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For me, 2021 was the year of good books. Though I won’t drone on, I’ll just say that in 2020 I thought I could read 52 books. I only read 14. I didn’t have high hopes for 2021, so I set out to read 21 books. Somehow though, this year, I read some of the greatest books I’ve read in my entire life. So here they are for your viewing: ranked and reviewed. 

Emma by Jane Austen

This is an absolute classic. Despite having wanted to read it for years, I could never get myself through it until I was at the beach for two weeks this summer, and I just plowed through it. It ranks first on this list and on the list of my favorite books I’ve ever read. Ever. High praise.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

This book was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for a reason. Switching between NYC and Philadelphia, it provides a rich portrait of a family shattered by tragedy. 

Kim Ji Young Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Decades from now, we’ll probably look back on this book as a historical relic. It focuses on Kim JiYoung, an everywoman for South Korean women, as she faces harassment and sexism in her daily life. It’s maddening, infuriating, and breathtaking.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This book is wild. I don’t really know how else to put it. It’s about a group of students at an elite, small New England college studying under the tutelage of an eccentric professor. We start off learning one of them has died, and what follows is an in-depth and disturbing look into their dynamic. I was so perplexed by it that I spent the entire following month scouring the internet for podcasts, interviews, and articles where Donna Tartt discussed it.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Ahh, the only nonfiction book that I read in 2021. It’s a little embarrassing considering I always thought that I read a ton of nonfiction books. Still, this is a great one to pick up if you want to create and stick to positive habits or break negative ones. It’s the perfect read for heading into the new year.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

I read this book in my Arts of Adaptation class. The course focused on iterations and adaptations of classic stories or tales. This book is a modern adaptation of Snow White, but Oyeyemi breathes such life into it, you might not even realize its roots. 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Okay, this was clearly the year I got into Ann Patchett novels (thank my mom). Similar to Dutch House, Commonwealth focuses on the family dynamic. However, rather than focusing on a small family unit, Commonwealth dives into the chaotic, messy, slightly disturbing lives of an ever-expanding family. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I finished this book in only a few days, and when I picked it up, I definitely didn’t realize I would tear through it. Taylor Jenkins Reid is probably one of the best writers alive right now (you cannot convince me otherwise). This book focuses on heartbreak, death, sexuality, and more through the lens of a fictionalized tell-all memoir of the legendary starlet, Evelyn Hugo.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I just finished this book, like I just finished it. And just like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I absolutely ripped through it. This book picks up on the lives of Mick Riva, a famous singer and previously a character in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and his children. We jump back and forth between when his children were younger and to the night of a legendary party they threw.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

This book. I can’t decide if I liked it or not, mainly because I didn’t like the main characters. But unlike The Secret History, I didn’t hate these characters either, insofar as they were not evil. They were just unlikeable, and that makes for a pretty compelling read.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

This is a weird one. We follow an unnamed protagonist as she struggles with depression and mental health issues following her parents’ deaths. She’s greatly unhappy with her life and sick of it all. Her solution? Sleep for a year. Not much happens in this book, no building plots, but it’s so dreamlike and readable. Moshfegh’s prose is sure to pull you in. 

1984 by George Orwell

This is another classic. It took a while to get into, but the disturbing content and familiarity grab your attention. I also read this on the beach which begs the question: can anything be a beach read? 

Writers and Lovers by Lily King

This is another book that every single person in my family wouldn’t stop talking about. Naturally, I had to check it out. It was actually the first book I read once I moved to NYC in the spring. It focuses on an aspiring writer who’s facing grief, heartbreak, potential romance, and an unfinished novel. 

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

This one’s a collection of short stories, and if I can offer any advice, don’t try to read it all at once. I understand how easy it is to get sucked into disturbing stories and haunting prose, but I think you’ll enjoy it more if you force yourself to read it piece by piece. This collection covers horror, beauty standards, relationships, trauma, and more. 

Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Another classic. Need I say anything else? You know this one. I thought it was fine, not great. In all fairness though, my friend spoiled the ending during a FaceTime call. When I told her I was reading it, she said something along the lines of, “Wasn’t [SPOILER] a crazy ending?!”

Anxious People by Frederik Backman

Another recommendation from my mom (and all the other adults in my family). This one was sweet and restored my faith in humanity (kind of). Backman weaves together the lives of individuals who have nothing more in common than the fact that they’re in a hostage situation together. Don’t let the setting scare you though, the book isn’t horror or psychological. It’s a slice-of-life novel set in Sweden, and it’s pretty heartwarming. 

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

My friend recommended and lent this one to me. It’s a modern Pride and Prejudice adaptation set in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s funny when you and your friend to whom you’re very similar share completely different reactions to the same piece of literature. This was that. This book didn’t do it for me. I found the specific adapted and modernized aspects strange in contrast to Austen’s original piece. Still, my friend raves about it to this day, so don’t cross it off your list on my account. 

We Should All Be Mirandas by Chelsea Fairless and Lauren Garroni

I am not ashamed to include this on my list! That was a mantra and affirmation. I am slightly embarrassed to be including this on my list. During quarantine, I got into watching Sex and the City and listening to Sentimental in the City, a special collection of podcast episodes from Sentimental Garbage. TLDR: I got sucked into the world of SATC and realized that I, in fact, am a Miranda.  And I recommend this to any other Miranda.

Love, Comment, Subscribe by Cathy Yardley

I’m not a big fan of modern-day romance novels. I’ve discussed this with a few friends and have come to the consensus that while we love books that include romance, we find romance novels hard because this one love is at the center of everything – it is the book. But that’s not true for Love, Comment, Subscribe. This book is for anyone who likes richly written descriptions, books in which secondary characters aren’t so secondary, California, or the friends-to-lovers trope.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Okay, not my favorite by any stretch of the imagination, but this book is absolutely blowing up on TikTok. And one of my friends read it and couldn’t stop raving, so again, I must ask, what do I know? Check this one out if you’re into workplace romance, women in STEM, sunshine/grumpy trope, enemies to lovers (kind of), fake dating, prestigious universities, or Kylo Ren (because this was originally a Kylo Ren fanfic).

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

As we near the end of the list, I cannot pretend that these last two books were ones I enjoyed. Still, I will say, this is YouTuber, Uncarley’s, favorite. That’s almost enough for me to give it a second chance, and it should be enough to convince you to still check it out. This book has been compared to Normal People in terms of the writing and the commentary.

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

Okay, this is a weird title. I’m pretty sure I saw it on some Buzzfeed list long ago, and it just stuck in my brain as being of interest. The concept is interesting: a single woman who has summers off goes to various countries to have adventures and romantic flings. This is actually a memoir and although I wasn’t the biggest fan, it’s still pretty okay. 

Here’s to many more books in 2022! Please do not be deterred by these rankings. You cannot really go wrong with any of the books from this list. Happy reading :)

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Ruby Zeidman

Columbia Barnard '24

Ruby is a sophomore at Barnard College. Although she's currently undeclared, she loves to write and is an avid reader. She enjoys running, spending too much on iced coffee, and exploring NYC.
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