My 10 Favorite Reads of 2021
Welp, another year has come and gone, passing by far too quickly, leaving us all breathless (and maybe a little exhausted) in its wake. It’s been quite the year, and I'm quite proud of my own literary accomplishments. Conflicted Man, the long awaited (by some, at least) sequel to Solitary Man is in its final stages of publication and will be unleashed on the world March 15th, 2022. Click here to preorder. Also, I was privileged and honored to participate in Into the Unknown, a science fiction anthology featuring short stories by myself and six other Ambassador International authors. You can order the e-book here.
On top of those big accomplishments, I pulled out a screenplay I wrote when I was in high school and reworked it into a novel, completing the first draft as well as a few editing passes (still needs more, though). I also revisited another screenplay I wrote a decade ago and continued the editing process I started a while back. I have lots of stuff in the hopper, and am looking to see where it all heads this next year.
On a personal note, my day job (No, writing doesn’t pay the bills. Yet.) changed dramatically when my boss Dave was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away only two months later. As the business was his family’s only source of income, his wife Dawn decided to keep things going, despite her lack of knowledge of how everything runs. Enter me into this situation as the last employee standing (thanks, Covid!) and I’ve essentially been running and caring for everything while she grieves her husband and works to get acclimated to the business.
So 2021 was a crazy one for me, but through all the busyness, I still managed to plow through 119 books, blowing my Goodreads goal of 50 right out of the water. Here’s a list of my 10 favorite reads this year. Some are older, some are newer, but all of them are fascinating and excellent. Happy New Year, everyone! And thanks for reading!
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self—Carl Trueman
I’m pretty sure Carl Trueman is currently the greatest living thinker among evangelical intellectuals. He’s a man who can study and observe history, philosophy, culture, politics, and everything else in this goulash we call society and fully understand exactly how we arrived at this current zeitgeist. With this book, Trueman does the heavy lifting for us, reading everything from Marx to Freud to Engel and distilling it all into a dense, but still easy to read tome. None of the ideas currently being pushed by culture are new, and Trueman explains why and how. This is an eye-opening book and highly recommended.
Dandelion Wine—Ray Bradbury
When you hear Bradbury’s name, you typically think of science fiction (Fahrenheit 451) or horror (Something Wicked This Way Comes). Dandelion Wine is neither, and it shines mainly because it can’t be pigeon-holed into a genre label. The book is a series of vignettes that take place in the quiet, sleepy village of Green Town. Two young brothers serve as the connective tissue of these stories which are in turn humorous, sad, and beautiful. This is a book about considering different perspectives, about living life before it gets away from you, and about appreciating what you had once change inevitably comes to take it away. It’s a beautiful book, full of thoughtful and gorgeous prose.
Locke & Key (full series)—Joe Hill
Do comics count here? I think so, especially in this case. Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) has crafted an imaginative and inventive story about a trio of siblings who, while grieving the murder of their father, discover their home is full of magical keys that grant special powers. Lurking behind it all is a mysterious figure who wants the keys for themselves, and while that sounds like a trite description, the story goes so much deeper than that. In turns terrifying and hilarious, this is a story full of humanity with characters you’ll grow to love. And on top of all that, Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is phenomenal as well.
How to Eat Your Bible—Nate Pickowicz
It’s funny how I can plow through 119 books in a year and still struggle to be consistent with my Bible reading. Nate Pickowicz has written this book to help with that. He spends some time underlining the importance of reading and knowing God’s word, and then offers plenty of tips and help to make it happen. There are also a number of reading plans to choose from, because Bible reading is rarely a one-size-fits-all situation. Highly recommended if you’re making some resolutions for this coming year, but also for anybody at anytime.
The Man Who was Thursday, A Nightmare—G. K. Chesterton
I have yet to read Chesterton’s collections of essays, so this novella was my first real introduction to him. It’s whip-smart, funny, and has an ending that will leave you smiling. It’s a brilliant work of satire, and I can’t say anything more without spoiling it for you.
A Confederacy of Dunces—John Kennedy Toole
Ignatius J. Reilly is opinionated, lazy, morbidly obese, and just downright insane. While he’s the craziest character in this book, he’s not the only crazy character, and on many occasions, I found myself laughing out loud at everyone’s antics. The most interesting thing about this book is not that it’s hilarious, but what a fantastic writer Toole was. He truly had a gift for prose. Sadly, he died by suicide and never actually got to see his work in print, but he left behind an excellent legacy.
Jayber Crow—Wendell Berry
You wouldn’t think the life story of a small town barber would be all that compelling, but then you’d be underestimating the storytelling ability of an excellent writer like Wendell Berry. He fills his pages with memorable characters who live, move, and breathe like real people. It’s a fascinating character study, and I couldn’t put it down.
Based on A True Story—Norm MacDonald
I remember Norm MacDonald on SNL in the early 90s, and he was always great. His droll wit and deadpan delivery on Weekend Update made him one of my favorites, so I was very sad to hear he passed away earlier this year. Like a lot of folks, I picked up his memoir that showcased his genius comedy (who else could fold a Dostoyevsky plot into a hilarious Dad Joke?). The book offers his fascinating life story while alternating between chapters that read something like the fever dreams of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Brilliant and hilarious, and therefore, an excellent read.
The Eyre Affair—Jasper Fforde
So you start with some fantasy, cross it with a police procedural, set it in an alternate historical reality, and then douse it with a heavy dose of classic literature. I love to see writers flexing their imaginations, and this book delivers. It’s the first book featuring Detective Thursday Next, battling her way against an archvillain who wants to infiltrate the pages of Jane Eyre and hold its characters for ransom. I love creative and weird, and I definitely got both here. I’ll be picking up more Thursday Next stories soon.
Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification—R.C. Sproul
Dr. Sproul is probably the one person I miss most of all when various evangelical controversies pop up. He was always a voice of strong and biblical reason, and it’s no wonder so many respected him the way they did (and still do). I got a pile of his books in a special deal, and this older one is excellent. Sproul very carefully articulates the viewpoints on both sides of the sola fide debate among Protestants and Catholics, completely avoiding the straw man arguments that a lesser thinker would lapse into. His voice among the church body today is sorely missed, but I hope his example is well seen and widespread.