The Best Books of 2021 (So Far)
Add these to your To-Read pile.
Prepare for your stack of To-Reads to thrive this year. Even as the country starts opening back up again, a part of us still wants to blow off plans and stay in with a great new book. Luckily, the 2021 releases include some of the most exciting titles in recent years, from bold debuts to the return of some of the best contemporary writers. It's always tough whittling down a bottomless trove of potentially excellent titles to just a small pile, but we managed: These are the books we're loving in 2021 thus far.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey PetersRelease date: January 12 (One World)
Torrey Peters backstrokes through tricky waters with her breakout novel about a complicated love triangle, but has been celebrated for deftly avoiding the lane bobbers that would sink the story. Ames, who was once Amy and is detransitioning to a man, asks Reese, an ex who is a trans woman, to help parent the baby Ames' boss Katarina is carrying from their secret tryst. Funny, messy, and kind.
Milk Fed by Melissa BroderRelease date: February 2 (Scribner)
Rachel, a 24-year-old lapsed Jew living in Los Angeles, works at a talent agency and spends nearly every waking moment planning her tiny meals and counting calories, a habit picked up from her overbearing helicopter mom. After her therapist suggests she take a 90-day "detox" from communicating with her mother, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig frozen yogurt slinger and unabashedly Orthodox Jew who takes Rachel under her wing. What follows is a whirlwind fantasy combining appetites both sexual and comestible with the Jewish myth of the golem, a creature fashioned out of clay and brought to life through some combination of magic, desire, and desperation, as Rachel's eyes are opened to new ways of appreciating sex, food, and her own body. Milk Fed is a lyrically written meditation on what we are fed, from food to spiritual guidance, from the writer who gave us the similarly horny merman tale The Pisces and the tweets behind @sosadtoday. — Emma Stefansky
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia LockwoodRelease date: February 16 (Riverhead)
Twitter queen Patricia Lockwood's debut novel, following her hilarious memoir Priestdaddy, feels like it's just barely fiction, her narrator an academic who gives talks on "the portal," with its references to some of the most extremely online pop-culture moments of the past five years, but buried within its jokes is a heartbreaking story about infant mortality family. When this novel is funny, it's laugh-out-loud good; when the flip switches, it's crushingly affecting. No One Is Talking About This is a perfect cultural artifact for our absurd and upsetting times. — Leanne Butkovic
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo IshiguroRelease date: March 2 (Knopf)
Kazuo Ishiguro's first book since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, two years after his last novel The Buried Giant, Klara and the Sun centers around the eponymous man-made Klara, an especially observant "teenaged" robotic Artificial Friend who is bought by a mysteriously sickly girl named Josie and her distant mother. How Klara perceives the world around her—including descriptions of her literal field of vision that would make for a fascinating and trippy screen adaptation—evolves as she works through understanding her human companions' complex emotions and secrets and the tech-saturated structure of society. As Ishiguro did with his seminal work Never Let Me Go, learning about the scope of the puzzling near-future he crafted comes in small, steady epiphanies that pick at our most uncomfortable thoughts about love and mortality. — LB
The Twilight Zone by Nona FernandezRelease date: March 16 (Greywolf)
Chilean playwright and author Nona Fernandez wowed us with her 2018 novel Space Invaders, and her latest work fighting for Google search authority over another piece of popular art deserves to be read widely. Set during and after Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship over Chile in the 1980s, we enter The Twilight Zone when Fernandez's narrator, a writer herself, first sees the (very real) cover of an opposition newsmagazine with an interview with a man who tortured people for the regime and defected, and how that single moment would influence the rest of her life. It's a jarring history lesson, for those who don't know much about the deadly era, told in fragments, bouncing between past and present, as Fernandez faces the lasting trauma from the regime's legacy of evil. — LB
Lurkers by Sandi TanRelease date: March 30 (Soho Press)
"A novel by Sandi Tan"—the filmmaker behind the astounding 2018 autobiographical documentary Shirkers—would have been enough of a sell for us to pick up this book without second thought. Lurkers is a vague extension of her film, borrowing some of the themes of her own experiences, even name-dropping herself, to pen a rich novel about the interweaving lives of the closed-off residents of Los Angeles' Santa Claus Lane. Hopping from household to household, the paths of Tan's cast of characters are inevitabilities in each others' lives, whether they realize it or not, that all meet at the same crossroads before once again splitting off. — LB
Crying in H Mart by Michelle ZaunerRelease date: April 20 (Knopf)
In her new memoir expanding on her viral 2018 New Yorker essay, indie rock musician Michelle Zauner, also known as Japanese Breakfast, writes about a mother-daughter relationship that’s all about tiny gestures of love, usually involving food. When struck with her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis, Zauner goes through a series of battles—the reckoning of her mother’s expectations, the struggles of being a caretaker, the loss of her Korean identity—and finds her way back in H Mart, where she’s able to conjure vivid memories of her childhood. It’ll make you both hungry and sad in the best way possible. — Jessica Sulima
Nightbitch by Rachel YoderRelease date: July 20 (Doubleday)
Already being developed as a star vehicle for Amy Adams to go fully unhinged, Rachel Yoder's debut novel is a dark and funny weirdo force. A mother, simply known as Nightbitch, starts succumbing to ferality and believes she's quite literally turning into a dog two years after putting her art career on hold to take care of her son, who joins in her "doggy games," while her husband travels during the work week. It would be a shame to reveal much more than this about the plot; Nightbitch, its magical thinking, its insight on being a woman and a mother and the pent-up frustrations that come with the territory all burst out in the last chapter to an ending that is beautiful, sad, unsettling, and glorious at once. Pre-order this one now. — LB
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