Here Are The Best Books People Read In 2021

Greetings, friends! It’s that time of year again. The time when we put an arbitrary end date on what “came out this year” and what was “good” and “spiritually fulfilling” and “didn’t make us throw up” and then tell the world “look at us! We’re cultured and smart!” Here are the best books of 2021, Better Book Titles edition!

Luckily, instead of strictly sticking to what the publishers want us to talk about (i.e. only books that came out from January 1st-December 31st, 2021), I asked the Better Book Titles community what their favorite reads were this year and collected all kinds of answers. I’m always a few years behind when it comes to books. Sometimes, 2,000 years behind if I have a hankering for Cicero. This list includes this year’s favorites, classic novels, Pulitzer-winners from the early 00s. You name it, people read it in the year 2021.


Of course, I also took a look at Barack Obama’s list (always on the money) and NPR’s exhaustive 360-odd books they said were must-reads! In an effort to keep you in the know, a few of those are below as well.

What new releases did you pick up and love? What old tome from the 1850s seemed topical when you read it this year? What book that you bought in 2015 but finally got around to this year really spoke to you?

I want answers! In the meantime, check out what people suggested from their favorite reads in 2021.

Here are the best books people read in 2021:


1. Louise Erdrich, The Sentence

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“Dazzling…A hard-won love letter to readers and to booksellers, as well as a compelling story about how we cope with pain and fear, injustice and illness. One good way is to press a beloved book into another’s hands. Read The Sentence and then do just that.” -USA Today

Available on Amazon

2. Suzanne Redfearn, In An Instant

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“The characters are sensitively portrayed, as is their recovery, and the hopeful ending is realistic. Readers of domestic dramas will be enthralled.” –Booklist

A 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards Semifinalist: Best Fiction

Available on Amazon

3. Sally Rooney, Beautiful World, Where Are You

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“Fans of Rooney’s previous work will relish the ache and uncertainty of her characters’ coming of age, her way with emotional difficulty, and her brilliance in showing the barriers we put between ourselves and the love of others. The last third of Beautiful World, Where Are You, when the four characters meet and connect, is a tour de force.” –The Guardian

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award, 2021: Fiction

Available on Amazon

4. Andy Weir, Hail Mary

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“If you loved The Martian, you’ll go crazy for Weir’s latest.”—The Washington Post

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award 2021, Science Fiction

Available on Amazon

5. Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“A book that reads like a prose poem, at once sublime, profane, intimate, philosophical, witty and, eventually, deeply moving.” —New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

Available on Amazon


6. George Saunders, A Swim In The Pond In The Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

LONGLISTED FOR THE PEN/DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL AWARD • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • NPR • Time • Esquire • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel • The Rumpus • BookPage • “[A] worship song to writers and readers.”—Oprah Daily

Available on Amazon

7. Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun: A Novel

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

BOOKER PRIZE NOMINEE • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Once in a great while, a book comes along that changes our view of the world. This magnificent novel from the Nobel laureate and author of Never Let Me Go is “an intriguing take on how artificial intelligence might play a role in our futures … a poignant meditation on love and loneliness” (The Associated Press)

Available on Amazon

8. Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction 2020 | A Good Morning America Book Club Pick | Independent (London) Ten Best Books of the Year

Available on Amazon

9. James Ellroy, Widespread Panic

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

ONE OF NPR’S BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR, 2021 ‘Purgatory is rarely this much fun.’ – Financial Times

Available on Amazon

10. Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

Named a Best Book of the Year by BookPage, Financial Times, Good HousekeepingKirkus Reviews, Oprah DailyThe Millions, New Statesman, Newsweek, NPR, Publishers Weekly, Slate, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Telegraph, TIME, USA Today, Vogue, Vulture, and The Washington Post

Available on Amazon

11. Neil S. Price, Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“A thrilling read….The stereotype of the Viking that we know from history books and popular media is here dismantled and presented anew by Mr. Price in all its wonderful, terrifying complexity and ambiguity. By clarifying the long-reaching effects of Scandinavian influence, Children of Ash and Elm brings a dramatically altered understanding of the Viking Age to a wider international audience.”―Wall Street Journal

Available on Amazon

12. Susanna Clarke, Piranesi

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

New York Times Bestseller, Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, World Fantasy Awards Finalist

From the New York Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality.

