Best of 2021 ✨
The best writing, reading, and listening of the year
We’ve almost made it to 2022, a year for which I am making few-to-zero predictions!
Since this is my last newsletter till the new year, I want to reshare last year’s post with many tools for creating an intentional new year, and looking back on 2021.
Thanks for sharing this year with me. It was…a lot! I’m wishing each and every one of you a safe and peaceful holiday, and a happy new year. My biggest NYE advice? Remember that it’s the single most disappointing holiday, don’t buy into the hype, and start 2022 with a few people you really love—or even better, asleep.
Now, onto some of my best of 2021.
I made a podcast!
Hosting the Cruel Summer Book Club podcast was the most creatively fulfilling experience I’ve had in years. I was especially proud to talk with New York Times bestselling author Ashley C. Ford, someone whose writing has inspired me for years. Thank you to everyone who listened, to my wonderful guests who each taught me so much, and to those who helped me make it a reality behind the scenes.
I plan on making season two in 2022! And if you’d like to give me a holiday gift, you can leave me a five-star review on Apple Podcasts.
Here are some of the pieces I’m most proud of this year:
This is my go-to boundary (my most-shared piece of 2021)
I read 33 books this year! (And will probably get 35 done by New Year’s Day.) I was inspired by Nicole Zhu’s seven years of tracking her reading, so I tracked all of my 2021 reads on Goodreads. (Add me!) Here are some of my favorites (with affiliate links).
Most captivating: Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
The true story of a woman who helps her mother hide her affair with a close family friend for decades.
Most eye-opening: The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy
An important education on how to structure relationships beyond monogamy and heterosexuality.
Most laughs: Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
I tore through several books from this hilarious series about British teen Georgia Nicolson that I first read when I myself was a teen.
Best fiction: Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters and No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
-Peters’ novel about three Brooklynites—a trans woman; her ex-lover who detransitioned and now lives as a cis man; and the cis woman he gets pregnant—trying to build a queer family was a touching and hilarious peek into a corner of New York that felt both familiar and entirely new to me.
-Lockwood’s first novel held revolutionary prose. Fans of her internet-only strangeness will love this meta story about a woman who lives to post—and what happens to her family to finally make her reconnect to life itself.
Best nonfiction: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
After I read Capote’s classic, intimate telling of a quadruple homicide in Kansas in 1959, I didn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. Prepare for darkness.
Best on writing: How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
This is a powerful book that made me feel so much. “To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.”
Best essay collection: Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Cottom writes with precision and humor about everything from the hegemony of beauty to the “right” kind of education to racism in America and beyond.
Best gossip: Open Book by Jessica Simpson
The right kind of release when I needed it about divorce, alcoholism, pill-popping, A-list affairs, and bad celebrity men. (I hate you John Mayer!!!)
I subscribe to a lot of newsletters, like actually 200. To answer your question, no, I don’t read them all! But here are some I read the most often. You can find a longer list of my fave reads in last year’s gift guide.
The Ann Friedman weekly. All the links you’ll ever need from a writer I adore.
Creative Mornings with great info for creatives and links for joy
Culture Study by Anne Helen Petersen, who constantly makes me think in new ways
Drawing Links by Edith Zimmerman. Daily musings told through comics.
Essaying by Tressie McMillan Cottom, excellent (and often funny) writing on academia, culture, bodies, and being a Black woman in America
Gloria, for “women who aren’t yet old, but aren’t still young”
!Hola Papi!, a queer advice newsletter
Laura Olin’s lists, one of my few must-reads
Men Yell at Me by Lyz Lenz, on the cross section between motherhood, feminism, and politics
Nicole Donut by Nicole Zhu, on writing and creativity
Noticing by Jason Kottke for amazing art and curious wonders
Tangle, a daily bipartisan politics newsletter
Swiss Miss by Tina Roth Eisenberg for design discoveries and charming finds, another must-read
Today in Tabs by Rusty Foster, where the Very Online can laugh at our little inside jokes and get hot media goss
The Whippet, random knowledge at its finest
Bitch Sesh—hilarious discourse about every Housewives franchise
The Cut—culture and feminism from New York mag
The Daily—the news I need
In Good Company—British author Otegha Uwagba’s conversation podcast about women and work that sadly came to an end this year
Maintenance Phase—unlearning fat phobia and diet culture
NPR’s Life Kit—a wealth of useful knowledge
Seek Treatment—I love to live in the unwell world of Cat Cohen and Pat Regan, my longtime favorite comedian
Song Exploder—how your favorite songs were made
Slo Mo—incredible conversations with the amazing friends of Mo Gawdat
Tooth and Claw—scientists tell the stories of animal attacks and teach us how to better coexist with wild creatures. Binged about ten of these on the road to Yellowstone with my mom.
Who? Weekly—the pod I turn to the most when I need to laugh. Pointless gossip about C-list celebrities that often turns existential, and delirious.
Unfuck Your Brain—how to get out of your own way and find success in life and love
Unread—Chris Stedman follows the clues his friend leaves him after he dies by suicide. An emotional listen for #FreeBritney fans.
The new things I love that joined my life in 2021.
Breakfast tacos (why aren’t these everywhere tho?)
Super green cremosa from Meteor, a local coffee and wine shop. I am constantly buying new bottles because I use it so often, on everything.
Driving with the top of my convertible down
Designing a deeply feminine home
My neighborhood’s “Buy Nothing” Facebook group
Secondhand shopping on forallhers.com
If you value Cruel Summer Book Club, please consider showing your support on Venmo @jillathrilla, or through PayPal. And thanks for sharing this newsletter with friends!
You are not alone!