My Top 5 Books of 2021

1.13.2022


 “She’d spend her time preparing for her future, living in books until the exciting part of her life would begin. Things would matter then. In fact, everything would be different.” 

Mary H. K. Choi, Emergency Contact


As we settle into the new year, I continue to find comfort and inspiration in books. While looking back on my reads from the year past, I identified five books that stood out to me for their insight, daring, or entertainment. As promised, here are my top five books of 2021.

 

1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson


Following her Pulitzer-Prize winning examination of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson’s second historical investigation delves into America’s caste system.  In Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Wilkerson argues that racism in the United States must be understood through caste to fully comprehend its impact on our national policies and our individual biases. She explores the caste systems of Nazi Germany and India to illustrate how populations’ acceptance of hierarchies of power normalizes and standardizes inequality. Yet what makes this phenomenon particularly insidious in modern America is its participants’ ignorance toward its existence. The author ultimately demonstrates that refusing to acknowledge caste and its role in our history reconstitutes and reproduces prejudice. This book allowed me to understand old subjects in new ways. I would be interested in future literature that expands upon Wilkerson’s research to discuss how the caste system affects Latinx and Asian Americans.


2. Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi


Emergency Contact is a contemporary young-adult love story grounded in the cultural exchange and currency of our digital age: text messages. Penny, a Korean-American college freshman, becomes the “emergency contact” for Sam, a barista and aspiring filmmaker, after she assists him during a panic attack and the two trade phone numbers. A friendship blossoms. Over text, Penny and Sam swap childhood stories, life aspirations, and fears; their ability to speak behind screens renders their frequent interactions increasingly honest, vulnerable, and trusting. When the protagonists must confront unexpected crises in their personal relationships, their interactions must migrate to the real world. Choi has a gift for crafting authentic young adult conversations and cute stories. (Oh, and isn’t that book cover gorgeous?) 



3. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi


In Yaa Gyasi’s poignant sophomore novel, a Ghanian PhD candidate at Stanford seeks explanations for her family’s grief. Transcendent Kingdom charts Gifty’s efforts to understand the OxyContin addiction that led to her brother Nana’s death and the depression that renders her mother bedridden. For her doctoral research, Gifty experiments on mice to probe what drives beings to seek certain rewards in spite of suffering. However, while pursuing scientific answers to her experiences of loss, the scientist also becomes invested in her immigrant family’s history of faith. As she recalls her childhood memories, she questions the relationship between religion and science, the strength of human will, and the meaning of life. Gyasi beautifully weaves past and present narratives to illuminate the human flaws and ruminations that characterize a journey to self-discovery.  

4. My Year Abroad by Chang-rae Lee


My Year Abroad follows the whimsical and unexpected adventures of an average college student from Dunbar, New Jersey. While working at a golf club, twenty-year-old Tiller meets the charismatic Chinese-American entrepreneur Pong Lou and makes the spontaneous decision to accompany him on a business trip across Asia. On the trip, chaos, corruption, and confusion ensue, and Tiller is grateful to make it back to the United States. But at home, his new life with a thirty-year-old girlfriend who lives under federal witness protection, Val, and her cooking whiz son, Vincent Jr., is equally unpredictable. This unique coming-of-age story examines Asian-American diaspora, immigration, capitalism, and mental health in prose that is lyrical and delectable. Despite its length, My Year Abroad is quite a fun read.


5. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande


In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande draws from public health scholarship and his own experiences as a practicing surgeon and a son to aging parents to interrogate how the field of medicine addresses human mortality. He points to the practices of nursing homes and how hospitals treat the seriously ill to contend that modern doctors too often prioritize extending lives at the expense of patients’ quality of life. Restrictive and isolating measures deny elderly and dying patients company and autonomy during their final days. Gawande beseeches us to recognize that effective healthcare requires empathy and listening to individuals’ needs, desires, and choices. Reading this book during the COVID-19 pandemic was a harrowing and eye-opening experience. Being Mortal may very well be one of my favorite nonfiction books of all time.


I’m curious: what were your top books of the year past? Recommend me your favorites! :)



41 comments :

  1. these all sounds amazing! i've only read emergency contact and actually have been meaning to give it a reread so hearing your thoughts might be my sign since i'm on a big contemporary kick atm. i've been seeing caste every where in the bookstore and (surprisingly?) supermarkets here so it's another one that's been on my maybe tbr for a while!

    riv @ dearrivarie

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    1. I definitely recommend Caste to you! And would love to hear about the books you've been reading on your contemporary kick -- I've been looking for some lighter reads recently, and Mary H. K. Choi's books have been great for that.

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  2. Emergency Contact sounds so good. I love how it explores the different dynamics that go with communicating by device.

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    1. I loved that aspect of it! Emergency Contact is so in tune with what interactions can look like for young people today.

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  3. Good choices. I read #1 & #5. My favorite book of the year was "About Time," by David Rooney.

