My Favorite Books in 2021

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life.”

–William Somerset Maugham

Along with my bike, books provide reliable refuge from life’s difficulties and struggles. Although I read nonfiction, great books still feel like an escape. They are there to take me out of the moment and keep my mind from going to unhelpful places while I fold laundry or wash dishes, and they are there if I am unable to go back to sleep after waking in the night. I’m certainly hoping for less need for escape in 2022, but I know that books will be there for me, regardless of what unfolds. I’m currently reading and listening to books with the goal of finding solutions and resources for handling some of the toughest problems. Hopefully, these will ultimately prove worthy of appearing in next year’s list.

Here are the books that earned a place on this year’s list. They appear here for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s because beautiful writing kept me captivated throughout the book. Sometimes, it is a compelling story, even if the writing itself is not particularly artful. All of them are great books, though.

As in each of my previous annual “best books” lists, this list includes books that I rated 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads. They are listed alphabetically, by categories of my determination, and then alphabetically within those categories.

Business/Career


Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers
, by Lauren Sapala—I went back and forth about whether this would be a 3-star or 4-star review, but it ultimately won me over for the higher rating. A highly-sensitive, INFJ writer herself, Sapala shares her strategy for marketing her books and allied services in a way that feels true for her personality and personal style. I picked up some practical suggestions and felt understood.

Gutsy Glorious Life Coach: How to Turn Your Life Coaching Practice into a Soulful Money-Making Business, by Lin Eloff—Written by an attorney/life coach, this book contains a very handy checklist for any coach at any stage of business. Although I have completed some of the steps, I plan to work through all 46 steps to make sure I have covered all my business bases if I return to coaching as a business.

Health

Eat Smarter: Use the Power of Food to Reboot Your Metabolism, Upgrade Your Brain, and Transform Your Life, by Shawn Stevenson—I listened to this on audiobook, and Shawn Stevenson is a very entertaining writer and reader. He has a lot of valuable experience and shares a lot of good advice. Some of his food recommendations don’t mesh with my ethics, but the overall message of the book is good, with useful advice. He is clearly creative and is very enthusiastic.


How Healing Works: Get Well and Stay Well Using Your Hidden Power to Heal
, by Wayne Jonas—There is lots of important information in this book about using our minds to enable our healing powers.


How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss
, by Michael Greger—Dr. Greger is one of my favorite authors. Just like in How Not to Die, he curates and explains the best research around health, this time with an emphasis on weight loss. He outlines research that I have never heard and provides unique tweaks for increasing fat loss and giving ourselves the best chance to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It is long, but wonderful.


How to Survive a Pandemic
, by Michael Greger—I listened to this on audiobook, and Dr. Greger is as dynamic in reading it as he is in his videos. This is an extensively researched book that provides a fascinating history of pandemics, an explanation of why they happen and important suggestions for preventing future pandemics and for staying health as individuals and families. I am always impressed with Dr. Greger’s outstanding curation of research.


The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage
, by Kelly McGonigal—Kelly McGonigal is an author that I really admire.  I am a firm believer in the power of exercise to enhance our mental health. McGonigal shares several interesting stories illustrating this power.

No Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Need to Hear, by Kate Bowler—I listened to this on Audible and found it resonating with a touch (or more) of cynicism I have developed after recent life events. Bowler shares her journey through colon cancer, as a young mother and professor.

Stress Less, Accomplish More, by Emily Fletcher—I listened to this on audiobook after learning about Ziva Meditation through Jim Kwik. I was inspired to switch up my daily practice after listening. I find that I can’t follow exactly what she recommends, despite the fact that the style is designed to fit into busy lives. I do find the practice to be beneficial, however, and I loved her emphasis on making meditation an accessible, practical part of daily life.

History


Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
, by Nick Bilton—I liked this book so much more than I expected. That is largely a testament to Bilton’s excellent writing. I don’t even use Twitter, but I was fascinated to learn more about its backstory, which Bilton tells in a page-turning fashion. I felt like I really got to know each of the major players in Twitter’s history.

