• Your Best 2021 Reading Experience

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 31 comments



    Discussion question: What was your best 2021 reading experience? When timing, environment, and the book itself came together in a memorable way?




    For me, the joy of reading is as much about timing and environment as it is about a book’s quality. Maybe even more so. I’d rather read a bad book at the right time in the right setting than a great book at the wrong time and/or in the wrong setting.

    So when I talk about best reading experience, that’s what I mean: Not necessarily the best book you read in 2021, but the best combination of book, timing, and environment.

    Here’s mine, in case I’m not being clear.

    Among the best books I read in 2021 are 1984, Jane Eyre, and The Remains of the Day. In fact, I named Jane Eyre as my best 2021 reading experience on Yak Babies. I’d read it twice before, but this time it was for a roundtable discussion with some of my closest friends. It was a great reading experience.

    But taking a closer look at my list, it wasn’t my favorite 2021 reading experience. With apologies to my Yak Babies co-hosts, I accidentally lied.


    In mid-January 2021 I attended what I can describe only as a devastating funeral and then because of COVID-19 I self-isolated away from home for two weeks. It sucked. And it coincided with a reading funk that had begun in August 2020. From August through mid-January, I began and discarded several books and finished only a handful of short works: An August Wilson play, for the podcast; a graphic novel, for the podcast; Last Night at the Lobster, for quickness and for comfort; and a George Saunders short story, for the podcast. I couldn’t latch onto anything. And I wasn’t writing. I was in a literary pit.

    Then I picked up off a shelf Elif Batuman’s The IdiotImmediately it grabbed me by the neck and wouldn’t let go.

    I even tried to escape! There were times I put the book down for a day, even two days, switched on the TV and the autopilot, and thought Well, I made a good effort; maybe I’ll finish the next book!

    But I always went back to it.

    The story itself isn’t exactly within my bailiwick, but the writing is sharp and lovely, the main character is painfully endearing, and her narration and much of the dialogue is surprisingly funny. And I say surprisingly because not only did I not expect any humor — i.e., I didn’t know going in that it’s a funny book — but because I didn’t think, during those two weeks, that I’d be capable of laughing at anything. Much less some book. And I’m not talking a grin or chuckle. I mean great big belly laughs. In a novel! So many books are packaged and reviewed as “hilarious,” but how often is that anything but marketing bullshit?

    The pleasant surprise of the book itself; the timing of it; the need to lose myself in something during this isolation. And the fact that The Idiot got me back into reading. I read six more books over the next six weeks, after finishing one book, basically a novella, in the previous five months.

    These are what made The Idiot — despite not being the best book I read in 2021 — my best 2021 reading experience.

    So… what was your best 2021 reading experience? Let me know below.


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you reach your creative potential. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres. Browse our book coachingmanuscript consultation, and publication assistance services, and sign up for your free writing consultation today.

    david blog


    WriteByNight writing coach and co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.


    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Barbara Mealer

    My favorites ended up being Vera Nazarian 4 book series The Atantis Grail. And several of Rebecca Roanhorse’s books starting with Trail of Lightning. Both are good writers who draw you in with unique characters in unusual situations. Nazarian’s book are sci-fi and Roanhorse’s are dystopian. The situations where fascinating and maybe I’m easily entertained, but they kept me reading. I read all 7 book from the two authors in less than 3 months, which means all the time I had free went to reading. The Atlantic Grail books are about an asteroid is about to hit earth and the… Read more »

    Last edited 2 years ago by Bobbie

    I’m with your distinction of best book read vs best reading experience. I can think of several books that I really got into because of the where and when I was reading them, as much as for the quality of the book. Because I review most books I read, and I write the reviews in Scrivener, I have a ready list of what I’ve read plus my reviews and notes. Helps jog the memory and to re-experience the book to a degree. Actually, looking over my reviews for 2021 shows me I covered more ground in my life’s journey last… Read more »


    The book sat in my Kindle app for several years before I finally got to it. I think I was prompted by a stream-of-consciousness nostalgia for old Tarzan movies, WWII memorabilia my parents left me, and reviewing a book about the Banana Republic outfitters of the 1980s. I wallowed in all that for a short while. Needing a break from the world’s growing ills, I guess. The Count of the Sahara provided it. Reviewing has become a compulsion whenever I read. Mostly it enhances a good book for me, allowing me an extended time to think about it. I’ve become… Read more »


    Yes, there is a “job vs self-expression” dynamic. So I usually make notes on my readings that capture a lot more info than I post for a review. Couple that with a “database” of reviews I can refer to and I have a timeline of evolving thought. I pull much from that and it often comes out in blog posts and whatever else I write. It is also a lot of input for introspection. Jobs seldom provide a platform for such self-therapy.

