The best books that Christie Maliyackel read this year.
By way of introduction, my name is Christie Maliyackel and I am the incoming 2022 vice-president for the Chicago Council of the American Writers Museum. I am so honored, thrilled and EXCITED to guest blog on one of my favorite topics…BOOKS! This year was a record for me — 135 books and counting. It’s just a testament to how many great books I was lucky enough to get my hands on.
The below list is informal and in no particular order, but I tried to cover a range of genres so there’s a little something for everyone (no sci-fi though, it’s just not for me). In pulling this list together, I went through each of my Goodreads reviews. As you can see, most of my favorites this year were nonfiction (SO many good memoirs), although the majority of books I read this year were fiction.
Note: This reflects the books I read this year, although they may have been published in previous years.
For any questions, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or connect with me on Goodreads! And of course, please comment below with any of your favorites of 2021…I’ll make sure to add to my 2022 to-read list! You can learn more about these books and purchase them, with a portion of proceeds benefitting the American Writers Museum, at our Bookshop.org page here.
Written by Christie Maliyackel
Will by Will Smith (with Mark Manson)
This is 100% my favorite book of 2021. I listened to the audiobook, purchased the hardcover copy (because you can never have too much of a good thing) and, naturally, I attended his book tour stop at The Chicago Theatre. I already loved Will Smith and his Fresh Prince charm, but this book made me see him in an entirely different light. I appreciated his vulnerability, honesty and rawness — it made me respect and admire him even more now that I know about him as a flawed human being, rather than simply as a larger-than-life celebrity. The audiobook is also just incredible because you get to hear Will in your ear ALL THE TIME — and who wouldn’t want that?! That charm factor. I love how he incorporated rap throughout the audiobook and how he imitated the voices of various individuals (especially Charlie Mack…I couldn’t stop laughing each and every time). My absolute favorite story is about how he landed the Fresh Prince contract by doing an impromptu audition at Quincy Jones’ birthday party. The story is just incredible. Okay, I think I’ve gone on enough. Just do yourself a favor and read this — audiobook, regular book, I don’t care — as long as you read it!
From the publisher: “One of the most dynamic and globally recognized entertainment forces of our time opens up fully about his life, in a brave and inspiring book that traces his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness, and human connection are aligned. Along the way, Will tells the story in full of one of the most amazing rides through the worlds of music and film that anyone has ever had.”
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
This is my second favorite book of the year (sorry, there’s no contest when it comes to Will Smith), but it’s also become one of my favorite books of all time due to the beautiful writing and captivating story. It’s a love story of so many forms, exploring relationships with spouses, relationships with parents and children, relationships with strangers that become friends. But it’s a love story for nature above all else and the relationship of humans with the planet. There are sentiments throughout the book that will bring tears to your eyes, make your blood boil and really shed light on just how much destruction has been done to our environment and wildlife. It’s eye-opening and devastating. A true wake up call. Full disclosure: While I care about our planet and the science behind climate change, I’m no Greta Thunberg. However, this book opened my eyes in ways I never expected. I highly recommend this book for everyone. It’s a necessary read.
From the publisher: “Epic and intimate, heartbreaking and galvanizing, Charlotte McConaghy’s Migrations is an ode to a disappearing world and a breathtaking page-turner about the possibility of hope against all odds.”
A Quantum Life: My Unlikely Journey from the Street to the Stars by Hakeem Oluyesi (and Joshua Horwitz)
I sprinted through this earlier this month, reading it in one sitting. Oluyesi’s story demonstrates the power of hard work, perseverance and advocacy and mentorship. I couldn’t help but think throughout the book that if “XYZ” hadn’t happened or a teacher or professor hadn’t been keeping an eye out, Oluyesi may not be where he is today. It truly took a village to help him get on the right path and believe in him when he veered off course. It’s one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read this year.
From the publisher: “A NASA astrophysicist narrates his improbable journey from an impoverished childhood and an adolescence mired in drugs and crime to the nation’s top physics PhD program at Stanford in this inspiring coming-of-age memoir.”
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Okay, I don’t know why I waited so long to pick this book up! It details the ascent of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and I was hooked from page one. It’s nonfiction but totally reads like a crime thriller. I had followed the story in the news, but I learned so many more details through the book. My jaw was nearly on the floor throughout most of the book. I still can’t believe how far one woman (and her cronies) would go to deceive the public…all for power and money.
From the publisher: “The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of a multibillion-dollar startup, by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end in the face of pressure and threats from the CEO and her lawyers.”
Bamboozled by Jesus: How God Tricked Me into the Life of My Dreams by Yvonne Orji
Okay, THIS BOOK. What a hidden gem! I stumbled upon this book when my friend recommended a virtual program co-hosted by this author. Yvonne Orji was a hilarious co-host, and I immediately added her memoir to my to-read list. I didn’t research too much about her, so it was only after I was well over halfway into the book that I realized that she is actually Molly from Insecure (a solid show)! Every page, every sentence is filled with inspiration, wisdom and humor. I was laughing out loud at parts, nodding to myself at others and shaking my head in amazement at various points. I could not recommend this book enough — so relatable, especially as a child of immigrant parents. And, might I recommend her Netflix comedy special, Momma, I Made It, as well? I dove right into that after I binge-read this book and man, oh man! I could NOT stop laughing. I may have to re-watch it actually…but I digress.
