2020 kicked my love of reading into high gear. As the year progressed I needed something to look forward to that wasn’t on my phone or the internet. Although I was practicing, it wasn’t fitting the bill - it came with it’s own baggage at the time, since we had no idea when we could perform again (and because we know that while practicing can be enjoyable it's not necessarily relaxing).
Reading became the perfect quarantine activity and escape, and I ended 2020 having read 63 books, deeply in love with reading in a way I hadn’t been since childhood.
I love using Goodreads to keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read. They also allow you to set a reading challenge for yourself each year of how many books you’d like to read. Coming out of 2020 I couldn’t know how a busier schedule would play out for my reading habit, so I stuck with a goal of reading 40 books in 2021.
As it turned out, I still loved having something to focus on that wasn’t on my phone, or related to work or the breaking news of the minute, and ended the year with a total of 53 books read.
Overall, I read mostly non-fiction in 2021. There were a number of books I read that were genuinely impactful on my day to day actions and that I plan to read again. I hope that you find some of these helpful, or just plain enjoyable as well.
Looking ahead at 2022, I’ve set a Goodreads goal for at least 50 books. However many books I read this year, I hope I continue to love reading just as much or even more.
What books have you loved recently? What are you planning to read? Let me know so I can build my list for 2022!
For now, on to the best books of last year (in no particular order)!
The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal
There were several books I read this year that I think should be required reading for college students, especially students facing high stakes performance fields (medicine, music, law, etc.). The Upside of Stress is one of these books. McGonigal unwinds our cultural perception that all stress is bad by teaching us about mindsets and the different types of stress responses we might have. She lays out practical ways we can begin to shift our relationship with stress and understand our reactions.
Throughout the book McGonigal acknowledges that there are types of stress that can wreak havoc on our mind and body, but that much of the stress we encounter in our lives is something we can use to move forward and grow if we understand it. This book was easy to absorb and the suggestions it gives are easily applied as many of them are shifts in mindset.
Peak Mind by Amishi Jha
Peak Mind made its way into my favorites this year for its approachable, science-backed endorsement of the benefits of meditation on attention. This is an excellent book for anyone who is skeptical about the tangible advantages of meditation. Jha walks us through the experiences of skeptics, including herself, who find calm and awareness through daily meditation, and also shows us the research behind why just 12 minutes a day can be enough to make a positive impact.
In our fast moving and attention-seeking culture, this book does an excellent job of heralding the benefits of meditation for our distracted minds, as we as suggesting how you can get started if you’d like to try.
Added bonus: Jha has also done a number of extremely informative and interesting podcast interviews for anyone who’d like a preview of her research and perspectives.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
This book was an unexpected favorite. (I can’t even recall where I saw it recommended.) I’ve never liked running, but a lifetime of practicing my instrument and growing as a musician feels like its own kind of marathon. What I loved so much about this memoir was Murakami’s thoughtful reflection on how running over the course of his life allowed him to reflect on his experiences and tie them together. He eloquently describes the personal growth and reflection that comes from pursuing something that can’t be achieved quickly, or maybe ever, to the level you would like. I loved how he touched on the way all the parts of our lives are connected.
I think anyone dedicated to an art form or athletic pursuit would enjoy this meaningful reflection.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
James Clear writes one of my favorite weekly newsletters and has one of my favorite accounts to follow on social media. His claim to fame is codifying existing research and breaking it down into actionable steps and digestible pieces of information that are meant to improve our daily lives and help us develop, well, atomic habits.
It would be impossible to summarize this book in the amount of space I’d like to use here. It includes so much useful information about our behaviors and suggestions that we can implement, I’m certain you couldn’t apply it all in just one read.
Throughout the book I found myself inspired to make small adjustments and reconsider how I thought about and approached my daily habits and routines. This is definitely one to read more than once - I’m sure that I will take new things away from it each time.
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant
This was a book I couldn’t put down.
The Tiger reads like fiction but is a completely true story about a man eating tiger that took place in Siberia in the late 90s. I was fascinated by the culture, the Russian history the book provides, and the relationship people who live in Russia’s far east have with the tigers that share the region. This book includes cultural perspective, history, and educates the reader on conservation and the protection of tigers living in the wild all wrapped up into the excellent storytelling of this real life thriller.
Unwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer
Judson Brewer’s book Unwinding Anxiety is another that I believe all college students (and adults) should read. In the way that McGonigal’s Upside of Stress breaks down how we can use our understanding of stress to work with it, Brewer outlines how we can unravel the cyclical experiences of anxiety we can get stuck in through understanding how it works.
I found this book helpful in working through my own performance anxiety and have it high on my list of books to read again. Like other books I loved this year, Unwinding Anxiety provides actionable steps and clear explanations that make it approachable and useful. It also encourages the embodiment of our experiences, much like we would in meditation or breathwork, as a way of facing our feelings of anxiety.
Breath by James Nestor
Although this is the only book on breathing I’m including in my “best of” list, I actually read six books on breathing and breathwork in 2021, which has become a topic of fascination for me. Understanding the way our modern lives have affected how we breathe and why it’s so important is something that could benefit anyone, and Nestor’s book is a great starting point.
Learning about the all implications of how we breathe has brought up so many questions for me about why wind instrumentalists aren’t thinking about the breath outside of how we inhale and exhale to produce a sound.
Nestor’s book takes us through his own experience of breathwork and through his reasearch to understand all the ways the breath affects our mind and body. It’s enlightening and enjoyable to read - my top recommendation from 2021!
Hi, I'm Morgann! A flutist, teacher, meditator, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.