Top Reads of 2021
We’re approaching the end of the year, which means it’s time to take a look back, and the most fun part of that is looking back on the year’s reads! I’ve read 51 books thus far (just one shy of my goal!), most of them classics and nonfiction, and apparently most of them were good if my average rating for the year is 4.5 (thanks Goodreads).
I want to share the books that you’ll most likely find interesting, so this part one will be mostly fiction and the nonfiction that can be applied to writing, and I’ll do a part two looking at the more worldview-/theology-/life-related books on Within the Static for those who are interested in those as well. (There might be a couple of overlap books that end up on both lists.)
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The Longest Book I read this year was Mistborn*, which was fantastic. I haven’t gotten around to reading the rest of the series yet (mostly due to an issue with my library), but Mistborn is solidly on my list of book recommendations when people ask. The worldbuilding, characters, and plot are all excellently crafted and balanced beautifully with one another so that you never feel like any one was lacking or overpowered the others. It’s just a great book, and if you haven’t read it then I highly recommend it.
The Most Popular Book I read (according to Goodreads) was Frankenstein*, which… I honestly wasn’t that impressed with. I think I was looking for it to explore different themes than it did, so I was disappointed and felt rather like it squandered its potential. And I wasn’t a fan of Victor’s angst. But those are matters of personal preference, so… eh. It might have been fine, I suppose, I just wasn’t a fan.
There are books I read this year that would make my favorites list, but since they’re rereads I almost feel like that’s cheating. So here’s a separate section for those.
I kicked off the year rereading Giants: Sons of the Gods* by Douglas Van Dorn and God Against the Gods* by Brian Godawa, which I ranked 5-stars and 4-stars respectively.
Giants: Sons of the Gods is a fascinating look at the biblical Nephilim and the historical and biblical evidence behind them, and one of few books of its kind as far as I’m aware.
God Against the Gods looks at the storytelling techniques used in scripture and the ways that the biblical authors subverted the stories and imagery of the cultures around them, which is also super cool. I didn’t totally agree with all of Godawa’s conclusions on some of the topics he covered, but the information behind them was fascinating and worthwhile.
Later in the year, I reread Sounds of Deceit* by Hannah Heath, Dear Author by Laura A. Grace, and Adorning the Dark* by Andrew Peterson. (I reviewed Adorning the Dark after rereading it, since I’d failed to review it the first time.)
Top New Reads
This book is so cool. It’s a look at different categories of/uses for imagination, as defined and exemplified by C.S. Lewis. It’s particularly insightful for creatives whose living comes from imagination, but it has value for anyone since we are all imaginative in at least a few of the ways described in this book.
Plus, the central theme of Lewis’s works means that it has some fascinating insights on his work and the way he wrote some of his projects in particular.
I’m not usually a big fan of sci-fi set in space, but this is how sci-fi in space ought to be done. The cultures in this book aren’t just strange alien creatures for the sake of having alien creatures; they have bearing on the world and the story for their unique features and values, which is how all good worldbuilding should be. Not to mention that the idea of a sci-fi retelling of Sherlock Holmes is just a lot of fun.
How did it take me this long to finally read this book? Malfunction* is a gritty dystopian story that emphasizes the sanctity of life in so many different ways, and its characters are all so well-rounded and real in their strengths and struggles. Malfunction is rough around the edges, so it’s probably not for everyone, but it’s so well done and the grit of it helps to communicate the type of world where it takes place, and the types of characters that world creates. It’s excellent.
I’ve already talked about this one* before in my post of worldbuilding resources, so I won’t go into too much depth, but Brennan’s background in anthropology gives her study of worldbuilding such depth and detail that might otherwise be missed. (Fair warning: a couple of chapters in here are somewhat mature by necessity, but it’s handled as tactfully as possible in the context and those chapters are easily skipped.)
Reading The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis inspired me to read The Space Trilogy and I am so glad I did. Out of the Silent Planet* hooked me with its worldbuilding. (Cue the gasps of shock.) The world of Malacandra and its different species with their cultures and languages was so cool, and it’s a focal point of the story as Ransom is a philologist and he finds those things fascinating. As a reader, you get to experience that wonder right alongside him and learn the same lessons he does by interacting with these strange cultures.
