2021 My Year in Books

Inspired by one of the books I read this past year, I thought I’d take a few moments to look back on what I read during 2021 and the ways in which these books affected my year and/or the events that led to my cracking these particular spines (or listening to the audio versions). So without further ado, my 2021 Year In Books:

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My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

Out of all the books I read this past year, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul was the one that I connected with the most. From a young age, Paul has kept a journal of the books she’s read throughout her life and using this, she looks back on periods of her life as they relate to the book/s listed in her journal. Either the events in her life at the time led her to pick up certain books, or certain books led her to view her current circumstances in a particular way or influenced the decisions she made at the time.

Purchase My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul (Amazon | Bookshop)

While I originally picked up the book thinking it might simply be interesting, I was surprised at how closely I identified with Paul’s description of her young bookish-self, and by mid-book I was writing in the margins (a first!), and had started my own BOB! And I also gained a new appreciation for the way in which the material we read and events in our life subtly intertwine and affect one another.

 
 
 
 
 
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The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman

My year started with a tragic loss to my bookish-heart as well as the entire historical-fiction community. My favorite author, whose books led me to major in History in undergrad, and whose book tours partially inspired my blogging endeavors, passed away.

When I left home for college, I was in the middle of the first book in Penman’s Plantagenet dynasty medieval British monarchy historical fiction series. I was captivated by the way she depicted Eleanor of Aquitaine and the other high-born women of the era that seemingly managed to direct political happenings through behind the scenes manipulation of the men in their lives. The idea that a bedroom fight between a man and a woman (such as Eleanor and Henry II) could end up causing armies to lay waste to entire countrysides so intrigued me that I worked my way through the History courses at my college as I worked my way through Penman’s Plantagenet series and then her sequential Welsh series.

By the year I’d finished graduate school I’d read every one of Penman’s books, and had just begun to reread them from the beginning when I learned she’d be leading an Eleanor of Aquitaine Tour in France. Unfortunately at the time my mother managed to convince me that if I went on the tour I’d be the youngest there and perhaps I’d best wait and go on the next tour Penman led. My next opportunity to meet Penman came in the form of a book tour stop she made in Seattle. I flew to Seattle to get my copy of her latest book signed, tell her she’d been the inspiration for my field of study, and shockingly connected with her over a cupcake!

 
 
 
 
 
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Since then, I started this blog, visited King Richard III’s tomb because of Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour, and – I’ve never told anybody this- secretly hoped that the next time Penman took readers on a tour, I’d be a prolific enough literary travel blogger that Academic Travel Abroad, the company that ran the tour, would invite me along for the trip in exchange for blogging about it…

All of which is why, just as I had pulled myself out of a Pandemic-induced reading slump and picked up what has now become Penman’s final novel to finish, news of her passing hit me rather hard. It first resulted in some very heartfelt, loud, ugly sobbing, and then an offhand comment to a friend about this being a “full tray of cupcakes kind of situation”.

The very next morning, this same friend arrived at my door with a full tray of cupcakes. And so with cupcake in hand, I tearfully finished Penman’s final novel. Someday I will visit Aquitaine, but now that trip will be bitter-sweet. 

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Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom

Looking back now I don’t know if it’s funny or sad how naive I was to think that the pandemic might wane and the trip that had been canceled in 2020 might run this year instead. I had signed up for a girls Jane Austen Festival trip with the Jet Sisters, slated for September 2020, and had been making plans to head up to England’s Lake District with a friend after the Festival. I’d been hoping to see the setting that inspired Swallows and Amazons, along with Beatrix Potter’s house at Hilltop and indulge the children we are at heart with all things Peter Rabbit.

I’d been part way into Swallows and Amazons when the trip was originally canceled and put the book down in disappointment. Optimistically, I picked it back up this year, but as I finished it, it was becoming clear that the trip was no more going to happen this year than it was the last year.

Purchase Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom (Amazon | Bookshop)

Alaskan Books

  • Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich by Annie Boochever (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • The Woman Who Married a Bear (Cecil Younger, #1) by John Straley (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier by Mark Adams (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier & the Yukon Gold Rush by Howard Blum (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • The Tourist Attraction (Moose Springs, Alaska #1) by Sarah Morgenthaler (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • Of Bears and Ballots: An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics by Heather Lende (Amazon | Bookshop)

As realization set in that international travel was off the table for the year, I finally decided to work on one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2021: Read more books that take place in Alaska. My one caveat was no survival stories. I’m tired of the “survive against the harsh wilderness” trope that seems to surface in most books that take place in Alaska, and also not particularly interested in attempting to recreate any of those stories in the name of literary travel content for the blog. Although doubtful I’d find many that fit my self-imposed constraint, looking back I’m surprised at how many I found and, if I’m being honest, actually enjoyed!

I picked up Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich by Annie Boochever first because Ms. Boochever was not only my 5th grade music teacher, but is also a personal friend. I thought perhaps her book would make for a great literary/history tour that could be done in Juneau when things opened up again. Instead it inspired the first completely virtual walking tour on the blog!

