This year was one of the best reading years in memory. Not only did I read forty-four books, but so many of them were just wonderfully good. Over the summer I discovered, Alta Journal, a quarterly publication focused on the literary impact of California and the West, just in time to join in their inaugural California Book Club, which introduced me to fellow Californians I may not have otherwise read. One of those books, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, made my top five. Incidentally, four out of my top five books were set in California. You can visit my full reading list here.
It was hard to just choose five favorites, but if I have to choose, here they are in no particular order.
1. The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster, 2018)
2. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (Simon & Schuster, 2016)
3. How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang (Riverhead Books, 2020)
4. Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework (Algonquin, 2020)
5. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (Berkeley, 2019)
These aren’t the only books I’d recommend. Ann Leckie's use of a first-person omniscient point of view in the Ancillary Justice series and the world-building in N.K. Jemison's The Fifth Season series were both mind-blowing, and James S.A. Corey's latest edition to The Expanse series, Tiamat's Wrath was the best one yet in a series that I am obsessed with; and The Song of the Jade Lily was a beautiful story about Austrian Jewish refugees in Shanghai during WWII with a well-crafted plot that didn't circumvent the harsh realities, but left me overwhelmed with a sense of love in the end.
Many of the books I read had themes of grief and loss and characters dealing with the total upending of their worlds. During this turbulent year, these books were touch points of encouragement and inspired me towards reliance and tenacity. They helped teach me how to live through hard times, and that, as Glennon Doyle is fond of saying, “We can do hard things.”
Of course, sometimes you need a break, an escape that gets your heart fluttering, and there’s no better genre for that than romance. This year, I discovered that sometimes I desperately just need to read a romance novel. Knowing that whatever conflict there seems to be between the characters, they’ll wind up together and happy—meant to be—is a strangely comforting balm. I don’t know about you, but I needed some kind of certainty this year, and romance novels were a dependable place to turn, as silly as that may seem.
I hope you’ll add some of these books to your reading list for 2021. If you do, reach out and tell me what you think.