Memoir

Evolving into Wholeness: A Journey of Compassion, by Dianne Waltner—I’m so excited and proud to be able to include this book here. Full disclosure: Dianne is a good friend, and I was privileged to be an early reader. It was important to me to read it in book (Kindle) form when it was published, so I purchased and read it that way a second complete time. I enjoyed it even more that way. This is a courageous and honest story of Dianne’s journey from a Mennonite farm girl and family hatchery worker to a vegan and animal-rights activist, as well as her journey to learn to love herself enough to go alcohol free. Dianne’s story reveals her compassion for the animals, the planet, other people and herself. There is something for all of us to learn in this beautiful memoir.

How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage, by Jo Piazza—This is the second book by Jo Piazza that I have read. I ordered this one because I liked the first so much. I enjoyed this memoir of Piazza’s first year of marriage, which is unlike most. As a travel writer, it was full of travel and adventure, but also full of health and family stress and heartache. As she and her husband traveled, Piazza sought insight and advice about marriage from women around the world.


I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope
, by Chessy Prout—This book deals with the very important issue of sexual assault in high school. Chessy is so young—only in her early 20s—but she wrote a courageous book about her stand for justice after being raped as a high school freshman. She was attending a very prestigious boarding school and became ensnared in a boys’ game of sexual conquest. She shares her story to encourage other sexual assault survivors to seek justice and to help them realize they’re not alone, while raising awareness of issues of consent.


If I Live Until Morning: A True Story of Adventure, Tragedy and Transformation
, by Jean Muenchrath—This is the author’s story of both her mountaineering experience and the internal mountains she climbed throughout her adult life. It is fascinating from the standpoint of an outdoor adventure memoir, and it goes beyond that with the spiritual and psychological tools she has used to survive since her and recovery from a horrific mountain accident.

I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro—I was not aware of Tig Notaro or her comedy career prior to reading this book, but it was such a well-written memoir that I quickly became a fan. She shares her story of multiple layers of hardship stacked right on top of each other, as well as the story of how she survived and thrived. I was truly struck by the wisdom in these pages. It is a great book.


In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir
, by Bobi Conn—This memoir was depressing and painful to read sometimes. I had to skip past some parts about animal cruelty. Yet, it has an important message that was well-conveyed. All in all, the book is both interesting and tragic. It raises a lot of important questions about humanity, preconceived notions, exploitation and gender expectations.


It’s Not Yet Dark
, by Simon Fitzmaurice—The story behind this book is what is most amazing. Fitzmaurice wrote it with eye-gaze technology, ventilated and immobile in his wheelchair, due to ALS. The style is unusual, but the writing is beautiful.

Know My Name, by Chanel Miller—This was a very interesting memoir of Miller’s experience surviving a sexual assault while attending a fraternity party at Stanford University and then surviving the lengthy legal process as her assailant was tried for the crime and the aftermath following his sentencing. There are many important lessons in her story.


Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory
, by Deena Kastor—This is a fascinating memoir of Deena Kastor’s running career, from age 11 into her 30s. There are many lessons to be gleaned from her personal experience of triumph, defeat, injury and spiritual growth.

The Long Run: One Man’s Attempt to Regain His Athletic Career-And His Life-by Running the New York City Marathon, by Matt Long—This is an incredible story of courage and determination to return from devastating injuries to conquer major challenges. Matt Long’s personal growth and his commitment to turning his tragedy into good in the world are inspiring.

Look at You Now: My Journey from Shame to Strength, by Liz Pryor—I don’t quite understand the title of this book, but the story is powerful. It is a memoir of something I haven’t really seen addressed. Growing up in Catholic school in the 1980s, I remember a girl being asked to leave the school when she got pregnant. At the time, I wondered if the father had to leave school. This book tells Pryor’s story of being sent away and hidden when she got pregnant at 16. Forced by her family to lie, she kept the secret well into adulthood and decided to share it only when her own kids neared the age at which she got pregnant. There are many powerful lessons in this book.

Maybe You Die: The True Story of a Couple Living the All-American Nightmare, by Nancy Lee—This is a harrowing memoir of a relationship that went horrifically wrong and the shocking lack of accountability for an attempted murderer.