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    1. I'd never heard of "About Time" before, but I just looked it up and it sounds fascinating! Will add to my 2022 TBR.

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  4. These sound great! Caste and Transcendent Kingdom are on my TBR. I'll add Being Mortal because it seems interesting and important. I like reading medical nonfiction.

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    1. So glad to hear that you are adding Being Mortal to your TBR! It's so, so good.

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  5. I read Emergency Contact when it first came out. I liked it. The concept of finding your "person" is one I love.

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    1. Glad that you enjoyed Emergency Contact too :)

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  6. All of these are new to me. Emergency Contact sounds good. Have a great weekend!

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    1. Thank you Cindy, I hope that you had a good weekend as well :)

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  7. I have had Being Mortal on my TBR shelf for awhile now but have yet to read it. It is one of the books I really hope to get to this year. I also really want to read Caste. I have heard many good things about it being a worthwhile read. I hope you have a great weekend and a wonderful 2022 in books!

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    1. I hope that you have the chance to get to Being Mortal, as well as Caste, in 2022! They're fantastic reads. Wishing you a wonderful weekend as well :)

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  8. wow, nice varied choice! Sounds like you had a fabulous 2021 year of reading. Happy new year!

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    1. Thank you. Happy new year to you too, Emma.

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  9. You have a nice variety of subjects here! I think Being Mortal would be an interesting read, as I work in healthcare and shake my head at so much.

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    1. Thank you! I hope that you have the chance to read Being Mortal in 2022 :)

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  10. The cover for Emergency Contact *is* gorgeous, and it sounds like a lovely story. These all sound like books with a lot to take from them. That last one sounds like it really talks about things I sometimes think about myself.

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    1. I would highly recommend Being Mortal to you, Kit! And 100% -- one thing I loved about each of these books is that they left me with something to think about.

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  11. What a mix of books! Caste sounds so interesting! It's something I certainly wouldn't have thought about in that context. I was aware certain cultures had a caste system and they have been historically observed but it's so interesting to see how the historic system could impact a whole country without anyone really even being aware it's happening. I read Emergency Contact when it first came out a whole back and the beautiful cover is definitely what caught my attention. It was such a good book though, I enjoyed it so much. I can't believe I'd forgotten about the book until you mentioned it here.

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    1. Glad that you also enjoyed Emergency Contact, Becky, and I hope that you have the chance to pick up Caste in 2022 :)

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  12. I've not heard of any of these books but they all sound really interesting, especially Being Mortal. I think a lot about the ethics about prolonging human life, and issues like euthanasia. Emergency Contact sounds like a sweet story.

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    1. Being Mortal and Emergency Contact are both so excellent! I hope you have the chance to pick them up :)

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  13. All of these books sound so good. I'm especially intrigued by Emergency Contact and My Year Abroad! I'll definitely be adding these two books to my TBR list. And thanks for commenting on my blog earlier! :D

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    1. Hope you have the chance to read them in 2022 :)

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  14. I've been so curious about Emergency Contact. It's nice to know it made your top five books of the year!

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  15. I've always liked the cover art for Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, and after reading your review I just might check it out! It's cool that your Top 5 books is a nice mix of genres.

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  16. Oh, Emergency Contact sounds great.

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  17. Wonderful reviews! My Year Abroad and Emergency Contact both appeal to me.

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  18. Amazing reviews! Some of my favorites were Vespertine, Empire of the Vampire, The Rose Code ...

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  19. I remember when Emergency Contact released a few years back and being intrigued by the premise. I'm so glad it was a hit for you!

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  20. All of these are new to me, but I really love the sound of Emergency Contact. Hope you have a nice weekend :)

    xx
    Vanessa @ Blushing Geek

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  21. I haven't read any of the books on your list, but all of them seem unique. Emergency Contact has a very contemporary, but interesting synopsis indeed.

    Hope you will have a wonderful week ahead!

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  22. I read Emergency Contact and have Transcendent Kingdom on audio to be read soon.

    I'm glad you found books to get lost in this past year. I was the opposite and really struggled to read.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

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  23. I haven't read any of these yet but I have Emergency Contact on my shelf just waiting to be read. I am so glad to hear that it ws one of your top reads this past year.

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  24. I've read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and have seen Transcendent Kingdom around, but I never really had the drive to read it. You may have just convinced me to put it on my tbr! I did love Homegoing.

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  25. I've heard great things about all of these books, but I haven't read any of them yet. *Sigh* So many books, so little time...

    Susan
    www.blogginboutbooks.com

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  26. I hope that you enjoy all of these! Emergency Contact is one of my favourites and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. :)

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  27. Being Mortal is a book I recommend to lots of people.

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  28. Being Mortal sounds like an interesting read. My father died of colon cancer and never had a treatment for it. He said he would rather live his life not sick from all the poison ( as he called it ) that they put in your body than have a few extra months and be sick all the time. I do believe that the extra time that chemo and such gives you isn't always the best option.

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