I didn’t quite reach my reading goal of 50 books in 2021, but I read some amazing books nonetheless. And 2021 was the year I started to embrace audiobooks a little more—partly due to a Libro.fm membership that I forgot about for many months—and listened to a whopping six of them. At the end of 2021, I made the switch from Goodreads to The StoryGraph for tracking my reading (more on that in a different post, probably).

Here are my favorite books that I read in 2021, in no particular order:

1. The Street by Ann Petry

Genre: Fiction – African American

The Street was first published in 1946 and is regarded as a classic. It tells the story of Lutie Johnson, a young, single Black woman who is doing her best to raise her son in Harlem in the 1940s. She’s surrounded by poverty and racist inequities at every turn, and the reader can’t help but feel her desperation through the pages.

The Street was moving and gripping; it even felt like a thriller at times. It also reminded me a bit of another classic, Native Son by Richard Wright. Both of these novels were excellent and memorable to me, which is essentially what I base my top books of the year on. No real criteria, just vibes.

2. Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Genre: Fiction – Contemporary

When I want to read a contemporary fiction book, Ghosts is the type of book I have in mind. Dolly Alderton perfectly captured much of the millennial woman’s thoughts, struggles, fears, tensions, awkward moments of realization…all of it. I’ve seen Ghosts described as a “romantic comedy” but I thought the writer was smarter than any romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. I truly cherish this book and all the ways it represented the 30-something woman’s life with dating woes, aging parents, strained friendships…again, all of it.

3. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Genre: Fiction – Literary

Girl, Woman, Other won the 2019 Booker Prize. I hadn’t finished the first part of the book before I understood why. I’d never read anything like this book and I haven’t since. The book is written “in verse,” which I thought would annoy me, but I became used to it and got sucked into what felt like a long (very long), beautiful poem type of storytelling. Girl Woman, Other touches the modern intersections of identities and does so through the interconnected lives of a group of Black British women. It’s an epic read, and not just because of its length.

4. Talking Back to Purity Culture by Rachel Joy Welcher

Genre: Nonfiction – Christian

The idolization of virginity and marriage within the Christian church is at the top of the list of things that grind my gears. I grew up in church but didn’t grow up in “purity culture,” so I was interested in the perspective of someone who had. Talking Back to Purity Culture was one of my most anticipated 2020 releases, and I hoped that Welcher would rightly explain the Christian sexual ethic while also examining how “purity culture” perverted and damaged that.

I thought she did an incredible job reclaiming a biblical version of Christian sexuality, one that leaves behind hurtful and unbiblical illustrations and expectations. I’ve read a few books that caused me to think, “I wish every Christian—single or married—would read this book.” This is one of those books.

5. If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Genre: Fiction – African American

I would call If Beale Street Could Talk a classic, and not only because it was originally published in 1974. James Baldwin, in all his literary brilliance, created a Black love story that is both wonderful and devastating, both stunning and bitter. I don’t have much more to say except that I can now watch the movie in peace.

6. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Genre: Fiction – Historical

If I *had* to pick one favorite for 2021, The Great Believers would be it. Just…wow. That’s what I said when I closed it at the end. To me, the acclaim that this book has received is well deserved. It’s a dazzling and tragic tale about how the AIDS crisis in the 1980s impacted so many, including the group of friends at the center of the story.

I’ll just quote a portion of my review now: “The Great Believers is largely about the devastation of the disease but covers much more. It touches many of the ways love can betray you and champions the value of chosen family. Complicated mother-daughter relationships, the unique desolation that the AIDS epidemic and the U.S.’s response to it caused, the complexities of working in the art world and academia…this book has it all. It left me aching and in awe. It’s one I won’t stop thinking about for a while and probably won’t forget. It took me forever to finish but it was worth every minute I spent.”

7. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Genre: Fiction – Young Adult, Mystery

I usually won’t touch Young Adult books with a 10-foot pole, but Allegedly piqued my interest. It tells the story of Mary B. Addison, who killed a baby—allegedly. It’s a true page-turner.

8. Gentle and Lowly by Dane C. Ortlund

Genre: Nonfiction – Christian, Theology

Who is Jesus Christ? The answer to this question is everything for the believer. Gentle and Lowly is a theologically rich and delightful book about the heart of Christ that draws the believer back to the heart of Christ.

It’s not an easy read and I wasn’t able to breeze through it. But I’m glad it forced me to slow down and savor the words. My small group at church read through this book together, and it was moving to hear how it touched everyone else and caused them to reflect on Christ’s love. My overall feeling after reading this book was, “Wow. Jesus is kind and loving. He is just and holy, but also tender and patient. Oh, how I love him.”

9. When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Genre: Fiction – Mystery

It seems that 2021 was the year I embraced my attraction to the mystery/thriller genre. I was hooked with When No One Is Watching. The story is about the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood that is a more sinister situation than it first appears. I couldn’t put it down.

10. The F*** It Diet by Caroline Dooner

Genre: Nonfiction – Health

I hope everyone can get past the title and hear me out. The F*** It Diet is the anti-diet book that exposed the lies of diet culture to me and helped me embrace a sustainable, body-neutral way of eating and living. I listened to the audiobook and, while there’s a lot to unpack, it’s a helpful gateway into re-examining your relationship with food.

Just like diet culture itself, I’m sure the book is not without its flaws. But it played such an important part in introducing me to the concept of intuitive eating and opening my eyes to the reasons diets don’t work. I might one day tell the story of how this book changed my life.

Although my favorite books ended up being mostly fiction, The StoryGraph showed that I actually read more nonfiction in 2021.

Happy reading! Let me know if you plan on reading any of my favorites.

To see my reviews all year, follow my Bookstagram and add me on The StoryGraph.

For my favorite books of 2020, click here.

For my favorite books of 2019, click here.

For my favorite books of 2018, click here.

For my favorite books of 2017, click here.