I did not constrain myself to books only by Alaskan authors, but I am always a bit nervous to find out how authors who simply visited Alaska and left portray Alaskans as a people in their novels. Which is why I was pleasantly impressed at the way Mark Adams accurately captured the undeniable oddity of Alaskans, as well as their full-heartedness in his Tip of the Iceberg. He was spot-on in his observations and hilarious in his narration of his Alaskan journey by Ferry along Alaska’s Marine Highway (or the Inside Passage, or the waterway on which Juneau relies as one of only two ways in or out of town).

As I continued my trek through Alaskan literature while Covid ebbed and flowed through our communities, some Alaskans were clearly at their breaking points and it was on display in multiple city’s assembly meetings. My attention was torn between wanting to read Heather Lende’s latest book Of Bears and Ballots, about her tenure serving on the Haines city assembly, and watching live broadcasts of angry Anti-Covid mitigation strategies citizens antics at current evening assembly meetings. What a way to learn about local level politics!

 
 
 
 
 
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Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe

  • Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Bookshop)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • The Essential Tales of H. P. Lovecraft (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Amazon | Bookshop)

As August approached it looked like the pandemic was trending downward so we made a gamble and bought tickets to Washington D.C. to celebrate my grandfather’s 95th birthday. Being that it was our first trip out in a year and a half, I got over excited and may have gone overboard in travel planning. What started as an idea of day-trips from Washington D.C. to each city containing an Edgar Allan Poe House Museum, ended up as a whirlwind trip up the eastern seaboard from Richmond, VA to Boston, MA with stops in Baltimore, MD, New York, NY, Hartford, CT, and Providence, RI along the way. I just kept thinking that X is so close to Y that we might as well go… but then we’ll be close to Z… and so forth. Thus we found ourselves mid-pandemic wave number-I’ve-lost-count at the doorsteps of Poe, Twain, Lovecraft, and Hawthorne.

 
 
 
 
 
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Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

Returning home, luckily managing not to have come down with Covid despite traveling as the Delta variant picked up speed, we settled in to a routine of Sunday morning breakfast and travel vlogger videos, almost all of who had taken up #VanLife. Travel by self-contained vehicle did seem to be the safest mode of travel at this particular moment, so despite living in a town with literally no roads out, I too began dreaming of hitting the road in a camper van. As my reality is a town that relies on an underfunded state Ferry system, often with none of the few ships left functioning, in order to move a vehicle from town to town, I hit the blacktop via books instead. I created a list of American road trip books, starting with Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Who knows, maybe my next trip will be just Finn, me, and a van!

Purchase Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck (Amazon | Bookshop)

 
 
 
 
 
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Travel Dreams & Summer Romance

  • The Tourist Attraction (Moose Springs, Alaska #1) by Sarah Morgenthaler (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • Looking for the Durrells by Melanie Hewitt (Amazon | Bookshop)

I knew the travel bug had bit and cabin fever was setting in when I DNF’d (Did Not Finish) Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and instead, uncharacteristically and unintentionally, picked up three travel related light romance books one after another. Although I maintain I only picked up The Tourist Attraction because it took place in Alaska, albeit a fictional town in Alaska.

 
 
 
 
 
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Then I couldn’t help but notice all of Bookstagram’s hype over People We Meet on Vacation, so I downloaded the audio book and promptly fell in love with Alex and Poppy.

And then I came to a full stop while scrolling through Twitter when I ran across a book where the plot is basically- girl takes my dream trip. I immediately messaged the author about my excitement to read her new book. I’ll be dropping a book review for Looking for the Durrells early next year. I’d hoped to present concrete plans to make my dream trip a reality along with it, but as we head into yet another wave of Covid…

Classics I’ve Meant To Read

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • Backpacking with Dracula: On the Trail of Vlad “the Impaler” Dracula and the Vampire He Inspired by Leif Petersen (Amazon | Bookshop)
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Amazon | Bookshop)

As summer cooled, leaves fell, and temperatures continued to drop, there wasn’t much else to do besides get cozy and make the best of being home for the winter holidays sans party plans. Having spent part of my summer reading Poe, Lovecraft, and Hawthorne, I thought I’d round out the creepy Halloween literature for the year with Dracula, one of the many classics I keep meaning to read, but had never actually gotten around to. Though I did have an ulterior motive. If I read Dracula, I could finally read Leif Petersen’s Backpacking with Dracula. Having just finished it, I’ve scratched off Romania from my travel bucket list as a trail-of-Dracula-destination and come to the realization that any Stoker/Dracula related travel would be best done in England.

And speaking of England… despite my love of Dickens, despite visiting his house in England, and the place where he first publicly read A Christmas Carol in the United States, I’d never actually read A Christmas Carol! So as December nears its end, I’ve ended my year of reading with Dickens as well as two of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books for fun. So once again I’m wistfully dreaming of revisiting England and hoping that perhaps this next year those plans from two years ago can be taken out and dusted off.

Right now I have no travel plans or TBR (To Be Read) list set for 2022, but I beg each and every one of you to vaccinate, mask, social distance, and do whatever you can in the hopes that we’ll all be able to move from armchair travel to airplane seats sooner rather than later!

Let’s Chat!

Do you have a favorite book you read this year? Tell us in the comments below!

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