This is an incomplete list of books I read in 2021 — too late, I realized I hadn’t tracked them in goodreads. I assembled this list from memory combined with library receipts in my email. Next year, I think I’ll try to keep track of what I’m reading during the year. I’m listing these alphabetically by author, as I only roughly remember when I read some of them.
Upon a Burning Throne (The Burnt Empire Saga) by Ashok K. Banker is the last book I read in 2021 (I finished it on 12/30!). This was a huge first installment that I found by luck at Barnes & Noble. It is fantasy based in India and inspired by the ancient Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata. The characters were beautiful, the villain was terrifying, and the struggle between them kept me up late a few nights. I’m definitely going to grab the second volume in 2022.
Miles Morales : Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis details the origin story of Miles Morales as the new Spiderman. I loved this very different (non-Peter Parker) spiderman. He’s a young kid caught between the glamour and danger of being a super hero and the giant secret of hiding that from his parents.
I can’t believe I only started reading Octavia Butler last year. Her books are prescient, hopeful, & terrifying. And most of them were written in the 80s and 90s.
The Parable Series is about a young girl (Lauren Olamina) who, roughly, grows up as an empath in California, circa 2025. The world is rocked by climate change and America is run by a demagogue. While Butler gets a lot of credit for predicting someone like Trump, I think the best part of this book is the model she presents for a hopeful future.
I read two books from the Patternmaster Series (Wildseed and Mind of My Mind). These were both amazing. Wildseed is about Anyanwu is a healer and shapeshifter who comes into conflict with Doro, a mysterious being who takes over people’s bodies by instinct. Anyanwu is a minor player in the second book in the series (Mind of My Mind). Instead it focuses on their (many generations deep) offspring & Doro.
I haven’t decided if I”ll read more of Patternmaster. The next book (Clay’s Ark) is apparently the book that Butler liked least (she called it her “Star Trek” book). and I don’t want to jump over it.
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline is (obviously) the sequel to Ready Player One. It was a good sequel and a fun, quick read.
Black Panther. A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates in Ta-Nahesi Coates hands is one part Afro-futurism and one part political commentary, all wrapped up in a super hero.
Like Butler, I can’t believe I’m only just now discovering N.K. Jemisin. I read the Dreamblood Duology last year and fell in love. Her characters are beautifully constructed and her worlds fascinating. I read the Inheritance Trilogy this year. The political intrigue, the enslaved gods, and the people around them made the whole world a sight to behold.
My wife and my oldest daughter both told me to read The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune. It was funny and sad all at the same time. Very few books can give you the feels for the Antichrist and this book did it over and over again.
I read March (Book 1) years ago. March (Book Two) by John Lewis continues his good trouble.
I saw The Three Body Problem on Barack Obama’s reading list and received the entire Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy for Christmas last year. The translations were excellent (the footnotes were amazing!). These books were somehow both depressing in the structure of galactic civilizations (the dark forest) and hopeful in how he has defined individuals. I had no words when I finished the Death’s End.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud was revelatory. It changed how I saw comics as a medium. It changed how I read them. Almost every graphic novel on this list was made better because I read this book.
A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul is a story of the Indian diaspora in Trinidad. Though beautifully written and often funny, I couldn’t like or identify with any of the characters (especially Mr. Biswas). This was the only book on this list I abandoned.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama was mostly disappointing. It’s not a history book and I shouldn’t have expected it to be one.
My wife has been telling me to read Richard Powers all year. Bewilderment by Richard Powers made me cry. The stages of Theo’s & Robin’s relationship made me think of my own kids and the backdrop of a darker, scarier 2020 really brought home how fragile everything is.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson was wonderful. Stevenson did a wonderful job explaining why the death penalty serves no one well through his professional career and the people he tried to help along the way. He did a beautiful job humanizing all the people involved while not letting the system off the hook.
Paper Girls vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan is set in 1980s Ohio. It follows a group of newspaper delivery girls who end up in the middle of a war between two futuristic opponents. I can’t wait to read more of these!
Galactic Hellcats by Marie Vibbert was fun, energetic read with my favorite kind of story: unlikely friends pitted against incredible odds!
Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang is amazing! I first read American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints a few years ago. They made me think about my own immigrant background made me want to explore authors from India more (hence some of the books on this list).
Level up is a complicated story of a man who is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. He struggles to integrate what he wants, what his father wants, and what society wants from him. The whole thing is told against the backdrop of A video game (Pac-Man ghosts and all).
Yang took a stereotypical “Asian” superhero, Shang-chi, and made him a person as interesting and as thoughtful as any in the Marvel universe.
In The Shadow Hero, Yang took the first Asian super hero (The Green Turtle) and breathed new life into him. His new Green Turtle has a backstory, parents, a love interest, and hijinks. I particularly loved the original comics and how he wove in apparently non-sensical elements into a cohesive story.