I know I say this every year, but: I really never thought I’d be writing this post for 2021. For newcomers, my “6 Books to Read in [Insert Next Year]” has been a staple of the blog since 2017, which was now a whole four years ago. This blog is now approaching eight(!!). The way this works is pretty simple: basically, at the start of each year, I pick six books I read the previous year which I think are must-reads. Last year, I deviated a little and listed 3 books and 3 TV shows, but this year we’re back to 100% book recommendations!
Doing this first, because let’s face it, it’s what most of you are here for.
THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St. John Mandel This was hands-down my favorite read of 2020. Usually when I check books out from the library I return them and am done with them, but I bought a copy of The Glass Hotel in hardcover because it was just so good, I knew I had to own it. (This was validated when Obama listed it as one of his top books of the year. He has pretty good taste.)
RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles This book is set in 1920s New York (and is honestly what I’d envisioned 2020s New York being like). It follows Katey Kontent and her friends, Tinker and Evelyn, as they navigate a time when living alone and having a career were just becoming options for women. While really quite simple on the surface, the story is stunningly told, and I enjoyed following Katey and all of her trials and tribulations.
MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan This is a must-read for any book lover. Not only is it set in a bookstore, it features a mysterious bookish cult and, well, if that didn’t draw you in I don’t think anything will. And if you’re a book nerd who also loves tech, this is the perfect book for you: it’s set in San Francisco and a lot of the plot revolves around Google, AI, and Silicon Valley.
Honorable Mention: IN THE WOODS by Tana French This is one of my favorite books of all time, yet it’s somehow never made one of these lists? While at first glance In the Woods may seem like a normal police procedural, it is actually a fascinatingly well-painted psychological portrait of a detective struggling to maintain a grip on his life. French uses a lot of clichés, but twists them just well enough to get me to enjoy elements—an unreliable narrator, a dark past, and memory loss—that I normally hate in mysteries.
I do read a lot of nonfiction! I don’t advertise it a lot because it’s not so popular in the book blogging community, but a lot of it is really good.
THE ONLY PLANE IN THE SKY by Garrett M. Graff This oral history is a harrowing account of the events of 9/11 as they unfolded that way, told in the words of survivors, first responders, witnesses, and their family members. As someone who was too young to remember 9/11, this book offers an in-depth look into and understanding of what it was like to be alive that day.
THE NEW JIM CROW by Michelle Alexander This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the U.S. criminal justice system. Alexander clearly lays out the ways in which the criminal justice system allows for discrimination on the basis of race, resulting in the disproportionate imprisonment of Black and Latino men, usually for minor crimes—or, in the case of those waiting for trial in jail, no crime at all. I’ve read a lot of books about the law, and never have I come across one so easily-understandable for those with no formal legal training (aka me).
TRICK MIRROR by Jia Tolentino When I first read it, I gave this book—a collection of essays about New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino’s thoughts on life, feminism, literature, “self-care,” and reality TV—a meager three stars. Yet in the months since I’ve read it, I’ve found myself thinking about it again and again. Her thoughts on literary heroines, especially Strong Female Characters, were interesting and nuanced and like nothing I’d ever read before. While some of the essays were a miss for me, many of them did leave a big impact.