I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
December 31, 2021
I have to admit, this wasn’t the best book year for me. I read a lot of stinkers and got into a major book slump as a result, only reading/listening to 43 books instead of my usual 60 or 70. And if that sounds like a lot of books, well, some people watch Netflix. I read like there’s no tomorrow. Can’t stop, won’t stop.
That said, there were still some major standouts from this year’s book pile and I’m excited to share them with you now.
In the Wild Light, by Jeff Zentner
This beautiful book ripped my heart wide open and left it that way from the first page to the last. It’s definitely going to be my favorite book of the year.
It’s the story of two teens, Cash and Delaney, born to drug-addicted moms in small town Tennessee. They’ve spent their childhoods navigating all the pain and poverty and loss that is their birthright. The good news? These teens have in them the power to ascend far beyond their circumstances.
Narrated by Cash, a poet by nature although he doesn’t know it, we journey with him as he experiences love and loss, beginnings and endings, hope and desolation. He writes with a vulnerability and openness that’s often only found in the young, and his reflections and turns of phrase open the reader’s heart in the process, encouraging all of us to feel these universal themes and how they’ve affected our own lives, forcing us to confront the walls we may have put up in order to stop feeling, and dull the pain.
I cried so many times reading this book. It is beautifully and sensitively written and it continually poked and prodded at my heart and its hidden places. Zentner has managed to write a book that moves fast enough for a teen’s attention span, yet invites introspective readers to sit with it a while and ponder its deeper themes. And cry.
This book singlehandedly got me out of a yearlong reading slump filled with mostly mediocre novels. Do yourself a favor and read it as soon as possible. I believe it will capture your heart as well.
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
Strout fans will love this latest novel, a continuation of Lucy Barton’s story as she reviews her marriage and continuing friendship with her first husband, William. Although it took me a little longer to get into Oh William! than Strout’s other novels, it wasn’t long before I was captivated by Lucy’s narrative voice and the book’s quiet yet absorbing storyline. While reading, I was reminded of the long car rides I used to take with my grandmother when I was a kid, when she’d tell me stories of her life and experiences. I loved her honesty as she talked about her life and how she felt about all that had happened to her, and it made me feel very close to her. That’s much the same feeling I get reading Elizabeth Strout’s books — Although it often seems like nothing much happens on the surface, the quiet events of her protagonists’ lives feel a lot like our own, and their reflections as they look back are intriguing and at times, profound.
Elizabeth Strout is my Annie Dillard/Maya Angelou of fiction. She’s a true sage and she always leaves me with so many emotions and so much to think about. Strout is definitely one of my all-time favorite authors and every book of hers that I’ve read has been an absolute treasure.
Still Alice, by Lisa Genova
This book about a college professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers is so compelling, I still think about it often, months after reading it. Lisa Genova takes us inside the mind of Alice Howland so deftly that we are able to experience the debilitating nature of Alzheimer’s in a way that’s impossible to do when reading about it or even being around another person suffering from it. Still Alice is beautifully written but it’s also extremely unsettling, and it will definitely have you second guessing yourself every single time you forget a word or anything, really, once you’ve read it! So if you’re like several friends of mine and are quite concerned about your middle age memory loss and what it might mean, you should probably skip this one.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood
Disturbing, controversial, messy, triggering… All are words that could be used to describe this book, about a troubled young teen who falls in love with the man who saves her and the complicated relationship that results. It’s also beautifully and sensitively written — You feel that you know and understand the characters even as you’re judging their behaviors, and you’re left thinking about the whole thing long after the book has ended. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was definitely one of the best books I read this year, even though it was not an easy read. I think books are sometimes the only way to explore certain ideas and themes and remind us that real life is rarely black and white, and this book is definitely a prime example.
What Comes After, by Joanne Tompkins
Part murder mystery, part meditation on life and death, What Comes After is one very impressive debut novel. I won’t talk about the plot, because this is one of those books where it’s all too easy to give the surprises away. Instead, I’ll share that it took me a long time to get through this one because I’d often find myself wanting to stop and process what I had read. I was very engrossed in the story from start to finish, but I’d caution that if you’re simply looking for a page-turner, this probably isn’t the book to choose right now. Instead, you’ll want to savor the deeper thoughts of the book’s characters and how they apply to your own life and the lives of the people you love. It reminds me of Where the Crawdads Sing in that way.
