This year, my reading goal was 24 books. I’ve upped the goal for next year to 50 books. The digital rental system at the library which includes audiobooks has made reading super accessible for me so I’m excited to see where I find myself in the pages of a book in 2022.

In 2021, I made a goal to read more authors of color, particularly from the Latinx community. Out of all the books I read, a vast majority of them were thrillers. I have something called panic disorder, and the pandemic has not helped me in that regard whatsoever. It may sound counterintuitive, but thrillers have gotten me through a lot of very anxious times by completely distracting my brain and making it run in another direction. These, in addition to journaling my prayers, morning pages everyday, and mindfulness meditation have been really helpful.

The top books of the year for me fall into a few categories: thriller, sociological commentary, memoir/essay, or some combination of each of these.

In no real particular order, except for the first one, here are my 10 favorite books I read in 2021:

1. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahisi Coates. A must-read for anyone, in my opinion, and especially anyone seeking to expand their anti-racism education. Coates is a beautiful writer, and has some important, tough truths to share. Don’t look away from this book.

2. Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid. Enthralling narrative that serves as good storytelling and an incisive look at the fetishization of black women.

3. The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris. This book came highly recommended to me, for good reason. I read it on our vacation/campus visit to Denver. A powerful glimpse into the code-switching that is essential to the survival of people of color in institutions of higher education and in the workforce.

4. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, by Crystal Maldonado. A super fun, coming of age story that made me laugh out loud, cringe, and cheer as I read Charlie’s adventures and misadventures in young love.

5. The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl living in Chicago tells her compelling story through a series of short essays. Beautifully written, this book will inspire the writer in each of us to tell our stories with truth and grace.

6. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. A master class in character crafting and development, and how to weave a heart-gripping narrative.

7. Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam. This was a weird book, and about an hour after I finished listening and after reading a New Yorker review of the book, I decided I did actually like it. Hard to describe and tough to say if I would feel the same way about it outside the circumstances the pandemic has created in the world.

8. When No One is Watching, by Alyssa Cole. A deep dive into a quickly gentrifying neighborhood. Compelling characters, but the story gets pretty wild by the end.

9. A Rhythm of Prayer. Includes honest and vulnerable offerings from some of my favorite writers including Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes and Kaitlin Curtice. Andrew got it for me when I was helping to cover the ICU at our Cary campus last January and having an anxious time. I keep it at my desk to read and reread on breaks with my British breakfast tea from the Panera downstairs. It’s helpful grounding and I like to share the prayers when it’s my turn to lead morning meditation at work.

10. The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson. The Bird King details the beautiful friendship of Fatima, the only remaining concubine of the sultan of Muslim Grenada in its final days, and her childhood friend and gifted royal mapmaker Hassan. The writing is exquisite and beautiful. This is the first book I read in 2021, in January, and I still think about it. The vivid imagery, and expertly crafted words that read like buttery poetry are a gift. If you are looking for beauty, read this book.

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