Dear Friend: how many books I read in 2021, my favorite reads of the year and my favorite winter treat. 📚
what I'd tell you if we were sitting on my porch, munching party bark & soaking up the rare gift of February sunshine
I’m imagining you’re sitting next to me on my porch, squinting in the glorious gift of February sunshine and temporary warmth. There’s the noise of trucks lumbering past and cars braking as we’re holding mugs, leaning in to chat. There’s a plate of party bark in between us, and we munch this sweet and salty treat while we talk.
I’m so glad to be here with you.
2021 was only the third year I kept track of the books I read. Before that, I was still sharing about the books I read, but my sharing felt more for other people. Keeping track of my books with a reading log feels like a gift I'm giving myself, as I write down every book I finish, not just the ones I publicly share about.
I recently tallied up the books I read over the year, wondering what the number would be. I firmly believe that reading is not a competition, even with myself. I know some people are helped by setting reading goals, but I don't think that is the right fit for me, at least not in this season.
I'm trying to learn to listen to myself more, even to the point of setting down books if I'm not enjoying them and trusting I'll pick them back up if the time is right. I already tend to be hard on myself, and I think some of the pleasure of reading would be taken away if I was trying to hit a certain number.
Even so, my (very tiny) competitive streak popped its head up, curious if I would beat my number for last year, or even 2019.
In 2019, I read 215 books.
In 2020, I read 213 books.
In 2021, I read 175 books.
I felt a little disappointed initially. But then, I had to pause and laugh at myself. I read an enormous amount of books. (Please note, if you have not already, reading quickly happens to be my mediocre superpower. The last thing I want you to take away is shame or comparison for your own reading life.) In fact, when I say the number aloud, it feels a bit ridiculous.
It may have been less than other years, but that was only one measure of success. If you measured the pleasure and comfort I received from reading this year, it was tremendously high. And I'm also measuring success in other ways.
I’m measuring success in the times where I took my time with a book or set a book down because it wasn’t working for me.
I’m measuring success with all the conversations I got to have about books, whether online, in person or with my book club.
I’m measuring success as making it through another pandemic year. Even if I read less and there were times I chose to scroll instead of read, I’m celebrating the grace of making it through a tricky, hard year.
I’m measuring success when I listened to what I needed, and chose an activity that wasn’t reading. Success was also connection with the people I love, shows watched with my husband, watercolor paintings done, outdoor adventuring, games played with my children, messages left for friends and new recipes tried.
I’m grateful I read less than other years, because I think it is a gift to notice how success isn’t just measured in the end result or in a number. In our achievement-driven society, I’m glad to remember that success is more about how I got here than what I have to report at the end. Especially in the another pandemic year, I’m celebrating the success of 2021’s reading.
I read so many good books in 2021 that it is almost painfully HARD to pick my favorites, but here are what I’m declaring as my top 12 books for 2021, in no particular order.
PS. I chose not to include any books I re-read on this list.
Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Suffering
I have learned so much about the gentleness of Jesus in the past few years, but this book took me to new depths, learning about the Lord’s gentle nature. This book felt very healing especially after some church hurt.
A short and tremendously sweet story showing the impact of a good teacher, set in rural Alaska in 1948. This one made me cry!
All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team
Despite knowing how this ended, I was on the edge of my seat for how the rescue of the Thailand soccer team’s rescue would play out. The photos and descriptions in this one were absolutely incredible!
An utter delight! It has been such a joy to not only enjoy this middle grade reader, but hear about others’ reading it and loving it too.
Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep
The permission and exploration of grief and comfort was much needed for my heart. I savored this one.
This is one of the best books sharing the reality, beautiful and messy, of marriage that I’ve read. Even if my specifics are different, I found myself in these pages. I was grateful for the vulnerable story-telling including struggles with same-sex attraction, expectations and trauma. There are lots of tender, potentially triggering places touched on in this book that I thought were handled very respectfully.
Qian Julie Wang grew up in the same era of America as I did, but our experience was worlds apart as she grew up in poverty as an immigrant. Her storytelling is incredible and I’m so grateful for the courage of her story, and the invitation to learn from her. This memoir is a powerful one.
Savoring the sermons of Barbara Brown Taylor was a gift. I was pastored, gently challenged and invited to experience the love of Jesus in these pages.
This one was the fantasy escape I was hoping for! With heist vibes akin to Oceans 11, the right amount of revealing characters’ backstories and slow-burn romance, I really enjoyed this one. Plus, I even got my husband to read it! PS. This is book 1 of 2, just FYI.
Written in free verse, this middle grade novel is tender, telling Jude’s story of immigrating to America from Syria. I loved how much space this book gave to the complexity of gratitude and grief coexisting.
I struggled to decide which Amy Harmon book should make this list, because I loved all that I read this year. But this one really stuck with me, and was an immersive, messy, beautiful book. I still can’t believe Benny’s songs aren’t real!
Ruth Reichl’s story-telling about food and different personas in New York City pulled me out of a reading slump. I loved living vicariously throughout her restaurant experiences and all her observations about human behavior.
“I’m not saying that you have to be a reader to save your soul in the modern world. I’m saying it helps.”
— Walter Mosley
I’ve been grateful for the chance to try some new recipes this winter. This garlic and rosemary white bean dip and this orange almond ricotta cake were both favorites, but the winner is definitely party bark. I’ve made five batches of party bark this winter, and am already planning my next batch. I love how easy and festive it feels, while also being the perfect combination of sweet and salty. This recipe comes from Shannan Martin, where she shared in on IG last year.
Party Bark —
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Cover a jellyroll pan with foil or parchment paper and a layer of mini pretzels. Set aside.
In a small sauce pan, melt 2 sticks of butter and 1 cup of brown sugar.
Stir and stir until it’s all mixed together. Continue cooking the mixture, until it gets fluffier and more golden.
Pour this over the pretzels. Pop the pan into the oven for 7-8 minutes.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Spread with a spatula as they melt.
Sprinkle with coarse salt and sprinkles (if you like a festive look.)
Put it into the freezer (or anywhere cold) to harden. Break apart.
Enjoy this delicious sweet and salty treat!
And if you missed them, here are some of my favorite things that I wrote since my last letter to you:
A moment with my daughter that spoke volumes to my heart.
A spring watercolor I painted.
And these words from Ann Voskamp that keep coming back to me.
Dear friend, is there anyway I can pray for you? Or anything that you’d like me to know? A favorite book of yours you’d like to tell me about?
I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to just hit "reply" to this email. Whether you want to share a prayer request or if my words brought up anything for you, I’d be so glad to know.
And before I close, I want to leave you with this simple benediction:
May you have eyes to see glimpses of the goodness of Jesus in your life.
May you have open hands to experience how personally and deeply you are loved.
May you take refuge in him today.
I love these book recommendations, I have a read a few of them, but others are new to me.
Thx for sharing these. I always love finding out about new books.☺️