Further reading: Best of 2021 Part One: Readers’ Picks, Best of 2021 Part Two: Writers’ Picks, 2020 review, 2019 review
Capping the year off, we’ll get to hear from the editorial board, who, between us all, read and posted around 330 essays this year. From the vast array of personal think-pieces, reviews, funny and not-so-funny anecdotes, informative essays, and more presented in 2021, here is the cream of the crop in our humble opinions.
Below, you’ll find the editors’ picks along with a sentence on why we loved it, organized by publication date.
A Floor Might Just Be a Big Shelf | Christina Ribbens
I almost chose “When Facts Stop Being Fun” (partially because it’s too true but mostly because it includes the phrase “you rube”), but I just couldn’t pass up the relatability packed into this one’s brevity.
Reclaiming Feast Days | Comfort Sampong
Comfort’s pieces often tie personal stories to the broader ones of people and species (reminding us that they may not be as separate as we wish them to be). Here, she explores what “tradition” might mean in a world that’s large enough for many histories.
Will the Real Social Justice Blogger Please Stand Up? | Alex Johnson
May we all strive towards Alex’s honesty in the midst of our own uncertainties.
When One Tomb Closes, Another One Opens | Finnely King-Scoular
I wish there weren’t so many things in the world to get righteously angry at, but I’m glad for Finnely’s adroitness in parsing them. (Also I absolutely adore the closing line of this piece.)
Do We Change? | Katie Van Zanen
Katie is one of those writers who can extrapolate the profound out of the everyday without making it boring or pretentious, which is a real gift. I think about the final two lines of this post at least once a month.
Snowstorm Saints | Chad Westra
In times that keep on giving us reasons not to be, Chad’s optimism is the freshest of air.
My Life Stages (Seen Through Transportation) | Mitchell Barbee
A subtle exploration of the ways that we move—sometimes meandering, sometimes purposeful—through life and across spaces.
All Kids Should Have a Talking Globe | Joshua Polanski
The title says it all! Except it doesn’t and you should read the rest of it, because it is at once an indictment of America’s national narcissism and an ode to a beloved childhood toy.
At Some Point, We Have to Talk About Love | Jon Gorter
Specifically, about how much I love it when Jon writes about nature—and we are spoiled for choice in that arena. I ended up picking this piece for its melancholy and empathy (and also because birds of prey are freaking cool).
Recommendation: Solstice Sunrise | Gwyneth Findlay
It’s one thing to write about the workings of the world: aphelions, axial tilts, the timing of soltices. It’s another to turn an info-dump into a hymn of home—an ode to our own awkward but awe-full place in the cosmos. Gwyneth’s science-based posts always do both.
Medium Friends | Philip Rienstra
This post helped me understand why my introvert heart felt both at ease and unmoored during the strictest part of COVID lockdown. Medium friends are a gift: comfort and camaraderie without (too much) commitment.
Final Rest | Klaas Walhout
I won’t say too much here, lest I miss the point of the piece. Silence is a grace to give and to receive.
Borders | Laura Sheppard Song
I can feel the vicarious frustration at border bureaucracy rising in me again as I re-read this post. But, as Laura notes so perceptively, it’s also frustration at the borderlessness of our existence. There is no here or there, no now or then, only the muddy middle.
Dancing with Blue Dolphins | Emily Joy Stroble
This post caught me off guard in the best way. Each one of Emily’s posts is full of fresh ideas and sentences you want to read twice, but this one stands out for its atmosphere: dusty, nonchalant, like the screenplay to a sepia-toned film.
Rage, Rage Against Calling It a Night | Kayleigh Fongers
My personal pick for “Title of the Year.” Kayleigh captures that dull mix of guilt, freedom, anxiety, and curiosity that makes us scroll endlessly when we should be sleeping. (And is that “should” even helpful?)
Rattlesnake in the Hallway | Natasha (Strydhorst) Unsworth
Having taught a couple undergrad classes, I recognize the amorphous fear that accompanies teaching as a graduate student: the inability to say “hi” like a normal person, the frantic studying-up on tomorrow’s lesson topic, the half-conscious desire for something catastrophic (like a rattlesnake, or a snow day, or a pandemic) to derail today’s class. It’s all here!
Worse Angels | Annaka Koster
All of Annaka’s day-in-the-life-of-a-librarian posts are gold (may I recommend this one on World War II books if you’re looking for something more reflective), but this one is just too damn hilarious not to list here. I will never not crack up at “THE SACRED EGG OF RESPUTIN.”
