My Favorite Books Read in 2021

By Wednesday, January 05, 2022 , , ,

Happy 2022, friends and readers! Taking time each year to reflect on my reading of the previous year and anticipate another year of reading ahead has become a favorite annual habit of mine. The world remains in a strange state, and my reading life continues to show me evidence of that. I read a lot in 2021 and even found whole new groups of friends who came together specifically to read (I see you, dear Membership!). But, in smaller ways, I can see how I’m still working my way back from the upheaval that 2020 brought on my reading life, not unlike the rest of the world!

I was surprised when I realized almost all of my favorites this year were nonfiction. But then I was less surprised when I noticed that I re-read almost entirely fiction, and most of them old favorites at that. I purposely gave myself a lot of space for re-reading this past year, and I’m so thankful I did! The bracing magic and comfort of Narnia, Hogwarts, Austen, and Tolkien did wonders for me in 2021, even while the many new books I read stretched and challenged and delighted me like only books can.

Another fascinating anecdote for me to notice was that among those new books were the number of poetry volumes. More poetry than I’ve ever read, in fact! I partly credit Wendell Berry’s poetry with saving my sanity in 2020, and since then, it’s spurred me on read more. I’m now glad to count several volumes of poetry among my favorites of the past year and look forward to stretching this newer love even more. I hope you’re also inspired to pick up something new from my lists, and I’d love to hear what you think I should read in 2022!

Total Books Read (new to me): 37!

Books Re-read: 11 –

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 by Winston Graham

Format Stats:

I was fascinated when I looked back my format choices this year. I listened to the audiobook for only five books out of my 37 new reads (about 13%), and I read exactly one on my Kindle, and that was only because it was an advance copy and not available in any other format! In years past, audiobooks have typically upped my totals by between 20 and 30 percent. But then I realized that if I included my re-reads in my total this year, this still might technically be the case, as I listened to quite a few of them. My Kindle, however, clearly continues to get the short end of the stick. I think I must still be recovering from so many dreaded Zoom calls.

Other Fun Stats:

Male-authored books: 16

Female-authored books: 20

(Note: this breakdown accounts for one book being a compilation of short, devotional essays authored by many men and women, so I didn’t include it in this stat)

Most-read author: Wendell Berry (4 books)

Shortest book: Understanding Baptism, 80 pages

Longest book: The Distant Hours, 562 pages

Favorites of 2021

Courage, Dear Heart by Rebecca K. Reynolds: This was my first read of 2021, and what a timely one it was. Rebecca Reynolds has become one of my favorite writers for The Rabbit Room, and this book contained all I now expect of her: compassion, honesty, love for the whimsical and power of story, and determination to help her readers see good in the world. Her vulnerable wrestling with God’s goodness amidst the world’s brokenness within these pages certainly helped me see some such good. If your soul feels weary, this might be the book for you.

This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson: I’m indebted to Sarah Clarkson’s writing for drawing my eyes up to the good and beautiful and for somehow speaking directly to my heart’s longings and struggles. In this part memoir and part theological study, she shares candidly about her long struggle with mental illness to show her readers how God is remaking a fallen world. Her skill with words has helped me put language to what I’ve believed about beauty and stories my whole life. A lovely musical note, a heart-wrenching story, or a mightily beautiful landscape have always had the power to steal my breath and give me what she calls “knowings” – a bone-deep certainty that good and beauty ultimately overcome evil and that something greater transcends our hurts and fears.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry: After soaking in Berry’s poetry for so much of 2020, I approached his fiction with some carefulness, probably because I knew it would be as profound and wise as it did prove to be. His rich weaving of place and powerful yet quiet prose invited me to see place and the present as tools for glimpsing and preparing for eternity. Hannah Coulter left me with questions like, “How can I use my everyday spaces to point people towards what's beautiful and sacred? How can I intentionally tether my rhythms to the good and lasting?” Not many writers pull together the simple and profound so well as Wendell Berry, and I’m grateful for how this skill of his challenges my everyday human choices.

