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

Rally for Trans Kids in Hastings

I went to the Rally for Trans Kids in Hastings today, in response to the bigoted hate poured out on Hastings school board member Kelsey Waits and her family by a ‘concerned parents’ group in the community. The group outed Waits’ 8-year-old trans child and has created an environment so hostile the family doesn’t feel safe and had to move.

Waits said it best in an MPR interview:

“Transgender kids are the most at-risk kids in our schools for suicide. Almost 50 percent of transgender students will attempt suicide, and that’s in Minnesota and nationwide. And what research is starting to show is that by supporting these kids, you decrease their risk of suicide. You’re saving their lives.”

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Spotify Wrapped: My Year in Music

So Spotify does this clever thing where they look at your listening stats and spit out a bunch of fun data. Unfortunately, they do it in this goofy app experience that’s pretty awful. But I pulled out the fun bits…

I listened to 43,344 minutes of music (more than 90% of users), accounting for 2,358 different artists, and 166 different genres.

Supposedly my top five genres are indie pop, ska, stomp and holler, bubble grunge, permanent wave. (I don’t know what half those words mean.)

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Dressember: Help Fight Human Trafficking

I’m dressing up every day in December to fight human trafficking as a part of Dressember. Please consider making a donation to support my efforts.

It’s dumb that slavery is something we still have to talk about in 2021. But it impacts something like 45 million people worldwide, and disproportionately impacts children, women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and foster kids—basically the vulnerable.

That’s hard to stomach. The whole topic of human trafficking is pretty gruesome. It’s a lot easier to look away and ignore it.

That’s why Dressember uses what seems like a silly style challenge to raise awareness and attention for this difficult issue. So far they’ve raised over $13 million and counting to help trafficking survivors around the world. That’s pretty great.

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Robert Street Underpass on the River-to-River Greenway Trail

The River-to-River Greenway through West St. Paul is now complete with the Robert Street underpass. This post has been a long time coming. I could have written it two months ago, but I’ve been busy. Also, I wrote my first post supporting this project back in 2017. And the effort to support this crossing goes back much further, to real plans around 2010 and big ideas around 2000.

Yeah, 20 years.

Sometimes progress is slow.

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Parktober: North & South Minnesota

I took two weekends in October for solo trips to Minnesota State Parks, first venturing to the far northern edge of the state and then going to the southwest corner. With apologies to a friend with a family tradition of state park trips in October, we’ll dub this my Parktober experience.

I’m a big fan of the fall—the changing colors, the crisp air, the lack of bugs. It’s a wonderous time to get outside and explore. I also like checking out parks I haven’t been to, trying to find something new and different. So this year I booked two separate trips to places I haven’t been before. In the process I probably tried to cram in more parks than I should have, but it’s hard to pass one up when you’re so close and might never get back there.

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A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.