Book Report: My Favorite Books of 2021–Part Two, Nonfiction

Get ready for an eclectic list of nonfiction books: spirituality, memoir, writing and creativity, nature, and books on race and justice issues. Old. New. A few I revisited, as well. Here are my lists–in no particular order.

Spirituality Books

  1. I re-read three titles: The Grace in Aging, Awaken as You Grow Older by Kathleen Dowling Singh, which I first read in 2015 and it certainly feels more relevant today now that I am in my 70’s; The Way of Silence, Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life by Brother David Stendl-Rast–a wonderful reminder of the gifts of silence; Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, a spiritual mentor, although I have never met her.
  2. Two books by John Philip Newell: A New Harmony, The Spirit, The Earth, and the Human Soul and Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul, Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening To What Our Souls Know and Healing the World. In the first chapter of the second book he writes, “In Celtic wisdom we remember that our soul, the very heart of our being, is sacred. What is deepest in us is of God. every child, every woman, every man, and every life-form is in essence divine.” During my meditation time I often turn to his Celtic Treasure, Daily Scriptures an Prayer.
  3. Two books by Rachel Held Evans: Inspired, Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again and the posthumously published Wholehearted Faith, which her friend Jeff Chu finished for her after her death. I always feel I am in the same room with her when I read her slightly irreverent, but always wise words.
  4. Dusk, Night, Dawn, On Revival and Courage because who can resist Anne Lamott?
  5. Marrow. Love, Loss and What Matters Most by Elizabeth Lesser. Lesser donated bone marrow to her sister who has cancer. Moving story of family and love and knowing yourself. Also, how meditation is a kind of liberation.
  6. A Rhythm of Prayer, A Collection of Meditations for Renewal, edited by Sarah Bessey. I dip into this book frequently during my meditation time.
  7. Freeing Jesus, Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way and Presence by Diana Butler Bass. My favorite chapter was on Way and Presence, but also loved the conclusion in which she uses the term, “memoir theology,” which is understanding the nature of God through the text of our own lives.
  8. Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love by Stephanie Dowrick. I have had this book on my shelf for a long time and now that I have read it, I suspect I will read it again. She explores the human virtues: courage, fidelity, restraint, generosity, tolerance, and forgiveness.
  9. The Seeker and the Monk, Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton by Sophronia Scott. Scott explores Merton’s journals for guidance on how to live in these fraught times. No conversation with Merton could be considered “everyday.”

Writing Books

  1. Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read this when I needed an infusion of inspiration. Gilbert oozes enthusiasm for her belief that we all have the capability of being creative.
  2. Ron Carlson Writes A Story by Ron Carlson. Lots of good nuggets in this short book. My favorite: “All the valuable writing I’ve done in the last ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I wanted to leave the room.”
  3. How the Light Gets In, Writing as a Spiritual Practice by Pat Schneider.This book invites readers/writers to contemplate our lives and the deepest questions through writing. Excellent writing prompts on topics such as fear, freedom, forgiveness, joy, social justice, and death.
  4. Take Joy! A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen. Mainly for fiction writers, but I love her exuberance and her love of writing.

