My 2021 Audiobooks (and Actual Books!)

It’s already that time when I review the books I have listened to this year! Last year’s list was much shorter than I would like, but between having a new baby and dealing with a pandemic, free time was not in abundance ;) I haven’t read a ton of books in previous years as I mostly listen to audiobooks on my commute, but this year I was able to finish *actually* reading a few (I consider this to be a major personal accomplishment, ha!) I listed those books in the latter half of the post. So here is the list for 2021! I’d love to know if you read any of these, or if any are on your list that you think I MUST read too.

If you’re interested, here are my audiobook posts from previous years:


“Who knows what else tomorrow will bring? So, I nod my head yes, because it is true, the future is always working, always busy unfolding better things, and even if it doesn’t seem so sometimes, we have hope of it.”

This was one of my favorite books this year! The audio took a little bit of time to get used to because of the narrator’s accent, but once my ears grew accustomed to it, it was such a great listen. I loved the innocence of the main character, a young rural Nigerian girl who is married off only to escape and find a new life in the city. It had me at times laughing out loud, and at other times feeling deep empathy for this girls like her in this world. Of course, the girl power theme spoke to me! I highly recommend this book for young and old readers alike.

“The masters could not bring water to boil, harness a horse, nor strap their own drawers without us. We were better than them—we had to be. Sloth was literal death for us, while for them it was the whole ambition of their lives.” 

From the author of Between the World and Me (which I listened to twice in 2020), this work of fiction was beautifully written. It follows the story of Hiram, a young slave who strives to escape the Virginia plantation to which he is bound. Every line was like searing poetry, and the story itself a little magical and fantastical. This book deserves all of the accolades it has received!

“Persist, pivot, or concede. It’s up to us, our choice every time.” 

I was surprised by how great Matthew McConaughey’s memoir was. I suppose we don’t get to know the inner workings of movie stars’ minds often, so I can’t really judge him based on the very limited view I have of him as an actor. It turns out that he is one deep thinker! I love that he kept his journals from his youth, and those helped him write this book and reflect on his life. He definitely has a knack for storytelling, and listening to that Southern drawl of his on the audiobook made the experience even more delightful.

“It is quite a revelation to discover that the place you wanted to escape to is the exact same place you escaped from. That the prison wasn’t the place, but the perspective.”

I really, really loved this book. A young woman has just attempted suicide by overdosing on pills, and she finds herself in The Midnight Library where every book is a different version of the life she could have had. She goes on an adventure through many of the lives, and in the process learns beautiful lessons. It sort of gave me the feeling I felt when I watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” It’s a feel good book!

“’My daughter talks too much,’ he said, evidently pleased. ‘But she is correct. I find that different languages are useful for different things. For instance, it is best to write poetry in Urdu. Urdu words are made for poetry and songs. For stories, Kashmiri is the best.’
‘And English?’
‘English?’ He smiled. ‘English is excellent for signboards and maps.'” 

I wrote about this book in my post on South Asian authors. It is a work of fiction following the story of Shalini, a woman in her early twenties who travels from her home town in Southern India to the conflict-ridden land of Kashmir. I found the author’s writing to be just lovely, and this story was deeply touching. I am really impressed by this writer, and I can’t wait for her next book!

“When you take positive steps in your life, the universe rewards you by making your path forward easier.”

I guess you could classify this book as “chick lit,” or as one of my friends puts it, a “fluff book” (as in fluff between all the heavy stuff we always read). I was all in! It was a nice break, entertaining, had me laughing out loud (I loved the narrator!), and offered a bit of escapism pretending I was Amy Byler on a #momspringa in NYC.

“If you love someone, set them free. What a load of bollocks.”

This thriller definitely kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next! There is a Netflix show based on it, but I have not seen it. I love a good psychological thriller, and this one delivered. I do have to say, however, that I though I was definitely shocked, I did not love the conclusion. I won’t divulge more than that here, but I’d love to know if you read it and what your thoughts are!

“What sort of early interventions might have helped them before the medications took their toll, neutralizing them without curing them? And what about the thousands of people who couldn’t afford what her son had—who languish because of a lack of resources, or a stigma from a society that would prefer to pretend that people like them do not exist?”

