Top Ten Favorite Books #sol22 16/31

My top ten all-time favorite books list probably has about 35 books on it. Because I regularly catch myself saying things like “That’s a top ten all-time favorite book” about at least 35 different books.

Making a top ten life-time favorite list is impossible because there are different lists for different reading moments. My top ten favorite books list has hundreds of titles vying for a position, depending on the list I’m making. Top ten favorite comfort reads, top ten favorite books from my childhood, top ten favorite books to get someone hooked on graphic novels, top ten favorite books that will change your life, top ten books I’d actually take to a deserted island. You get the idea.

Even though I’m not very good at narrowing it down, I do enjoy creating top ten book lists. 2021 was the first year in 12 or 15 years that I didn’t make a top ten of the year list. I meant to. But 2021 was probably the worst reading year of my life. Normally, I read around 150-200 books a year (not including picture books). In 2021, I barely read 50. Normally, I track my reading carefully. In 2021, I didn’t bother to keep accurate records. Normally, reading is the great joy of my life. In 2021, I mostly didn’t feel like reading.

Still, I did read 50 or so books, and thanks to science fiction and some bookish penpals who kept talking about books, I did rediscover my joy of reading. Here, in March, is a top ten favorites from 2021 list.

The Book of Delights was a reread for me, this time on audio read by Ross Gay–highly recommended. He started writing this collection of essays on his birthday, and I started reading it on my birthday, and for a few days at least joined him in writing about a daily delight in my notebook. A good project for a birthday, even if it didn’t go anywhere.

I read about five picture books in 2021, and it was pure luck that the eventual Caldecott winner happened to be one of them. (In the before times, I also used to love predicting the Caldecott winner–and making sure I’d read all the possibilities.) Watercress is gorgeous–art and prose. Even if I’d read my usual 300 picture books, it would still have been my favorite.

I had no interest in reading the massive biographies Robert Caro spends years (decades) writing–well, at least not until I read Working, his short book about his writing process. And then I found myself unreasonably fascinated by Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson of all people. Caro writes like a dream, and I find his life just as interesting as the lives of his subjects.

The Women in Black has the best blurb ever: “The book I most often give as a gift to cheer people up.” I think I found a recommendation for this book (and the next two) in a thread on Rachel Syme’s Twitter feed. An Australian novel about a group of women working in a department store in the 1950s. It’s very funny and very sharp.

Love, Nina was definitely my favorite book of 2021. It’s a collection of letters Nina writes home to her family while she’s in London nannying for a quirky family with serious literary ties (Alan Bennett is a frequent dinner guest; Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn are the parents of the boys’ best friends). A book I wanted to loan everyone–but very selfishly kept for myself because I didn’t want to lose my copy!

Another reread motivated by the many appearances of Alan Bennett in Love, Nina. An Uncommon Reader is a slim novel with a fun premise: the Queen of England (yep, that one) has a chance encounter with a mobile library and becomes an obsessive reader, much to the dismay of her handlers who wish she’d just stop talking books at the state dinners. It’s really a book about the joy of reading.

Matthew Salesses’s Craft in the Real World is a must-read for writers and teachers of writing, but I think it’s a great book for most readers of contemporary fiction as well as he tackles the ways that creative writing programs privilege and thus create a certain kind of writing. It got me thinking deeply about how certain elements I take for granted in fiction aren’t neutral or objective at all. Definitely a book I’ll be re-reading.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is part of the required curriculum I teach, and while I don’t love the lesson plans that go along with it (map the central ideas, track the evidence, rinse and repeat), the book itself is stunning and most of my students found it engaging, relevant, powerful, even a page-turner. One of the few books I think everyone needs to read.

Nino Cipri’s Defekt is the book that saved my reading life in 2021. I was barely reading before I picked this one up, and it reminded me of all the reasons reading is joyful and also gave me a place to look for more reading joy–sci-fi. Defekt is a novella set in an IKEA-like store where a group of misfits has the task of finding and destroying defective merchandise–only the defect happens to be sentience. Weird and wonderful and both hilarious and perceptive in its critique of capitalism.

Finding a series to love was also a huge help to my reading life last year. Although each book is quite different, you should definitely read Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series in order. The second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, was my favorite. Chambers is such a generous writer, and her vision, characters, world-building contain so much hope.

I’m always looking for my next great read. What’s a book you loved last year?


My theme for Slice of Life 2022 is finding inspiration in the writing of others. Each day I plan to find my slice in someone else’s words or forms. Today, I’m writing alongside Top Ten Favorite Books? at Teachers Write.






