My 2021 reading list

4 January 2021

Last year, for the first time, I pre-planned 24 books to read throughout the year – one fiction and one non-fiction each month – for my own personal book club. I was very skeptical about the whole idea (would I hate being constrained? would I lose interest a few months in?), but I agreed – with myself – to hold the plan with loose hands.

Turns out, I loved everything about this project – turns out, it was one of my favorite things about 2020! I did, indeed, hold the plan loosely, especially when libraries closed for several months, and ended up reading 17 of my planned 24 books. Because of it, I was much more thoughtful about the mix of books I read – dipping into a wider variety of authors, subjects, depths, and modes than I would have had I just been at the whim of my library requested-books queue.

That’s what most excites me for my 2021 list. I have spent much time (kind of an embarrassing amount of time, actually) finalizing it. In the process, I referenced trusted friends (many of whom you’ll see sprinkled throughout this post), considered the events of my year, and mined my own extensive TBR iPhone note. I’m excited to read each one of these books, and if you’d like me to join me for any of them, I’d love to have you! Like last year, I’m planning to share a few brief thoughts on Instagram along the way, as well as in my monthly goal posts.

Many of these picks line up with my 2021 goals, which I’ve finalized and am planning to share later this week! Without further ado…

Such a Fun Age | This is by far the number one recommended book that I have not yet read, so I thought I’d give the people what they want and start the year off with it :)
Essentialism | Will be reading with my work gals! I’ve learned that before bed (my usual reading time) is not the best for a work-related book, since it turns my thoughts to work things and makes it hard to fall asleep, so I’m excited to dip into this one while I eat lunch, perhaps? “Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.”

Crazy Rich Asians | We watched and loved the movie, and I’ve heard the book that inspired it is even better! A love story seemed appropriate for the month of love :)
Upstairs at the White House | Considering it’s both an inauguration year and February is when we celebrate Presidents Day, this book about family life at the White House, told by the chief usher from FDR’s presidency through the first few weeks of Nixon’s, seemed appropriate! I’ll be reading along with Janssen’s book club.

Homegoing | This one has been on my radar since Jen wrote about it in 2019, and then of course it exploded in popularity midway through 2020. Excited to experience it for myself! I’ll be reading along with Stephanie Shaul’s book club, for which I faithfully read the email communication each month but have never actually attended, ha!
Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds | “How can we, as Christian women, keep our focus and sustain our passion when reading the Bible? This book will equip you to engage God’s word in a way that trains your mind and transforms your heart.” As someone who missed out on learning practical tools to engage in my faith when younger, I read this description and yelped, “sign me up!”

Olive Kitteridge | I’m intrigued and a bit nervous about this Pulitzer Prize winner. Jo says it’s her favorite book, but the reviews are decidedly mixed, with some readers saying it’s boring and depressing. We shall see :)
Atomic Habits | I mean, can you even work for a company that helps women set goals and NOT have read this book?! Excited to see what all the fuss is about. I’ll be reading with Nancy’s book club!

The Vanishing Half | Maybe the most popular book of 2020, according to social media. Tracing the paths of two sisters as it does, I’m intrigued to compare it to Homegoing!
Being Mortal | This one has been on my TBR list for years, and when it popped up on Janssen’s plan, I knew it was time to get it on my nightstand. As Christians, we are reminded to number our days, and this sounds like a book that can help me do that.

Dear Edward | One 12-year-old survives a plane crash that kills the other 183 passengers – and sets off a “multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters.”
Self Portrait in Black and White | Fun fact about John: you know how we talked about patrons awhile ago? One way he shows his patronage of voices he appreciates is by buying their books. However, he *very* rarely actually reads them – more often, I pick them up after they’ve gathered dust for a few months on his bedside table, and then read choice passages out loud to him before bed, haha. Such is the story of this month’s pick :)

American Royals | A lighthearted romantic comedy that would surely cause the Founding Fathers to roll in their graves. Cheekily reading this in the month of our nation’s birth.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key | Reading with Nancy’s book club! Loved this from the jacket: “Such hospitality sees our homes as not our own, but as God’s tools for the furtherance of his kingdom as we welcome those who look, think, believe, and act differently from us into our everyday, sometimes messy lives―helping them see what true Christian faith really looks like.”

A Column of Fire | The next book in the Kingsbridge series, which I dearly love!
The Self-Driven Child | Just read the description of this book and you’ll immediately see why I am very excited about it. I love the idea of diving into a book about parenting in the month we’ll be sending our oldest to kindergarten!

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me | This one’s for my friend Pressley, whose recommendations always perk up my ears. Also, four generations of family stories sound right up my alley.
Awaking Wonder | Continuing with the previous month’s theme, this is Sally Clarkson’s take on education in its most holistic form. As I love The Lifegiving Home, I’m excited to learn from her once again.

