Jake McCrary

Reading in 2021

At the beginning of every year, I reflect on books I’ve read in the previous year. I take a look at my records, fix errors, and think about reading goals for the upcoming year.

Here are links to my previous end-of-year reflections: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

I’ve continued to keep track of my reading using Goodreads. My profile has nearly the full list of the books I’ve read since 2010. Here is my 2021.

2021 Goals

Last year I wrote:

I have quite a few unread books sitting on my virtual and physical bookshelf. This feels like setting a really low-bar but this year I’d like to read some of these unread-but-owned books.

I’m also planning on reading at least one book on writing and one book on climbing. This goal is almost a subset of the above goal as I have books on both these topics sitting on my shelf.

Did I achieve those goals? No.

Looking through my list of read books, I think only one of those a book I owned at the beginning of 2021. I did not read some already owned books; I read a single already owned book.

I did read a book on writing, George Saunders' A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, and multiple climbing books, Rock Climbing Technique by John Kettle and Rock Climbing in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge by James Maples.

Early in 2020, at the request of some readers of this site, I started a mailing list. During 2020 I used this newsletter as a way to notify subscribers of new articles posted to this website and write up short blurbs on books I had finished. Except for a single email, I also didn’t send out any updates to the newsletter.

This is partially because I didn’t write many articles last year. I generally try to write about one article a month but I did not do that in 2021. We’ll see if I pick back up this habit in 2022.


Below are some highlights from 2021. The titles link to Goodreads.

I didn’t write many reviews on Goodreads this year and did not write detailed reviews in this article. I’d encourage you to click the links and read reviews on Goodreads.

Five-star books

Dune by Frank Herbert

This was my third time reading Dune. I read it in preparation for seeing the 2021 film.

I’m a huge fan of Dune but parts of it definitely haven’t aged well. I think the story manages to be complex and have plenty of movement but somehow isn’t overwhelming. I thought the film did a pretty good job of capturing that.

The first time I read Dune, I also made the very first Kindle Dune Dictionary. If you are reading on a Kindle and haven’t read the book before, I’d recommend purchasing the dictionary. I didn’t find it useful on my third time through the book but it made my first read through better.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

In August and September, I pretty much devoured the entire Vorkosigan Saga. I read all these books pretty much back to back and can barely distinguish them.

I’d recommend the series. It was a fun series and there are quite a few books in it. For some reason, this book stood out and is the only one I gave five stars.

A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

These are two incredible books. Arkady Martine built a great world. Politics, aliens, and poetry all show up in these books and it is great.

Go read some reviews (perhaps this and this) and then go start this series.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The book starts with what feels like a collection of short stories and grows into a story of struggle, triumph, and failure. I can’t point to what made this book stand out to me but a I really enjoyed it. It might have had some moments that dragged a bit but I still loved it.

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar

I went into this book knowing nothing about it and found it beautiful. The writing is lyrical and the way the story is told worked really well.

The book isn’t that long and I absolutely devoured it.

Zikora by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is a 35 page short story. Go spend the short time it takes to read it. And then go read the rest of Adichie’s writing.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

This book is fantastic. Generally, the format of the book is that you read a short story and then read George Saunders' thoughts about that story.

This book slightly changed how I think about stories.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

This is a relatively short, beautiful book. I experienced a full range of emotions while reading it.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam M. Grant

A solid book on the benefits of rethinking your positions. A very short summary is that it is good to update your beliefs and be curious. There is little benefit to being wrong longer. Learn how to rejoice in correcting your beliefs and embrace updating your viewpoints.

There is a some overlap of concepts in this book and the book Moral Tribes. If you are also well-versed in cognitive biases, parts of this book will be a repeat.

The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations by Gene Kim

I think a second edition came out immediately after I finished reading the first edition. Hopefully the second edition has high quality updates as the original edition of this book is pretty solid. I’ve lived the vision promoted by this book and it is a good place to be.

