10ish Books that Changed My Life in 2021

Abena Anim-Somuah
7 min readDec 31, 2021
2021 reading mood as expressed by Patti Smith. S/O to the homie Molly Mielke for helping me source this!

I’m just going to come clean and say it. This was not my best reading year. But tbh was this the best year for anything? As someone who is pretty diligent about finishing books, whether I like them or not, my apartment is full of half-finished reads that I stare at, ridden with immense guilt. It’s not that the books were terrible. Frankly, I just feel like I didn’t have the attention span or the energy to commit to my favourite hobby. Something something a global pandemic was going down. I should be upset & embarrassed at my Goodreads goal, but in the spirit of being kinder to myself (maybe my therapist is reading this), here are the 10ish books that I loved and will come back to time and time again.

If you do purchase any of these books, please support your local independent bookstores!

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever

This was my year of travel, and after a gruelling spring, I needed to find comfort in exploring the world. Post-humously published this year by longtime assistant Laurie Woolever, Anthony Bourdain curated a food-forward guide based on his travels to the world’s most exciting places. This book fueled a sense of adventure this summer and was an excellent guide as I was passing the time on trains between Italian cities or trying to find the next best meal without relying on the interwebz. Few authors have made a personal impact like Bourdain and to experience his love of food at his favourite joints is the best way to honour his illustrious life.

In the spirit of two for one specials, I highly recommend his oral biography, an excellent curation of people closest to him sharing their experiences with Bourdain. It is a beautiful reminder of how loved we are even when we don’t feel it.

The Dawn of Everything: A New History by David Graeber and David Wengrow

As someone who misses school, I’m always looking for opportunities to brush up to engage in philosophical thought. This book blew my mind and then some! It’s a fascinating take on how the foundations of political philosophy fail to credit Indigenous work, a massive detriment to our understanding of humanity. Each chapter takes us on our anthropological journey, analyzing how different ancient cultures have influenced Western life. It will make you reconsider that PWI liberal arts degree because it was not giving diversity. It took me two and a half months to finish this book, and I’m still processing the major talking points. So if there are any Graeber stans in the chat, please let me know your thoughts because I need to kiki about this tome!

Get Together: How to Build a Community with your People by Kevin Huynh, Bailey Richardson, Kai Elmer Sotto

One of my favourite people, Sarah Wood, recommended this book, and it quickly became canon. In a world plagued with extreme loneliness and a people yearning for fellowship, it’s essential to think about creating intentional communities where people can feel a sense of belonging. I enjoyed how the principles of community building coupled with interviews from peeps in the trenches. Despite having the same mission, it was amazing the different creative ways that people can get together and enjoy the company of others.

We are What We Eat: A Slow Food Manifesto by Alice Waters

This book was one of the beautiful surprises that 2021 brought. (Yes, I know it’s possible!) Feeling unsure about my purpose, I picked up this book as a distraction, but it became the book that will ground me and inspire me to start a company (more on that soon, hehe). In brief chapters rooted in the Slow Food Movement philosophy, Waters talks us through the importance of building a healthy relationship with our food. In true “think global, act local’ fashion, once we embrace in-season consumption, we will pay more attention to our communities, our relationship to producers, and our health. I can’t recommend this read enough.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Yes, I know his method for making negronis is controversial, but what’s not to love about Stanley Tucci. In what seems to be the beginning of his food personality era, Tucci shares his life story as a young Italian-American boy growing up in the Hudson Valley to life as a father of 5 in bustling London peppering his favourite culinary experiences throughout the book. I especially loved how each chapter ended with a recipe inviting readers to experience the meals that have defined his illustrious life. If I ever get my act together and write a book about my life, I will most certainly be writing it like the Tucc!

Misfits: A Personal Manifesto by Michaela Coel

My Michaela Coel fandom began in 2014 after binging Chewing Gum during a lazy summer day. This poetic biography is a beautiful and creative lens into Coel’s life, from not fitting in at her drama school to finding solace in quiet writing. Flowing through the pages felt like sitting by the fireside bonding over life-changing events. Also, it’s a quick read that you can whiz through on a quiet afternoon or a long train ride.

The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis

In April, I had the honour of publishing my first piece in Cherrybombe, a culinary magazine celebrating women in food. In the article, I talked about how we were doing Edna Lewis a disservice by constantly dubbing her as the Julia Child of the South. As research for the piece, I decided to make a few recipes to understand her process and appreciate her love of country cooking. This book is a beautiful homage to Southern cooking traditions, a practical guide for eating in-season, and a fascinating read into African American culture. I hope to cook 50 of Edna’s recipes in the new year and write about them in my newsletter, Le Digestif. Never too late to subscribe!

Caste: The Origin of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Last summer was an eyeopener in how much learning I need to do to understand the intricacies of America’s painfully racist history. Drawing parallels from Indian and WW2 German caste dynamics, Wilkerson analyses how America was built on the foundations of a visible caste system still in effect today.

It was eye-opening and disheartening to learn more about how Black people have historically attained wealth, only to be taken by forces beyond their control. One of my biggest takeaways was that if proximity to the predominant caste seems to be the only way to attain upward mobility, there will be no means of achieving progress. I’m still making my way through Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson’s other book, a captivating read on America’s Great Migration.

The New York Times Cooking No Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton

No recipes, just vibes. As someone who got her early cooking training from a mom who measured everything with her heart, it was refreshing to see that vibe in book form. So if you’re a newbie cook trying to get more culinary practice or a gastronome trying to find easy inspo with fridge leftovers, this is the book for you. The vegetable aisle is my favourite chapter, but some heavy hitters include the cauliflower soup, miso-glazed eggplant, and the roasted salmon recipes.

100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet by Pamela Paul

I just wrapped this book up, and it was so good that it had to mosey itself into the last spot on the list. New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul curated a riveting collection of 100 things & thoughts that have been obsolete or taken a back seat thanks to the rise of the Internet. I’m glad that we don’t have to waste time figuring out who that actor is (chapter 79) or ever worry about losing a ticket again (chapter 5). On the other hand, it does suck that we no longer appreciate penmanship (chapter 76), bedtime reading (chapter 61) has been lost to our constant yearn for scrolling, and the possibility of gaining closure (100) from an ex is next to impossible these days. However, with tech slowly inching towards the metaverse, this book could also be an excellent means of inspiration for offline activities.

If you read any of these books & want to chat about them or looking for your next read, shoot me a note on Twitter! My DMs are open!

Until next year, happy reading!