From the publisher: “Insecure’s Yvonne Orji uses a modern-day Biblical blueprint to candidly and humorously share the twists and turns that led her to success—and to inspire and empower readers to live their best lives.”
Skye Falling by Mia McKenzie
I want to shout from the rooftops about this book! SUCH an unexpected winner! From the first page, I felt like the main character was just having a conversation with me…I couldn’t stop laughing throughout. The author has a remarkable way of addressing tough issues with a nice blend of humor. I devoured this in less than 48 hours. I stumbled upon this when perusing the “librarian recommendation” bookshelf at the West Loop library, and I’m so glad I impulsively picked it up!
From the publisher: “A woman who’s used to going solo discovers that there’s one relationship she can’t run away from in this buoyant novel from the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of The Summer We Got Free.”
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of A Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
This book caught my eye when one of my friends added it to her to-read list on Goodreads. I was blown away — it is one of the most beautifully written memoirs I’ve ever read. I was truly speechless after reading it. Suleika’s story is one of perseverance, determination and resilience.
From the publisher: “A searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman’s journey from diagnosis to remission and, ultimately, a road trip of healing and self-discovery.”
Dada Eats Love to Cook It: 100 Plant-Based Recipes for Everyone at Your Table by Samah Dada
If you’re looking for clean yet tasty and simple yet beautiful recipes, look no further! Your girl Samah Dada is here for you and all the things. I’ve been following Samah on Instagram since I saw her on a Today show cooking segment, and she is truly the best. Her passion and down-to-earth approach to cooking are reflected in her recipes, which are so easy to follow. Her cookbook is also a work of art — the stories she weaves in among the recipes and beautiful pictures is a true masterpiece. She openly shares about her experiences growing up with immigrant parents, and I simply find her stories so relatable. An absolute gem — the cookbook and the author.
From the publisher: “A healthy vegetarian cookbook featuring inventive takes on beloved Indian dishes, indulgent desserts, and more, all made with whole foods and anti-inflammatory ingredients—from the Today show’s resident foodie.”
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
I did the audiobook, and man, talk about motivation to get up and go on my daily walks — I couldn’t stop listening! I’ve had this book on my to-read list forever, and I’m so happy to finally have gotten around to it this year. It’s just so informative and fascinating. The end gets pretty ominous with the author’s predictions for the future, but I also think it’s a necessary wake up call for humanity to really rethink what we’re doing to our planet. I was bummed to finish this — I just wanted it to keep going.
From the publisher: “Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power…and our future.”
The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
I did the audiobook, and it was excellent from start to finish. It’s not my first Bill Bryson book and it certainly won’t be my last. In standard Bill Bryson fashion, complex and potentially boring topics are distilled into easily digestible, fascinating terms.
From the publisher: “Full of extraordinary facts and astonishing stories, The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a brilliant, often very funny attempt to understand the miracle of our physical and neurological make up.”
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
I haven’t read a mystery like this in a long time – one where I am compelled to read in one sitting. With many mysteries, I find they follow a similar formula where I’m not super surprised by the end. This proved an exception to the rule! I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish…there was a point where I wasn’t even taking bathroom breaks, I was just so riveted!
From the publisher: “A ‘gripping’ (Entertainment Weekly) mystery about a woman who thinks she’s found the love of her life—until he disappears.”
The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose by Oprah Winfrey
My girl, Oprah, does it again! I did the audiobook and I just felt like she was talking to me. This book offers so many insightful tips for how you can live a life of fulfillment (something I’m constantly striving towards), and I simply just love having Oprah in my ear.
From the publisher: “Paired with over 100 awe-inspiring photographs to help illuminate the wisdom of these messages, The Path Made Clear provides readers with a beautiful resource for achieving a life lived in service of your calling – whatever it may be.”
Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
Looking for a young adult novel? I got you! I impulsively picked this up at the West Loop library because, yes, I was judging by the cover and it roped me right in. It was so cheesy, so predictable…so GREAT! Just what I needed after a string of ‘heavier’ books. I loved every page. I couldn’t put this down. Highly recommend if you’re looking for some light YA that really takes you on a sojourn through some of the best rom-coms of all time.
From the publisher: “In this rom-com about rom-coms, in the spirit of Kasie West and Jenn Bennett, a hopeless romantic teen attempts to secure a happily-ever-after moment with her forever crush, but finds herself reluctantly drawn to the boy next door.”
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
I flew through this piece of historical fiction. I don’t know how Kristin Hannah does it, but it was SUCH a brilliantly told story that keeps you turning the pages. I learned so much about this era that I knew little about, and it really opens your eyes to the hard work, dedication and tenacity of workers who are simply trying to feed and support their families. The protagonist, Elsa, is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, such a fighter. Highly recommend reading the author’s note at the end as well.
From the publisher: “From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone comes an epic novel of love and heroism and hope, set against the backdrop of one of America’s most defining eras—the Great Depression.”
The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes
This is all very ironic since I am *addicted* to sugar and truly can’t get enough of the good stuff. I was hoping this book would really open my eyes and serve as motivation for why I should wean myself off the drug (it can only be called a drug, once you read more about it and how it impacts our brains). And…well, I’d say it definitely opened my eyes. But I say this as I eat a cookie, so here we are. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?
From the publisher: “From the best-selling author of Why We Get Fat, a groundbreaking, eye-opening exposé that makes the convincing case that sugar is the tobacco of the new millennium: backed by powerful lobbies, entrenched in our lives, and making us very sick.”