Reading Is Healing: My 2021 Book List

If you read my post from just after ringing in the new year, you know that my 2021 started with a melancholy tone. A dear friend was battling COVID-19, and I awoke to learn that his body had finally succumbed. He was the director of the community chorale of which I’ve been a member since the late 1990s. With coronavirus shutting down almost all things choral (because singers are considered super spreaders), all of our rehearsals and plans for performances stopped last March. Singing is one of my outlets, and I’ve been fortunate to be one of the few singers at my church most Sundays.

Fortunately, while singing is incredibly healing, it’s not my only outlet. I also love to read. Maybe that’s an understatement. I have to have something to read at all times—a healthy addiction?—and I also love to share what I read. (Which is why I started making this annual post however-many years ago.)

While 2020 took so much from everyone, it was a great year for me as far as reading goes. I read all the books from my 2020 book list, plus some. In fact, I re-read two different trilogies immediately after finishing them—sometimes it’s just hard to let books go. (Those trilogies are Lady Helen and His Fair Assassin. I read the first book of Lady Helen in 2019 but all the rest in 2020.)

Many of the other books on my list were ones that I read with my children. We finished A Series of Unfortunate Events, as planned. I also read The Hunger Games to them because they enjoy the movies, and Suzanne Collins recently published a prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. We finished all of those about a week ago.

If you’re one of my regular readers, you know that my elder son is dyslexic. Even before his diagnosis, it was my habit to read my favorite children’s books to him. (Maybe it was crazy, but I read the Harry Potter books to both kids in utero.) We often read his school novels together, and the format of virtual school last spring was particularly challenging for him. His entire grade level broke into a handful of book clubs, and the book he chose (okay, that I encouraged him to choose because I wanted to read it to him anyway) was Lois Lowry’s The Giver. A dystopian novel before that was even a genre, The Giver was new when I was a kid. Since then, Lowry has published three sequels. We finished reading the quartet after the book club was finished, and Peter really enjoyed them.

Two or three years ago, I discovered Usborne’s graphic novel classics (including titles such as HamletThe Hound of the BaskervillesJason and the ArgonautsAlice in Wonderland, and many others). Graphic novels are a great way for people with reading difficulties to access literature because the drawings provide so many contextual clues. Each time I got one for Peter, he devoured it. It became his habit to read one every night before bed. I can’t tell you the joy I feel from my son finding enthusiasm for books. Plus, he’s being introduced to classic stories without the barrier of archaic language (which can prove onerous even for the most fluent of readers).

Still, there are plenty of great books that aren’t graphic novels. Peter loves historical fiction, especially of the World War II era, so that’s why Salt to the Sea and The Book Thief are on the 2020 list. (Salt to the Sea is centered around the greatest maritime disaster in history, regarding loss of life. And no, it wasn’t the Titanic or Lusitania—check it out!) After we finished these, since Usborne hadn’t released a new graphic novel in a while, my husband let Peter borrow Maus and Maus II, graphic novels about some of the events of World War II. When he finished those, something different and wonderful happened: Peter asked if we could recommend any other good books.

We decided that a good first on-his-own novel was Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything. This book has a unique style, including short chapters and drawings throughout. These would help break up the text, making it less daunting. Plus, the language isn’t that difficult, except for humuhumunukunukuapua’a—I have yet to make it from one end of that word to other without needing a nap in the middle. We gave it to Peter, and he devoured it. Every time he finished a chapter, he would tell us about it. A common trait of dyslexics is poor working memory. He’s had to learn study skills particular to his learning style, which allow him to suss out the main idea and decide which details are important. Summarizing what he’s read—and sometimes having in-depth discussions about it—is Peter’s strategy to aid his reading comprehension. After Everything, Everything, he asked for a book Thomas had told him about, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. It was a much more challenging read, but Peter made it through and now considers it his favorite book. (There’s a recently published sequel—hope it lives up to the first one!) He’s currently reading Stephen King’s The Green Mile. For his birthday and Christmas, we gave him more novels—Ender’s Game and Jurassic Park. Peter is excited to have his own growing collection, and on more than one occasion, he’s said, “Now I see why you and Dad read all the time.” After catching him staying up late to read more times than I can count (my favorite form of rebellion), he’s learned to look ahead and see how long a chapter is before getting started because he has to complete a chapter in order to fully process and remember it. I don’t care what it takes—this kid is making reading a priority and enjoying it.

Okay, Sarah, what does this have to do with books you read in 2020? Nothing at all. These are books I didn’t read—because Peter read them himself! And more books I didn’t read: Harry Potter. When we finished A Series of Unfortunate Events, that’s what Ian wanted to read, but when I noticed one of his classmates reading the series, I told Ian it was time to read them on his own. So that’s what he’s doing now, and I’m proud of him, too. It’s a real joy to see my boys reading on their own and loving it.

So without further ado, here is the complete list of novels I read in 2020, ordered chronologically. Titles in red are the books that I either read a second time or were not on the original list.

