top (and bottom) reads of 2021

I write with only two books remaining to fulfill my reading goal of 50 books this year. What will they be???

In the interim I’ve compiled my top (and bottom) books of the year. I found it difficult to identify a collection of favorites after having read so many great books this year. It’s also a difficult list to make because the books at the beginning of the year are largely forgotten, and those at the end of the year take up more space in my brain.

I learned some things about reading too. As we know, talking about reading and actually reading are two different hobbies. As are buying books and reading books.

I did my best to stop reading popular books just because they were available. This is a work in progress.

I also learned that I don’t know how to explain the genre or type of books I like to read. I can tell people I’ve read 50 books this year and that’s their favorite follow-up question—what I read. Still looking for an answer but I’ll try to explain as I go along. See what you think.

New Year’s is a time in which I brainstorm intentions for different areas of my life. One in 2021 was reading. My reading intentions were to read from a variety of perspectives, authors and experiences. I feel confident in having done this in 2021. 2022 intentions to come.

Top Reads

In no particular order, except that Lily King is my favorite and number one:

Number One – Lily King Herself

I discovered Lily King this year when the Christmas tree was still up in our house. I want to say I wish I’d known her longer but she probably came into my life at just the right time. My first LK was Euphoria after thinking it was the story on which Zendaya’s TV show was based. I was maybe 2/3 of the way through the book when I realized that in no way are the two entities related.

But by that point I was intrigued by the intellectual eroticism of the novel. The rest is history.


About a woman who travels to Papua New Guinea and works in the field. Based on the life of Margaret Meade. Love triangle among three anthropologists.

Writers & Lovers

Really any book about writers, books or the publishing industry is a book I enjoy. This was no different. The main character Casey struggles with writing her book after her mom unexpectedly dies.

Father of the Rain

Main character shares a tumultuous relationship with her father. Chronicles three phases of her life with her dad–childhood, teenage and adulthood. Heartbreaking and meant a lot. In my notes I described it as a “general melancholy” book.

Five Tuesdays in Winter

King’s newest, a short story collection. Phenomenal. Quite frankly I read it too fast to fully enjoy and I will be revisiting soon. Thanks for watching.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Japanese Breakfast artist lives through the loss of her mother and the grieving process.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

About LGBTQ rights in Nigeria in the 1960s. Speaks of religion, love and mother/daughter relationships. Looking forward to reading Happiness, Like Water.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

A fictitious retelling of god Achilles from the point of view of Patroclus. Radiant! LGBTQ story.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Normal. People. Vibes. Which I need more of in my life—especially when Sally Rooney’s newest book doesn’t give that to me—more on that later. Admittedly I thought this was the book Beach Read, which I still haven’t read but that sounds fantastic. PWMoV is a contemporary romance, so fun and a bit steamy at times.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

A short Japanese novel based on the author’s reality and teeming with insights. The main character does not operate “normally” and it’s funny and entertaining and inspiring to read. In fact, my review in my notes app was “So weird.” And I meant this in the absolute best way. I need to own this novel ASAP. Read more.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Cult favorite book/movie when it comes to mental illness, coming-of-age, friendship, epistolary (told in letter form), bildungsroman (dealing with formative years or spiritual education) literature. Charlie is a freshman in high school who has experienced grief and trauma and its lasting impacts. Outstanding the way in which relationships are depicted. I know these characters.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It’s difficult—maybe impossible—to be disappointed by a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel. The romance was fantastic, the examination of culture exquisite. I did find that the end of book dragged on and introduced new characters for no reason, so I docked it about a star or half-a-star.

Bottom Reads

It’s a different kind of pain to be expecting greatness from a book and to end it with disappointment. The following are books that let me down (Granted, this does not necessarily mean I didn’t enjoy these books – just that I had greater expectations than were met):

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Every time I see this book title I shake my head. This is NOT IT guys. It’s destabilizing, betraying, and straight confusing. Read more.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Girl Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo

I don’t find stories of different yet somehow related characters very engaging. This novel is one example.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Concept 10/10. Plot 0/10. Things continued to disappear and disappear and disappear. That’s the whole story.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Simply put it’s not Normal People.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

*Sounds of people throwing their phones across the room.*

So, a quick note to self on the bottom reads: Just because a book is popular doesn’t mean I’m going to like it. In fact I’m more disappointed with books that are popular/highly recommended.

While I don’t generally discuss books on YSN, reading is a big part of my year and I love to talk about it. If you’ve reflected on the year’s reading experience for you, please feel free to leave reflections in a comment. If you’d like to see the complete list of books I’ve read this year, you can find them on my Instagram “2021” highlight.

Always more to come. Happy New Year!

P.S. in case we haven’t met…

you seem normal is a mental health medium run by 24-year-old communication professional (hello!) who… well, seems normal.  Turns out, my roommate is mental illness. Actually more like my unborn, and non-conceived baby. Because it’s like, inside of me. This is getting weird already. Topics of focus: self-awareness (we love it), mood, anger management, perfectionism, relationships & boundaries.

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