30 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2021
Your upcoming year in reading is here.
Prepare for your stack of To-Be-Reads to thrive this year. As we all remain stuck indoors for the foreseeable future, now is the perfect time to start a routine of sitting down with a great new book, if you haven't already, to detract from the awfulness of regular life. And 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 was tough to whittle a bottomless trove down to just a small pile, but we managed: These are 30 books we're looking forward to add to our reading list this year.
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.Release date: January 5 (Putnam)
Robert Jones, Jr.'s debut novel, since its release, has been compared to the work of Toni Morrison and wildly celebrated as an essential historical representation of Black, queer love. Set on an antebellum plantation in Mississippi where Isaiah and Samuel, enslaved men, fall in love, The Prophets reaches for humanity during the most inhumane moment of American history through the place of refuge the two men find in each other.
Black Buck by Mateo AskaripourRelease date: January 5 (Houghton Mifflin)
When unambitious twentysomething Darren gets a sales job at hot NYC tech startup Sumwun, the ruthless corporate culture transforms him into Buck, a savvy, take-no-prisoners businessman. But when tragedy at home forces him to confront the life he's built for himself, he dedicates his newfound passion to something bigger: recruiting young Black employees into America's sales workforce, flipping the script on corporate culture forever.
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.
The Rib King by Ladee HubbardRelease date: January 19 (Amistad)
Groundskeeper August Sitwell is part of the all-Black staff in the home of the well-to-do Barclays. When his likeness is used to sell a recipe for rib sauce to help his struggling employers and neither he nor his fellow employee Miss Mamie, the maker of the sauce, see a dime of the profits, August's building rage explodes into a shocking tragedy that affects the entire family.
Burnt Sugar by Avni DoshiRelease date: January 26 (Overlook)
Avni Doshi's Booker Prize shortlisted novel, centered on a troubled mother-daughter relationship, finally gets its US release. Set in Pune, India, Tara and Antara ("Un-Tara") seem natural enemies since the moment Antara was born, and as Tara's memory starts to slip away in old age, Antara must square her morbid delight of watching her toxic mother suffer with the inevitable loss of a parent.
My Year Abroad by Chang-rae LeeRelease date: February 2 (Riverhead)
When average non-aspirational American college student Tiller spends a year abroad hopping around Asia with Pong Lou, a Chinese American entrepreneur with huge ambitions, the trip gives Tiller inspiration for his career and transforms his worldview, testing his Western attitudes and misconceptions about the world.
Milk Fed by Melissa BroderRelease date: February 2 (Scribner)
Rachel is a 24-year-old lapsed Jew whose mother raised her on an obsessive diet of counting calories. While she embarks on a 90-day communication detox from her helicopter mom, Rachel meets Miriam, a frozen yogurt slinger and unabashedly Orthodox Jew who takes Rachel under her wing. What follows is a vivid fantasy combining appetites both sexual and comestible into a meditation on what we are fed, from food to spiritual guidance, from the writer who gave us the horny merman tale The Pisces and the tweets behind @sosadtoday.
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 with its references to some of the most online pop-culture moments of the past five years, but buried within its jokes is a heartbreaking story about family and infant mortality, believe it or not. It's a perfect cultural artifact for these absurd and upsetting times.
Mona by Pola OloixaracRelease date: February 16 (FSG)
One of the most underrated writers working now, Argentinian author Pola Oloixarac, after Savage Theories and Dark Constellations, returns with the metatextual Mona, translated from Spanish. The eponymous woman, a cynical professor from Peru at Stanford, wakes up on a train covered in bruises with no recollection of how this happened. She then leaves for a literary conference in Sweden, where her conversations with other writers reinforce her other-ness in the industry's majority white, majority male landscape and also help to recover her lost memory.
The Slaughterman's Daughter by Yaniv IczkovitsRelease date: February 23 (Pantheon)
I'd be compelled to read this solely based on the title, easily one of the most captivating of this year, but then its plot, described as "Coen-esque," delivers the knockout: In czarist Russia, two grown Jewish daughters of a ritual slaughterer are thrown into a traveling family drama/comedy of errors when one of their husbands sets off to Minsk with no plans of returning and the other sister leaves, determined to bring him home with the help of a mute, ex-soldier ferryman.
