Best Books of 2021

In January of 2019, I closed out all of my social media accounts and made an active commitment to read more books of substance, and less ephemeral drivel, than had been the case in then-recent years. I have been pleasantly surprised to see what an effective gambit that has been when I have done my Best Books reports over the past couple of years, and found myself with a wealth of great reads to choose from. In 2021, that trend expanded even further, and I suspect that I have read more books in the past 12 months than in any other year of my life since I moved beyond picture books into word-based tomes, and excluding the years when I was in school devouring (or skimming and pretending to devour) textbooks. I guess being mostly retired has also helped on that front.

Objectively speaking, my life has been far less anxious and agitated after I departed from the hateful and untrustworthy online worlds that Jack and Zuck and their evil greed-head ilk have built to destroy us all in the name of share-holder equity. What a truly shitty paradigm the social media experience is, on so many levels. I look forward to us collectively moving beyond it at some point, though I am not enough of a futurist to see how and when that might happen. I just know that it is a long overdue transition, and that tomorrow’s historians will likely look at how we spent our time and framed our arguments in the first quarter of the 21st Century and will wonder “What the hell were they thinking?!? And how could they have collectively been so very, very stupid?!?”

One way we get stupider, in real time, is by not reading great books by great writers, so I feel like I again did my own small part to stay smart in 2021 by continuing to devour a wide range of new books by authors both familiar and fresh. I share my lists of the best new books I read this year below, parsed into three categories (1) Novels or story collections published in the United States in 2021, (2) Novels or story collections published in or before 2021 abroad, which saw their first American releases in English translations in 2021, and (3) Non-fiction works published in the United States in 2021. Within each category, the books are listed in the order I read them.

I have marked a baker’s dozen titles/authors in bold on the lists below; these are the books that I would most highly commend to you as the very, very best of 2021. Perhaps some of these works will move you too. Or perhaps some other literary thing will have rocked your world rigorously enough that you’d like to share a recommendation in the comments. Happy to hear from you, in either case!

BEST ENGLISH-LANGUAGE NOVELS OF 2021

  1. Summerwater, Sarah Moss
  2. Good Neighbors, Sarah Langan
  3. Fake Accounts, Lauren Oyler
  4. No One Is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood
  5. Infinite Country, Patricia Engel
  6. Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. Hummingbird Salamander, Jeff Vandermeer
  8. Composite Creatures, Caroline Hardaker
  9. Second Place, Rachel Cusk
  10. Subdivision, Robert Lennon
  11. The Atmospherians, Alex McElroy
  12. Hollow, B. Catling
  13. Malibu Rising, Taylor Jenkins Reid
  14. Hot Stew, Fiona Mozley
  15. Virtue, Hermione Hoby
  16. The Startup Wife, Tahmima Anam
  17. Something New Under the Sun, Alexandra Kleeman
  18. A Touch of Jen, Beth Morgan
  19. Appleseed, Matt Bell
  20. The Book of Form and Emptiness, Ruth Ozeki
  21. Bewilderment, Richard Powers
  22. Revelator, Daryl Gregory
  23. This Thing Between Us, Gus Moreno
  24. Build Your House Around My Body, Violet Kupersmith

BEST NEW ENGLISH EDITIONS ISSUED IN THE UNITED STATES IN 2021

  1. The Woman in the Purple Skirt, Natsuko Imamura
  2. People From My Neighborhood, Hiromi Kawakami
  3. The Cabinet, Un-Su Kim
  4. Tender is the Flesh, Agustina Bazterrica
  5. The Hole, Hiroko Oyamada
  6. Mona, Pola Oloixarac
  7. The Twilight Zone, Nona Fernández
  8. There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job, Kikuko Tsumura

BEST NON-FICTION WORKS OF 2021

  1. Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, Andrea Pitzer
  2. Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, Avi Loeb
  3. The Witch of Eye, Kathryn Nuernberger
  4. Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future, Elizabeth Kolbert
  5. A Little Devil in America, Hanif Abdurraqib
  6. Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, Annalee Newitz
  7. Madhouse at the End of the Earth, Julian Sancton
  8. Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else, Jordan Ellenberg
  9. All or Nothing: The Story of Steve Marriott, Simon Spence
  10. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, Amanda Montell
  11. This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan
  12. Rainbow in the Dark: The Autobiography, Ronnie James Dio
  13. Finding The Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, Suzanne Simard
  14. God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning, Meaghan O’Gieblyn
  15. Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres, Kelefa Sanneh
  16. You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike

I have two new-ish 2021 books on my Kindle right now (Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel, and a biography of Led Zeppelin) which might need to be added to the lists above in the weeks ahead. We shall see. At bottom line, 2021 was a great year for reading!

If I had to pick a Book of the Year for 2021, this one would probably be it.

2 thoughts on “Best Books of 2021

  1. Pingback: “Best Books of 2021” Lists Update – December16th – Book Library

  2. Pingback: „Best Books of 2021” Lists Update – December16th – Imobiliare 24

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