Bookworm: My best books of 2021

2021 was another great year of reading for me, thanks largely in part to Book of the Month. It was my seventh year doing my reading challenge, where I aim to read as many new-to-me books as the year we’re in (aka #21in21), and I closed the year out by finishing a total of 27 books.

I’m already on the second book of my #22in22 challenge and excited about diving into my massive TBR pile.

For 2022’s challenge, I vow to tackle some of the excellent books gathering dust, so to speak, on my Kindle, which I’ve definitely let fall to the wayside since joining BOTM at the end of 2019.

While I’ll always love holding (and smelling) real books the most, I do adore my Kindle because it enables me to read in the dark cave my husband prefers we live in, and I love being able to highlight great lines and quotes. Plus, it’s compact, which is going to come in handy as I’m running out of space both on my bookshelves and places to put bookcases in our apartment!

Without further ado, here are my Best Books of 2021. While I hope to blog about my #22in22 books, I make no promises, but you can follow along — and even join me with your own challenge! — on Instagram.

Happy reading!

My best books of 2021

5. “The Last Night of the Earth Poems” by Charles Bukowski

Last Night of the Earth Poems by Charles Bukowski

This is Bukowski at his dark, lyrical best. He makes even the most mundane moment sing as his broken brilliance emanates from the page in such a way I can smell the sickly stale miasma of his cigarettes and booze and feel a sticky, well-worn bar and the sun baking my skin at the track.

The older I get, the more I love and relate to him, the more he takes my breath away with his missives, his ramblings, his resilience and his flaws. Hank’s voice is so true — and so unlike any other.

4. “A Woman Speaks” by Anais Nin

A Woman Speaks by Anais Nin

I always turn to Anais Nin when I need a reset, so “A Woman Speaks” was the perfect 1/21 — one that I boldly predicted “will definitely have a place on my Best Books of 2021” list.

Reading Nin calms me, opens up my mind, and this was no different. It was as if I was sitting in the audience of these lectures, connecting with her, her words and her being. Though released in 1975, it is, quite possibly, even more timely today than it was then. She saw what was coming — too much, too fast, technology and media — and how it would irrevocably change and desensitize humanity.

As a lifelong journaler, her diaries, and her relationship with them, have long fascinated and inspired me. Her writing is so passionate, so profound, and it opens up my consciousness in a way no other writer has.

“A Woman Speaks” is a consuming, intimate and powerful read about Nin’s thoughts on womanhood, relationships, creativity, writing, self and psychoanalysis. There are so many lines to savor, to use to sustain me that my copy was immediately dog-eared and filled with underlinings of passages and lines that resonated with me.

3. “Writing Across the Landscape” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Writing Across the Landscape by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

This collection of travel journals by City Lights Books’ founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti was transportive, inspiring, descriptive, funny and a window into the fascinating life and travels of a captivating pioneer.

As my wanderlust (and European honeymoon) has been indefinitely put on hold thanks to COVID, I devoured LF’s searing and introspective thoughts on government, religion, revolution and turning on and dropping out. So many of his lyrical lines resonate and are a premonition of current affairs: “History is written with a weighted pen: its point dipped in pure bullshit.”

A remarkable tome that had me hungering for travel, experiences, sights and sounds just waiting to be captured by my own pen all the more.

2. “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” by Dawnie Walton

The Final Reveal of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

“Opal & Nev” has all my favorite things: journalists, music, NYC, an oral history writing style, conversational tone, stark timeliness and strong AF women. I loved it for the reasons I adored my 2020 BOTY “Daisy Jones” as it has similar “Behind the Music” vibes, but “Opal” is deeper, more nuanced and richer because of its realness.

The characters are so vivid, I felt like I was reading about bands and events I knew and grew up listening to, especially as real bands, magazines and events are peppered in — and even The New York Post gets a few oh-so-Posty namedrops.

1. “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towels

“Opal & Nev” was solidy my No. 1 from the second I devoured it in March — until I picked up this massive doorstop in late October.

Masterful storyteller Towles has long been a favorite since I read his stunning debut “Rules of Civility” and then “A Gentleman in Moscow.” He again left me wowed with “Lincoln Highway.”