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, and two years after his most recent novel The Buried Giant, centers around Klara, a robotic Artificial Friend who lives her life in a store, observing customers who come in and those who pass by the windows, hoping that someone will come through the door and choose her.
The Committed by Viet Thanh NguyenRelease date: March 2 (Grove)
The sequel to Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer is coming nearly six years to the date. The unnamed spy protagonist relocates to Paris after leaving Vietnam for Hollywood in the previous book, and ends up a high level lackey in a drug and prostitution crime ring. With elements of a thriller, The Committed could better be evaluated as an existential dark comedy.
The Seed Keeper by Diane WilsonRelease date: March 9 (Milkweed)
Diane Wilson, the executive director for the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, has lured us in with her upcoming novel about generations of Dakota women tasked with preserving their culture's traditions, namely a cache of seeds, against nasty and unscrupulous threats from the modern world.
The Twilight Zone by Nona FernandezRelease date: March 16 (Greywolf)
Chilean playwright and author Nona Fernandez wowed us with her 2018 novel Space Invaders, so we're anticipating her latest work fighting for Google search authority over another piece of popular art. Set during Augusto Pinochet's deadly dictatorship over Chile in the 1980s, The Twilight Zone unfolds when Fernandez's narrator first sees the cover of a newsmagazine with an interview with a man who tortured people for the regime and how that single moment would go on to impact the rest of her life.
Night Rooms by Gina NuttRelease date: March 23 (Two Dollar Radio)
Horror movies and bodily autonomy collide in poet Gina Nutt's debut essay collection. More lyrical prose than straightforward analysis, Night Rooms dismantles horror tropes through personal discursions, culminating in what it means to be the "final girl" of her family.
A Little Devil in America by Hanif AbdurraqibRelease date: March 30 (Random House)
Anything new from poet and music writer Hanif Abdurraqib is an automatic must-read. A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance could maybe be thought of as the anti-Green Book, where the history of Black musicians in America resists being sanded down to an uncomplicated, feel-good race relations parable, instead facing specific moments in past and recent history with a necessary honesty and celebration of Blackness.
Lurkers by Sandi TanRelease date: March 30 (Soho Press)
"Sandi Tan"—the filmmaker behind the astounding 2018 autobiographical documentary Shirkers—"writes a novel" would have been enough of a sell for us to pick up this book without second thought. Spanning generations living on the Los Angeles street of Saunta Claus Lane, Lurkers interweaves the closed-off lives of neighbors to braid a rich tapestry of place and how that becomes unwittingly shaped and colored by those around us.
Peaces by Helen OyeyemiRelease date: April 6 (Faber)
The idiosyncratic Helen Oyeyemi returns after Gingerbread—one of our favorite books of 2019—with Peaces, a train travel adventure about two men on their sort-of honeymoon (along with their pet mongoose) that's disturbed by a mysterious passenger. Expect it to be surreal, unpredictable, funny, and altogether excellent.
Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth KolbertRelease date: April 6 (Crown)
Humanity's dominion over the Earth has culminated in an era known by some as the Anthropocene, where human impact trumps even weather and tectonic activity for biological devastation. The new book from the author of The Sixth Extinction takes a look at the scientists and researchers who are working to save what we have left, from a group of biologists monitoring the rarest fish in the world in a small pond in the Mojave desert, to the physicists who believe shooting diamonds into the atmosphere will cool a rapidly warming planet.
First Person Singular by Haruki MurakamiRelease date: March 6 (Knopf)
Japan's most well-known author is back with a series of short stories, his first published work since 2017's novel Killing Commendatore. All told from a first-person perspective, these stories ruminate on childhood and solitude, baseball and jazz, and verge into autofiction as the lines between our exterior and interior worlds are blurred.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle ZaunerRelease date: April 20 (Knopf)
Michelle Zauner, the musician behind Japanese Breakfast and formerly Little Big League, debuts in the literary world with her memoir that expands on her viral essay published in the New Yorker in 2018. An exposition on grief and identity, Crying in H Mart reckons with the entirety of Zauner's life, from accepting herself as Korean American in the predominantly white Eugene, Oregon as a child, through her mother's terminal cancer diagnosis.
