Every year, I try to pick a reading list with a good mix of fiction and nonfiction because I have no idea what kind of mood I’ll be in that year. Sometimes, I lean into fiction because I need an escape. Others, I lean into nonfiction because I want to learn about things I don’t understand or haven’t experienced personally. Also, switching gears is good for my brain. It keeps me thinking critically about what I’m reading, what perspectives the authors are bringing, and how they’re executing those perspectives with literary devices. (Once an English major, always an English major.)
2021 seemed to be a year with more fiction for me. Guess I needed an escape. Not surprising considering the world we’re living in right now. The global pandemic that changed life as we once knew it is still raging. We’re experiencing major cultural shifts as we fight for racial justice and LGBTQ+ rights while those who maintain the status quo desperately try to force progress back. And the natural world around us is rapidly deteriorating. It’s a chaotic whirlwind, to say the least.
It’s no wonder, then, that the fiction I found myself choosing this year was all over the place. From retellings of ancient myths and cheesy yet steamy romances to slasher movie parodies and Japanese folklore, I was digging everything and anything. The one thing that connected all of these choices was that I prioritized variety with the things I read. I wanted to expand beyond the comfortable and familiar, and in doing so, I found that stepping out of my comfort zone was thrilling.
Let’s take a look at some of my discoveries, shall we?
These were the books in 2021 that I absolutely loved and highly recommend.
Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex (Nonfiction) by Angela Chen
Prior to reading this book, my knowledge of asexuality and the “ace” identity was limited. The author helpfully breaks down asexuality and aromanticism, showcasing these expressions through personal experience while also noting that not every ace experience is the same. My biggest takeaway? I never realized how much our social interactions are rooted in compulsory sexuality. I mean, I did to a point, but seeing it through an ace lens made it all the clearer.
Interior Chinatown (Fiction) by Charles Yu
Truly the most unique book I read this year. I haven’t encountered anything like it before. It’s structured like a screenplay, and the story follows a man who finds himself constantly in the role of “Background Oriental Male,” though he dreams of being “Kung Fu Guy.” The author cleverly uses Hollywood typecasting and tropes to explore the racial and societal struggles of Asian-Americans. And apparently, this is going to be adapted into a TV series. I can’t wait!
Red, White & Royal Blue (Fiction) by Casey McQuiston
I have never laughed out loud while reading. Until this book, that is. This queer rom-com is about the son of the U.S. president falling in love with a British prince in an enemies-to-friends-to-lovers type story. It’s funny, it’s sexy, and I voraciously turned the pages. If you need a light, happy read or a beach read, give Red, White & Royal Blue a try. Casey McQuiston is a delightful writer, and I think they’re one of my favorite romance authors now. I read their other book this year, too (See below).
The Song of Achilles (Fiction) by Madeleine Miller
I love Madeleine Miller’s storytelling. I read Circe in 2019 and was blown away by her fresh take on the Greek myth. So, of course, I had to go back and read her first novel, The Song of Achilles. Told from the point of view of Achilles’ friend, lover, and confidant Patroclus, the story is less about the Trojan war (Been there, done that) and more about the budding-turned-everlasting relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. The way Miller immortalizes their love and tragic fate…just hauntingly beautiful.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Nonfiction) by Isabel Wilkerson
After the murder of George Floyd and the protests his death sparked in Summer 2020, there were all kinds of book recommendations shared for anti-racism education. This was one of them. This impeccably researched book covers one of the most under-discussed events in American history—the Black migration north following the end of slavery, which spanned the Jim Crow Era all the way up to the Civil Rights Era. This migration set the stage for so much of the racial inequity and police brutality we see today, so it’s a must-read for being informed.
More books I dug in 2021…
- Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquz (Fiction)
- Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips (Fiction)
- Exhalation, Ted Chiang (Fiction)
- The Final Girl Support Group, Grady Hendrix (Fiction)
- Here for It (Or, How to Save Your Soul in America), R. Eric Thomas (Nonfiction)
- Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, John Paul Brammer (Nonfiction)
- Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot, Mikki Kendall (Nonfiction)
- The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin (Fiction)
- My Heart Is a Chainsaw, Stephen Graham Jones (Fiction)
- The Office of Historical Corrections, Danielle Evans (Fiction)
- One Last Stop, Casey McQuiston (Fiction)
- Shit, Actually: The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema, Lindy West (Nonfiction)
- Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison (Fiction)
- The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett (Fiction)
- When No One Is Watching, Alyssa Cole (Fiction)
- Where the Wild Ladies Are, Aoko Matsuda (Fiction)
- Yearbook, Seth Rogen (Nonfiction)
- You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington, Alexis Coe (Nonfiction)
Not My Bag
I really only had one book in 2021 that was just kind of “meh” for me. I finished it and wasn’t sure how to feel. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t memorable either.
- Days of Distraction, Alexandra Chang (Fiction)
And here we go, 2022!