Category Archives: Books

Top 5 Nonfiction of 2021

I read 71 books last year and here are my favorite nonfiction reads of 2021.

I don’t get through much nonfiction these days, so when I do tackle one, it’s because I really want to read it.

  1. It Is What You Make of It: Creating Something Great From What You’ve Been Given by Justin McRoberts – Sort of a book about the creative process, but really it’s just good stories.
  2. Becoming Better Grownups: Rediscovering What Matters and Remembering How to Fly by Brad Montague – A great book for anyone looking for hope in the world and any person who creates things for a living.
  3. Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman – Poetry in my top five? Yikes—clearly I’m desperate. But seriously, there are a few really good poems and several just masterful turns of phrase.
  4. Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubled Times by Michael Curry – The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church—everybody knows him as the guy who preached at the royal wedding—offers a needed refocus on love and breath of fresh air.
  5. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer – A really detailed dive into the history of American Indians after the Wounded Knee massacre, filling in a lot of political realities most of us overlook.

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

And how about previous top non-fiction lists: 20202019201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

Top 10 Fiction of 2021

I read 71 books last year and here are my favorite fiction reads of 2021:

(Really hard to order this year’s list. Ask me tomorrow and I’d probably put them in a different order.)

  1. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – Initially I only gave this one four stars, so I’m not sure how it’s ending up at the top of the list (again, ask me tomorrow and that might change). It’s a flawed story. But Andy Weir just does something really interesting when he makes death-defying feats of engineering so gripping. It’s why The Martian was so amazing. This one has some holes. There’s a weak amnesia set up and there’s some overly complicated bits. But overall it’s still a fun story, has more heart than you might expect, and just leaves you wanting more.
  2. The Fall of Koli by M.R. Carey – Loved the conclusion to this post-apocalyptic trilogy. Really unique voice, good characters, unique world.
  3. Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark – I’m not always into fantasy, and P. Djeli Clark’s stuff tends to be weird. But this was a really interesting straggling of fantasy and realism, exploring racism and hate.
  4. Brood by Jackie Polzin – My neighbor down the street and around the corner wrote this one. It’s not my usual read, but it’s so good. It’s darkly humorous and feels very fitting for our pandemic age.
  5. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – Probably one of the best Star Wars novels I’ve read. It follows the original trilogy really well, but it’s a standalone love story that’s not upstaged or overshadowed by the original movies. Quite a feat.
  6. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – Another really unique world and a fantasy epic I didn’t think I’d go for. I’m eager for the sequel.
  7. Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill – A prequel of sorts to Sea of Rust, and just a fun story of societal collapse (Fun? Uh, I’m kind of messed up, aren’t I?). I’m a sucker for a good robot story.
  8. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – Speaking of a good robot story, here’s another one. Took a while to get going and it’s heavy in philosophy, but it settles into a nice balance.
  9. Chaos on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer – And from robot story to AI story. Local author Naomi Kritzer hit it out of the park with her two-book CatNet series. This second installment keeps hitting all the right notes.
  10. Salvation Day by Kali Wallace – A far-future civilization, escaping to orbit, paired with an abandoned space station and a mysterious virus, and there’s just a lot to like here. A good space thriller.

Honorable Mentions

Hard to choose which books to mention this year, and these are all worth a shoutout:

  • Hard Reboot by Django Wexler – More than a giant battling robot story, this is a story with great characters.
  • Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells – More Murderbot!
  • We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen – A really fresh superhero story.
  • Into the Dark by Claudia Gray and A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland – These new Star Wars stories are set in the High Republic era, several hundred years before the prequels in an attempt to tell more Jedi stories without conflicting with known characters (i.e., sell some content). We already know Claudia Gray can write a good Star Wars novel (see above), and this one is interesting and fun. I had low expectations for Justina Ireland’s entry. I liked her Civil War zombie series, but her middle grade Star Wars books have been meh. But her third middle grade Star Wars outing was downright fun. These are hard stories to do well, and I thought they really achieved something.

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

And how about previous top 10 fiction lists: 2020, 2019201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

2021 Reading List

I read 73 books in 2021. That just barely passes 2020 and hopefully doesn’t start a pattern of lower reading numbers.

