I read 34 books last year. It’s not an impressive number to some, I’m sure, but it makes me proud. I haven’t enjoyed reading for pleasure in a while and last year was when I fell back in love with the life-altering, perspective-shifting power of the written word.
My go-to genre has always been non-fiction of all kinds; social issues, economics and business, theology, self-help, general information, and memoirs regularly occupy my “Currently Reading” list. But last year, thanks to discovering #bookstagram, there were so many good-looking fiction recommendations crossing my feed and I decided to check some of them out. A few of them were misses, but there were some real gems, two of which are featured here.
These are my favorite books I encountered in 2021, the ones I can’t stop telling everyone to check out for themselves. We have theology, fiction, and even a cookbook. I hope you pick one or two (or all) of these up to enjoy and savor throughout the year.
Abuelita Faith – Kat Armas: I hate admitting it, but this was the first Christian living book I read from a Latina perspective. And what a refreshing point of view this was.
This book is rich with wisdom and truth, drawing from the author’s deep well of marginalized and womanist theology. So often, the stories of women in the Bible are overlooked, minimized, or read in the context of how the woman’s actions benefit a man’s intention. They are rarely viewed as central characters in God’s great plan for liberation and justice.
Kat Armas invites us to look closer and deeper at the forgotten women of the Scriptures; the Hebrew midwives in Exodus, Rahab and Ruth in Judges, Tabitha from Acts, and more. Women from marginalized communities and realities have been showing how to embody theology, not just theorize about it, since the beginning of time. Drawing from the parallels of her Cuban heritage and the themes of justice and restoration in the Bible, Kat has given a voice to the women who put their faith into living action despite all odds, to usher in freedom and hope for generations to come.
Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi: This book caught me off guard in the best way possible. I had never read anything by Gyasi until this point and her writing is a work of art. I want to learn how to do this.
This novel follows the story of a scientist who is looking for physical answers to explain personal loss and pain. A theme I was not expecting was the protagonist’s own deconstruction away from concrete religious practices; the author captured the “spiritual flashbacks” one often has after distancing themselves from religious environments and beautifully held tension for that internal dynamic.
While there is nothing graphic, there are some heavy themes – domestic abuse, drugs, death, and mental health.
The Wisdom of Your Body – Dr. Hillary McBride: The language of “embodiment” has always evoked a sort of abstract, “woowoo” vibe to me. There was never a consistent context it would be used in, instead seeming to be a word the author or social media writer would employ synonymous to “deep breathing” or “meditation.”
Enter this book. The rich academia throughout is like holiday dinner for my brain. Compiling years of research and scholarship, Dr. McBride has given this beautiful resource to draw from as one seeks to understand what embodied living is and how to integrate it as a way of life. This book ranges from the minutiae of everyday life to the political landscapes of how marginalized bodies are consistently othered and oppressed. Dr. McBride also addresses the lasting and damaging effects of purity culture, how embodied living and earth conservation are connected, and how a religion that separates the body and spirit is not holistic theology.
I have never read The Body Keeps the Score, as I’ve heard it can be pretty intense; while I cannot compare the two, this book approaches the concept of bodily and psychological trauma from a gentle, non-triggering point of view. That being said, topics such as disordered eating, mental health, and purity culture are discussed. Nothing is graphic, but it is still worth noting.
How to Find Love In A Bookshop – Veronica Henry: This was one of the last books I read in 2021 and what a cozy way to end out the year.
It was the title that drew me in – anything bookish is an easy sell for me. This is a heartwarming story set in a little English town featuring a variety of people and walks of life that all, in a small or big way, connect to this bookshop and its beloved owner. The multiple story lines all connect to each other in a celebration of friendship, community, and legacy.
To those who aren’t prone to “romcom” reads, I still think you’ll enjoy it. This book portrays a variety of perspectives on love and relationships, new love to broken love and the sometimes complicated in-between.
Jubilee – Toni Tipton-Martin: This one is a little different because it’s a cookbook, but it’s the one I referenced the most after my husband gifted it to me for my birthday in the summer. My goodness, it’s all delicious. Don’t let the cover scare you – while there are a selection of seafood-based dishes in here, there is plenty of variety to suit most palettes.
The okra pilau quickly worked its way into our meal rotation, along with the braised celery (a revelation!), baked beans, sweet potato salad, and shrimp creole. I haven’t made a dessert from here yet, but I think the first one I want to try is the gingerbread with lemon sauce. This entire book is one I can easily see myself cooking through entirely, something I have never done with any cookbook thus far.
The recipes in here are approachable, yet with complex flavor. But this isn’t just a collection of recipes; with nuggets of history sprinkled throughout, it gives a glimpse into the legacy of culinary innovation and genius that has always been specific to the Black community.
I hope at least one of these crosses your path this year. I truly believe there is something for everyone in each of these works and let me know if you do pick up one of these. I’d love to hear what you think!