The God of the Garden by Andrew Peterson: Here’s a good rule of thumb: read everything Andrew Peterson writes! Or listen to it since he also writes songs! His love for Jesus offers a truly humbling example in this book as he shares his story and many spiritual reflections on trees. Each page pulses with his desire for his readers to be spurred on by Christ’s love to love their people and their places well, arguing that as one flourishes, so does the other. He presents a compelling case for how people were given the earth to cultivate and how the beauty we make in it now heralds the future remaking of the whole earth and its people. With each tree sketched, poem shared, and personal anecdote recounted, whether wryly funny or deeply personal, Andrew draws readers’ eyes towards the coming Kingdom saying, “It’s near! Look at all these seeds of it already here! Cultivate them and look for the buds with hope!” I’m certainly looking more closely because of this book. 

After Prayer by Malcolm Guite: Malcolm Guite wins the title of my poetry guide for 2021, and a worthy guide he’s been. He wrote this volume largely in response to and in reflection on George Herbert’s poem, “Prayer.” His verses invite readers to seek their own communion with God through prayer and to notice how faith in Christ gives eternal significance to an everyday life lived in faithfulness.

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation by Luci Shaw: I picked this up on a whim during my long-awaited visit to Goldberry Books (again, I see you, dear Membership!) just before Christmas and it then ended up landing as my final completed book of 2021. And what a book to end the year on. I’ve rarely encountered a writer as skilled at wrestling huge, divine, incomprehensible ideas into actual words as Luci Shaw. This little volume of poems stole my breath for fresh wonder at the incarnation and the weight of Christ’s sacrifice. I can’t recommend it enough.

Honorable Mentions:

Home Going: Poetry for a Season by Carolyn Weber: Carolyn Weber wrote some of my all-time favorite memoirs, so I was quick on the draw when I heard she’d also written poetry. This may be a slim little book, but its verses paint grand and gorgeous word pictures about faith, life, death, creation, family, and redemption.

Remembering by Wendell Berry: More rich reflections from Berry in this little novel on place, home, and rootedness. I particularly appreciated his focus in this one on trust, and how a full life often hinges on moving forward in trust. And spoiler alert: the final few pages make me weep.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien: If you’ve not yet made this part of your regular Christmas reading, please change that in 2022! For many years, Tolkien wrote detailed letters with illustrations to his children styled as letters from Father Christmas. They are magical, funny, and so thoroughly and delightfully Tolkien.

Shadows of Swanford Abbey by Julie Klassen: Julie Klassen’s novels have offered a reliable and romantic escape for me for years now, and this one became a new favorite. An old Gothic abbey-turned-hotel in the English countryside proved an ideal setting for a murder mystery. A wholesome romance and redemptive themes for many of her richly drawn characters made lovely cherries on top. I’m already looking forward to her next one.

Happy reading, friends! I’d love to know if any of these caught your eye or what recommendations you might have for me for 2022!

2021 Book List (new-to-me books, listed in the order completed):

Courage, Dear Heart by Rebecca K. Reynolds

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Reality Hunger by David Shields

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Mother to Son by Jasmine Holmes

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Georgana’s Secret by Arlem Hawks

The Word in the Wilderness by Malcolm Guite

The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Remembering by Wendell Berry

What Does it Mean to Fear the Lord? by Michael Reeves

The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry

After Prayer by Malcolm Guite

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Understanding Baptism by Bobby Jamieson

A World Lost by Wendell Berry

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot

Heart in the Highlands by Heidi Kimball

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

The God of the Garden by Andrew Peterson

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

The London House by Katherine Reay

Rescue Plan by Deepak Reju and Jonathan D. Holmes

Dorothy and Jack by Gina Dalfonzo

Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

Shadows of Swanford Abbey by Julie Klassen

Home Going: Poetry for a Season by Carolyn Weber

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Weary World Rejoices, edited by Melissa Kruger

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation by Luci Shaw

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