My Favorite Books of 2021
Of all the books I read this year, these are the ones I loved the most.
Every year, I try to read 52 books — one each week (you can see my list from 2016-present here: Susan’s Reading List). Last year, I was short by four books, so this year I set my goal at 100, and made it to 71 (so far).
I likely would have made it to 100 if I had not set aside books I didn’t like. I had probably around 40 DNFs this year — books that I picked up, started reading, but didn’t finish because I didn’t like them for whatever reason. I used to try to push through and finish books no matter what, but I’ve given up on that — life is too short to read books that don’t speak to me. This year, I also read a ton of books for research on various projects, but I consider those work reading, and not fun reading, so they don’t go on my reading list.
Finding time to read this year was difficult. My son was born in the Spring, and he still isn’t sleeping through the night, so I have been painfully short on time and brainpower for most of the year. Because of this, I didn’t really make any specific reading goals and ended up reading a lot of children’s/middle grade books and books about filmmaking and filmmakers, which was absolutely the way to go.
Okay, let’s jump right in!
It was not easy to make this list and pick out only ten books — I loved so many of the books that I read this year — but these are the ones I loved the most. (You can find the whole list here: Susan’s Reading List.)
I was very lucky to get an advance copy of Emma Straub’s This Time Tomorrow, which isn’t coming out until next May. All I’ll say is: I absolutely adored it, and it surprised me at every turn. Pre-order it. Read it. You won’t regret it.
Mark Harris's incredible Mike Nichols: A Life is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read (it might even be the best, period). I love Mike Nichols and all of his films, and it felt really special to be able to follow his journey. I couldn’t put it down.
A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away is full of Paul Hirsch’s lessons and memories from editing some of the greatest movies of all time. From start to finish, it was a pure joy to read.
I really, really, really want to direct, so I felt like But What I Really Want to Do Is Direct was written especially for me. I took so many notes. If you’re like me and dream and daydream and plot and scheme about directing a feature or an episode of tv, you’ll love this book.
(Another book that I was very fortunate to get an early copy of, although this one is coming out in February of 2022.) Isaac Butler’s The Method completely blew me away and I learned so much from it. Fun fact: everything I thought I knew about the method was wrong!
Sidney Lumet is one of my all-time favorite directors, and I learned so much from reading Making Movies. I’ll be reading this one over and over again in the years to come.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is just a perfect novel, period. I have a special place in my heart for any book with animals as the protagonists, and this is one of the greatest.
There are only a handful of books I’ve read that made me feel as if I’d lived an entirely different, richly-detailed, and deeply emotional life: Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko…and Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest book, Klara and the Sun, follows a rather intelligent solar-powered robot, Klara, who is a child’s artificial friend. It is beautiful and moving and strange and troubling and sad, and I fell completely in love with it.
Where to even start with this magical, wonderful book? To Say Nothing of the Dog follows two time-traveling historians who go back to Victorian-era England, where they hunt down a historical artifact, save a cat, and stop a marriage. It’s wickedly funny and brought me so much joy. I wanted to start it all over again as soon as I finished reading it. Absolutely my favorite book I read all year, without question.