Column — Books from 2021 that you should read

Published 8:00 am Saturday, December 25, 2021

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As 2021 winds down, I’m sure many of you have noticed the numerous ‘best of’ lists that crop up this time of year. Take your pick: movies, music, favorite celebrity moments, etc., you can find a ranking for it. Being a librarian and a book lover, I always enjoy reading the compilations of titles and authors and comparing the lists to my own reading over the past year.

Four books in particular have stayed in my mind for various reasons: a compelling story and/or character, learning something new or having information presented in a new way, and the emotional connection I felt to the book.

“The Smash-Up” by Ali Benjamin was one of the first fiction titles I read this year and I was taken in by this reimagined version of the classic Edith Wharton short story “Ethan Frome.” Set during the Women’s March in 2017, Benjamin cleverly moves the story to a modern setting and expands on the original characters by engulfing them in the minutiae of our Information Age and the feelings of being set adrift by technology that claims to bring us together. Even though the main characters are estranged from one another as the story begins, the genuine attempts they make at resolution made me hopeful for their eventual happiness.

“The Illness Lesson” by Claire Beams, was loosely inspired by Brook Farm, the Transcendentalist community founded by Bronson Alcott. The setting is a progressive school for girls in 19th century New England. The school’s founder is determined to pursue education reform for females but when unusual red birds begin to appear in the school’s vicinity, the story becomes a suspenseful parable about the fears around female independence and the psychic power a group of young girls can exert on their environment. This book has intriguing symbolism and an astonishing outcome that made it one of my favorites of the year.

Richard Marx is one of the most successful performers in the music industry and his memoir, “Stories to Tell” is aptly named. Marx is a singer, songwriter, musician and producer and has worked with more singers than I have room to name here. His book could have easily been name-dropping disguised as prose but Marx genuinely has stories to tell, from a touching encounter with Monkee Davy Jones to a falling out with Kenny Loggins and a concert tour of Asia that goes very wrong. By turns funny, profane and highly entertaining, this was one of the best celebrity biographies of 2021.

“Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice” by Rupa Marya and Raj Patel was hands-down the most profound nonfiction I read this year. The authors explore the connections between climate change, health care and social justice in a way that is unexpected and eye-opening. This was a book I had to put down several times as I was reading it in order to absorb the information; it is not an easy read but it has stayed in my mind from the day I finished it.

These are just a few of the books from the past year that caught my attention. I’m looking forward to many new titles in 2022 and wish everyone a happy holiday!

Holly Howze is the branch manager for the Ripberger Public Library located in Kenbridge. She can be reached at lcplsbooks@