15 Books That Informed My Thinking in 2021

There are many reasons why we should read.

We read to learn:

Mortimer J Adler was an American educator, philosopher, and popular author. He says,

‘A good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life.’

We read to find answers:

Lynne Reeves Griffin is a nationally recognized expert on relationships and family life and is an acclaimed novelist. She says,

‘No matter the narrative, we read to explore human behaviours and the intricacies of social and emotional life. Good stories ask us to contemplate universal questions, like “Are we in control of our lives?” or “Will we be punished for our sins?” or “What do we need most in the world to feel whole, to be loved?’

We read to escape:

Francine Prose is a distinguished novelist, literary critic, and essayist. In her book, ‘What to Read and Why,’ she says,

‘Reading is among the most private, the most solitary things we can do. A book is a kind of refuge to which we can go for the assurance that, as long as we are reading, we can leave the worries and cares of our everyday lives behind us and enter, however briefly, another reality, populated by other lives, a world distant in time and place from our own, or else reflective of the present moment in ways that may help us see that moment more clearly.’

We read to heal:

Harold Bloom was an American literary critic and author. He says,

‘We should read slowly, with love, openness, and with our inner ear cocked. We should read to increase our wit and imagination, our sense of intimacy – in short, our entire consciousness – and to heal our pain.’

The following books achieved all of the above, informing my thinking in 2021.

Delia Owens‘Where the Crawdads Sing’

Where the Crawdads Sing takes place in the marshlands of North Carolina. Despite experiencing abandonment as a child, Kya Clark learns to embody independence and self-sufficiency. 

‘Loneliness has a compass of its own.’

Delia Owens

Amor Towles – ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’  

On June 21, 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to a life of house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. The Count misses his privileged life but discovers what is necessary to survive.

‘If patience wasn’t so easily tested, then it would hardly be a virtue.’

Amor Towles

Sofie Laguna ‘Infinite Splendours’

Infinite Splendours is a story of inestimable beauty and unfathomable grief. Lawrence Loman is forced to negotiate childhood trauma and the loss of his mother, finding release in his art.

‘A painting demanded much. I had not known until now, how much. A painting asked me to walk down its road knowing there was no end, an act of surrender.’

Sofie Laguna

Rebecca Solnit‘A Paradise Built in Hell’

A Paradise Built in Hell examines the behaviour of people during and after disasters. Despite the grief and disruption, people adapt to their changed circumstances, finding meaning and purpose in their acts of bravery, kindness, and generosity.

‘There are at least two tendencies in disasters, [the] fear that [breeds] conflict and [the] solidarity that [generates] joy.’

Rebecca Solnit

Patti Callahan‘Becoming Mrs. Lewis’

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a work of historical fiction. It is the story of an unlikely friendship and an unshakable love between Joy Davidman, an independent mother and poet, and C. S. Lewis, a renowned author and Oxford don.

‘It is not hopeless,’ he said with surety. ‘It is uncertain, and this is the cross God always gives us in life, uncertainty. But it is not hopeless.’

Patti Callahan

Eddie Jaku‘The Happiest Man on Earth’

Eddie Jaku’s memoir, The Happiest Man on Earth,’ was published in 2020 and became an instant success. Eddie experienced incredible hardship and witnessed unimaginable suffering. Both his parents were killed at Auschwitz. He survived and discovered how to be happy.

‘Every breath is a gift. Life is beautiful if you let it be. Happiness is in your hands.’

Eddie Jaku

Maggie O’Farrell‘Hamnet’

William Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, died at age 11. Maggie O’Farrell’s novel, by the same name, provides a fictional account of the inspiration Shakespeare derived from his heartbreaking loss.

‘He has, Agnes sees, done what any father would wish to do, to exchange his child’s suffering for his own, to take his place, to offer himself up in his child’s stead so that the boy might live.’

Maggie O’Farrell

Barack Obama ‘A Promised Land’

A Promised Land is Barack Obama’s widely anticipated presidential memoir. This is a lengthy volume, a first installment, that deals honestly with the challenges of managing numerous political crises while maintaining a healthy and fulfilling family life.

‘The best we can do is to try to align ourselves with what we feel is right and construct some meaning out of our confusion, and with grace and nerve play at each moment the hand that we are dealt.’

Barack Obama

Ann Patchett ‘The Dutch House’

The Dutch House is a story of siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy and their stepmother Andrea Smith, who expels them from their childhood home after the death of their father.

‘But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we are not seeing it as the people we were, we are seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.’

Ann Patchett

Madeline Martin‘The Last Bookshop in London’

The Last Bookshop in London is an irresistible story depicting the courage and perseverance of the people of London during the war years. It is a reminder of the enduring power of literature to sustain us in perilous times.

‘Deeper still was the profound understanding for mankind as she lived in the minds of the characters. Over time, she had found such perspectives made her a more patient person, more accepting of others. If everyone had such an appreciation for their fellow man, perhaps things such as war would not exist.’

Madeline Martin

Pip Williams ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’

The Dictionary of Lost Words is the absorbing story of the Oxford English Dictionary’s compilation through the eyes of Esme, the daughter of one of the men working on it. The book explores how words take on different meanings for men and women. It focuses on Esme’s undercover attempts to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary.

‘Words define us, they explain us, and, on occasion, they serve to control or isolate us.’

Pip Williams

M L Stedman‘The Light Between Oceans’

The Light Between Oceans is an incredibly moving and heart-wrenching story about what happens when good people make bad decisions. It explores how tragedy can connect families, whether they want it to or not.

‘I have learned the hard way that to have any kind of a future you have got to give up hope of ever changing your past.’

M L Stedman

Georgia Hunter‘We Were the Lucky Ones’

We Were the Lucky Ones is a work of historical fiction based on a true account of the author’s ancestors during a time of unprecedented upheaval and uncertainty. It is a compelling story of who will be the ‘lucky ones’ to suffer through but actually survive the atrocities of World War II.

‘What matters, she tells herself, is that even on the hardest days, when the grief is so heavy, she can barely breathe, she must carry on… She will take each day as it comes. She will keep moving.’

Georgia Hunter

Emily St John Mandel‘Station Eleven’

Station Eleven is a story about a post-apocalyptic world in which a super flue has wiped out most of the population. The book explores how our world would change in the face of a major collapse. In the words of writer Adrienne Westenfeld, ‘It celebrates that which allows us not just to survive, but to live: making art, belonging to something bigger than ourselves, searching tirelessly for what it means to be human.’

‘Hell is the absence of people you long for.’

Emily St John Mandel

Cormac McCarthy‘The Road’

The Road tells the story of a father and his young son journeying across post-apocalyptic America some years after an unnamed catastrophe. It imagines a world where nothing is left except for ash and dust. Barren of resources, facilities, food, and general humanity, it is a dangerous and poisonous place.

‘They slept huddled together in the rank quilts in the dark and the cold. He held the boy close to him… the boy was all that stood between him and death.’

Cormac McCarthy

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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