Perelandra‘s* strongest point was the theological debate that takes center stage as Ransom has an extended intellectual battle with a creature attempting to corrupt a world that never fell from its Edenic state of paradise. I believe firmly in the Doctrines of Grace and the concept of predestination, but if ever an argument were to persuade me otherwise… it would be the argument laid out in Perelandra. It was such a thought-provoking read.
And then we close with That Hideous Strength*, which is powerful for its insight into fallen human culture, depravity, and the spiritual conflict behind the earthly conflict that we so often see. It brings the ideas of the series out of the theoretical, the fantasy of other worlds, and into the reality of the world we’re familiar with. It’s super cool.
Anyway. This is one of my new favorite series, and I think it’s highly underrated as Lewis’s works are concerned. XD
I committed a reader felony with this one and watched the movie first, because I didn’t realize at first that the movie was an adaptation. But after watching and loving the movie, I wanted to read the short story it was based on. And I loved that, too. This story opens up possibilities for really profound questions to be asked, and while they aren’t perfectly resolved here because the full truth is missing in a secular story, they are fascinating questions to consider and seek out answers to. (I actually wrote a whole blog post about unfulfilled desires in YA films, which was inspired by this movie.)
The movie is somewhat different from the short story, but the movie was written by the author of the short story, and their differences lead to the two mediums complementing one another and adding depth to one another. Which is, in my opinion, the mark of a great adaptation.
(The book and the movie do both have PG-13-level language, so fair warning on that.)
Y’know what… Let me just grab my review for this one*.
Solomon. Parvin’s relationship with Solomon. The themes. The portrayal of faith. The WRITING (so many great lines, man. I need a second copy that I can underline and mark up to my heart’s content). THE ENDING. WHAT WAS THAT. I NEED BOOK THREE ASAP. I hugged this book at least once. I paused many times to squeal or let emotions settle. Have I mentioned SOLOMON??? And there were so many moments, especially toward the end, that gave little peeks at shalom and were so heartwarming and encouraging and real, and I loved those. I loved A Time to Die and I related to Parvin and I loved the faith elements and the worldbuilding and Jude… and A Time to Speak is even better. I would give it six stars if I could. I still related to Parvin. I still loved the faith elements and the worldbuilding, and I liked Solomon even better than Jude (even though Solomon didn’t have a tune chip) and everything that was done so well in the first book was somehow even stronger in this one. It’s simply amazing and encouraging and challenging and needs to be read by everyone.
*cough* I liked it a lot.
(Also, Nadine is one of my favorite authors ever. She’s such a cool human.)
I’ve been reading tons of Lewis’s and Tolkien’s work since the middle of last year, starting with a reread of The Lord of the Rings in July, but I really got going with last December with The Horse and His Boy, and I just… kept reading books by and about the two authors all of this year (and, at least according to my TBR, I’m still going). This collection of essays* was so much fun to read… but my review probably encompasses it all best.
These essays were a genuine joy to read. Lewis had a depth of thought that seems uncommon these days, and it’s refreshing to read writing by authors like Lewis or Tolkien or others with similar worldviews and experience that depth. He also has a great wit, and in his response to James Stephens’ criticism of Chesterton it was so much fun to see Lewis thoroughly dismantle Stephens’ criticisms while still making it abundantly clear how much respect he held for Stephens’ work in general. It also makes me happy to read Lewis and Tolkien’s thoughts in regard to each other’s work; it’s fun to catch a glimpse of how thoroughly they supported each other and how genuinely they enjoyed each other’s stories.
Tolkien and Lewis are both so great to read, and I can’t wait to continue reading their work.
I’ve been meaning to read Plato’s work on Atlantis for years and never got around to finding it, but I finally found a couple free translations this year after reading through Ezekiel and noting similarities between the description of Tyre and what little I remembered from my shallow peeks into Atlantis previously. These dialogues are fascinating. Not only is the Atlantis story intriguing (and it does bear some similarities to Tyre and its curse), but Plato also includes a large portion of dialogue dedicated to the supposed origins of man, and while they’re largely ridiculous… there are some really interesting details that bring scriptural truth to mind.