Rock Climbing Technique: The Practical Guide to Movement Mastery by John Kettle

A short book full of specific drills that are intended to improve your skill in climbing. This book isn’t about improving your strength, flexibility, or endurance. It is all about getting better at movement and paying attention to your movement patterns.

I’ve taken some of these drills and incorporated them into my climbing practice. I plan on digging back into this book and incorporating more of them.

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear by Carl L. Hart

This book is a mix of the author’s personal experience, policy, and science and makes the argument that drugs should be legal. Probably worth reading if you have any sort of reaction to that last sentence.

Reading some reviews on Goodreads gives a fairly balanced view of what this book is about. Even if I personally gave this book five stars, I find myself agreeing with a wide range of reviews by others.

Other Highlights

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

A couple other reviews (one, two) described this book as comforting science fiction. I think that is a great description.

The world feels cozy. It is full of generally nice folks going about their lives and interacting with each other over tea. This main character in this book is non-binary and you get to hang out with them as they live their life. It feels like a nice place to be with reasonable folks and respect between humans, nature, and robots.

It is a relaxing read that feels like a gentle fable that muses on life and what it means to exist.

Rock Climbing in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge by James Maples

This book has a very narrow audience. If you have heard about the Red River Gorge, rock climb, and are interested in the history of the area you should read this book.

I learned a lot about one of my favorite places to rock climb.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

There is a really good chance I should have given this book five stars. It was great. This book tells the story of the Hildebrandt family through interweaving perspectives of the family’s members. The characters are complex and the perspectives are interesting. I hope Franzen can continue to deliver this level of story in the sequels.

This goodreads review does a great job of selling the book.

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

This book does a wonderful job of describing what makes a gathering great. It was a bit hopeful to read this book early in 2021.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

A fun novella told from the perspective of an android.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

This book was beautiful. It manages to feel slightly off and this is completely appropriate given the narrator. This leads to some really amusing bits of writing.


I thought I had read less this year than I had in recent years but I was wrong. I read 57 books and 19,564 pages in 2021.

| Year | # of Pages | # of Books |
| 2021 |      19564 |         57 |
| 2020 |      12093 |         43 |
| 2019 |      15994 |         42 |
| 2018 |      13538 |         36 |
| 2017 |      18317 |         48 |
| 2016 |      22790 |         59 |
| 2015 |      21689 |         51 |
| 2014 |      24340 |         71 |
| 2013 |      19815 |         60 |
| 2012 |      14208 |         44 |
| 2011 |       9179 |         19 |
| 2010 |      14667 |         46 |

Here is a breakdown of books finished by month. I can tell from looking at August and September that I started and finished the Vorkosigan series during those months.

Book and pages count by month

Electronic books continue to be the dominant format.

|           | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 |
| audiobook |    0 |    1 |    0 |    0 |    0 |    0 |    0 |
| ebook     |   56 |   41 |   43 |   37 |   37 |   56 |   47 |
| hardcover |    0 |    0 |    1 |    1 |    7 |    0 |    1 |
| paperback |    1 |    1 |    7 |    5 |    5 |    3 |    3 |

Fiction dominated this year.

|                           |   2021 |   2020 |   2019 |   2018 |
| fiction                   |     46 |     26 |     28 |     29 |
| non-fiction               |     11 |     17 |     23 |     14 |
| fiction:non-fiction ratio | 4.18:1 | 1.53:1 | 1.22:1 | 2.07:1 |

Here is the star rating distribution.

|             | 2 stars | 3 stars | 4 stars | 5 stars |
| fiction     |       2 |      17 |      19 |       8 |
| non-fiction |       1 |       2 |       3 |       5 |

2022 goals

I used to be pretty good at capturing some thoughts upon completion of a book. I haven’t been doing a great job of that. I’d like to do better this year.

We’ll see what that entails but it might take the form of having more discipline around sending out some thoughts in the newsletter.

Have any book recommendations? Please shoot me an email or leave a comment.

Looking forward to the next article? Never miss a post by subscribing using e-mail or RSS. The e-mail newsletter goes out periodically (at most once a month) and includes reviews of books I've been reading and links to stuff I've found interesting.