Let me begin with a confession: This was my worst reading year in over a decade. I ended up working on very time-consuming projects that wore away at me. I only had the mental energy left for easy reading most days during that time. Couple that with a carpet installation disaster that happened this summer — my library was supposed to be boxed up for a week or two, but ended up being boxed up for two months — and I consider 2021 subpar.
On the bright side, the best books I read this year had very little competition. Giving out the awards was much easier!
Another thing I learned is that reading aloud sustains me. On the days when I had “no time to read,” I did make the time to continue my tradition of reading aloud to my children. We got through so many wonderful books, books I could live upon when my own intellectual diet was so scanty. (My annual read-alouds list is coming soon so watch for it.)
I have to give a big shout out to our Scholé Sisters 5×5 Reading Challenge. I ended up having to rewrite my plan midstream — I made it at the end of 2020 when I had no clue the amount of work headed my way — but still … the existence of a plan and a determination to finish kept me motivated and in good habits (even if I did have to use read alouds to complete it).
Now. On to the awards!
The post contains affiliate links.
Best in Fantasy
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
I read all of the Harry Potter series for the first time this year. I felt so burnt out in May. Escapist reading for the win! These books are controversial in some circles and I feel like I managed to disappoint most people in my response to them — I liked them too much for some and asked too many questions for others.
Rowling’s writing gets better as the series progresses. This one was my favorite.
Other contenders: As I said, I read all the Harry Potter series. This is the set we have.
Best in Government/Economics
Aeropagitica by John Milton
In a world full of “fact”-checking and censorship, it’s important to know what you’re about. There’s no better way to understand why free speech is important, and why the West thinks about freedom of speech the way that it does, than to read the original free speech tome, straight from the mouth of John Milton.
It’s genius and, for all its antiquated language, feels oh so familiar. I found it especially insightful when he explained how the most intelligent people would never take a censorship job, and so you end up with a situation where the low-IQ, under-educated part of the populace is monitoring the people who actually understand the situation.
Other contenders: Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Revolt Against the Masses by Fred Siegel
Best in Health/Science
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This book has everything going for it. It’s well-written and well-woven. It’s interesting in its story, but also raises timeless medical questions. It reminds you of where we’ve come from, and makes you wonder where we’re going. It shows the reality of a poor family never compensated by a corrupt pharmaceutical industry, but it also shows how corrupt a family culture can be. (Maybe it’s an important and timely reminder that corruption can exist on both the micro and macro levels?)
I loved this book, but it’s likely not for everyone. I wept in parts — it’s a gut punch. It tells stories of injustice and abuse, so be ready for them. Some of the abuse is graphic enough that this book is not for children.
Other contenders: Health for All of Life by Jason Garwood (beware — this one is interesting but too prosperity gospel for my taste); Adrenaline Dominance by Dr. Michael Platt; Pasteur: Plagiarist, Imposter by RB Pearson; Limitless by Jim Kwik
Best in Education
Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour
It’s probably not fair to give this award to Louis L’Amour, not when I also read CS Lewis. But the fact is, I liked this one the best (other than the book which is receiving my Book of the Year award). My Lewis title was a reread — and not a second read, but likely a sixth or seventh. I love that book, but it wasn’t the book I savored. That goes to L’Amour.
This is basically a memoir of L’Amour’s self-education during the Great Depression. He left home at 15 to find work, and managed to spend his rare spare coins on books. His reading lists are absolutely astounding and he proves that much reading can be accomplished by using the nooks and crannies of life.
Other contenders: Parents and Children by Charlotte Mason, The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis, How to Think by Alan Jacobs
2022 Afterthoughts Book of the Year
The Didascalicon of Hugh of Saint Victor
This book and I had a love-at-first-sight moment. I fell hard in the Introduction!
First, Hugh’s mind is so well organized, and it shows. He described all the different aspects of education much like a puzzle, and he does it so well that the reader can put it all together and be astounded by the picture it makes.
What I really love about Hugh’s work is how distinctly Christian it is — how he resolves all of education into the ultimate aim of knowing and loving Christ, and he does this is a highly logical manner (rather than the artificial means so common with modern writers).
I can’t recommend this book to you enough!
Honorable mention: The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon (it didn’t really fit in any of the above categories, but it is a work of genius!)
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.
I think a terrible reading year was going around. I read fewer books in 2021 than ever since I’ve been recording – and the ones I did read were mainly YA and light nonfiction. Lacks was my favorite in 2020 though! I love the look of the L’Amour memoir. Maybe it’ll help me find those moments to read moving forward.
Okay, your book of year is intimidating, seeing I really can’t even pronounce the title. Would you say it is an accessible read for most? I feel like my brain is always ready for a challenge, and your hearty recommendation is definitely intriguing. I was waiting for this list! And can’t wait to see your read alouds!
I think it’s a slow read for most people. It’s very logical, though, so once you get a feel for the style, one fun thing to do is to try and draw charts from what he is saying. I really loved it and I realized how disorganized my mind is compared to a medieval mind.
Brandy, I am currently reading …Henrietta Lacks with my 12th grader slowly according to AO schedule and thoroughly enjoying it! Although, I don’t know if “enjoying” is the right word given the hardship and injustice it holds. Your description captured my sentiments exactly.
I also started the Louis L’Amour book in 2021, but had to return it to the library before finishing. I do hope to obtain a personal copy and finish it. While reading, I started making a list of his reading. As a bibliophile, it was all so very intriguing!!!
I always meant to reading the Lacks book with my oldest and we ended up not fitting it in. Every time he comes home I try to get him to read it!
You definitely need your own copy of the L’Amour book. It’s so good! I know what you mean about making a list– the copy I have has one ready-made in the back! I have thought about doing a 5×5 challenge based on his reading someday.
My worst reading year, ever, too. I had to laugh about Harry Potter, though. I read that whole series during 2020 lockdowns. Also used your link to buy the Didascalion. Happy New Year!
Oh! Someday we will have to chat all things Harry Potter. And I can’t wait to hear what you think about the Didascalicon!!
I love reading your lists and reviews. Thanks for your writing, you are definitely one of those who is using your God given talents and your life experiences for “such a time as this.” I enjoy the Schole Sisters podcast too. Jennifer, Orthodox Christian, CM enthusiast, wife and mama of 7 from AR
Thank you for your kind words, Jennifer. ♥