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  2. The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Third) by Lemony Snicket
  3. The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman
  4. The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fourth) by Lemony Snicket
  5. The Dark Days Deceit (Lady Helen #3) by Alison Goodman
  6. The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fifth) by Lemony Snicket
  7. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  8. The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman
  9. The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Sixth) by Lemony Snicket
  10. The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman
  11. The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Seventh) by Lemony Snicket
  12. The Dark Days Deceit (Lady Helen #3) by Alison Goodman
  13. The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Eighth) by Lemony Snicket
  14. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
  15. The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Ninth) by Lemony Snicket
  16. Earth Unaware (The First Formic War #1) by Orson Scott Card
  17. The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Tenth) by Lemony Snicket
  18. The Giver (The Giver #1) by Lois Lowry
  19. The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Eleventh) by Lemony Snicket
  20. Earth Afire (The First Formic War #2) by Orson Scott Card
  21. Earth Awakens (The First Formic War #3) by Orson Scott Card
  22. The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Twelfth) by Lemony Snicket
  23. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  24. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  25. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  26. The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Thirteenth) by Lemony Snicket
  27. The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1) by Robert Galbraith
  28. Stormbreaker (Alex Rider #1) by Anthony Horowitz
  29. The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith
  30. Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith
  31. Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4) by Robert Galbraith
  32. Gathering Blue (The Giver #2) by Lois Lowry
  33. Graceling (Graceling Realm #1) by Kristin Cashore
  34. Messenger (The Giver #3) by Lois Lowry
  35. Fire (Graceling Realm #2) by Kristin Cashore
  36. Bitterblue (Graceling Realm #3) by Kristin Cashore
  37. Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers
  38. Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFevers
  39. Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by Robin LaFevers
  40. Son (The Giver #4) by Lois Lowry
  41. Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers
  42. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins
  43. Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFevers
  44. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins
  45. Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by Robin LaFevers
  46. Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins
  47. The Tower of Nero (The Trials of Apollo #5) by Rick Riordan
  48. An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir
  49. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games #0) by Suzanne Collins
  50. A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir

As you can see, 22 of the 50 books I read were unplanned. While I was worried that some of them might derail me from reaching my goal, I don’t regret reading them. (Okay, one exception—Stormbreaker, a school book for Peter that neither of us enjoyed.) When I saw that Erin Morgenstern had a new book, I had to get it, and The Starless Sea might be the best book I’ve ever read. Unless it’s The Night Circus. Yikes, she needs to get busy and write a bunch more.

Woo-Hoo! New Books for 2021

Now for 2021. I’m excited that some of my favorite authors have penned new books, some adding to ongoing series. That’s why I’m re-reading An Ember in the Ashes, the fourth book of which was recently published and is on this year’s list. There’s also a fifth novel in the Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) Cormoran Strike series. Since I just re-read the first three books over the summer in order for the story to be fresh for the new-to-me fourth book, I don’t need to re-read those. J.K Rowling also wrote a new book, The Ickabog, for families during the COVID lockdown. It was originally an online publication, and she held an illustration competition. The whole thing was published with beautiful color illustrations from the winners, and I just started reading it with my family today. A few chapters in, I’m reminded why Rowling is one of my favorite authors.

Other titles of interest: Christopher Paolini (author of the Eragon books) released a new book, unrelated to The Inheritance Cycle. I read S.J. Kincaid’s The Diabolic in 2019 and am finally collecting the other books in that trilogy. Years ago, my dad lent us the books from the Ender’s Game series, including spin-offs. I plan to finish those (one of which I just got for him for Christmas, so I’m going to have to borrow that when he’s done with it). I also plan to re-read Dune because—hello! Have you seen that they’re re-doing the movie? And of course, I need to have it fresh so I can get peeved every time the movie takes creative license. Actually, I have high hopes. Please don’t screw it up, new movie! (So when my dad reads this, please let me borrow Dune again, too.) There are other books I’ll re-read, since the list would be sparse, otherwise. (Hoping Diana Gabaldon publishes Outlander #9 in 2021 or early enough in 2022 that I won’t forget everything from the first eight books.) As always, I expect there will be a lot of red on here when I post what I read a year from now.

Until then, here’s my jumping off place (alpha by author):

  1. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
  2. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
  3. Children of the Fleet (Fleet School #1) by Orson Scott Card
  4. The Swarm (The Second Formic War #1) by Orson Scott Card
  5. The Hive (The Second Formic War #2) by Orson Scott Card
  6. Ready Player One (Ready Player One #1) by Ernest Cline
  7. Ready Player Two (Ready Player One #2) by Ernest Cline
  8. Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon
  9. Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon
  10. Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon
  11. Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon
  12. The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5) by Diana Gabaldon
  13. A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6) by Diana Gabaldon
  14. An Echo in the Bone (Outlander #7) by Diana Gabaldon
  15. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander #8) by Diana Gabaldon
  16. Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike #5) by Robert Galbraith
  17. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  18. Dune (Dune Chronicles #1) by Frank Herbert
  19. The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
  20. The Empress (The Diabolic #2) by S.J. Kincaid
  21. The Nemesis (The Diabolic #3) by S.J. Kincaid
  22. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
  23. The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling
  24. A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir
  25. A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes #4) by Sabaa Tahir

If you know of a book that I should add, please let me know in the comments—I’m always looking for recommendations! Good reading in 2021.

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