Mile 445: Hitched in Her Hiking Boots, by Claire Henley Miller—This is quite a remarkable story of Claire’s life-changing experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and meeting and marrying her husband in less than 30 days.

A Mind Unraveled, by Kurt Eichenwald—It is amazing that Eichenwald was able to write this book, with his memory as scarred as it is by years of uncontrolled epilepsy. His story is an important one—a cautionary tale about the importance of finding competent medical professionals, a lesson in self-advocacy, a study in discrimination in education and employment and a gift of hope and resilience. It was a captivating and compelling read.

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward, by Mark Lukach—This was a beautifully written account of Lukach’s family struggles with his wife’s mental health. Lukach and his wife Guilia are both courageous for sharing their story. Lukach’s devotion to a wife with periodic psychiatric hospitalizations is touching and poignant, and he shares what he has learned over several years about navigating the options for living with and treating mental illness. While the Lukachs’ struggles are different than the ones my family is facing, I still felt resonance when reading his account of the emotional roller coaster on which his family lives. This is a book that I was sad to finish.


Old Lady on the Trail: Triple Crown at 76
, by Mary E. Davison—This book is an epic journey in itself, as it details Mary Davison’s arduous quest to complete the Triple Crown of hiking—the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trial—over a period of several years as a section hiker. The book is long, but relating the tale of over 10,000 miles takes a while. Although the detail seems more minute than necessary in many cases, her story is inspirational and encouraging, complete with wisdom for remaining active while handling the realities of aging. She doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges of being an aging hiker, but she demonstrates a way to keep moving gracefully under those circumstances.

Old Man on a Bicycle: A Ride Across America and How to Realize a More Enjoyable Old Age, by Don Petterson—This is another journey memoir—my favorite type of memoir—by an older adult who took on a significant challenge. Pettersen rode from his New Hampshire home to San Francisco when he was 71 and 72. Stories like his and Davision’s give me encouragement that my future can still hold many adventures.

Parenting

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, by Julie Lythcott-Haims—I bought this book after listening to Julie Lythcott-Haims speak on the “Rich Roll Podcast.”  I was so impressed with her in that interview and felt like this was information I really needed that I decided to get the audiobook and listen on my commute. While she does have so many good suggestions, I was often left with the question, “But what if your child really is making truly bad decisions?” That was not really answered. She seemed to be talking to parents whose kids were stressed because of pressures to get into Stanford or Harvard. A lot of the critical reviews of this book center around the belief that Lythcott-Haims was talking only to the privileged elite. I took less issue with that than I did with the unanswered questions around young people of any socioeconomic status who make choices that endanger their lives and wreck their future.

Personal Development

Believe It: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable, by Jamie Kern Lima—I listened to this on audiobook. Lima does a great job of delivering an inspirational message through a memoir of her personal life experience. I was not familiar with her cosmetic company, but I really enjoyed learning about her journey and the lessons she has internalized along the way.


Habit Changers: 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals
, by MJ Ryan—This is a simple, but powerful strategy for changing behavior. These mantras are different than affirmations. They are intended as reminders and/or resets when we want to adopt or lose a habit. The concept is simple to learn. There are several terrific mantras. Even if there is not one for your particular goal, you can easily learn to apply the strategy and create your own.


The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life
, by Chris Guillebeau—Chris Guillebeau is one of my favorite authors, podcasters and thought leaders. I listen to him regularly and have read several of his books. This one features individuals who have taken on some type of quest. Many in the book, including Guillebeau’s own quest, feature some type of travel. Others take place closer to home. They are all fascinating and thought-provoking stories.

t’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond, by Julia Cameron—This is one of the most important books I have ever read. The subtitle doesn’t really describe the book, in my opinion, but it was wonderful, nonetheless. The objective of the book is actually to help people craft a retirement of purpose and meaning. I initially thought this might not be the right time for me to read it, but it was beautifully written, so I kept reading, and it turned out to be transformative. It helped me decide to resume my blog, after a three-month self-care pause, although I have continued to write only as my inspiration and time lead me to write, rather than on any particular schedule. I made peace with releasing my striving to build a coaching practice or an audience for a book proposal and even with writing the book I had been writing for nearly a year and a half. It introduced Cameron’s conception of GOD–Good, Orderly Direction—which I find tremendously helpful and comforting. It was the right book at the right time, and I am thankful.

