My Top Five (okay wait, six) Books of 2021

I have always been a big reader. Keeping a list of what I’ve read has always been a fun way to look back on the year.

My reading tastes have shifted somewhat. Since 2020, I’ve found myself devouring mystery series, the more British the better, one after the next. But thanks to the two book clubs I’m in, I’ve managed to read a few books that defy that genre!

Here are my favorites from what I read in 2021:

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker  I have probably recommended this book more than anything else I read all year. Parker’s expertise is in creating meaningful gatherings—summits, conferences, dinner parties, meetings—and she has a clear and compelling way to think about what brings us together. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston I had read this before, but probably 25 years ago. Hurston’s use of language will stop you in your tracks, which in itself would be enough to tell you to run out and get this book, but that would be leaving out the story itself, and the characters, and the way the whole book just lingers. Amazing.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas Okay, true confessions. When I was in my 20s, I read books that were upwards of 1000 pages pretty often. As I have gotten older, my taste has skewed more toward the speedy 300 pp range. But when a good friend told me this is one of his favorite books, and I found myself with a winter weekend to spend reading in front of the fire, this was the novel I picked up. The main character’s false imprisonment and subsequent life of revenge is complicated, intriguing, and surprising. 

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell As one of my friends said, this book sits directly in the Venn diagram of what Angie likes. It’s moving literary fiction with a Shakespeare connection and a strong central female character. I absolutely loved this story of an unusually independent woman in Stratford-on-Avon, her children, and her marriage.

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman Another 1000 pager here, and this one is, I’m not kidding, one sentence. The reader follows the life of a woman in the American midwest as she bakes, takes care of her kids, worries about reports of a mountain lion on the loose, thinks about her neighbors, gets a flat tire, goes to the dentist…Somehow in all the mundane details, we get to know her and her family and town. Ellman’s bold experiment with style worked for me, but your mileage may vary!

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe This nonfiction book tells the appalling story of the Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma, as they develop and deceptively market OxyContin to the American people. The recent news that a judge overturned the portion of the Purdue settlement in which the Sacklers were safe from civil lawsuits has been a satisfying coda to this extremely American story of unfettered greed and corporate entanglement with medical care.

These were the books I read this year that have really stuck with me, but I also want to mention: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, Nomadland by Jessica Bruder, the newest from Liane Moriarty (author of Big Little Lies) Apples Never Fall, The Turnout by Megan Abbott, The Price You Pay for College by Ron Lieber, and my current read, a revisiting of the entire Three Pines series by Louise Penny.

What did you read in 2021? What books have stuck with you this year?

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