It’s time to unplug. The holiday break is the perfect time for cozying up with a great book, and if you’re looking for awesome reads to lose yourself in, we’ve got you. Here are the best books the Western Living staff read in 2021.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

I had to tough time choosing just one book for my favourite of the year€”I truly loved Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane, but I’d already raved about it in our summer reads. But I can’t stop thinking about Sally Rooney’s latest (she of Normal People, which is also an excellent television series), which made my heart swell with every page. It’s a story about Alice and Eileen, two best friends approaching their thirties and facing much of the meaning-of-life dilemmas that tend the start then and plague us all, always. Alice is successful career-wise as a renowned novelist (and there’s little doubt that much of her experience is based on Rooney’s own life), but less so in her personal life. Eileen struggles to find her place in the world. Partly told through letter writing to each other, partly through their experiences in real time, it’s a vulnerable and lovely novel. There’s something about Rooney’s stripped-down prose€”the way she stops to describe the tiniest moments that make up our life as we’re moving through the world€”that makes you want to slow down and enjoy every last word of it.€”Anicka Quin, editorial director

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

I’m not the only one to put this book by indie musician Michelle Zauner (aka Japanese Breakfast) on my end-of-year best-of list, but by the end of the first chapter, it’s undeniable that this memoir about food and culture and parental relationships and grief is as delicious as the noodles and stews it so artfully describes. Unlike Zauner, I didn’t grow up with a tough-love Korean mom, but like Zauner, I did grow up as a Yeah Yeah Yeahs-loving, Livejournaling, attention-seeking young woman in the early 2000s Pacific Northwest, so her recollections hit a beautiful balance of familiar and revealing for me. Though it’s likely particularly poignant for those with immigrant (particularly Asian immigrant) families, for anyone who’s had a parent, a loss, or both, it scratches an intimate itch. €”Stacey McLachlan, editor at large 

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

I appreciate that the above title is quite the mouthful, but in fact it’s quite a bit easier read than Saunder’s last novel, the Booker-prize winning Lincoln in the Bardo. The concept of this book is quite simple: Saunders, who teaches in the MFA program at Syracuse, presents a number of short stories by the Russian Masters (Turgenev, Gogol, Tolstoy and Chekhov) and then discusses them in a low-fi academic way (there’s not talk of post-modernism or Foucault or any other hallmarks of high academia). It’s a surprisingly basic premise €” you can do things like this when your last book wins the Booker€”but it satisfied the twin desires of illumination and entertainment wonderfully. Saunders based the book on the notes he accrued from years of teaching these stories and if you listen to the Audible version, it’s Saunders himself who’s reading both the stories and his commentary so it really is like you’re in class with him€”for less than the cost of a Masterclass subscription and a fraction of tuition at Syracuse.€”Neal McLennan, food & travel editor

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I learned while searching the internet for the image above that this book is classified as “psychological fiction,” which I can’t say is a genre I’m generally into. But I’m a huge fan of Ruth Ozeki (on top of her excellent, funny, and poignant words, she’s also based in B.C. and Japanese Canadian/American€”always a plus in my book) and this novel is excellent. It’s full of humour and mystery but is also extremely heartfelt. In it, Ozeki herself finds a lunch box that once belonged to a Japanese teenager when it washes up in B.C. after the 2011 tsunami. Inside is the teen’s diary, which details her very difficult reality€”school bullies, a depressed father, and an overarching theme of ending her own life. It was published in 2013, but it’s new to me, and I’d recommend it in 2022 and beyond.€”Alyssa Hirose, assistant editor

The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah

I don't know if anyone else had to read The Grapes of Wrath when they were in high school, but it definitely didn€™t leave me looking for another painful story about the American plains in the 1930s. Until now. The Four Winds is set amongst the Dust Bowl and the loss of land, water and ultimately the sovereignty of life during the Great Depression. The story within the story is about womanhood and the strength it takes to keep going when facing impossible choices. Kristen Hannah takes some liberties with people/place names, however most of the novel is historically accurate. If you’re into historical fiction with the satisfaction of a good cry or two then look no further. – Dani Wright, editorial intern