Available on Amazon


13. Lauren Groff, Matrix

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

FINALIST FOR THE 2021 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION, One of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021

Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York TimesThe Washington PostTIME, NPR, The Financial TimesGood HousekeepingEsquire, Vulture, Marie Claire, Vox, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and more!

Available on Amazon

14. Grady Hendrix, The Final Girl Support Group

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“The horror master…puts his unique spin on slasher movie tropes.”-USA Today

Goodreads Choice Award Best Horror, 2021

Available on Amazon

15. Joshua Ferris, A Calling for Charlie Barnes

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“A New York Times Notable Book” about a modern American family and one man’s attempt to come to understand the many lives of his father, from National Book Award Finalist Joshua Ferris.

Available on Amazon

16. Daniel Immerwahr, How To Hide An Empire

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

In How to Hide an Empire, Daniel Immerwahr tells the fascinating story of the United States outside the United States. In crackling, fast-paced prose, he reveals forgotten episodes that cast American history in a new light. Named one of the ten best books of the year by the Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly best book of 2019 | A 2019 NPR Staff Pick

Available on Amazon

17. Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

SELECTION OF THE REESE WITHERSPOON BOOK CLUB, “Gripping” –Entertainment Weekly

Goodreads Choice Award Winner: Mystery, 2021

Available on Amazon

18. Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“What he does, and brilliantly, is open windows onto a universe where we’re all in custody, but we’re none of us sure who put on the cuffs. . . . entertainment of a high order.” —TIME

Available on Amazon

19. T.J. Klune, Under The Whispering Door

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

A Man Called Ove meets The Good Place in Under the Whispering Door, a delightful queer love story from TJ Klune, author of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller The House in the Cerulean Sea. A NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, AND INDIE BESTSELLER. An Indie Next Pick!

Available on Amazon

20. Ann Patchett, The Precious Days

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

The beloved New York Times bestselling author reflects on home, family, friendships, and writing in this deeply personal collection of essays.  A Barack Obama Favorite of 2021.

Available from Parnassus Books


21. Madeline Miller, Circe

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story,” this #1 New York Times bestseller is “both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right” (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times). Shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Named one of the ‘Best Books of 2018’ by NPR, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, People, Time, Amazon,Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, Newsweek, the A.V. Club, Christian Science Monitor, Southern Living,and Refinery 29.

Available on Amazon

22. Kristin Hannah, Four Winds

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

The Four Winds seems eerily prescient in 2021 . . . Its message is galvanizing and hopeful: We are a nation of scrappy survivors. We’ve been in dire straits before; we will be again. Hold your people close.”―The New York Times

Available on Amazon

23. Carmen Maria Machado, In The Dream House: A Memoir

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

“A tour-de-force meditation on trauma, survival and the language we use to talk about it all.” –Time

Available on Amazon

24. Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Morning Star: A Novel

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

One of NPR’s Best Books of 2021. “Knausgaard is among the finest writers alive.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times

Available on Amazon

25. Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

First published in Italy in 1957 amid international controversy, Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution.

Available on Amazon


26. Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER • A contemporary literary classic and “an accomplished psychological thriller … absolutely chilling” (Village Voice), from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Goldfinch.

Available on Amazon

27. Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “Of all the stories that argue and speculate about Shakespeare’s life … here is a novel … so gorgeously written that it transports you.” —The Boston Globe

Available on Amazon

28. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • Ghana, eighteenth century: two half-sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.

Available on Amazon

29. Amor Towles, The Lincoln Highway

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

New York Times Notable Book, and Chosen by Oprah Daily, Time, NPR, The Washington Post and Barack Obama as a Best Book of the Year

Available on Amazon

30. Te-Ping Chen Land of Big Numbers

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

A dazzling debut collection that deftly and urgently, tells the stories of those living in the biggest and most complicated country on earth.  A BARACK OBAMA READING LIST SELECTION FOR SUMMER 2021

Available on Amazon

31. Colson Whitehead, Harlem Shuffle

Best books 2021, novels, fiction, nonfiction, NPR list of the best books of 2021, Barack Obama’s reading list, cool new books, goodreads choice awards, better book titles, best of the year

NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR • NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s.

Available on Amazon

I hope that reminds you of the books you’ve been meaning to read or tips you off to new ones you should add to your list! See you in 2022!


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