Since I knew I’d be making note of the parallels between Atlantis and Tyre, I printed out these dialogues, and it ended up far more covered in notes than I’d expected, on a variety of topics. So I had a lot of fun with this one.
I borrowed Renegades* from my best friend years ago and it had just been sitting on my shelf until a few months ago when I finally picked it up… and it was great! I really enjoyed the thoughtful consideration of issues and the nuance that was acknowledged with regards to the issues presented in a world with superheroes. The ending was weak and out-of-line with the rest of the series, but the majority of all three books was both fun and thought-provoking… which is something often lacking in YA fiction these days.
Look! Tolkien! This is one of two works by/about Tolkien that I read this year, the other being J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, and Religion by Richard Purtill (which was also really good, but this list is already long XD). The Tolkien Reader* includes, among other things, On Fairy-Stories, Leaf by Niggle, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.
On Fairy-Stories is a must-read for any speculative fiction author. Tolkien’s thoughts on the purpose of fantasy and imagination are well-worth reading.
Leaf by Niggle is a great commentary on the life of an artist and the importance of that life as well as the art that comes out of it… because art does come out of life. I quite enjoyed that story.
And I was excited to read The Adventures of Tom Bombadil because I’m waiting on C.R. Wiley’s new book In the House of Tom Bombadil*, which looks amazing… plus I just love Tom’s character in The Fellowship of the Ring*. The actual poems were a bit hit-or-miss for me, personally, but they were fun to read and I should now have a fuller understanding of the character when I read Wiley’s book.
A friend of mine first recommended Phantastes* to me probably a year ago, and then it kept coming up again in conversation with him… and, having read it, I can see that it was for good reason. XD He finally pointed me over to a place to read it on Project Gutenberg, and then it took me forever to read simply because it was digital. XD But I promise that my slowness in getting to it was not a reflection on its quality. Everything about this book is beautiful, from the themes to the story itself to the setting to the prose… And the beauty has a depth to it; it’s beauty in the best sense, of showing truth as it is with skill.
I was actually reading Phantastes at the same time that I read On Fairy-Stories, and they added so much to one another because Phantastes is such a complete example of all of the concepts Tolkien discussed in his essay.
I would recommend Phantastes to pretty much everybody… and it’s worth reading more promptly than I did. ;)
There you have it! A bunch of my favorite books from this year. Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?
What were some of your favorite books this year? (For those of you who are bloggers and have posted your own lists, you’re welcome to share a link in the comments!)
5 thoughts on “Top Reads of 2021”
Love this! So many great book recommendations I’ll have to check out!!
THE OUT OF TIME SERIESSS!!!! Those are actually my all time favorite books (with obvious reasons…such as Solomon…) 😉😍 I haven’t read any of these other books but I’ll definitely have to check them out! (Especially Mistborn…if I ever finish The Way of Kings. *headdesk* We’re getting there…page by page.) XD Thanks for sharing all of these recommendations and I can’t wait to add them to my TBR!!
Solomon is AWESOME. Out of Time doesn’t *quite* make the very top of my list, just because there are so many awesome books and things like LOTR are hogging the top. XD But it’s definitely amongst the best books I’ve read!
Mistborn is SO GOOD. I really need to read the rest of the series, and then check out Sanderson’s other works. The hype around his books is definitely warranted, from what I can tell. XD
I hope you enjoy them!
I have been kind of nervous about reading Supernova for ages, cause I think it will disappoint me or at least dissatisfy me. I don’t know how this series could be wrapped up well! And it looks like some of my fears are true, judging from your mini review. Which is okay, being warned might help ease the blow I might get. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed this trilogy overall! I LOVE the first two books!
Yeah, the ending read like Meyer was forced to change it. It was really thematically out-of-place after the whole series. Which is frustrating, and if that is the case then I’m really not impressed with her publisher. XP But up until the end, it’s still really good! And after you read it you can just rewrite the ending however you think it ought to have ended. XD