My 2021 Book Recs of the Year!

light inside library

I’ve taught high school English for the past 6 years, but to be honest, between grading multiple page essays, lesson planning, after school impromptu counseling sessions with students, commuting back and forth, meal prepping, and just trying to have a LIFE, my reading life hit the back burner. I felt like a hypocrite! Here I was commanding students to read in class (and for a grade, to boot) when I couldn’t even commit to it myself. I was always reading something during the school year, but seemed to take forever to finish, if I finished at all.

Then came my son. I wasn’t going back to work, and now with all of this free time breastfeeding, I thought, “Maybe I could get back into reading…but how?” I couldn’t really hold a book and feed him at the same time. THEN the idea came to me after much persuasion to myself. I decided to devote this season of my reading life to audiobooks. I used to think that listening to a book didn’t count, that it was like a radio show instead of an actual book. I thought, “You can’t be reading if you’re only listening!” But here’s the weird thing that we forget. If you grew up with parents that read to you, read that again. YOUR PARENTS READ TO YOU. That’s how you were introduced to reading! So, doesn’t it make sense that listening to a book IS the same as physically reading one? And that it could be a really powerful way to retain information?

It took me some time to ease into it, but now I’m on the audiobook train and you will never stop me, no no no! I still have many physical copies of books in my home that I have yet to read, and I’m slowlyyyyyyyyy making my way through those (let’s be honest, there’s nothing better than physically holding a book in your hands), but for this season of life, I am so thankful for audiobooks. I have read more since April than I have in my 6 years of teaching! YIKES! Jesus, forgive me! I use an app on my phone called Libby. I don’t purchase audiobooks because 1) I think it’s kind of weird to purchase something in a digital form, especially if you never listen to it again, 2) I would be spending $1,000,000 a year on books, 3) I love to support the local library! How Libby works is you connect whichever libraries you belong to to your account. You can browse their selection of audiobooks and immediately listen if they are available, or get on the waiting list to read one you want. The waiting list may be a bit difficult to get used to at first, but trust me – it’s so fun seeing a notification pop up on your phone that a book you’ve been wanting to read is now available! You have 21 days to read it before you have to return it, but you can always renew your loan unless someone else is waiting to read it.

You may be wondering, When do you listen to these books, Shelby? When I’m feeding Dallas, cleaning the house, putting him to sleep, in the shower, and in the car. So basically, all the time! You may find it a bit weird at first, but I promise you that expanding your mind while reading (in any form) is so worth it! It invites your mind to new places, new ideas, new concepts, and if you’re hesitant about traveling right now, reading is the perfect distraction for that! You can go anywhere in the world when you read. Just decide where you want to go and find a book that tickles your fancy. (: It’s funny, going through this list today I’ve noticed that most of what I read took place in New York City, some in Paris, and most all with a food theme. Oh, to travel again!

So I know the year isn’t over yet, but since Spotify already came out with our top songs of the year, I thought I better share my favorite books I’ve read so far in case you’re wanting to get friends or loved ones books for Christmas. Drop your favorite books you read this year in the comments, and if you haven’t already, follow me on Goodreads! It’s the BEST! Without further ado, here are the books in somewhat of a favorite order I think you should grab next:

  1. I think it’s a tie between What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty & It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover – both are completely different stories, but they both drew me in so much that I didn’t want them to end. One is a beautiful life lesson about what really should be our focus in life, and how our actions should align with our values, and the other reflects on the tragedy and mess of an abusive relationship and how difficult it is to break the cycle. I personally connected to this as I thankfully escaped an abusive situation in college before I became too wrapped up in the “man”, but I empathized so much with the main character. And many will be THRILLEDDD to know that Hoover’s book is becoming a movie! Girlfriends, you need these books!
  2. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth – I don’t know what it is with Australians, but they can write! Lol – I really enjoyed this one as well by Hepworth. I want to make my way through her books like I am with Moriarty’s right now. This one I believe also gave a sweet story about the power of family, the dangers of wealth, and how important it is to forgive. If you or anyone you know has a familial relationship that can be a bit of a struggle, I would recommend this. It made me laugh out loud with its relatability when it comes to family member quirks, and I even teared up at times, which I’d say is kind of hard to do with an audiobook. It is a mystery but not sPoOkY at all if you’re worried about that!
  3. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – Oh, goodness! This is getting so hard! Maybe this was also my favorite book of the year…I don’t know! It’s funny that with each book I read I still have my “teacher hat” on, and I do believe that this book should be taught in schools. I’d like to know what inspired Haig to write this, or if he’s a believer, because the purpose and message was so poignant. We have one life to live on this earth – we cannot waste it! We cannot live to wish and believe that “the grass is always greener”! The narrator takes you through one woman’s life and the despair she’s fallen into. She wants to commit suicide until she comes to a midnight library, where there lay before her millions of books that represent a different life she could have lived. She steps into several until she finds the one she wants. There – you think I’ve spoiled it. BUT, I haven’t! Pick it up and check it out. This is absolutely one that I will have Dallas read when he’s older. It’s a beautiful life lesson.
  4. Nobody Will Tell You This but Me by Bess Kalb – It seems that highly recommended memoirs this year have missed the mark, EXCEPT this one. I heard about this on Anne Bogel’s podcast (totally subscribe if you love books!) and I was instantly intrigued. If you are or were close with your grandmother, this one is for you. Bess tells the stories of her grandmother through her grandmother’s voice. It’s hilarious, sweet, and of course, will make you cry. I don’t know how Kalb wrote in her grandmother’s voice after she passed, but she did and it’s brilliant. It will make you long for one more day (or a thousand more) with your grandmother. It’s precious and will remind you to call her and to save her voicemails. How I wish my phone had just one voicemail from my grandmother.
  5. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle – I used to always ask my students this question in a writing prompt at the beginning of class: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It’s important to have a plan, even if that plan doesn’t go according to plan! You need direction in your life, but what happens when you go to sleep one night and have a complete CLEAR and SURREAL dream five years into the future that makes your life unrecognizable? You think, “This isn’t my life! How could this possibly be my life?” Well, that’s what happens to the main character, and you spend the book reading how their life evolves over the next five years. I think this is another wonderful book for high school or college aged people, especially those that are in a relationship. Is it the best one for you? Are you living your best life? I’m finding a theme here with my reading life – I think it coincides with my faith. Jesus came to give us life, and give it to us in its fullest (John 10:10).
  6. Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl – Now THIS is a rabbit hole I am deep within and don’t ever want to get out of. I also tried to read her other food memoir Garlic and Sapphires, but it wasn’t doing it for me. Those that know me and who follow me on Instagram (sorry in advance) know that I. love. to. cook. I’m a 4 on the Enneagram, and to me, creating a home and a kitchen where food invites others in and makes my family feel at home is beautiful to me. It brings beauty and creativity into my life. I love to make something out of mere ingredients. I 99% of the time follow a recipe (okay, I’m not THAT Italian yet to where I can create my own), which is why I also loved this book of Reichl’s because she included some of her own recipes! I actually replayed her reading them over and over so I could type them out on my computer to print and add to my recipe collection. No, you can’t have them! You’ll need to read the book! I adored her story of how she grew up loving to cook and reading Gourmet magazine, even as a 10 year old! And then later in her life, after being THE NEW YORK TIMES‘ FOOD CRITIC ARE YOU KIDDING ME, she moved over to Gourmet as Editor in Chief with NO leadership experience. Are you kidding me! How does that happen? She was made for the job and I just loved her story. And man, can she write about food! If you love to cook and love reading about food, how food brings you in and connects you to places and people, this is for you. She’s on my TBR list for the rest of her books! And now I desperately want some vintage Gourmet magazines, especially because they are no longer in publication.
  7. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber – This was delightful. Magical realism meets a southern kitchen full of coffee, pie, the smell of bacon, and sweet conversation. I listened to this as we drove into Hot Springs for our first family “vacation” (lol), and I highly recommend it as a travel read! Webber creates the town as its own little character, and the characters in it were just as believable as a pie that can make you have the sweetest dreams. (: You should read it. I’m hoping it becomes a movie!
  8. The Lies That Bind by Emily Giffin – This was one of the first fictions I began listening to and I couldn’t. put. it. down. First of all, it’s set in New York City (LOVE), second of all, it centers around 9/11, and third of all, it’s a love story. This one actually got a lot of heat from critics & readers! There’s mixed reviews on the ending, because there is a betrayal in the book, but I absolutely loved it. It really makes you think hard about forgiveness, trust, and second chances – if others deserve them or not. Of course, I could see this as a movie, too, but it was so precious that it may just be best consumed in the palm of your hand.

Honorable mentions:

Okay okay…there are SO MANY I wanted to keep discussing, and while they were *almost* at my favorites list, I found these delightful, fun, funny, dramatic, thought-provoking, but not my favorite reads of 2021 –

  1. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – My most recent read…man! That was creepy!
  2. French Exit by Patrick deWitt – This is so weird & hilarious.
  3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – Another one that I think high schoolers should read.
  4. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris (April 2022 can’t come soon enough to see this crazy in person!)
  5. Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey – His stories on his parents are one of a kind!
  6. How Y’all Doing? by Leslie Jordan – If you don’t follow him on Instagram, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR.
  7. Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny – A lesson on the power of family and what that word really means.
  8. Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen – Anyone suffering from anxiety, especially postpartum, should read this. I will listen more than once.
  9. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – I’ll listen to this more than once, too! For creators, this is a must.
  10. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist – What I’d give to sit at her NYC table while she cooks me up some stew (or anything, really) and we talk about Jesus while sipping wine. AGH!

I did read more titles, which you can find all of my 2021 reads on Goodreads. So, drop a comment below and tell me what you’ll be reading next and what I should read next! What were your favorite titles you read this year?

Merry Christmas, and happy reading. <3

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” -CS Lewis

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