This book was recommended by a friend and colleague. It’s a work of non-fiction that follows the Galvin family which included the mother, father, and their 12 children. Six of the 10 sons were ultimately diagnosed with schizophrenia. This was in the 1970s when psychiatry was still a very young field. The family provided insights into this devastating disease. What angered me was the lack of resources spent on research of mental health issues simply because it isn’t lucrative enough for pharmaceutical companies. The story was very difficult to take in at times due to the significant abuse endured by those closest to the Galvin boys. However, this book is an important work for medical professionals, mental health professionals, and the general public alike.

“At times, my life now feels so at odds with the religious teachings of my childhood that I wonder what the little girl I once was would think of the woman I’ve become—a neuroscientist who has at times given herself over to equating the essence that psychologists call the mind, that Christians call the soul, with the workings of the brain.” 

“When it came to God, I could not give a straight answer. I had not been able to give a straight answer since the day Nana died. God failed me then, so utterly and completely that it had shaken my capacity to believe in him. And yet. How to explain every quiver? How to explain that once sure-footed knowledge of his presence in my heart?”

This is the second book I listened to from Yaa Gyasi, author of the EPIC novel Homegoing. This novel was very, very different, and I loved it just as much. Gyasi has this amazing ability to unravel the details of a story to slowly bring your awareness to the issue at hand. This book covers drug addiction and its effect on a family. I really loved that the main character was a neuroscience researcher, and I loved the discussions about how different people (all within one family) approached religion and spirituality to cope with (or not) the tragedies of life. There are so many wonderful insights in this book, and I highly recommend it. It was one of my favorites this year.

“[The] physical, psychological, financial, and moral suffering…adds up to a humanitarian problem [and] the solution isn’t simply better medical care.”

This is a work of non-fiction written by a physician who cares for dementia patients at the Penn Memory Center in Philadelphia. It provides insights into how Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating and chronic disease, impacts every aspect of our society. As a palliative care physician who sees many patients with advanced dementia, I can attest to the fact that most people do not understand this disease or its normal trajectory even while their closest family members are suffering from it. Caregiver burnout is a huge issue in American society which provides little support for people with chronic illness. Sadly, a lot of these patients end up in decrepit nursing homes alone and poorly cared for. It certainly made me think about my own wishes for quality of life if I myself were to develop this disease. I think this is another important book for medical professionals and anyone affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

“It was the culture’s fault. Women were supposed to be accustomed to nursing guilt and blame. They had to keep their husbands sane. Teach children manners. Make the perfect daal.”

This was a great debut novel by Indian author Saumya Dave, who also happens to be a Psychiatrist! It really nails multiple issues in Indian culture, especially regarding expectations and roles of women. I think I would have enjoyed this book better if I read it because I found the audiobook narrator to be quite annoying. However, I am looking forward to reading her second book published this year, What a Happy Family, which is set in Atlanta where Dave grew up.

“Cooking my mother’s food had come to represent an absolute role reversal, a role I was meant to fill. Food was an unspoken language between us, had come to symbolize our return to each other, our bonding, our common ground.” 

This book was beautifully written by musician Michelle Zauner. It’s a tender tale of her complex relationship with her mother who died of cancer, and the intricate role of Korean food and culture in her life. This book will leave you with so many emotions, so get ready!

“If I didn’t pay attention, one of those currents could grow into a huge riptide, destroying all my careful planning. And here’s another thing I’ve learned – sometimes the smallest currents are the strongest.”

Oh how I enjoyed this thriller! The narration was awesome (I just love a good Irish accent!), and I could not stop listening! It is about a couple’s wedding day on an isolated island off of Ireland’s coast. In the beginning, some of the characters seem to serve no meaningful purpose in the larger story, but over time, you learn that they are deeply entrenched in how this story unfolds. The wedding day is marred by a dead body, and the degeneration of the wedding festivities is like a train wreck that you can’t look away from. I loved this book!

“Annabel was just gazing out the window, presumably pondering the inherent mortality and futility of life. Then I realized she was singing the SpongeBob theme song, so probably not.”

