Normally, I do a single reading round up in December, but I realized I am quickly approaching 50 books read in 2021 and it is only July. The thought of writing about 100-ish books all at once at the end of the year gives me stress hives, so here is part 1 for your enjoyment!
As always, I look forward to hearing what you have read and loved so far this year!
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Persuasion by Jane Austen
It is a goal of mine to read more classic literature. I find that my brain absorbs the older style of writing very differently than contemporary writing. Though it takes me longer to finish a classic, I think the forced slowing down is a great way to keep growing as a reader.
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie (historical fiction, below) was my first encounter with Agatha Christie as a person and made me realize I had never read one of her books! I decided to start with Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I found the first 100 pages too slow for my liking, but I enjoyed the rest and will continue to work my way through her canon.
I devoured The Age of Innocence, though initially I was scared it would be stuffy and outdated. Happily, it was not! I read the full contextual introduction included with my copy before I dove into the story, and that helped place the book, characters, and Ms. Wharton in history. It also enabled me to catch the humour and social commentary that I may have missed on a blind read. I’m not sure I was supposed to dislike Newland Archer so fiercely, so I am looking forward to reading further commentary. This is a book I will come back to over the course of my life, and I am glad I never read it as a teenager in an educational setting; I would have surely hated its measured pace and quiet profundity then.
Persuasion was wonderful, as all Jane Austen novels are. I will not be swayed otherwise in my affections for her work.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
I am a big fan of Kevin Kwan and his Crazy Rich Asians series – the final two of which are on this list (China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems). He never fails to write vivid, endearing characters in outrageous situations.
Beach Read is the ultimate summer read: two authors find themselves living next door to each other in a small beach town as they attempt to write their next novels. Naturally, romance and hijinks ensue! Emily Henry has another book out this season, People We Meet on Vacation, and I cannot wait to read it (and neither can anyone else in Vancouver apparently; I am hold #103 at the library!).
Reese’s Book Club came through yet again with several 5-star reads including His Only Wife, The Henna Artist, and The Jetsetters. All very different from each other, but a central theme is that of women awakening to themselves and ultimately choosing a different path than the one placed on them by their family and culture. Seven Days in June was also a 5-star Reese pick, but with a different theme and slightly similar premise to Beach Read (two authors reconnecting as adults after complicated romance as teens).
Belgravia by Julian Fellowes was one sent to me by my Grandma Rose for Christmas. It is similar to Downton Abbey in its exploration of social class, romance, and fate. Fellowes sure loves a lady’s maid/valet bribery trope! Decidedly not my favourite part of any of his stories. What WAS my favourite thing was the two main characters, Lady Brockenhurst and Anne Trenchard, the mothers/grandmothers working to protect their families and their late children’s reputations. I had incorrectly assumed that the protagonists would be the young lovers, and though that would have been fine, Anne made a much more interesting lead. I followed this read with a viewing of the TV version shown on CBC Gem last year – delightful!
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
China Dolls by Lisa See
Five Wives by Joan Thomas
Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
The Huntress by Kate Quinn
The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
I have learned this year that historical fiction is my ultimate literary comfort and joy. Most of these picks came from Anne Bogel’s The Modern Mrs. Darcy blog from March 3 – see here. Not a single one disappointed and most ended up as one-sitting reads because I could not be stopped once I got into the plot. If I were to have to choose a top five, they would be:
1. The Gown
2. The Book of Lost Names
3. The Kitchen Front
4. Five Wives
5. The Huntress
Fair warning, none of these books are light and fluffy because history is mostly not light and fluffy. Head to contemporary fiction if that’s more your jam!
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
This is one I never would have picked up if it wasn’t for Laura Tremaine recommending it on her podcast, 10 Things to Tell You. She described it as “mermaid horror” and said, “this is weird, but hear me out.” I did hear her out, it was as weird as she described, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was different from what I usually read so it was a fun palate cleanser.
You can listen to Laura’s conversation on this book with the ladies from the Currently Reading podcast here. I’ll be bringing Laura up again a bit further down on this post!
A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
I see quotes from Mary Oliver’s poems all over Instagram, so I decided to read her work in context. I was not disappointed. Simple, profound, often very funny, and infinitely quotable, Oliver’s work is sublime. I look forward to reading more!
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff
The Season by Kristen Richardson
You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe
It only took me three years to finish Chernow’s epic Alexander Hamilton, having started it while I was in Copenhagen in 2018. It is both a masterpiece and way too long. Hamilton truly is a fascinating figure. It was comforting to read about the antics and partisan politics of the late 1700s and realize it’s all still the same and they were no less petty than we are now. The pithy tweets and opinion pieces of today are simply the pamphlets and “anonymous” newspaper articles of yore.
