In an age where a maskless trip to the grocery store is as potentially lethal as a frolic in a jaguar enclosure, there is officially no excuse for not planting oneself in a cozy chair and reading every book in sight. While the temptation to binge every buzzy movie and TV show in the land has never been stronger, there comes a time when a different kind of stimulation is needed.
After all, there’s nothing like reading a good book. Daily life makes some compelling cases for why books should remain on the shelf, but once you’ve finished your third binge of Squid Game and another night of CNN is likely to result in hair loss, sometimes it’s nice to crack open a fresh hardcover and work that occipital lobe.
Here, compliments of the biggest readers on our We Got This Covered staff, are the books from 2021 that transported us to vistas literary, real, and beyond the bounds of streaming.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
The Anthropocene Reviewed is a book about looking. In his first work of nonfiction, YA novelist John Green reviews everything from the natural beauty of an orbital sunrise to the (in)authenticity of the Taco Bell breakfast menu on a five-star scale. Based on his podcast of the same name, from which several of the book’s thirtysomething essays are adapted, The Anthropocene Reviewed is at once a sincere memoir of our brief time on this planet (as an individual, as a species) and a pithy observation of the heights and depths of human power over the planet. In this ambivalent discursive space, Green shares the learned wisdom of his editors, children, and lived experiences, finding what is singularly compelling, if not always beautiful, before us. ⏤ Autumn Wright
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
In Crying in H Mart, grief is visceral. Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner processes losing her mother to cancer at a young age by throwing herself into learning to cook the Korean food she grew up on, grounding the themes she explores in her ethereal music. The memoir doesn’t flinch at the ugliness of death or smooth over the roughness of our deepest relationships, but sits with them in the pursuit of truly knowing those we have lost. ⏤ Tricia Gilbride
Daddy by Emma Cline
Branch out and dive into a collection of exquisitely written short stories with Daddy by Emma Cline. Emma Cline is known for her debut novel The Girls, which is loosely based on the women with whom Charles Manson committed the atrocious Sharon Tate murders and is known for its precisely descriptive prose and psychological exploration of the young female mind. Similarly, the short stories in Daddy investigate the thin line between what makes someone good in the eyes of society and what makes them bad. Each one is written with the sharpest of pens and will leave you staring off into the distance contemplating what you think you know to be true of the world. If short stories aren’t what you’re looking for right now, crack open Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour or Billy Summers by Stephen King. Both have tightly woven storylines and enough oomph to get you from the first page to the last in no time. ⏤ Cody Raschella
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
2021 opened with just about anyone who’s anyone reading the same book: Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby. The novel follows a transgender woman, a cisgender woman, and a trans woman who detransitioned as they tackle one hell of a question: Can a former trans woman who impregnated his cis boss bring his ex-girlfriend in as a mother for their child? Maybe, maybe not, it turns out. Peters teases out each of their lives over the course of the book, breaking down the assumptions they have about one another and themselves. There’s plenty of discussion about identity and womanhood in the post-trans tipping point world, but don’t expect easy solutions from Peters on questions of gender, sex, and family planning: All three leads are multi-faceted and complex, bumping up against each other and learning from one another, sometimes destructively, sometimes self-righteously, but always realistically. ⏤ Ana Valens
God Bless This Mess by Hannah Brown
Hannah Brown is best known for her time on ABC’s dating drama The Bachelor before landing a starring role on her own season of The Bachelorette. Before her stint on reality television, she was in the pageant circle and living a pretty regular life, albeit fun and wonderful. After her time on The Bachelor/Bachelorette, she went on to win Dancing with the Stars and nothing about her life was private or personal anymore. In the eyes of the public, as she was living her best life, Brown was actually in the fight of a lifetime between who she was becoming and who she wanted to be. She wanted to be true to herself, but she had to find herself first. Putting her wishes and dreams in the driver’s seat, Brown finally took steps to find her happily ever after, and her book God Bless This Mess chronicles that adventure. ⏤ Ashley Dye
In the Heights: Finding Home by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and Jeremy McCarter
Before Hamilton exploded onto Broadway and brought us back to the days of our Founding Fathers, the endlessly talented Lin-Manuel Miranda was busy working on a story a bit closer to home. That tale was In the Heights, a musical following three days in the life of a bodega owner named Usnavi and the inhabitants of his Washington Heights neighborhood in upper Manhattan. The show’s blend of Latin music and hip hop created a sound never before heard on Broadway and it went on to win four Tony Awards including Best Musical. In the Heights: Finding Home is a wonderfully written and visually stunning roadmap of the show’s origins, from its inception at Miranda’s alma mater to its motion picture adaptation. This detailed look at the musical’s journey includes the lyrics of every song in both the stage show and film as well as anecdotes from Miranda himself about his creative process. It’s a must-read for any musical theatre fan and a colorful meditation on the true meaning of home. ⏤ Josh Conrad
Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
The first two volumes of Rachel Smythe’s dazzling webcomic Lore Olympus hit shelves in book form this year, bringing her stunning art style and captivating story to an all-new medium. The books provide a delightfully modern twist on the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, presenting the Olympian gods as a colorful community of upper class socialites. It’s romantic, funny, charming, and brilliantly illustrated. ⏤ Nahila Bonfiglio
A Most Remarkable Creature by Jonathan Meiburg
Indie rock musician Jonathan Meiburg, best known as the frontman of the band Shearwater, tapped into his other great love, ornithology, to pen one of the year’s best reads, A Most Remarkable Creature. The book is a deep study on all 10 species of caracaras, which are unusual members of the falcon family. Though Meiburg is capable of packing an abundance of scientific information into a few sentences, his prose is readable and engaging as he takes readers on a journey that spans continents and epochs, stretching back to the time when Antarctica was a lush forest. The book begins with Meiburg’s experiences at the tip of South America on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, where he studied the book’s central figure, the striated caracara. As Meiburg works through the history of other species of caracaras, the story he tells illuminates parallels for humanity itself and asks readers to consider the world in entirely new ways. A Most Remarkable Creature was longlisted for a 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence and has received acclaim from publications such as NPR and Texas Monthly. ⏤ Bryan Parker
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit
Rebecca Solnit outlines why George Orwell is one of most important writers of 20th century in this important book. She also takes a different perspective on this oft-written-about writer. She delves into Orwell’s love and passion for gardening and the natural world, and it’s amazing that the roses Orwell likely planted are still thriving. In true Orwell fashion, Solnit digs into the dark side of growing and selling roses. I recently joined her on a Zoom call for the Orwell Society to hear her discuss this engaging and important book. She’s a firm believer that Orwell is as important today as he’s ever been, another reason why her book is worth a read. ⏤ Joseph Raffetto
Rabbits: A Novel by Terry Miles
Set in the world of the popular podcast of the same name, this series tells a whole new adventure based around the mysterious ARG called Rabbits. It follows K, a person obsessed with Rabbits despite never finding a way to participate in the game. However, one day, K is told that something has gone very wrong, and if they don’t fix it, the 11th iteration of Rabbits will end terribly for everyone. Fast-paced and full of twists and turns, Rabbits is a one-of-a-kind mystery experience. ⏤ Jonathon Greenall