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
“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
2. Suzanne Redfearn, In An Instant
“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
3. Sally Rooney, Beautiful World, Where Are You
“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
4. Andy Weir, Hail Mary
“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
5. Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This
“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
6. George Saunders, A Swim In The Pond In The Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life
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
7. Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun: A Novel
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)
8. Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction 2020 | A Good Morning America Book Club Pick | Independent (London) Ten Best Books of the Year
9. James Ellroy, Widespread Panic
ONE OF NPR’S BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR, 2021 ‘Purgatory is rarely this much fun.’ – Financial Times
10. Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads
Named a Best Book of the Year by BookPage, Financial Times, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus Reviews, Oprah Daily, The Millions, New Statesman, Newsweek, NPR, Publishers Weekly, Slate, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Telegraph, TIME, USA Today, Vogue, Vulture, and The Washington Post
11. Neil S. Price, Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings
“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
12. Susanna Clarke, Piranesi
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.
13. Lauren Groff, Matrix
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 Times, The Washington Post, TIME, NPR, The Financial Times, Good Housekeeping, Esquire, Vulture, Marie Claire, Vox, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and more!
14. Grady Hendrix, The Final Girl Support Group
“The horror master…puts his unique spin on slasher movie tropes.”-USA Today
Goodreads Choice Award Best Horror, 2021
15. Joshua Ferris, A Calling for Charlie Barnes
“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.
16. Daniel Immerwahr, How To Hide An Empire
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, A Publishers Weekly best book of 2019 | A 2019 NPR Staff Pick
17. Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me
SELECTION OF THE REESE WITHERSPOON BOOK CLUB, “Gripping” –Entertainment Weekly
Goodreads Choice Award Winner: Mystery, 2021
18. Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice
“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
19. T.J. Klune, Under The Whispering Door
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!
20. Ann Patchett, The Precious Days
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.
21. Madeline Miller, Circe
“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.
22. Kristin Hannah, Four Winds
“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
23. Carmen Maria Machado, In The Dream House: A Memoir
“A tour-de-force meditation on trauma, survival and the language we use to talk about it all.” –Time
24. Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Morning Star: A Novel
One of NPR’s Best Books of 2021. “Knausgaard is among the finest writers alive.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times
25. Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago
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.
26. Donna Tartt, The Secret History
INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER • A contemporary literary classic and “an accomplished psychological thriller … absolutely chilling” (Village Voice), from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Goldfinch.
27. Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet
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
28. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
A 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
A 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
30. Te-Ping Chen Land of Big Numbers
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
31. Colson Whitehead, Harlem Shuffle
A 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.
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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