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Making a List

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—book list season! This most magical of times typically begins in late October to early November with promising longlists that become shortlists and peaks around now with a deluge of year-end picks. A long-time favorite of mine is NPR’s Books We Love (formerly known as Book Concierge)—an equal parts thrilling and daunting compilation that requires a full afternoon (or two) to explore. With the ability to mix and match categories and individual annotations written by your favorite NPR contributors, Books We Love sets the bar.

And, yet… I cannot let the year go by without looking back at my own year of reading and offer a few personalized recommendations to my fellow bibliophiles. Here are the highlights from my 2021 year in books (books read, not necessarily published, in 2021). You can view my full 2021 list here.

The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade
Amadeo Padilla is an unlikely Jesus for the Good Friday procession. An out of work alcoholic, he needs this role to be his transformation going as far as asking for nails to be driven into his hands. But it’s not his role as Jesus, but the unexpected arrival of his pregnant 15-year-old daughter, that begins an entire family’s transformation.

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
A powerful and elegiac novel that begins with the death of the title character—“They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.” What follows is the unraveling of events leading up to this tragedy and a reflection on the ways that we can equally love and fail those closest to us.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila
Nella Rogers is beyond excited when another black woman, Hazel-May McCall, joins the staff at Wagner Books. But, soon after her arrival, strange things begin to happen in the office. A creative and incisive debut that deftly blends genres and keeps readers on their toes.

Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993
Venerated activist and author Sarah Schulman’s nearly 700-page tome is part memoir and part remembrance and above all a roadmap of activism that is as relevant today as it was then. Schulman brings to light the intersectionality of ACT UP that is often left out of many narratives and seeks to provide a broader picture of the diverse issues and actions that initiated a sea change in civil and healthcare rights movements.

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith
A foundational book about Slavery’s role and omnipresence in U.S. history. Exceptionally researched and beautifully written.

I adore all cookbooks and read many of them; these are a couple that I actually used for cooking 

Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food by Julia Turshen
Lovely book with nourishing, comforting meals that allow you to focus more on those around your table and less on what’s happening in the kitchen. A couple of these recipes have become favorite staples in my weeknight rotation.

The Weekday Vegetarians by Jenny Rosenstrach
The Author of Dinner: A Love Story describes how she and her family have reduced their consumption of meat by becoming “weekday vegetarians.” Great recipes for those of us who need more plant-based recipes in our repertoires.

I’d encourage you to create and share your own year-in-books list. It’s a satisfying way to reflect on those titles you loved while looking forward to your next great reads. Whether you are a list enthusiast like me or prefer to chart your own reading course, I’m wishing you a year of reading only what you love and abandoning anything you don’t.

Rebecca Howard is the regional manager of Tulsa City-County Library. During her 15 years with Tulsa City-County Library, Rebecca launched the readers advisory service Your Next Great Read, and served as TCCL’s county-wide Literacy Coordinator. Rebecca writes Public Radio Tulsa's monthly column Imprint.
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