Other Categories

  1. Caste, The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson. An absolutely amazing book describeing racism in the United States as an aspect of a caste system. This is required reading, as is her earlier book, The Warmth of Other Suns.
  2. Yeh Yeh’s House, A Memoir by Evelina Chao. In the 80’s I was Chao’s local publicist for her novel, Gates of Grace. Chao grew up in Virginia where her parents fled after the Maoist Revolution in 1949. As an adult she and her mother went to China to visit her relatives living in her grandfather’s house. It is a journey of discovery–of one’s roots, of familial love, of a culture that is disappearing.
  3. I’ll Be Seeing You, A Memoir by Elizabeth Berg. Many will identify with this memoir of her parents’ last years–her father’s Alzheimers, her mother’s anger about taking care of him, and the struggles of the rest of the family to care for both of them. Honestly, painfully, beautifully told.
  4. A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks. I remember reading this when I was in college. For a class? Parks was a photographer, writer, and film director; an African-American whose early years were difficult as he contended with racism and poverty. What a legacy he left!
  5. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. I am embarrassed to say this is the first time I’ve read this book. I have read so much about it and references to it over the decades, since it was published in 1964, that it feels as if I actually had read it. I was struck by how what Baldwin wrote is still so relevant today–unfortunately.
  6. Born A Crime, Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. I learned so much about apartheid, including the arbitrary decisions about who was viewed as white, black, or colored. Noah is impressive–a gifted entrepreneur, although his enterprises were often shady–and I hope there will be a sequel about his life as a comedian and tv host.
  7. The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. A memoir set in New Orleans. The house, destroyed during Katrina, which Broom calls The Water, was owned by Broom’s mother. Powerful story of love and connection, resilience, and an attempt to understand where she came from and how it lives in her.
  8. Morningstar, Growing Up With Books by Ann Hood. I love to read books about others’ favorite books. Hood reflects on some of my favorites, including Little Women and Grapes of Wrath.
  9. Owls of the Eastern Ice, A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaught. Fascinating story of a U of Minnesota ornithologist who studies fish owls in the extremely remote Russian Far East. Hard conditions and unusual people and THE OWLS.
  10. Poet Warrior, A Memoir by Joy Harjo. Prose and poetry from our current poet laureate. She deftly and magically leads us to her ancestors and culture.
  11. Flower Diary in Which Mary Hiester Reid Paints, Travels, Marries and Opens a Door by Molly Peacock. Another gorgeous book by Peacock. (Her earlier book The Paper Garden: Mrs Delaney Begins Her LIfe’s Work at 72 remains one of my all-time favorite books.) Reid was a Canadian painter, and oh I would love to see her paintings in person, but the book includes many lovely plates in color. Peacock weaves her own life into the narration, including the approach of her husband’s death.
  12. Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Kimmerer. Much of the biology was above me, but oh, the stories, the wisdom, the passion, the lyrical writing, the insights.
  13. I Am, I Am, I Am, Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell. Each essay is breathtaking. As I read, I had to remind myself that O’Farrell survived each of the incidents she relates.
  14. All Entangled by Ann Niedringhaus. Last, but certainly not least. An exquisite book of poetry.

Excuse me, but I need to grab my current book and retire to the Snug for more reading time!

An Invitation: What are your favorite nonfiction books of 2021?

7 thoughts on “Book Report: My Favorite Books of 2021–Part Two, Nonfiction

  1. wow! you are definitely a dedicated reader! Thanks for that list of books. You mentioned the snug, and I am wondering if it is that small structure in the backyard that i saw in one of your posts. I ask, because I am currently building one too!


    • The snug is actually a small room at the front of the house off the living room–windows on all three sides and French doors to separate it from the living room. Like an enclosed porch, but it was never a porch on this house. It is large enough for a couple chairs and side tables, plus bookshelves on the walls on the opposite side of the living room. You can get one view of it in the Advent: Week #1 post–picture of round table and small book case. I love reading there, but also meet with spiritual direction clients, if they prefer not to climb the stairs to my garret (the half-story). The backyard structure is actually our double garage–which looks like a house with its red door and windows on either side. Would love to see your structure when you are done. How will you use it?


  2. Braiding Sweetgrass is a favorite I keep going back to as I find hope in her stories. I also find her to be a poetic writer. It is one book I have shared with family and friends as it inspires me to want to spread her wisdom and teaching.
    I’m reading Between Two Kingdoms now which is a harrowing memoir of a journalist’s struggle with serious cancer, I have found it compelling. She writes a weekly column for The New York Times during her treatment and people send her personal messages. I believe she travels to meet some of them as she emerges from her treatment but I have not read that part yet.
    Also read The Dirty Life, recommended by bookseller in a bookstore I order from often. This was such an honest memoir of a journalist, her romance with a farmer and their hardworking journey to establish a successful farm in a year. Amazing amount of work they embark on. Really enjoyed her writing.
    Finding Freedom is the last really interesting memoir I read and would recommend. I was rooting for the author who had many struggles to overcome to find her freedom. She is a determined cook and I thought very honest in her writing.
    Thank you for sharing so many wonderful sounding books as well as the reasons you chose them. I always enjoy your posts.


  3. Thanks so much for the titles you mention. Between Two Kingdoms is definitely on my list, but I was not familiar with the other two titles. More for the TBR!!!! Thanks for reading and for your suggestions, and I absolutely agree with you about Braiding Sweetgrass.


  4. I always enjoy reading your end-of-year book posts. I get some great ideas for new reading. Not that I need to add any more books to my to-read list, ha ha. I see you mentioned the Anne Lamott book. She’s one of my favorite authors and her latest book was one of my favorite non-fiction reads this year, as well. Another one of my favorites was How to Make Disease Disappear by Dr Rangan Chatterjee.

    As for fiction, my two favorites were Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia and The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare.


  5. Pingback: Book Report: Two Books and a Story | Living on Life's Labyrinth

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