Graph of books read per year

Here are my top 10 fiction and top 5 non-fiction for 2021, as well as my reading stats for the year.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2020201920182017201620152014201320122011201020092008200720062005200420032002, and 2001.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Continue reading 2021 Reading List

2020 Reading Stats

I’ve given my total reading numbers for 2020—69 total—and my favorite fiction and non-fiction books, now it’s time to look at some stats.

Here are my numbers for 2020:

  • 61% POC books.
  • 55% female authors.

Here’s how that compares to previous years:

It’s also helpful to compare it to my total reading:

And why do I track these numbers? Because when I didn’t pay any attention to it, I gravitated to a very homogeneous reading list. Which isn’t very good if you want to be exposed to a range of voices and ideas.

More Stats

Here are some other stats from my reading in 2020:

  • Sci-fi is still #1: This year sci-fi hit 54% of my reading, up from 37% last year. Carried me through the pandemic.
  • New is still better: About 75% of my reading came from the last three years. The oldest book was from 1997 (and my favorite fiction read of the year), and it was the only more than 20 years old.
  • Print dominates: Reading on my phone was a terrible idea this year. And audiobooks barely happened. My print reading hit 94%, quite a boost from last year’s 77%.
  • YA is dead to me: Once upon a time I used to read a lot of YA. This year? Nada. That’s not quite true, as some books fall under multiple categories and I classified them as other than YA. But even if we track those down, it’s only two or three. I’m not sure why I’ve grown so tired of this genre, but I have. It’s kind of sad too, because it sometimes it seems like YA is where all the interesting developments are happening in fiction.

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

For more on diversity and stats, check out previous years: 2019201820172016, and 2015.

Top 5 Non-Fiction of 2020

I read 69 books in 2020 and here are my favorite non-fiction reads.

I normally have a hard time getting through non-fiction, but 2020 was brutal. I had to quit a few good books that I just couldn’t get through.

  1. The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America by Charlotte Alter – Really fascinating look at millennial leaders in politics. A lot of helpful insights and stories that really helped me in writing Better Politics, Please.
  2. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi – A fascinating book and a difficult read, this one made all the headlines in the aftermath of George Floyd. I’ve also seen a fair amount of criticism about it, but that’s not surprising. It’s a challenge, but I think the underlying premise—if you’re not actively fighting racism then you’re part of the problem—is sound.
  3. If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now: Why We Traded the Commuting Life for a Little House on the Prairie by Christopher Ingraham – East coasters move to rural Minnesota and love it. This is the kind of book that makes a good magazine article but should feel too bloated as a book. But I really enjoyed it, maybe because of the Minnesota focus.
  4. Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life by David Treuer – A fascinating combination of memoir and history. I started listening to it as an audiobook but got bogged down in some of the detail and had to finish a paper copy. The history of our treatment of Native Americans is always jarring, but this summary of recent problematic encounters is even more jarring. These aren’t just sins our forefathers committed generations before we were born.
  5. Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America by Stacey Abrams – Nothing like reading about voter suppression in the lead up to a presidential election. Especially one where the biggest story is the post-election rejection of said election based on absolutely no proof. It’d be fascinating to hear Abrams take on that, because that seems like a whole other problem from the one she tackles.

Honorable mention: The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson – Stevenson’s Nimona has always been one of my favorite graphic novels, and after watching and loving her Netflix reboot of She-Ra, I had to pick up Stevenson’s memoir. More than anything, it’s about creativity and learning to accept yourself. Also has some great cartoons.

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

And how about previous top non-fiction lists: 2019201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

Top 10 Fiction of 2020

I read 69 books last year and here are my favorite fiction reads of 2020:

  1. My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due – I’ve had this book on my to-read list for years and finally tracked it down. Worth the wait! It’s a horror/sci-fi story about immortals that’s very reminiscent of Octavia Butler. It has an effortless quality and sucks you in. While it works as a standalone, it’s also part of a four-book series that’s worth checking out (I’m currently on the fourth installment).
  2. The Trials of Koli by M.R. Carey – I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction, and the Koli series is just perfect. It’s got a bizarre voice that takes a little getting used to, but the world and ethos is fascinating and fun. This is actually the second installment, but I liked it better than the first.
  3. Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer – I’m also a sucker for AI stories. Based on a short story about an AI who likes cat photos, this novel creates a bigger world around that concept that manages to be intriguing and funny without getting lost in the YA trappings. The sequel comes out this year and I’ve already got it pre-ordered.
  4. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal – This was our last book club book before the pandemic descended, and it was an incredible story centered on food. I’m usually not much of a foodie and wouldn’t be interested in the topic, but this one was really captivating.
  5. Network Effect by Martha Wells – After four novellas focused on the Murderbot, Wells gives us an entire novel. And it’s fun (I said I’m a sucker for AI stories). There are a couple points where it slows down and drags a little, but overall it’s fast-paced Murderbot fun.
  6. The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey – Seems like cheating to give this series two spots on the list, but they were among my favorites of the year. The first one does an amazing job of setting up the world (oh yeah, and it has AI as well—double whammy of AI and post-apocalyptic). I think the end drags a bit, which is why I liked the sequel better.
  7. A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen – It’s really weird to read a book about a global pandemic that kills 70% of the population in a year when a global pandemic kicks off. That eerie bit aside, this was a fascinating story about the aftermath of a pandemic.
  8. The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson – This is kind of post-apocalyptic, but more than anything it’s a multi-verse story. It has some fun twists and turns and was enjoyable mostly because it was so unexpected.
  9. The Regional Office Is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzalez – This wacky super spy story was riveting from the first page. The ending was kind of a letdown, which is why it slipped so low on this list, but the reading experience was pretty great.
  10. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey – A sci-fi/western with a little post-apocalypse thrown in (sense a theme?), this story was a fun, quick read. It’s sticks in my mind mostly as being the type of book that got me back into reading. I read it in July, after a few months of having a really hard time getting into books. The blurb sounded fun (“Are you a coward or a librarian?) and it came quickly when I requested it from the library. Just what I needed when I needed it.

Honorable mentions:

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

And how about previous top 10 fiction lists: 2019201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

2020 Reading List

I read 69 books in 2020.

It’s my lowest reading count since 2011—thanks 2020.

My reading chart over the years.

Here are my top 10 fiction and top 5 non-fiction for 2020, as well as my reading stats for the year.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 201920182017201620152014201320122011201020092008200720062005200420032002, and 2001.

Continue reading 2020 Reading List

2020 Accomplishments: Better Politics, Please

Since 2020 has been such a dumpster fire, I thought it might help to recap a few accomplishments. One of the big ones is my latest book: Better Politics, Please.

The Idea

I came up with this idea before the pandemic struck, but really fleshing it out and making it happen was a total pandemic project. I needed that. I needed something to focus on in the midst of all the chaos.

A project I worked on for 15 years came to an end at the close of 2019. I went into 2020 not knowing what was next (whoa, boy howdy!). Better Politics, Please was a fun way to try something different. It gave me a lot of hope, despite a real lack of hope in the rest of the world.

I’m grateful for all the help that made this project a reality. I couldn’t have done it without the many people who supported it.

Continue reading 2020 Accomplishments: Better Politics, Please

Better Politics, Please Now Available

Back in May I launched a Kickstarter campaign to support this idea I had for a new book called Better Politics, Please. It’s now available in print and digital versions.

More Necessary Than Ever

What a rollercoaster ride this has been. I could probably say that about every book project I’ve done, but this one really felt like it. With a pandemic, civil unrest, and now a Supreme Court fight, this has been a trying time.

And that’s why I think this book is more necessary than ever. People will always disagree, but we need to find a way to do it without condemning each other to hell. That sounds extreme, but that’s how people treat one another today.

Sometimes I think we need to find something to celebrate in people we disagree with. We need some small measure of common ground. I don’t pretend to be a peacemaker who can bring all sides together and create harmony, but I think that can be a productive start.

Instead of picking fights, let’s start conversations.

Let’s Make Civic Engagement More Civil

I hope that’s what this book can be. It’s 35 stories of politicians from both sides of the aisle, from all levels of government, and finds something in who they are and what they say that can be inspiring.

Check it out, and tell your friends.

Plus, it’s illustrated! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with artist Carolyn Swiszcz.

"We are capable of even greater heights if we return our awareness and actions back to an era of civility." -Erin Stewart