    Kenneth Harris

    By far the best book I read last year (and I read quite a few, breaking a longish reading drought largely attributable to golf, guitar and stinking laziness) was Chanel Miller’s “Know My Name.” (I actually had it read to me in my car in route to golf course and back by the Ohio Digital Library’s fine lending program). I “read” it in July on sun filled twenty-mile drives to and from the manicured pastures of the Elks Golf Course in Wilmington. I’d head out for the links full of “pep and ginger” as the Brits say, hit “play” and… Read more »

    Mike Linn

    I really enjoyed “A Visit From The Good Squad” by Jennifer Egan. Definitely my favorite 2021 read. Close behind were Ann Patchett’ “Commonwealth” and Sally Rooney ‘s “Normal People.” I recently downloaded a free sample of “The Idiot.” I plan on buying after reading it was David’s favorite in 2021.

    Randi Lee Levin

    The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman was my favorite book read and shared in 2021. I once worked with youth and this book took me back to the earlier 20th Century and shared what did and could still happen to orphan children—who were and are abused and sold for profit!
    In fact, I couldn’t put it down!


    I reread a novel I had read at least three years ago; the first time I ever did so. I couldn’t forget the story because I felt I had missed something. The title is The Thirteenth Tale and the author is Diane Setterfield. Published in 2006. Yes, I discovered what I missed. I also found sections that I didn’t remember reading at all. So it was worthwhile reading this book again. Only clue I’ll give is the story is about two women, both love books and are authors.

    MJ DelConte

    Relating to a moment in time involving a book, I actually have to go back several years. While sitting on a balcony of a wood cabin in the Smoky Mountains, I read “Tony Partly Cloudy” to my wife. It is authored by Keith Cronin (pen name Nick Rollins). (Quick aside: Keith was a mentor of mine when I first dipped my toe into the authoring pool.) “Chapter 13,” I repeatedly tell him whenever our paths cross, and he chuckles. I loved the novel, but damn near seized from laughing. I wasn’t the only one. My wife also had tears and… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    It’s a tie: one favorite for me alone and one for the shared read-aloud I do with my partner/caree.

    Me alone: the 6-volume Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells. Compelling space adventure with purely delightful snark.

    Shared read-aloud: The 4-volume Works of Lucian of Samosata. Incisive satire and ancient snark, as relevant today as it was then. Free to download at Project Gutenberg.

    Both are laugh-out-loud collections, and, in the latter case, shared laughter.

    Rebekah Morgan

    What got you so interested in being a professional writer rather than a fiction writer if you like to read fiction?

    david lemke

    Every year, because of Goodreads, I pledge to read 50 books. (I used to read way more than that) I don’t hit that mark any more, but this year I read thirty, probably the most this century. 5 Preston/Child 3 Patricia Cornwell 5 Alan Dean Foster 3 Hemingway 2 Anthony Bourdain The most enjoyed fiction was Twisted by Jonathan Kellerman. The best non-fiction, The Making of Milwaukee by John Gurda, and Bird By Bird by Ann Lamott. This year I read an article, Books That Geniuses Read (And How They Read Them), on Medium. One of the books listed was… Read more »

    david lemke

    Interesting, well written, over 400 pages and tons of pictures going back to when it was settled. I bought mine used, from Amazon. Your computer doesn’t play DVDs? How do you play Great Courses?

    david lemke

    Gurda is always onhttps://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=around+the+corner+with+john+mcgivern&qpvt=around+the+corner+with+john+mcgivern&FORM=VDRE which we always watch since they’re half hour episodes. My computer guy always puts in a CD and DVD burner and player since they are a cheap ad. The last time he did an up date, he made my computer solidstate, which mad it super-fast.

    Barbara Mealer

    I use and external DVD player for DVD since I still have a lot of them. The work well but you do need 2 USB ports for most of them. They are cheap on Amazon and at Best Buy.

    david lemke

    When I buy Great Courses on sale (when they’re 90% off) I buy them on DVD so If my kids want to see them, they can.


    I did not read much in 2021 but found much of what I needed by way of encouragement in Marie Popova’s book A Velocity of Being. She is the founder of the website Brain Pickings. She and a publisher friend reached out to artists, scientists, writers, musicians and other people they admired and asked them to write letters to children, encouraging the children to read and sharing their own reading experiences. One contribution that is memorable comes from Yo Yo Ma, who writes about feeling confused when he arrived here as an immigrant at the age of seven and how… Read more »

    david lemke

    Since we have a Sudoku battle daily, I print one from Journal/Sentinel online.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x