The Dutch House | Even though I already own a copy of this, it’s the only book I’m considering listening to – I’ve heard the Tom Hanks narration is perfection!
Beautiful Resistance | Jon Tyson speaks right to my heart, soul, and mind whenever he delivers a message on living within (but not of) today’s culture. This one has been sitting on John’s bedside table, too, ha!

The Dearly Beloved | If it’s one of Stephanie’s top 5 books of the year, it’s going on my list! The plot, which weaves together two marriages, across several decades, tied together by the church they steward, promises to be rich and satisfying.
Funny in Farsi | This memoir about an Iranian immigrant family sounds delightful and, well, funny. And it has Janssen’s seal of approval!

The Book of Longings | I am skeptical about this book, but several friends have raved about it and reading The Invention of Wings last year reminded me how much I love Sue Monk Kidd’s writing – so here we are!
Digital Minimalism | The only book I didn’t read from my 2020 list that’s making it onto this year’s list. Helps that I already own it :)

I’d love to hear: have you read any of these books? Would you like to read any alongside me in 2021? Let’s chat!

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January 4, 2021 8:03 am

I’ve read half of your fiction picks: Such a Fun Age, the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (the perfect “beach reads” in my opinion), American Royals, The Dutch House, A Column of Fire, and The Vanishing Half. I enjoyed all of them and will be curious to see what you think! :)

Partly inspired by you, I made a general list of books I want to read this year, separate from my main TBR list. I haven’t gone so far as to categorize it by month, but even the act of doing it has already been useful! Homegoing and The Book of Longings both made it on my list!

January 4, 2021 9:35 am

I love this list! I have read lots of these and will be excited to hear what you think. I particularly loved The Vanishing Half, Homegoing, Being Mortal, The Dutch House, American Royals, and The Dearly Beloved (all for very different reasons, ha)! I actually just finished Atomic Habits yesterday and loved it – it is full of LOTS of practical wisdom! Many of the author’s points are not groundbreaking individually, but I think together it is a powerful “formula”. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me and Olive Kittredge are on my 2021 list, too, so I would love to read them with you!

January 4, 2021 9:42 am

YAY! So excited to hear your thoughts on Nobody Will Tell You This But Me! I have become a little fanatical in my recommending of it :)
Like Steph, I adored The Dearly Beloved, so I’m excited to hear what you think of it, too. And I’d highly recommend going with the audiobook for The Dutch House! I think I would have liked it had I read the physical copy, but Tom Hanks’ voice made me feel compelled to listen constantly, and I finished it in two days. (I’m normally much slower than that with audiobooks!)
Also, I’m adding The Gospel Comes With a House Key to my list!

January 4, 2021 10:00 am

Your reading intentions are so inspiring, friend. I just picked up a few of these same titles myself, and am eager to discuss with you on one of our quarterly check in calls! Happy reading.

January 4, 2021 10:43 am

Emily, you have inspired the setup of my 2021 reading list! I’m also planning (and hopefully reading!) one fiction and one non-fiction book each month! I can‘t wait to make progress! Thank you for this sweet online space of inspiration! ☺️

January 4, 2021 10:50 am

SO many good books!!! I love that creating a monthly reading list worked so well for you, and I’m excited about what you’ll be undertaking this year! I’ve read all of your fiction books, minus Dear Edward, and enjoyed them all, minus Olive Kitteridge. In a somewhat similar vein, I spent the last month creating a 2021 non-fiction book list (sharing it tomorrow!) that I am extremely excited to tackle. A couple of our non-fiction picks overlap, so I’ll be so intrigued to hear your thoughts on those, too! xoxox

January 4, 2021 10:51 am

Oh! And Funny in Farsi is such a blast from the past: I remember reading it in a college sociology class way back in the day!!

January 4, 2021 11:00 am

Great list, Emily! I read Essentialism back in 2015 and am so curious what you think about it. I’m glad it’s on the docket for January so I don’t have to wait too long to find out! The book actually didn’t sit very well with me; I found the mentality to be insultingly selfish. I’m so curious to learn if you agree or disagree! (I’d be happy to loan out my copy if anyone at CWM needs one.)
I’ve also read Homegoing, Crazy Rich Asians, Being Mortal, and The Dutch House. As a resident, I think Being Mortal is an important book that everyone should read, especially as our parents/grandparents age…and to prepare us for (hopefully) our own aging as well. And I read The Dutch House but also heard that the audiobook was absolutely lovely, so I think it’d be a great one to listen to.
I’m in an in-person (well, now on Zoom) book club with some lovely older woman (most are in their 60s+!), so I never quite know what we’re going to read throughout the year, but we’re discussing Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, which won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2018, in a couple of weeks. Haven’t started it yet, so I better get reading!