Choose What Comes After if you’re like me and love literary fiction that explores universal themes, but also has a twisty, turny plot that MOVES. 🙂
What a lovely and poignant book! I listened to the audiobook, which was brilliantly narrated by Jayne Entwistle, and I loved every minute of it. I felt like I had crawled inside the mind of 10-year-old Ada and was seeing life in World War II-era England through her eyes, as well as the prejudices she encountered because of her clubfoot and the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother. I also felt the pain of Susan Smith, the woman who took Ada and her brother in during the war as she was healing from the death of her ‘friend’ Becky. (It’s implied by how much Susan cared about Becky that Becky was Susan’s partner, but this relationship will go over the heads of young readers.) The book is beautifully, sensitively written and the characters all seem so real, they practically leap off the page (or out of the iPhone speaker, in my case!).
I had a lump in my throat when the book ended and wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the characters — Fortunately, I didn’t have to! The sequel picked up right where the first book leaves off and was just as wonderful.
What I Know for Sure, by Oprah Winfrey
I listened to the audiobook of What I Know for Sure and I’d compare the experience to a mental hug from your mother. Oprah is the voice of Gen X’s childhood; we all grew up with her show in the background, her wise, calming voice telling it like it was, or like we wanted it to be.
What I Know for Sure is a collection of Oprah’s best columns from her magazine, all covering the topic of… surprise… what she knows for sure. Yes, she’s a billionaire with the kind of life few of us will ever know anything about, but she started from nothing and love her or hate her, it’s safe to say she’s learned A LOT during her lifetime and had access to many of the world’s greatest thinkers. I really enjoyed hearing the important lessons she’s learned over the years and I found each chapter to be relevant and inspiring.
What Oprah knows for sure is what a lot of us know for sure in our hearts, but it’s nice to be reminded of it. I’d like to listen to this book once a year — I think that spending a few hours listening to Oprah encourage me, make me feel better about myself and my choices, and helping me map out my future and what really matters is an excellent use of my downtime.
Lady in Waiting, by Anne Glenconner
I absolutely loved the audiobook version of this salacious memoir, written by Princess Margaret’s close friend, Lady Anne Glenconner. I felt like I was sitting by the fire in a scene from The Crown, listening to a rich old lady audaciously spill the tea on all the royals. If you loved The Crown’s episodes about Princess Margaret as much as I did, this audiobook is an absolute must-listen. You will be absolutely shocked and thoroughly entertained. You may also, as I did, end up adding Mustique to your vacation bucket list.
I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron
I thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook version of these essays, read by the author. Listening to them was like having lunch with an intelligent and hilarious older friend. I also found major writerly inspiration — Ephron has a wonderful ability to write how she talks and speak her truths with authority, wisdom, self-deprecation, humor, and candor. As a result, you can’t help but feel drawn to her and her wonderful stories, no matter how mundane. I’ve already bought a copy of this book and am onto her next audiobook of essays. I can’t get enough!
Bambi, by Felix Salten
I read Bambi this year at my daughter’s request — She told me it was one of her favorite books — and, well, I was SHOCKED. Unlike the Disney movie that made this book famous, Bambi is definitely not suitable for today’s super-sensitive generation of children. It’s very graphic and raw and realistic about death in the animal world, both as part of the cycle of life and at the hands of man.
For middle grade readers and adults, thought, Bambi is a well-written, thoughtful masterpiece. Nature lovers will adore Felix Salten’s descriptions of the forest — He managed to put words to so much of what I feel when I’m hiking alone. And the story itself, of a young deer’s coming of age in a world that could be brutal and unfair and heartbreaking, is magnificently told. If you happen to come across a lovely copy of this book, buy it — It’s definitely worth reading. And if you loved Watership Down, Bambi is absolutely a book for you.
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