I loved how narratives change with each chapter, so you get to know the characters. Emmett’s care and strength are as touching as Billy and Wooly’s innocence are endearing, while Duchess’ escapades are an infuriating ticking time bomb. As in his two previous gems, Towles’ writing is so lyrical, conversational and transportive, I truly felt like I was on their adventure, from the cars and trains to canvassing the NYC area. An absolutely immersive, fantastic and beautiful read.

Honorable mentions

“Half Sick of Shadows” by Laura Sebastian

I’ve been obsessed with King Arthur my whole life. The legend has everything — kings and queens, knights, good/evil, love, heroism, betrayal, mysticism, war, the Holy Grail and Excalibur. It all enthralled me so much, and so did this. 

While I’ve seen some Arthurphiles scoff at this incarnation, Sebastian’s writing of Elaine’s story is so detailed, so lyrical that each line washes over you like a gentle Avalon breeze. This spectacular read enraptured and haunted me — and reignited my wonder for Camelot. 

“Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I always wanted to be a beach bum/surfer girl, and this story of the riveting Riva family, responsibility, love, abandonment, renewal and Malibu in the early ’80s was totally tubular. The kids’ feelings — or lack thereof — toward absent rock star dad Mick showing up and wanting to know them when he was alone and on a downswing hit home. TJR, who wrote my aforementioned 2020 BOTY “Daisy Jones & the Six,” once again knocks it out of the park. 

“The Five” by Hallie Rubenhold

Quite a lesson on how old #fakenews is in regard to the reporting of the Jack the Ripper murders. You never hear of — or sadly even consider — the lives of victims Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane. The gruesome mystery has been sensationalized, and even romanticized, plus there’s that “just prostitutes” so “they asked for it” double-standard mentality still prevalent today. 

But they were far more than just Ripper victims. They were women with dreams, families, demons and dashed hopes. None had easy lives, and some weren’t even prostitutes, which Rubenhold’s detailed and gripping book shows as she expertly transports readers and murderinos to Victorian-era London. 

“Nothin’ But a Good Time” by Tom Beaujour & Richard Bienstock

Born in 1977, I came of age dreaming of Bret Michaels, banging my head to the Crue & Skid Row and loving all ’80s hair metal thanks to my older brother. But when the Nirvana atom bomb dropped, this Gen Xer watched it wide-eyed from the blast zone. So I still remember the era before “Teen Spirit” and the one after — and I proudly belong to both. 

It was so interesting to hear from so many on the inside of the debaucherous rock scene I so desperately wanted to be a part of about what was happening to them as fans like me started listening to and identifying more with grunge. It was incredible insight into the hustle and camaraderie they had to make it, the meteoric rises, falls, sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll and everything in between. 

My complete 2021 reading list


1. “A Woman Speaks” by Anais Nin

2. “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix

3. “These Violent Delights” by Chloe Gong

4. “The Survivors” by Jane Harper 

5. “Hunger” by Roxane Gay

6. “Girl A” by Abigail Dean

7. “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett

8. “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” by Dawnie Walton

9. “In the Springtime of the Year” by Susan Hill

10. “What Comes After” by Joanne Tompkins

11. “The Last Night of the Earth Poems” by Charles Bukowski 

12. “The Five” by Hallie Rubenhold 

13. “The Last Thing He Told Me” by Laura Dave 

14. “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh 

15. “Half Sick of Shadows” by Laura Sebastian 

16. “We Are the Brennans” by Tracey Lange

17. “Nothin’ But a Good Time” by Tom Beaujour & Richard Bienstock

18. “The People We Keep” by Allison Larkin 

19. “Not a Happy Family” by Shari Lapena 

20. “The Maidens” by Alex Michaelides 

21. “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid 

22. “Writing Across the Landscape” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti 

23. “How Much of These Hills Is Gold” by C Pam Zhang

24. “Beautiful Country” by Qian Julie Wang

25. “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles

26. “Harlem Shuffle” by Colson Whitehead

27. “In the Weeds” by Tom Vitale

About Nikki Mascali Roarty

I am an editor, writer and New Yorker who has ink for blood and the blog name + tattoo to prove it. This is my blog about reading, writing and absolutely no 'rithmetic because I am horrendous at math.
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