaps if I added the books I read to her too my list might be a little longer! So sadly I am not able to make any recommendations of fiction!

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    1. The Bookshop Girl I actually started reading to my daughter, but she ended up finishing it on her own. I liked it so much though that I read it myself so I could see what happened! It was a great story. So reading to your daughter totally counts!

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  3. I've read quite a few of those books. Of the 5-star read, I loved the Aubrey Gordon book. I also love her podcast, it's so good!

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    1. Maintenance Phase is THE BEST! I'm now the chair of the "body diversity" affinity group at my work now because of it.

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  4. Thank you for your book list. I will try to read a few more books myself this year. |Your choices have given me somewhere to start from.

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  5. Uh, whoa...101 books?! I dream about having a year like that sometime, but now that I've started the flower farm, I don't think it will ever happen lol. Also, I'm impressed that you only have 44 unread books on your shelves -- you either have way more self-restraint when it comes to buying new books, or way more self-discipline when it comes to reading what you already have :) Either way, pass some of that my way, please!

    Our reading tastes are similar in a lot of ways, so I'm going to dive into some of these titles more on Goodreads to see if they'd be a good fit. Thanks for linking your blog! Totally going to follow along with your flower farming journey now <3

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    1. I bet when your kids are a bit older and you have the flower farm processes figured out, you'll have way more time to read! Also, audio was key for me. I frequently listed to a books while working out in the garden. I don't buy a lot of books because I don't want to feel buyer's remorse because I didn't like something!

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