My top 10 reads of 2021: Books about hope [1/2]

My top 10 reads of 2021: Books about hope [1/2]

Reflecting on the year gone by, and my reading that explored themes of growth and hope

2021 was a tough year for all. In a lot of ways 2021 was even more tough than 2020. The scale of the tragedy took us by surprise in 2020, and hopeful beings that we are, we were looking forward to 2021 bringing more light and laughter. Sadly, with the second wave and Delta variant, and now Omicron, the year failed to deliver on that promise.

And yet, for a lot of us, this year built up our resilience, and taught us to persevere in the face of uncertainty and chaos.

As I reflect on the year gone by, I wanted to share some of my favorite reads of 2021 with you. "What helps us retain our hope for the future?", and "How do we grow in the face of adversity?": These were the two intertwined themes foremost in my thoughts and my readings in the last few months. A lot of books I read explored these themes in various ways. Here's the top 10!


Top 5 books that added light to bleak days, maybe brought on a chuckle, or left a lasting warm, fuzzy feeling.

  1. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
“Because Ove, as Parvaneh had soon realized, was the sort of man who, when he was not quite certain where he was going, just carried on walking straight ahead, convinced that the road would eventually fall into line.”

This book is about the people we love and live for; about family - the kind we are born with and the kind we build for ourselves.

Ove a curmudgeonly old man - with no family of his own left - is losing his desire to live. Until an unlikely set of neighbours move in next doors. What follows is the story of a strange friendship which changes not only his life, but the life of their entire neighbourhood.

Why did it resonate with me?
It’s hard to deal with an intense personal loss. 2021 was a year when we have all been faced with the loss of somebody we hold dear. Intimate personal loss creates a void that can never be filled completely. But this book offers the promise that we can all learn to live, love, and move on to explore life beyond our loss. It's a great read!

2.  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“A shell screams over the house. He thinks: I only want to sit here with her for a thousand hours.”

Set during World War II, in Germany occupied France, the novel crisscrosses the lives of a blind French girl and an exceptionally talented German boy. Their paths cross in unfathomable ways, changing both their destinies forever. Exquisite writing, short punchy chapters, and an engrossing story keep you anxiously hooked till the last page, as we discover the fate of characters we’ve grown to love.

The book won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015, Andrew Carnegie Medal, for Excellence in Fiction.

Why did it resonate with me?
Humanity has seen waves of terrible times: wars, occupations, famines, pandemics. But the pandemic was the first time someone of my age group and experience faced something like this up close and personal. Lessons from a different time, a different place - World War II in this case - help give a comforting sense that eventually humanity prevails and we will get through this.

3. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

“Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians.”

Nadia and Saeed, the two protagonists, fall in love in a war-torn country. In hopes of a better future, they begin chasing rumors that there are magical doors, doors that serve as portals to other safer locations. As they “exit west”, they travel from one country to another, they experience xenophobia, conflicts with native-born folks, and a relationship disintegrating under the pressures of their situation.

Why did it resonate with me?
Written in the times of Trump and Brexit, Hamid wrote this as a way for people to look at the refugee crisis from a different perspective: trying to show readers that a world without borders is possible, and maybe even desirable. The pandemic threw socio-political and economic inequalities into sharp relief: some of us had it worse than others, and more often these inequalities are due to the chance of birth and geography. This book is a reminder to have compassion for those who have had it harder than us, and respect their resilience to seek a better future.

4. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

“What is the bravest thing you've ever said? asked the boy. 'Help,' said the horse. Asking for help isn't giving up,' said the horse. 'It's refusing to give up.”

A heart-warming tale of a boy, and his three unlikely friends, as they go through their life sharing pithy life lessons: on what life really means, and what’s really important. In a sense, the four friends represent different parts of us: the boy is our curiosity, the mole is the greedy, excited child in all of us, the fox is our vulnerability and hurt, and the horse is the age-old wisdom that rests in our souls.
It's a really elegant graphic novel format and quite a fast-read.

Why did it resonate with me?
This is not a one-time read: each page has a mantra that you can revisit many times over. This book is a wise friend, with answers to some of the most important questions of life. And the incredibly beautiful and serene art helps too! Coffee table pick of the year for me.

5. Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson

“No, the opposite of happiness is hopelessness, an endless gray horizon of resignation and indifference. It’s the belief that everything is f**ked, so why do anything at all?”

We live in a time when, materially, it is the best time to be alive: technology, entertainment, medical advances. And yet, the news seems to indicate the planet is irreparably damaged. Manson takes us into the tricky existentialist territory - reflecting on what meanings hope and hopelessness hold for each of us.

Part pop-psychology, part self-help, party witty humor, the book is genre defying. Though his portrayal of younger generations is slightly problematic, the rest of the book is an engaging journey through history - and the present - to celebrate hope as that which gives life meaning.

Why did it resonate with me?
If you can look beyond the rather glorious rants, radical language, and skeptical observations, it's a multi-disciplinary treatise on the idea of hope. Be warned, it's rather bleak, not a happy read but hilarious in parts and you will find yourself chuckling at more than one colorful turn of phrase.

I really enjoyed reading these books and I think you will too :)

I'd love to hear what your favorite reads for the year were? Do share with us!

We'll be following this up with Part 2, books about growth soon.

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