I followed Hamilton with Alexis Coe’s George Washington biography, You Never Forget Your First. It was the perfect choice. Coe, the first woman to author a biography of Washington, comes for Chernow and his fellow “Thigh Men” – male biographers who tend to wax a little too poetic about the physiques of those like Washington (in good fun, though I’m sure she has succeeded in putting many knickers in a twist). Coe’s work is sobering, cheeky, and impeccably researched. If more history was written or taught like this, people might enjoy it more.
The Only Plane in the Sky was equal parts devastating and fascinating. An oral history of 9/11, it is told through the words of the people who lived through it (gathered through years of interviews). I was nine years old on 9/11 and have a vivid memory of when my mom shook me awake that morning and parked me in front of the TV to watch the news. Because of my age and naivete to what the World Trade Center was, I knew almost nothing of what really happened over the course of that day, particularly outside of Manhattan on Air Force One, in the White House, and at the Pentagon. Because of this book, I have a more fulsome understanding of that day and how it changed our world forever.
A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal edited by Sarah Bessey
The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman
The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr
The Universal Christ by Father Richard Rohr is one I am going to need to buy so I can come back to it over and over as I experience more of life and grow spiritually. Rohr explores the sacred in everything and the journey “learning to recognize the Creator’s presence all around us, and in everyone we meet.” (Quote pulled from the summary on Amazon.ca)
Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First by Laura Tremaine
The Dance of Connection by Harriet Lerner
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Akeson McGurk
Women Food and God by Geneen Roth
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather confirmed that I am meant to be a Scandinavian parent, sending my children to forest school, and telling everyone I meet about the benefits of outside nap time. The more I read about the differences between North American and Scandinavian schooling and approaches to childhood, the more I want to leap off this continent and run screaming to Sweden. Perhaps this is a case of confirmation bias, but this book cemented my thinking that things would be better if we could take a hard turn out into nature, invest in childcare that keeps kids active, and generally loosen our collected terrified grip on our kids.
Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First is the debut book from a writer and podcaster I have listened to every week for seven years now, Laura Tremaine. Share Your Stuff is comprised of ten questions designed to facilitate connection and deeper conversations, and just like the title suggests, Laura goes first by answering them. I read this book with a group of women whom I met on the internet last year in a Facebook group for Laura’s podcast, 10 Things to Tell You. We spent months meeting on Zoom every Monday night sharing our stuff and it was nothing less than magical. Laura even joined us one night and stayed for a full hour to chat!!
Good Apple by Elizabeth Passarella
Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey
My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper
My Own Words was different than expected. I thought it was an official autobiography by RBG; instead, it was a collection of addresses and legal writings that encompass RBG’s incredible life and career. I most enjoyed the snippets of writing from her early life as a young student in Brooklyn.
Miracles and Other Reasonable Things was a deeply moving read, Sarah Bessey’s account of a devastating car crash she miraculously survived. It’s a story of anguish, recovery, learning to live with chronic illness and injury, and how a single moment irreversibly changed her entire life, from the spiritual to the professional.
Night by Elie Wiesel should be compulsory reading. One cannot read his story and not be plunged deep into contemplation of life, justice, God, and the lived horrors of fellow human beings.
The Beauty in Breaking was my one disappointing read of the year so far. It was an NYU Alumni book club pick this spring. It’s tough to critique an account of someone’s lived experience and I by no means am trying to pass judgement on Dr. Harper. The premise, a series of reflective essays by a doctor experiencing a divorce and rebuild of her life at the same time as her residency, was enticing, and the first part of the book is wonderful. Unfortunately, I think her editors could have made some different choices. Overall, I found it to be a little too heavy-handed in triumphs over adversity, glossy silver linings, and convenient teachable moments.
Strange Bedfellows by Ina Park
The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang
A history of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, Strange Bedfellows was gross, fascinating, and hilarious. Awesome for learning about various STIs and their impact on society, especially in the context of this COVID-19 pandemic where many of us are personally learning more about public health than we ever wanted to.
I was intrigued by Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign and his backing of universal basic income (UBI). The War on Normal People was an interesting read, especially during this pandemic where UBI was implemented via stimulus cheques in the US and the CERB in Canada. I’m curious to learn even more about it as a viable principle to support people as automation becomes ubiquitous.