Terminal Boredom by Izumi SuzukiRelease date: April 20 (Verso)
The latest inclusion in the modern canon of Japanese women authors' surreal feminist work, Izumi Suzuki's first work translated into English puts a distinctly sci-fi spin on the concept. The stories collected in Terminal Boredom speculate radical distant futures, where women can enjoy a queer matriarchal utopia without men, resort planets circulate a "treacherously potent" nostalgia in its atmosphere, and enforced screen time and mechanized labor stymie Tokyo's restless youth.
Folklorn by Angela Mi Young HurRelease date: April 27 (Erewhon)
The title of Angela Mi Young Hur's sophomore novel is a cleverly literal play on a portmanteau, the genre-bending story itself swivels around Korean folklore and feeling forlorn. When a physicist stationed in the middle of the Antarctic suffers from sudden tinnitus, she begins seeing specters that force her to reckon with her family's trauma and return back home to California where she learns of her mother's secrets.
Pop Song by Larissa PhamRelease date: May 4 (Catapult)
This debut book of nonfiction from Larissa Pham tweezes from pop-culture ephemera—transcendent pieces of art from James Turrell's light sculptures to Frank Ocean's album Blond—to draw connections to distance and intimacy in travel, love, and loss. We love a smart book that can wring out the emotional essence of a mass-consumed touchstone through the writer's own experiences.
With Teeth by Kristen ArnettRelease date: June 1 (Riverhead)
A play on the sinister energy of We Need to Talk About Kevin, Arnett's follow-up to 2019's Mostly Dead Things tracks a mother working from home who lives in fear of her worrisome young son, who transforms over the years from an ill-tempered boy into a vicious teen. Resentful of her absent wife, she attempts to keep things together by herself until her son's bad temperament erupts into violence, tearing a rift in their idyllic queer life.
Filthy Animals by Brandon TaylorRelease date: June 22 (Riverhead)
The author of Real Life, one of the best books of 2020 (that's in development to be adapted for TV produced by and starring Kid Cudi), is back with a collection of interlinked short stories about Midwestern academic life, from a young man navigating sex with two dancers in an open relationship, to a young woman battling the cancer that's tearing apart her home life, a group of teenagers who violently turn on each other on a winter night, and a chaotic little girl who drives her babysitter to the brink.
Nightbitch by Rachel YoderRelease date: July 20 (Doubleday)
Two years after a mother puts her career on hold to stay at home and raise her son, she starts to believe she's transforming into something more canine than human. She struggles to control her doglike urges as her absent husband dismisses her concerns over the phone, and in searching for a cure stumbles upon a book of magic and a group of mommies involved in a sinister multi-level marketing scheme. A movie adaptation for Nightbitch is already in the works with Amy Adams cast as the housewife/dog.
Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra KleemanRelease date: August 3 (Hogarth)
Alexandra Kleeman's first work since 2016's short story collection Intimations, Something New Under the Sun seems to pivot back into the surreal territory of her reality subverting debut novel You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. Here, an author oversees a film adaptation of one of his novels starring a difficult actress. Simple enough, but in Kleeman's hands, it's hard to understate how sharply wry it'll be.
On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie NelsonRelease date: September 7 (Greywolf)
As Maggie Nelson's first work since 2015's highly celebrated memoir The Argonauts, On Freedom has a lot to live up to. For a lyrical writer at Nelson's level, though, we've no doubt this collection on, well, freedom through the prismatic quadrants of art, sex, drugs, and the climate will be an essential read this year.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson WhiteheadRelease date: September 14 (Doubleday)
Multi-Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award winner and New York Times Bestseller Colson Whitehead turns his attention to 1960s Harlem for a heist novel. To support his growing family, Ray Carney turns to his cousin Freddie, a small-time crook, and together, they fall into a plot to rob the Hotel Theresa, the “Waldorf of Harlem."
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