27 responses to “Top Ten Favorite Books #sol22 16/31”

  1. TammyB Avatar

    So many of your selections are favorites of mine as well! Love Book of Delights and Craft in the Real World. I already put a hold on Watercress! Thank you for this list!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Watercress is wonderful–I think you’re going to love it. I think I’m going to make rereading Book of Delights an annual birthday treat for myself!

  2. jarhartz Avatar

    I find it so hard to create top ten or most favorite anything. Which makes the idea of subcategories a perfect fix. You do such a beautiful job of writing reviews— no small feat.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I like all the subcategories too. Then I feel less stressed about making top ten lists!

  3. mythmakersunite Avatar

    These are great recommendations! Thank you! I’ve read Craft in the Real World and I am also appreciative of his multicultural perspective in regards to the writing world.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Have you read Felicia Rose Lopez’s “Antiracist Writing Workshop”? It’s a great companion to the Salesses book with ideas I found very applicable to my classroom.

  4. Ramona Avatar

    I have a few trigger words for slices that always pull me in: cats, cookies, books, to name a few. The only one I’ve read from your list is Watercress, so now you’ve added to my already overwhelming list of books I want to read. I checked out The Book of Delights once, but didn’t get to read it, so it’s on my Books I Caressed and Wanted to Read list. My husband loves Robert Caro and wants him to finish the Johnson series before he (Caro) dies.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Caro’s work ethic and work habits were incredible to read about. He has an autobiography planned if he can finish the Johnson book, so I want him to keep writing so he can finish the Johnson book AND write the autobiography!

    2. natashadomina Avatar

      I love that category–“Books I caressed and wanted to read”–that’s definitely a list I have!

  5. aggiekesler Avatar

    What a great list…all new to me books, but I’ve added a few to my list of to-read books now. Thanks! How funny that you wrote this slice…I wrote about my top ten books of all time last week. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think I missed that! Will be circling back to your blog to check that out for sure!

  6. Trina Avatar

    Most of the books that you listed are new to me. I have dipped into The Book of Delights and want to return to it. I definitely want to check out Craft in the Real World and Love Nina. I have been working really hard not to buy new books and reading books that I already bought (and never read) or checking out books from the library.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ve been trying to use the library a lot more too. I love the library!

      1. Trina Avatar

        When our library was closed during the pandemic, I missed just being able to wander and look at the shelves.

  7. natashadomina Avatar

    It’s fun to read your list–now I’ve got to put them on my “want to read” list. I also love your opening–the fact that your list of top 10 all-time favorites has many more than 10….I can so relate!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Are you a mood reader? I’m definitely a mood reader, and I wonder if that also influences me to be a mood list maker!

  8. Amanda Potts Avatar

    Ooh – thanks for this list! I’ve read a few of them & place a few on hold at the library. (I know you’re a fellow library fan – do you still use it in your new place?)

    1. Amanda Potts Avatar

      Oops – I forgot to share some of my recent favourites: If you haven’t read Naomi Novik, stop everything and go find any of her novels, but particularly look for her “A Deadly Education” series – magical school but with a hilariously snarky main character. Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach is gorgeous but complex (Indigenous voice; just incredibly well-written); and Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a novella that knocked my socks off.

    2. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Yes, I still love the library and have cards in two different library systems that I go to regularly. Thanks for the recommendations–I’ve got the Novik but haven’t read it yet, Monkey Beach is new to me, and I passed up Empress of Salt and Fortune at the library last time and now wish I’d gotten it! Next time for sure!

  9. arjeha Avatar

    I don’t know if I could narrow a list down to 10 top books. Like you, I find myself saying, “That is a top 10 book,” for more than 10 books. I think my list would change as the years and phase of my life change. You have picked a great list of books.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think different times of life have an impact on my list too. Luckily, making these lists in our heads can be a fun exercise and we never REALLY have to narrow it down! That would be stressful!

  10. TLC Avatar

    I am so glad I stopped by. I don’t often find a book list that has many books I don’t know, but I am leaving with a list!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I found some different sources for book recommendations last year, and it helped me discover entirely new-to-me books and authors as well.

  11. evarkaplan Avatar

    I so look forward to your blogs every day the month or March on the SOLSC! I wrote down these 10 and hope over a vacation or summer I can read several. I am always looking for a good book. I wish I had a great one…but it’s been a while since I’ve loved a book! Thanks for all the tips.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Oh, I hope one of these will be a great fit for you! I was just thinking yesterday that I haven’t finished a single book in March–and have barely read at all! Hopefully I can get back into the habit after March.

  12. […] to Elisabeth Ellington’s Top Ten reads, my bedside table is comfortably […]

  13. Susan Apps-Bodilly Avatar

    Thank you for this list! I have really been enjoying your blog lately. Thank you – for me, it was difficult to write last year. I hope to return to my own blog soon.

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