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21 Books to Get You Through 2021

by Michelle Calhoun, on Jan 27, 2021 11:21:06 AM

I don’t know what you threw yourself into to get through 2020 (baking banana bread? buying things you don’t need off of Amazon? maybe you even adopted a quarantine pup?), but I’m pretty sure we all searched for something to guide us through quarantine. 

For me it was books.

If I was anxious I was searching for the latest must-read book. If I was overstimulated from being around five kids all day while holding my job down, I was hiding in my bed with a historical fiction novel. Recently I’ve even started going on early morning winter walks with my Husky while listening to an audiobook. 

So, needless to say, I read more in 2020 than I ever have in my life. And since 20 Life Changing Books to Read in 2020 is one of the most read posts in The Sauciety Pages, I am here with a new list of recommendations for you! You may notice a shift from the previous year — this list leans much more on fiction than nonfiction. All I can say is sometimes reading stories with characters in another place and time is very therapeutic.

Before I get into the list, however, I do want to give you some tips if reading more is one of your New Year's resolutions.

First of all, being patient enough (and having the ability to sit still) is a skill that many of us are losing because of our phones! You know what I mean. Our attention span has changed since we are so used to rapid entertainment (hello, TikTok). That being said, if you really want to retrain your mind to slow down and enjoy reading, you will need to be patient with the process and instill some discipline.

Here’s what I do:

  1. I don’t allow myself to read with my phone in arms reach — it’s also on silent.

  2. If I am really struggling with my mind racing, I set a timer for 20 minutes and allow myself to not think of or do anything else but read until the timer goes off. Just like meditating or going for a run, you don’t really hit your “stride” and calm the monkey brain down until 20 minutes. So if you can get in the practice of reading for no less than 20 minutes at a time, I promise it will help.

  3. If reading puts you to sleep, don’t read in bed! Pick a cozy reading corner in the house, drink some tea, and sit up.

  4. If you have trouble going to sleep at night, DO read in bed

  5. Audiobooks are awesome. I like to read my fiction, but listen to memoirs or nonfiction. You can do this while cleaning, cooking, exercising, and organizing. My kids and I love to listen to classic children’s tales while doing puzzles. 

  6. If you are in a reading slump, start with a thriller. I hadn’t read much of this genre until last year. There is nothing that will get you reading faster than a page turning mystery.

  7. Not good at choosing books? I realized for the longest time I didn’t like reading because I wasn’t reading great books that were worth my time. Ask your local librarian, bookstore clerk, or sign up for a book subscription (options are endless, but my favorite is Book of the Month).

Now for the list! In no particular order, here are 21 books worth reading. I tried to cover multiple genres so that there is something for everyone.

1. Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning by Leslie Odom Jr.

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Listen up all you creatives and/or Hamilton fans: Leslie has graced us with the insight of his journey and the roads taken (or sometimes not). The creative life is not an easy one, but pursuing your passion is always worth the toil and his book reminds us of this.

2. Promise Land by Barack Obama

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Political parties aside, you will learn something from this! Barack is clearly a gifted teacher, as he explained many parts of the political process that I never understood. I will warn you, however: this is 700 some pages… and he said this is only part one! I preferred listening to all 29 hours of this and then realized I was missing out on the pictures or ability to go back and reread a quote, so I purchased the book as well.

3. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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Not a new book, but a timely one. There are many things in life that benefit from stress and disorder, from human bones to the economy and revolutions. Nassim identifies that which is “antifragile” belongs in a category of things that not only gain from chaos, but need it in order to survive and flourish. As we experience what felt like the world crumbling around us in 2020, his book gave me insight into how and why these seismic cultural shifts happen and how we can grow stronger from it.

4. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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I don’t mean to brag, but the second I finished this book I told my husband, “This is going to win book of the year.” Here's what happened:

  • It debuted at number one on The New York Times fiction best-seller list.
  • HBO acquired the rights to develop a limited series with Bennett as executive producer.
  • Won the National Book Foundation Award.
  • President Obama’s Favorite book of the year
  • Book of the Month Readers Choice Award
  • Best Book of 2020 by New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, People, Time Magazine, Vanity Fair and Glamour
  • Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction

5. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

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This wins the book I laughed the hardest during. Not many books are laugh-out-loud worthy, but Irby’s third book of essays takes the cake. She is too real, raw, and relatable to think otherwise and I love it.

6. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

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This was definitely my favorite nonfiction I read this year. This is a book to sit with and digest slowly. The truths that she brings from her native culture into the modern day and our lack of respect for nature has opened up my mind and heart to the need for reciprocity in the symbiotic relationship between the earth and our own lives. I had the privilege of being able to say all of this to the author directly on a Zoom call and seeing her face when she realized how much her book meant to me was my highlight of 2020.

7. What Can I Do? by Jane Fonda

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Feeling absolutely powerless about climate change and the future of our planet? Me too. In fact I had avoided reading anything about climate change since it just gave me anxiety and I didn’t know what actions to take. Every chapter of this book ends with actionable items and resources and I have never felt more hopeful for change.

8. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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This is less of a whodunit and more of a why-did-they? It is a fascinating look behind the mind of an unlikely killer. And my favorite part about this? You don’t see the end coming.

9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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I am embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t read any Morrison until 2020. The Bluest Eye was the perfect introduction to her work. I highly recommend listening to this on audio as she is the reader. There are parts of this that are hard to swallow just like the racial injustices that have and still exist, but seeing it through a child’s eyes is a perspective you won’t soon forget.

10. Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

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The title is the sole reason I picked up this book. Imagine a world where it is someone’s lifelong punishment to literally eat the confession of the dying. Apparently these existed somewhere in Britain until a century ago. Cream for envy, honey cake for heresy, pigeon pie for poisoning, gingerbread for sacrilege etc. In this tale a young girl is punished to fill the shoes of her predecessor only it doesn’t turn out the way she expects.

11. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

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Hannah is known for creating characters that are complicated to say the least. This book follows a family as their Vietnam Vet father takes them to live life truly off the grid in Alaska. This story haunted me for weeks afterward.

12. The Paris Hours by Alex George

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One of my favorite story arcs is when multiple characters’ lives follow a certain path and then interlace and each of their stories overlap at the end. Nary a book has done this finer than The Paris Hours. While I got a little lost in the beginning following so many different story lines, the convergence at the end was everything.

13. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

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I know. Two books on climate change?! I have included Greta’s book because a) many people know who she is but haven’t read a word of what she has said and b) it is short. So if you want to be inspired by one of the youngest world leaders of our time, this is the book to get you started.

14. Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

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The most interesting tale of the unlikely heroine, Bride Devine, an Irish woman detective wears a dagger strapped to her thigh, smokes a pipe, and solves murders by reading corpses and talking with ghosts. Set in Victorian England, there is folklore, humor and a love triangle and I would love to see this as a movie.

15. The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

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Fan of The Handmaid’s Tale? This read is for you. A dystopian novel that I’m still not sure takes place in the future or the past, the main character, Immanuelle Moore’s existence is blasphemy. I had the privilege of meeting this author virtually and I am so excited to see an author  explore their gifts with their whole life in front of them

16. Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

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The third book in the line of stories following the characters from Practical Magic (but chronologically, the first — you know, like Star Wars), this book wins best novel of the year for me personally. I cried. The expressions of love (and hate) were so strong. You can not NOT find yourself attached to these characters.

17. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

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A heartbreaking story of friendship in a matriarchal village on a small Korean island. Imagine a world where the men stay home to take care of the babies and the mothers and daughters and wives go out to dive into the ocean to earn a living.

18. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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This curious and quirky book is a classic tale with words that twist and taunt. It reads like Dr. Seuss on steroids. Milo is a young boy who is bored with life and hates school. If that doesn’t ring true in 2020, what does? Listening to Rainn Wilson (aka Dwight from The Office) read this on audio is a must.

19. The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V. E. Schwab

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Addie makes a deal with the devil so that she can live free and unattached to anyone or anything. What she actually gets is a spell that makes no one remember her. What good is it to be free of attachment if no one knows your name or can remember you after looking away? Beautiful ending.

20. The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

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This book is not for the faint of heart — or stomach! This gruesome murder had me on the edge of my seat until the last page. A killer leaves clues by making his victims look like a chestnut man (which is apparently a thing?) minus a limb or two along the way. If you are on the murder hype train that has seen a resurgence in the last five years you might like this.

21. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

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Trevor Noah’s memoir makes it to the top of every “best audiobook to listen to” list. Set during the twilight of apartheid, Trevor shares how his very existence was a crime with a Swiss father and a Xhosa mother. My favorite stories are always the ones with his grandmother and you’ll love the voice he uses to narrate for his younger self.

I may have spent a little too much money, but never too much time reading books. I'm so grateful that they were always there for me through such a hard year! Oh, and my goal for 2021? 100 books. I don't plan on stopping anytime soon!

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Topics:Storytelling