The Best Books I Read in 2021

My annual reading goal over the last handful of years has been set at 30 books. Not overly ambitious, but enough to require me to pick up books consistently. Unfortunately, when 2021 was said and done, I ended up falling a bit short of my 30 book goal. The first time in half a decade that I missed the mark. But 26 books is better than no books, and I did enjoy a handful of truly fantastic reads.

Here are the best books I read in 2021.

by Takashi Hiraide

A beautiful slice of life story with timeless themes that’s also being alive at a specific place and time.

It’s about aging, loss, grief, unknowing, being left behind by the world around you, and the beauty of the mundane. It’s quiet, subtle, and gentle.

I felt a connection to the main characters that helped me fall in love with the book, but I think it’s also just one of those books that’s easy to love in general. Especially if you’ve ever had an animal friend like Chibi, the titular guest cat, in your own life.

What makes The Guest Cat even easier to recommend is how short it is. In the mood to pick something up that’s thoughtful and contemplative, but might not want to commit to a giant tome? Give this book a try.

by James Clear

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that after reading Atomic Habits I got in shape, saved $50k in a year, and cured some ongoing mental issue. There are no miracles here. What is there, though, is good, practical, actionable advice founded in scientific research. It’s more helpful than your average pop science book, but more scientific than your average self-help book.

Atomic Habits is easy to recommend to anyone actively looking to improve their habits. The core tenet of the book — that the best way to change is by constantly repeating tiny amounts of progress at a time — is all at once inspiring and sensible.

by Hiromi Kawakami

I first read this book in the summer of 2020 and spent most of my 2021 reading life trying to scratch the same itch this book did. I read another book by the same author and a small stack of books that I saw others comparing Strange Weather to.

While I enjoyed plenty of what I picked up, nothing landed in quite the same way, so eventually I gave up and read this book again. And, just like in 2020, it ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year.

Strange Weather is just such a wonderful, moving story about feeling behind in life, loneliness, and finding human connection and meaning in unexpected places. It’s honest, sweet, mysterious, and more than a little cozy. I got just as much from my second reading as I did my first, and I know I’ll end up revisiting it again someday. I love this book.

by Greg Egan

I read Egan’s Permutation City a few years ago, and it made a lasting impression. The ideas in that novel were big, often difficult to grasp, and philosophically and morally challenging.

Quarantine proved just as interesting, and I’d argue that it’s a more accessible, thanks largely to some popular narrative elements. There’s a PI with a dark history, and a missing person he was hired to find. The (great) world building gets done while the main character is going through procedures familiar to anyone experienced with the mystery genre. But after about a quarter or so of the novel, the story takes a turn, and the science and philosophy quickly become the stars of the show.

The core of the book explores some of the implications of the observer problem in quantum mechanics, which I am not even moderately qualified to talk about or attempt to explain. And I’m sure anyone who is qualified to talk about it would wave off the science in Quarantine as impossible, far-fetched, or misguided. (And if they wouldn’t, this book’s premise immediately gets more frightening.)

While I enjoyed all the hard Sci-Fi elements, what I liked most of all was more metaphorical. The idea that every time you make a choice and act on it, you are effectively killing off all the versions of you that made different choices, and where you exist today is a result of the elimination of all of those possibilities. You are the ongoing, ever changing result of your constant choices. But those choices aren’t made in a vacuum, they are heavily influenced by your environment, another idea that Quarantine explores.

by M.K. Reed and Greg Means

It’s been years since I have read comics with any amount of regularity, but Penny Nichols reminded me just how magical the medium can be.

Nichols is full of character, great art, humor, and heart. It’s a kind of quarter life crisis late-coming-of-age story about finding your place after it seems like everyone else has already figured out theirs.

It’s also a salute to working together to create art, even when it seems like no one will ever see it. And it’s definitely a love letter to shoestring budget filmmaking. Basically, it checked a lot of boxes for me, and I loved it.

While I do wish I would have pulled it together and hit my no-one-cares-about-it-but-me annual reading goal in 2021, it’s nice to look back and some of the highlights from what I did finish. Hopefully you found at least one book on that list that you add to your to-read list for 2022!

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