The Books of 2021, and Four Good Ones for Your 2022 Reading List

This is my second annual effort to chronicle my year in books, and while this overall exercise again is more of a personal endeavor I don’t expect you to care about, I did try to again pick out a few that really stood out to recommend for your 2022 if they are not already on your radar.

So here goes with my recommendations, and my full 2021 list follows below.

Four Standouts to Consider for Your 2022 List

The first two are individual book recommendations, and the other two by Fredrik Backman and Attica Locke are recommendations for both for the individual book and the author more broadly.

For both Backman and Locke, I now have read all their books (including a second on my 2021 list from each of them) and they all have been great. As much as I am recommending the specific books below, any of their books would be great additions to your reading list.

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

  • An amazing work of historical fiction that begins with two half-sisters in the late 1700’s at the height of the horrific slave trade in what is now Ghana.
  • The lives of the two half-sisters take very different paths in their home country, and the book then follows each of their descendants for seven generations culminating in the present-day United States and Ghana.
  • The evolving cast of characters in the book lives through a lot of shameful and sobering history of our country and world over those 200+ years, and this is a history we all need to understand in the context of our overdue reckoning with racial injustice, but this is also a tale of inspiring resilience in the face of that injustice over the years. And just a great book.

The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America, Bill Bratton and Peter Knobler

  • Good, accountable policing is a critical part of a safe and healthy community, and this memoir gives a roadmap based in actual experience of how that can be done while acknowledging we too often have fallen short of the profession’s ideals, particularly with people of color.
  • Yes, Bratton has a big ego that he freely acknowledges, and he may at times be overstating the impact of his policies, but he has a real track record of success in multiple jurisdictions that is rooted in some compelling principles and processes. Agree or disagree with his full premise, this is a very timely and important book that underscores the interdependent relationship between good policing, community trust, and community safety.

Anxious People, Fredrik Backman

  • Essentially a modern day, adult version of the Breakfast Club.
  • This is a great and timely read in this era where “us and them” narratives too often are shutting us down from even trying to talk to and understand people we disagree with or believe are different.

Heaven My Home, Attica Locke

  • A Black Texas Ranger is tasked with finding the missing son of an ardent white supremacist in an East Texas community with a particularly deep history of racial injustice that is still playing out.
  • A great book that, like Locke’s other books, is both a solid page-turner and thought-provoking for our present times.

The Full 2021 List

The choices above were the standouts for me last year, and below follows the full 2021 list of books, in a much more organized presentation than the much more random order that I read them.

Building on a great year of reading in 2020, I set a new personal record of finishing 26 good books in 2021, and are all good reads:

Just Good Books: Fiction

Anxious People, Fredrik Backman

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman

News of the World, Paulette Jiles

Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson

The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel

The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

Thought-Provoking Nonfiction

Civilization, Niall Ferguson

Leadership in Turbulent Times, Doris Kearns Goodwin

Talking to Strangers, Malcom Gladwell

The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America, Bill Bratton and Peter Knobler

The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee

The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke

Chicago History

Chicago’s Great Fire, Carl Smith

Murder in Canaryville, Jeff Coen

Mysteries and Thrillers

A Time for Mercy, John Grisham

Broken, Don Winslow

Heaven My Home, Attica Locke

In the Woods, Tana French

Pleasantville, Attica Locke

The Killing of the Tinkers, Ken Bruen

The Man Who Came Uptown, George Pelecanos

The Night Gardener, George Pelecanos

Silverview, John le Carre

Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman

One thought on “The Books of 2021, and Four Good Ones for Your 2022 Reading List

  1. Couldn’t agree more on Attica. If you haven’t discovered him yet, I can’t recommend highly enough Andrew Vachss…who worked as a community organizer in Uptown decades ago, but made his legal career defending abused kids in New York. His Burke series is phenomenal, and his more recent Cross series is set in Chicago. Sadly, he died right before Christmas, so his output has ended, but his 40+ books will live in as his legacy!

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