This is another “chick lit” book that I really enjoyed. It’s a story of a young widow with two daughters. Through her job as an illustrator, she is tasked with illustrating plants and flowers for a gardening book. In the process, she meets a new love interest, and along the way learns a lot about healing and loving again. I enjoyed the witty writing, the friendships, and the internal monologue of a semi-neurotic mother (something I can totally relate to).

“…and sometimes when he watched her – searching for something in her bag, or peeling an apple with her knuckle guiding the blade – he felt a shiver of panic that he’d almost not met her.” 

“She’d learned that the beginning of one’s life mattered the most, that life was top-heavy that way.”

This book blew me away. The endless depth of the relationships – between mother and son, mother and daughter, husband and wife, neighbors, and friends, was beautifully told through this novel. The themes of mental illness and addiction were central pieces to this story. I was surprised by how I initially hated one character, then grew to feel empathetic towards them. I had a wonderful conversation with a friend about this book. It was one of my favorites for this year.

“Even if you’ve accumulated a house full of nice things and the picture of your life fits inside a beautiful frame, if you have experienced trauma but haven’t excavated it, the wounded parts of you will affect everything you’ve managed to build.”

“Your own experiences and the echoes of your ancestors’ experiences influence the way you think, feel, and behave. They are major determinants of your health. And being aware of this can help us remember that everything we do right now is going to echo into the future. Our actions matter; we are impacting the next generations. So are we being as mindful as we could?” 

Written and narrated by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry, this is an eye-opening book about the impact of childhood experiences and trauma on an individual’s life. I think this is a very worthwhile book, especially as someone who has experienced some difficult experiences in childhood. It is not easy to delve into the past, but this book, and a great deal of research out there these days, notes the importance of doing so in order to heal and grow.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” 

“I still considered the world’s religions to be mere intellectual ruins, maintained at enormous economic and social cost, but I now understood that important psychological truths could be found in the rubble.” 

The topics of spirituality and religion have always been of interest to me. I even minored in Theology in college simply to learn more about religious faiths and teachings. My religious beliefs have certainly changed over time, and in my adult life I find myself less drawn to organized religion but also lacking that spiritual connection I used to feel and be comforted by. Why? I am not sure. But in recent years, I have really been trying to tune into spirituality in other ways besides any specific religion that I cannot emotionally connect with. In the process, I have learned a great deal about meditation, mindfulness, and striving to master the “monkey mind” (as Jay Shetty puts it). This book mirrored a lot of my own views on religion. It promotes mindfulness and presence as the ultimate connection to our inner selves, the soul or essence, which is inherently spiritual. The only part that threw me off a little was the author’s promotion of mind-altering substances to experience and reach less accessible aspects of our psyche (or, as I call it, hallucinate). As someone who does not use drugs (aside from caffeine and the occasional alcoholic beverage), I felt like this suggestion was silly and potentially dangerous because some people have more addictive tendencies. Aside from that, I felt the overall message of the book was in line with where I am in life. Another book I would recommend with similar themes is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

“Short version: Own your choices. Or, as my mother must have told me hundreds of times growing up, “have courage of conviction.” 

I wrote about this book in my post on South Asian authors. I thought this was a great memoir from international superstar Priyanka Chopra. I love her work ethic and her conviction! I also love how she credits her parents with so much of her mindset and drive. This is a great book for young girls and women who need a positive role model.

“When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things.” 

From the author of Malibu Rising, this was an entertaining book about a fictional movie star who decides to tell all about her life to a budding writer. Like Malibu Rising, I liked how stardom and fame were portrayed as deeply flawed states of being. I enjoyed the story of how and why Evelyn Hugo married seven times, but I figured out a key piece of the story before it was revealed. Overall, I did not feel this book was earth-shatteringly good. It’s another good vacation read though!

Of course, I’m dying to be about for ever so long. I’ll ask the King to find me the polar star. I must have seen it often, but I don’t know exactly which it is.”

Rabindranath Tagore, The Post Office

From Indian author Jai Chakarabarti, this novel was truly magnificent. It traverses Poland, America, and India. First in Poland at the brink of WWII, the head of an orphanage decides to put on a play (The Post Office by Rabindranath Tagore) in order to help prepare the children for the atrocity they will soon face in the concentration camps. Years later, after one of these orphans has managed to escape and ends up in America, he travels to India to put on the same play. This was a wonderful book, and it’s one that deserves a lot of attention and reflection.

“Stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them. We do have them, and people of color already know we have them; our efforts to prove otherwise are not convincing. An honest accounting of these patterns is no small task given the power of white fragility and white solidarity, but it is necessary.”

“White fragility functions as a form of bullying; I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me—no matter how diplomatically you try to do so—that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again.”

Along with Caste (see below), this book should be required reading for everyone. I still recall a conversation I had with my old college roommate about a year after Trump was elected. She, a white woman, threw a number of the excuses and common statements at me that this book mentions – these statements are often used when white people want become defensive about their actions or words being labeled as racist. I like that the author, a white woman, specifies that “racist” does not always mean someone is a Jim-Crow-era violent and vicious type, and “racism” has a very nuanced definition. She provides numerous examples, through her work in diversity training for companies, just how defensive people get when their racism, conscious or subconscious, is called out. I know which of my white friends would be able to read this book without feeling offended, and they are my people! I would love to send a copy to my old college roommate (and her parents), but I won’t. Perhaps this book will find its way to her without my help.

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”

This book was another recommendation from a friend and colleague. It offered excellent insights about recognizing a fixed mindset and changing it into a growth mindset. In discussing it with my friend, it was so interesting to learn how her upbringing and culture led to a fixed mindset when it came to achievements, academics, and career. I found it interesting that, as the book suggests, many people think highly successful people are simply talented. I was surprised by this because I felt that highly successful people (like Olympians, CEOs, etc.) got to where they are through grit and hard work! I myself had to work my butt off to get into medical school and become a doctor because the sciences were never easy for me. Writing came to me more easily, but my dream was to become a doctor, so I worked for it. On the other hand, unlike my friend, I think I’ve held a fixed mindset when it comes to relationships for a very, very long time. That is something I am learning to change, and this book was definitely helpful for me. I hope to use and practice the pearls from this book permanently, especially as a parent.

“Our family histories are simply stories. They are myths we create about the people who came before us, in order to make sense of ourselves.”

“Just because it is in Malibu’s nature to burn, so was it in one particular person’s nature to set fire and walk away.”

From the author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (see above), this was the book I steamrolled through while on vacation. I enjoyed the writing, and the characters made an impact on me. I loved the setting of Malibu, and I appreciated again how the author paints a rosy picture of fame and fortune that she quickly tears down. It does cover some heavier topics, too, so it is definitely worthwhile. I liked this book more than The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

“…and beside that longing, faith that life need not remain a wall of anger, that it can also be full of beautiful moments that just seem to arrive with the birds.” 

This was a real book I took out from the library and read (I’m a nerd, but this truly makes me feel accomplished). It was short and quick to get through, but it hit hard. Partly based on truths from the author’s family life, it was painful and lovely and sexy all at once.

“The trouble with discovery is that it goes two ways. For you to find something, that thing must also find you.”

Ok, I’m sorry but I hated this book (sorry, T!) It is a sci-fi horror about mermaids. It’s actually a sequel (I think?) to Rolling in the Deep which I have not read. I am not usually a sci-fi fan, and though I can deal with horror/gore, I found this book to be too long and too pointless. It was just kind of gross, but it sure was scary if you got into it. In essence, this book was not for me.

“Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things.”

“‘So the real question would be,’ he said finally, ‘if people were given the choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?'”

As mentioned above, I think this book should be required reading for absolutely everyone in addition to White Fragility. I was absolutely astounded by the contents of this book. I considered myself fairly learned about social and racial inequities in America, especially through the extensive studying/reading I did about these topics for college public health courses and my Masters in Health Care Ethics program. However, this book opened up a whole new level of comprehension when it came to understanding the politics of race in America. Also, as an Indian, I really connected with the discussions about caste and how the author posits that caste is the real problem in America, just as it is in India. I highly, highly recommend this book. I own the hard copy if anyone local wants to borrow it.

“Once he began, he walked with purpose. And he did not look back.”

I’ve mentioned this book no less than 1 billion times already, I know. This was my favorite book of 2021, and I wrote about it in more detail in my post on South Asian authors. I absolutely adored this ghost story set in the holy city of Varanasi. This was a gem of a find at my local library!

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