January 4, 2021 12:12 pm

You must listen to The Dutch House! Tom Hanks is phenomenal.
I have a hard time quitting books halfway through, but I so wish I’d quit or “paused” Olive Kitteridge after picking it up early in quarantine. The writing is beautiful and the characters are compelling, but the story is in no way redemptive or uplifting. I found it heavy in the worst of ways. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts!

Bethany Griffith
January 4, 2021 12:29 pm

Excited for you to dive into Atomic Habits! (This was one of the books I was, now infamously, reading when I first attended articles club and lied about my current reads before reading the room ???? )
Tom Hanks read me the Dutch House while I wrapped gifts this December and I have been recommending to everyone who will listen ever since!

January 4, 2021 2:33 pm

Essentialism is one of my favorite books! I think it’d make the perfect lunchtime book. And Women of the Word sounds really good – excited to hear your thoughts on it!

January 4, 2021 4:06 pm

You have some of my all-time faves on your list! I’ve recommended Olive Kitteridge, The Dearly Beloved, and Atomic Habits time and again to fellow reader friends. I wouldn’t call Digital Minimalism a “fave” necessarily, but it is very interesting, and led me to do a social media detox this month. I actually read his earlier book, Deep Work, last week and enjoyed it even more than DM (lots of similar themes in Essentialism!). Dear Edward is quite sad, but stuck with me for months after reading. Can’t wait to hear what you think of all of these!

February 16, 2021 11:47 pm
Reply to  Em

LOVED Deep Work–probably more than Digital Minimalism :)

January 6, 2021 10:43 am

Adding several of these to my list! Been wanting to read The Dearly Beloved and The Vanishing Half so those are definitely on my 2021 list. Dear Edward and Such A Fun Age are also getting added, along with The Self-Driven Child. Might also have to pick up Upstairs at the White House. I am a sucker for all things related to the Presidency, the First Family, and the White House. That book sounds super interesting!
Finished Digital Minimalism a few weeks ago and loved it! Doing a social media detox this month as a result.

January 7, 2021 10:26 am

Great list! I admire your goal of one non-fiction per month. I read A LOT of books, but I’d say only about 10% are non-fiction. Atomic Habits in particular has piqued my interest. I am in the middle of a NF read now – Guns, Germs, and Steel. It is very interesting to learn about the ways different societies advanced at different rates. I’d be scared of Olive Kitteridge, too! I read My Name is Lucy Barton, and it was so depressing that I have sworn off all her other books. I have also found some Anne Patchett books to be downers (like Commonwealth), so I was surprised how much I enjoyed The Dutch House (on audio). Here’s to a good reading year!

January 11, 2021 7:00 am

[…] EIGHT+ Do you have A pre-planned reading list for the year? […]

January 11, 2021 8:49 pm

[…] to “Word before words,” or reading my Bible each night before I pick up my current fiction or non-fiction read. Excited to dig into and apply Women of the Word in Q1, […]

January 13, 2021 5:46 am

[…] My reading list for 2021, if you’d like to follow along! […]

January 15, 2021 2:08 pm

This is amazing – I like to read on a more adhoc basis and recommendations throughout the year. But I am setting myself goals on the number of books per month x

[…] book from the library this year that halfway in, claimed that Jesus sinned. WOW. Haha.) I love Emily Thomas’ plan of choosing books in advance and I’m kind of geeking out over Modern Miss Darcy’s reading plan […]

February 16, 2021 11:45 pm

Atomic Habits and Digital Minimalist are great. I also loved one called “How to Break Up with Your Phone,” which was a bit more practical than Digital Minimalism but in the same vein. I have The Vanishing Half on my list for this year and Dutch House (audio)!
I love parenting books as well and the best parenting book I have ever read is How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk. SOOO Good. Self-Driven Child and Parenting with Love and Logic are on my list this year. You should also check out this great podcast from raising boys called “All About Boys” hosted by some faith-based therapists in Nashville, TN!
Finally, I just read the Book of Longings. I am a HUGE Sue Monk Kidd fan and this book DID NOT DISAPPOINT. It was so lovely. If you enjoy her writing, you will love this lovely book.

Kimberly Wood
April 24, 2021 4:17 pm

Dearly Beloved is an ALL TIME top 5 book for me. The writing is beautiful and thoughtful.
White Ivy should be on your list. Book of Longings is better than expected and leaves you with the thought of “so what if it did happen? Does it change anything?” American Royals is escapism like a ROMCOM. Brings nothing to the table but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Great pool/beach read.

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