They Call Her a Siguanaba | Katerina Parsons
I’ve always admired Katerina’s ability to blend personal experience with both politics and art. This one introduces a fascinating mythological monster and asks us who exactly is doing the monster-ing.
And That’s the Hardest Part | Ansley Kelly
Ansley consistently tells evocative stories, but this one hits particularly hard: taking you from the joy of adventure to the angering reality of living with chronic pain.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Fox News | Ben Orlebeke
While I wanted to highlight Ben’s more hopeful call-to-arms, I cannot pass up his incisive political commentary. The news stories may not be current anymore, but his conclusion still is.
Real Life Significance of Rain | Susannah Boersma
Perhaps partially in English teacher camaraderie, I love that Susannah unbashedly seeks out symbolism in real life as well. This post makes me want to shout, “Yes, we are allowed to make things more than what they seem!”
Hilary and Me | Josh Parks
Josh deftly balances the personal, the biographical, and the meaning-making here, showing how someone you never met can substantially affect how you see the world. Plus, the opening about little Josh gets me every time.
Fifteen Seconds of Peace | Lauren Cole
Though I have to give credit to Lauren for kicking off the wave of ace posts (well, okay, maybe three doesn’t count as a wave), I often come back to this essay. The simplicitly of the practice of taking short videos coupled with Lauren’s concise imagery and the theme month constraints elevates this post to the next level.
The Monstrous World of Seashells | Olivia Harre
Olivia makes a wonderful tour guide through this underbelly of beauty.
In the Dirt | Courtney Zonnefeld
Courtney is one who delights in the craft of writing. With essays like this, her prowess smacks you in the face. Read this.
Packed to Gogh | Ben Devries
I always appreciate Ben’s self-consciousness as a writer and, in this piece at least, a consumer. His wit and self-awareness comes out magnificantly in this mediation on van Gough: The Immersive Experience™
The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of Chaos Lillie | Lillie Spackman
An ode to Chaos Lillie, for sure, but also an ode to ourselves, who contain multitudes. This piece exemplifies what I love about the post calvin: a small peak into fellow 20-somethings lives, figuring out who they are in the midst of it all.
Hardening My Heart | Anna Jeffries VanZyteveld
From one vulnerable heart to another, I appreciate how willing Anna is to explore the parts of herself that are more messy and unfinished. I’m still mulling over the questions she poses here: when do we need to be soft? Where is the line between knowing the wrongs done to us and healing from them?
Live to Tell the Tale | Kyric Koning
Kyric’s unflinching honesty here is truly a gift. Personally, I held this piece close as I struggled to understand how suicide can feel like an option at all.
Wash Day, circa 2021; Or, Assorted Thoughts I Express While Taking Care of My Hair on a Sunday Afternoon | Comfort Sampong
Inventive structure, full of tactile detail, and gently philosophical. (I appreciated Comfort’s pair of essays on Afrofuturism as well.)
The Monster We Know | Alex Johnson
A wise perspective on grief that we rarely hear.
The Last Car in the Parking Lot | Alex Johnson
You can feel the weight that teachers bear in this poignant piece.
Happy Coup-versary! | Ben Orlebeke
We can’t forget what happened. One example of many essays that feature Ben’s responsibly researched, passionate, no-BS voice.
Of Basilisks and Weasels | Josh Parks
I always love when Josh nerds out on crazy medieval lore, and this one served as a stellar entry for monster month.
Forgive Us | Josh Parks
Among Josh’s more prophetic posts, it’s hard to choose. I’m fond of the seminary one, but this one is even more potent.
All the Light We Cannot See | Gwyneth Findlay
One of Gwyneth’s astronomy geek-outs, this one with especially beautiful sentences, rich diction, and a garnish of melancholy.
A Quartet Sampler of the 2021 Musical Buffet | Courtney Zonnefeld
Courtney has done a lot of other great writing this year, but I’ll give a shout-out to this concise, clever, multi-review as a way of honoring the many good reviews on the post calvin.
What’s At Stake | Katie Van Zanen
A piece that shows Katie’s intellectual and emotional depth as well as her ability to deliver a killer last line. Also important for what it says about American religion right now.
Unsolicited Updates | Annaka Koster
Frosting on the many-layered cake of Annaka’s other sardonically funny posts, including the snail series.
Everybody Loves WWII | Annaka Koster
An excellent example of Annaka’s developing series on adventures-in-the-library.
Monsters of the Night | Jon Gorter
I’m always glad for Jon’s nature writing, and this one was a delightfully slimy contribution to monster month.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of Grand Rapids. When she’s not brainstorming the newest project to inflict on her students, she’s cooking semi-vegetarian food, reading too many romance books, and playing rhythm games.