Let Your Fears Make You Fierce: How to Turn Common Obstacles into Seeds for Growth, by Koya Webb—Written by a fellow Wichita State University Shocker, this book shares what she has learned through the adversity of collegiate and post-collegiate sports injuries. She is now a yoga teacher and life coach in California. Her writing is upbeat and encouraging.


Limitless: Core Techniques to Improve Performance, Productivity, and Focus
, by Jim Kwik—There are so many actionable ideas for improving our brains and our lives in this book. Kwik is immensely likable and has done meticulous research to write a fascinating and useful book for thinking better, reading faster, remembering more easily and so much more.

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living, by Jason Gay—Jason Gay shares quite a bit of wisdom in a very entertaining way in this hard-to-categorize book. It was part memoir, part “rule book,” as he called it. It made me laugh out loud at times, and it also contained worthwhile food for thought.

Psychology

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, by Ethan Kross—This book has many great suggestions for using our inner voice to help us, rather than torment us. I really appreciate it because it resonates with my messaging of choosing and directing our perspectives to upgrade our lives. There are many practical ideas.

The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, by Jonathan Rauch—This excellent book gave me hope and helped me understand what I now call my midlife malaise. I featured it in this blog post.

Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old, by John Leland—Although written by a different author a few months earlier than Rauch’s book, this book sometimes felt like a sequel to The Happiness Curve. Leland shares his stories from a year spent interacting with people aged 85 and older. Each one taught him a lesson. I wrote about this book here.

How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle, by Matt Fitzgerald—Fitzgerald presents the psychobiological model of endurance. With my interest in mind-body synergy, I was intrigued by the information he presented about how the mind affects the body and how athletic efforts and experience affect the mind

Sociology

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, by Jessica Bruder—Bruder did an amazingly thorough job of describing the fascinating phenomenon of modern nomadic living in the US. She spent years traveling with and getting to know a group of nomads that had previously escaped my awareness. I knew that there was a trending movement of vandwelling, and I know that some retirees sell their homes and travel the country in their luxury RVs. Of course, I was also aware of people living in their cars because of homelessness. The nomads featured in this book had some similarities with people in all these categories, yet they were different, too. Many of them are retired, and many are living a nomadic life in order to eliminate their most costly expense—housing. I was completely unaware that they actually have a nomadic community—spending part of the year working as Amazon Camperforce employees and part of the year as camp hosts or beet harvesters. They fall under the general label of “workampers” and have an annual desert gathering called Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. This was an enlightening and interesting book. There is a movie by the same name that is now on my list to watch.

True Crime

Hijacked: The True Story of The Heroes of Flight 705, by Dave Hirschman—This is a fascinating account of a hijacking I don’t remember. Three courageous pilots worked together to create a happy ending out of a near-tragic ordeal.

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood, by Gregg Olsen—This was an incredible story of unimaginable abuse and murder. It is a book that really makes you think about human cruelty, human kindness and human resilience. It was both fascinating and horrifying. In the end, I was left with a sense of hope inspired by the three sisters who were at the center of nightmare.


Incident at Big Sky: The Inside Story of the Search for Two Savage Killers in Montana
, by Johnny France—This was a really good book. It was different than a lot of true crime books because the emphasis was more on the manhunt than on solving the mystery of who committed the crime. It felt like a combination of true crime and outdoor adventure because of the rugged natural setting where the crimes occurred. I really enjoyed it.

The Michigan Murders, by Edward Keys—This was a very well-written book about a series of murders of young women in the area around Ann Arbor, Michigan. While the crimes were horrific, the story about hunt for the murderer was fascinating.

To Kill and Kill Again: The Terrifying True Story of Montana’s Baby-Faced Serial Sex Murderer, by John Coston—This audiobook was so engrossing that I drove clear past Augusta and realized I was coming into El Dorado on my way to a BAK Bike Rally workday. The story is both horrific and fascinating and is very well written and very well read.

My hope for 2022 is that we will all have a great year, both in reading and in life.

Happy New Year!

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