With only a few weeks left in the year, I will likely read more books this year than any previous year. I’ve currently listened to about 50 audiobooks, read 7 work-related children’s books, and read about a dozen physical books this year. It still amazes me that I listened to my first audiobook only a few years ago and now I have transitioned primarily to reading audiobooks. Many of the books I read would make good gifts, so if you are looking for gift ideas for someone who likes to read, scroll along for several ideas. Here are some of my favorite books that I read in 2021. (PS please forgive any typos! As I was writing, this post took on a life of its own and became much longer than I expected.)
The best book I read in January was Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times by Michael B. Curry. I listened to the audio version of this book which the author reads himself. Bishop Curry is an incredible storyteller. I highly recommend this book for all Christians. He does an excellent job weaving personal narrative and biblical commentary, all in a prophetic voice.
I only finished two books in February and one of them still stands out as a top book I read this year. I was very impressed by Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. This book has some mind blowing science about mouth breathing versus nose breathing and the impact our breathing has on our full body health. Much of the book is reporting on some experiments the author does himself. Sometimes I was left feeling a little mystified by some of the science the author discusses and I’m not sure if it would have been more clear or better cited in a physical copy of the book. It was a little difficult to follow some of the citations in audio format. But I don’t think you should let that keep you from reading this book.
One of my most highly anticipated reads of 2021 was How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates. While I can’t really say I always enjoyed listening to it (it definitely got a little dry and overly scientific at times), it is a very important book and I’m glad I read it. For the casual reader, I wouldn’t really recommend it, but for someone looking to deepen their knowledge of the climate crisis, I would suggest reading.
I was most surprised by a book I had ordered at the end of 2020 and finally got around to reading in March 2021, Spiritual Conversations with Children by Lacy Finn Borgo. I had seen this book recommended in a ministry Facebook group and ordered it on a whim. This book truly impacted my ministry and the way I view children’s spirituality. I went on to take a 12 week online course with the author through the Companioning Center focused on Children’s Spirituality.
A stand out book this month was a wonderful collection of essays, poems, and reflections – All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. I read this book as part of a 4 week book group organized by the BTS Center. I particularly enjoyed the narration of this book which had several different female voices. The entire collection is written by women. This would be a great book club book or would make a great gift. The essays were a wide assortment of perspectives on the climate crisis, some were scientific, but many featured personal narrative, with a few even managing to use humor to navigate a serious subject.
At some point prior to May, I had a conversation about testimony with Ron, senior pastor at FCC Southington. He loaned me his copy of this book by Lillian Daniel, Tell it like it is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony. The book had been sitting on my desk for a few months before I finally opened it up and read it almost entirely in one sitting. Lillian Daniel’s writing is easy to read and well organized. She is a very good storyteller and researcher. My own interest in this book extended beyond the general subject matter of testimony. The congregation Daniel is writing about is Church of the Redeemer, which I had the opportunity to get to know in their final year of existence as an independent congregation before transplanting to other faith communities in New Haven/Hamden. Originally published in 2005, the content of this book is still very valuable today for church leaders interested in incorporating a practice of testimony.
I don’t read many new releases. I tend to be a mood reader and simply pick up whatever is easily accessible. I’m generally too impatient to wait for months on library wait lists. However, a friend was hyping a new release so much that I had to pick it up. Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe was worth all of the hype! Thanks to Deirdre Byrne for hyping this book up and getting me to read it sooner rather than later. This was also a book club pick for my unofficial JCU Alumni Book Club. I was a little intimidated at first by the heft of this book, in real life it is 535 pages according to Goodreads. I gladly listened to the author read his book instead of lugging around a heavy book during the summer.
During summer 2021, we did a special series at our church on Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints. Kaitlin Curtice was featured in this series and so I listened to her book, Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God. She did a good job balancing personal narrative with theological reflection. Curice covers some complex faith related topics and doesn’t oversimplify. I listen to a lot of faith related memoirs and this was an excellent read.
My reading life started to really pick up in July. I listened to lots of audiobooks and two of them really stood out.
I have followed Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing for a little while and this year I finally listened to The Poet X, published in 2018. Acevedo’s writing is lyrical and the poetry is so beautiful. I love her writing and even though her books are marketed as YA (Young Adult) I think they are good for readers of any age. With the Fire on High is on my TBR list for 2022!
Another book that surprised me – The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love by Sonya Renee Taylor. I think I first heard of this book from Brené Brown’s podcast. I started listening to the audiobook not really knowing what to expect. The author reads the audiobook herself and guides the reader/listener through her radical self love manifesto. I could see myself returning to this book and rereading it in order to really let the ideas and imagery sink in.
This fall I listened to three of Barbara Brown Taylor’s books. My favorite of the three I most recently read was, An Altar in the World. I recommend this book to anyone whose spiritual life is feeling stale and who is looking for new ways to connect to their faith. Having Barbara Brown Taylor read the audio version herself made it feel like I was just having a conversation with a friend. I also enjoyed Holy Envy and Learning to Walk in the Dark. Barbara did not read Holy Envy and I didn’t really care for the narrator’s voice.
I had the opportunity to serve on the launch team for a few wonderful prayer and spirituality books this fall. The first one was, To Light Their Way: A Collection of Prayers and Liturgies for Parents by Kayla Craig. I first found Kalya’s writing through her Instagram handle, @liturgiesforparents. The prayers and litanies included in the collection are beautifully written. She has done an incredible job conveying a wide range of emotions and forming them into relatively simple prayers. This would be a perfect gift to give a parent for Christmas!
One of my few re-reads of 2021 was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Originally published in 1967, I remember first reading this book when I was about the age of Claudia. She is twelve years old when she decides to run away from home because her parents do not appreciate her. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Claudia and Jamie and their adventures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Another author I ended up reading/listening to several books of this year is Brené Brown. In a few short months I listened to four of her books on audio. My favorite was Dare to Lead, which is Brené’s workplace book. Brené is an incredible storyteller and I loved the way she wove her research into real life situations in a workplace setting. This book builds on many of her previous publications and I think she has done an excellent job focusing the reader.
I try to mix in different genres and grade levels into my reading life. I especially enjoyed a middle grade children’s book, Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Book Scavenger is set in San Francisco and combines books and word puzzles, so of course it is adorable. The book is perfect for a middle school reader, but also could work for an adult to read at bed time with a younger child. One other terrific middle grade book I read this fall was See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng. I particularly enjoyed the audio version which had a full cast and the chapters were like audio recordings made on an iPod (with better sound quality, it was a plot point in the story).
We are only a few days into December, still time to squeeze in a few more end of the year reads. But I just finished listening to Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci and I knew I had to add it to this year end recap. It is one of the best food memoirs that I have ever read. I had no idea how funny Stanley Tucci was, there were several moments that made me laugh out loud. He is clearly a devoted food lover and does a delectable job describing special meals and restaurants. This book would be a perfect Christmas gift for a food lover!
If you made it all the way to the end of this reading life recap, I’m impressed. What was your favorite book that you read this year? Please let me know! I’m always looking for more books to read and enjoy talking about books whenever possible. Happy reading!