I used to curate an Annual Reading List, but after a while I learned two things: 1) a LOT of people and organizations do the same, to the point where mine felt redundant, and 2) based on click-tracking, I determined what people most appreciate is the surfacing of the BEST of the best. So I stopped publishing lists of what I read and appreciated and instead share the just my top choices. I offer 2021’s top picks.
Top Non-Fiction Pick
On the non-fiction side, the book that I learned the most from was Once a Girl, Always a Boy, by Jo Ivester. I read it in response to my wife’s confusion when a long-time tax client, Matt, showed up as Emma to complete her taxes this year.
Like I said, confusing.
It’s the true coming-out story of a transgender man, Jeremy, told from multiple perspectives.
The audio version is beautifully read by Jeremy, his mom Jo (the author), his dad, siblings, and a few friends. It speaks to their struggles, their own learning journeys, the challenges of being different and fluid in a world that wants everything to be binary and unchanging.
I learned a lot from this book. I took away both new language to help me understand the reality of a non-binary world as well as more compassion for those who just want to be their authentic selves in a world that refuses to allow them to exist.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for those in leadership roles, coaches, and others in serving professions. In a world increasing focused on polarity and us/them conversations, it’s critical that more of us understand that people are not statistics that neatly fit onto a short list of binary characteristics.
We are, all of us, changing from one thing to another, all of the time. Let’s give others the safe space for their own change journey, even if it is not one we would take ourselves.
Top Fiction Pick
My favorite fiction read in 2021 was The Starless Sea, the sophomore novel by Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus (which I also loved).
I won’t lie – some people hated this book, often for the same reasons I loved it – it’s complex and fantastical. It’s stories within stories within a main story that takes readers deep underground, alternates past and present, and includes cats and keys and bees in some interesting ways.
Mostly I loved it for the magical way Morgenstern uses language. It’s rare that I underline things while reading a novel, yet this book had lots of dog-eared pages and sticky notes by the time I finished. Here are three that spoke to me:
A quote that felt like all of 2021 (p 127):
He rests his head against the door and sighs. / This can’t be real. / Then what is it? the voice in his head asks and he doesn’t have an answer.
This felt like a coaching conversation! (p 351):
“May I ask you a question?“ / “You may, but I might not have an answer, or if I have an answer it might not be the right one or a good one. Questions and answers don’t always fit together like puzzle pieces.“
And some wonderful advice (p 396):
“Be brave,“ she says. “Be bold. Be loud. Never change for anyone but yourself. Any soul worth their star-stuff will take the whole package as is and however it grows. Don’t waste your time on anyone who doesn’t believe you when you tell them how you feel.”