At the start of 2021, I set myself a goal: to read 45 books by the end of the year. I am majoring in history and often read a book or two a week for my classes. This kind of schedule is exhausting and makes me associate reading with work. I missed reading for fun and wanted to get back into the habit of reading for fun. In the eleventh month of my literary journey, I now have the wonderful habit of reading fiction every night before bed. Even if I’m having a bad day, I know I’m going to end it with a good story. So, here are the thirteen best books I’ve read this year, and why you should read them too!
- “She is defeated” by Wally Lamb, is a magical book. Every time I read it it gets better. The book is a beautiful and original coming-of-age story of Dolores Price, a fiery character whose voice you won’t forget. Delores tells the story, using her dark humor to describe things like “roasting in hell like a roast chicken”. I love this book with all the fibers of my being. It changed the way I think about self-esteem and acceptance, as well as the often unexpected directions life can take you in. Memorable excerpt: “It was a matter of perspective, I began to see. The whole world was mad; I flattered myself that I was a semi-finalist.
- “Where the crayfish sing”, by Delia Owens, lives up to its reputation; all the rave reviews are true. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Owens’ evocative imagery accompanies a murder and coming-of-age story set in the swamps of North Carolina. It is a powerful ode to nature, loneliness and consuming desire. Favorite Excerpt: “There are some who can live without the wild things, and others who cannot. “
- “Kinship,” by Octavia E. Butler, is a must read. Dana, a black woman living in California in 1976, is suddenly transported to the pre-war south to save the life of a slave owner’s son, Rufus. Throughout the book, she is pulled back and forth in time, and she must understand the strange connection between her and Rufus before it’s too late. Memorable excerpt: “Nothing in my education or my knowledge of the future had helped me escape. Yet in a few years, an illiterate runaway named Harriet Tubman would make nineteen trips to this country and lead three hundred fugitives to freedom.
- “The pink code” by Kate Quinn, it’s like “The Imitation Game” on steroids. Quinn tells the story of three women working undercover at Bletchley Park (a top secret British intelligence post) to crack the Enigma code during WWII. When a traitor appears, the trio must bring him down. The book is suspenseful, brilliant and badass. Memorable quote: “No one should tell their mother more than a third of everything they do. “
- ” A Midsummer Night’s dream “ by William Shakespeare, is awesome. I had never read a Shakespeare play cover before, and this fantastic work of art is a perfect gateway to the world of the bard. I read the book the night before bed and found that my reading experience started to blend into my dreams afterwards. Memorable excerpt: “And although she is small, she is fierce.
- “The half that faints” by Brit Bennett, tells the story of identical twins who grow up in a small black community in the South whose paths diverge as adults. While one sister, Stella, poses as White and lives in a suburban white community, the other sister, Desiree, is stuck in the same town where she grew up. The story takes twists and turns with every turn of the page, and comes with insanely beautiful handwriting. Memorable excerpt: “His death struck in waves. Not a flood, but water splashing steadily at his ankles. You could drown in two inches of water. Maybe the grief was the same.
- “Atonement,” by Ian McEwan, has one of the finest prose of any book I have read. The book stars thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis whose colorful imagination leads him to make a horrific mistake that will ripple through time. Throughout the book, McEwan takes a fraction of a second in time and develops them over ten pages, exploring every detail and perspective. Memorable excerpt: “Wasn’t writing a kind of flight, a realizable form of flight, of fantasy, of imagination?
- “The guest list”, by Lucy Foley, is a thriller reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”, except that it’s modern and a lot more fun. The story takes place on a remote island off the Irish coast, where a happy couple have a destination wedding. However, before the weekend is over, a guest is murdered. It was an exciting read, and it combined all of my favorite things: weddings, mysterious murders, and fabulous writing. Memorable excerpt: “But everything revolves around the moment, a wedding. Everything about the day. It’s not really about marriage, despite what everyone is saying.
- “The goldfinch”, by Donna Tartt, takes the classic frame of maturity and overturns it. The protagonist, Theo, is an unlikely and accidental art thief who navigates a world of first-class criminals while trying to heal from the loss of his mother. Memorable excerpt: “You can look at a photo for a week and never think about it again.” You can also look at a photo for a second and think about it all your life.
- “Read the beach”, by Emily Henry, is exactly what her title promised. When I picked up the book, I expected it to be a romantic comedy with no literary merit. I was wrong! Henry tells the story of two writers who take a journey from enemy to love as they attempt to write a book in the genre and style of others. Henry does an amazing job making his characters look like real people, and nice people. Memorable Snippet: The protagonist, January, reflects on an ex-boyfriend and says, “He fit into the love story so perfectly I imagined I took him for the love of my mother.” life. Powerful stuff, Emily Henry.
- “Ask again, yes” by Mary Beth Keane, is another romance novel, but it’s darker than seaside. It begins as the classic story of a Girl Next Door with friends, until a gruesome tragedy divides the families of lovers, building a Montague vs. Capulet dynamic. Over the years, the two families struggle with the idea of moving on. Can you really recover from a tragic and heartbreaking incident? And can you forgive the people who left these scars on you? Memorable excerpt: “We repeat what we don’t fix.”
- “Chandelier,” by Raven Leilani, is a story of desire so intense and vivid that it sparkles. The book stars Edie, a struggling woman in her twenties who has an affair with a married man, then moves into her home with her family. She forms a relationship with the family’s adopted daughter, who, like Edie, is black in a white suburban neighborhood. Leilani’s handwriting has a dark side and she knows how to make her reader feel the words on the page. Memorable excerpt: “I couldn’t tell if I liked being alone or if I had only endured it.”
- “The echo maker”, by Richard Powers, has been on my list for a while. Powers wrote one of my favorite books, “The Overstory,” which rightfully won the Pulitzer Prize for its revealing writing. Karin, the protagonist of “The Echo Maker”, takes care of her brother after he suffered a brain injury. The twist: her brother thinks Karin is an impostor pretending to be his sister. Powers mixes neuroscience, nature, prose, and family in a story about finding truth in messy situations. Powers’ writing is truly transcendent and has changed the way I think about the natural world and our place in it. Memorable excerpt: “Time has not aged you; memory has done it.
“Fates and furies”, by Lauren Groff
“Station eleven”, by Emily St. John Mandel
“Perplexity”, by Richard Powers
Halle Newman can be contacted at [email protected]. If you have any book suggestions, contact her!