Viget’s Favorite Books of 2021
A collection of staff favorites from 2021.
Viget is full of readers and for the third year running we’d like to share some of the books we loved this year. These aren’t necessarily books published in 2021 — just books that we read and enjoyed this year. Without further ado, our 2021 favorites:
The Delivery is a must-read for anyone who has dabbled in linguistics and/or ordered a lot of pandemic GrubHub. Heady, whimsical, and often poignant, the book is an exploration of the power of language — how it can exclude and confine us...or free us. In it, Mendelsund "makes things" out of words, by turns critiquing and reveling in the pliability and downright weirdness of the English language. After all, words shape us, but we can also shape them.
If you loved The Phantom Tollbooth as a kid and regret not taking more linguistics classes in college, this book is for you.
P.S. *spoiler alert* the title is something of a pun, and for that I love it.
Recommended by Elyse Kamibayashi
This book is filled with personal essays and reviews of some common and interesting things we all experience in our daily lives on a five-star scale. Expanded from the fantastic podcast of the same name, John Green's stories of the shared human experience are heartfelt, honest, and thoughtful.
What I love most about these stories is how warm and fuzzy they make me feel when reading. I became deeply absorbed into each chapter whether or not I had any personal relation to the topic.
If you are a fan of exploring the world and the things that fill it like QWERTY keyboards, Diet Dr. Pepper, or velociraptors, this one is for you. I give The Anthropocene Reviewed five stars.
Recommended by Steven Hascher
This is a historical fiction book that centers around a network of female spies that were active during WWII. I've been trying to get more into historical fiction, and this was a great one for people who don't normally read that genre. It is written in a modern way and it has adventure, mystery, suspense, romance, and drama.
Recommended by Jess Spoll
I love when a book fundamentally shifts my perspective or thinking, and "Why We're Polarized" did that. Well-researched, clear, and compelling, it helped me better make sense of a political system that often seems to make no sense.
It was released in January 2020 — before COVID and the presidential election — and its prescience makes the entire book that much more credible. Even if (like me) you're burned out on reading sociopolitical critiques, this book was a page-turner that I'd recommend to anyone.
Recommended by Paul Koch
Delightful and entertaining. As an alternative to the more mundane activities in their retirement community, a spry and clever group of seniors formed the Thursday Murder Club to try to solve cold cases. When a suspicious person drops dead among them, the club inserts itself into the active investigation. Anyone who likes a good mystery would enjoy this one, with lots of twists and turns and some really likable characters. The second book in this series is next on my To-Read list!
Recommended by Carolyn Hack
It's 1936 in northern Georgia. Opal and her grandmother live in a part of town called "Colored Town" and are housekeepers for a white family, the head of which is Miss Peggy. The relationship between the two families goes back years, including the relationship between Miss Peggy's grandson and Opal. As she turns 18, Opal has to navigate how her relationship with him and his family has changed, as well as her blooming relationship with another boy from Colored Town. It's a coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of the reality of racism and violence.
I normally read non-fiction but this is a great read with characters that are easy to care about. If you like historical fiction, YA fiction, or just appreciate good writing, add it to your list.
Recommended by Mariel de la Garza
This is a heartwarming 2021 science fiction novel that would be enjoyed by any sci-fi fanatic. I don't want to say much about the plot, because part of the joy is starting the first chapter and having no idea what to expect as the protagonist himself begins to unravel the mystery of his situation.
This felt like a very timely read during the pandemic because the author manages to focus our attention on a captivating personal story full of hope and humor even during dark times.
Recommended by Meira Shuman
I devoured this captivating novella about a Black woman who chooses to pass as white in a single sitting on New Year’s Day. It was the perfect way to kick off my reading for the year. Despite being published in 1929, the story feels as fresh and relevant as ever and is full of twists and turns that you won’t see coming. Don’t let this literary classic pass you by.
Recommended by Laura Sweltz
This is the first in a trilogy of fantasy novels which are all excellent page turners. I couldn't put this one down! The world building is deep, but the novels are still character driven. The extensive lore supports the story, but the story is still the main thing. The rest of the trilogy ("The Obelisk Gate" and "The Stone Sky") are also great!
Recommended by Dylan Lederle-Ensign
NGUYỄN PHAN QUẾ MAI
In The Mountains Sing Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai tells the story of the Tran family across 100 years of social unrest and related atrocities in Vietnam. Told from alternating perspectives of two strong women (a grandmother and granddaughter, 40 years apart), it is immediately enthralling and fast-paced, but gradually reveals complex relationships and identities. I enjoyed the mix of politics, history, and family dynamics. I learned about the political movements that preceded the Vietnam War – history I didn't know – which shed new light on things with which I was more familiar. It's a great choice for audio if you don't know Vietnamese because you'll hear the place names, characters, and many other words pronounced correctly and they are beautiful.
I have never wanted to tell an author "thank you" more – this book feels like a gift, and not one easily given. It made me reflect on free speech, truth, democracy, war, and family. It's a deeply sad book, but realistic and honest. It left me grateful and more attuned to hope.
Recommended by Emily Bloom
If you’re interested in purchasing one of these books, we encourage you to order it from an indie bookstore. If you don’t already have a go-to indie, you can check out some of our favorites here. Feel free to share your favorite books from 2021 in the comments. Happy reading!