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List of Books and Authors 2021 | Books Launched in 2021 and 2020

Table of content, books and their authors 2021, books and their authors 2020.

Books and Authors that remain in news due to their latest release, award received, the announcement of the launch, the person in news, etc. are important from an exam point of view. Minimum 1 or 2 questions are asked from the topic Books and Authors in the General Awareness section of the various competitive exams.

Here is the revision capsule of Books and Authors 2021 and 2020 that will help you score better in your exam. Also download Monthly Current Affairs in English , Monthly Current Affairs in Hindi , and Monthly Banking Awareness .

The following table consists of Famous Books and Authors that were in news in the year 2021.

The following table consists of Famous Books and Authors that were in news in the year 2020.

Download List of Famous Books and their Authors 2021

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books and authors 2021

books and authors 2021

books and authors 2021

81 Writers on the Books They Loved in 2021

From contributors to freeman's.

Two years and running. The changed world in which we’re living has stayed altered, and in 2021 the quiet of lockdowns was exchanged for different silences—of mourning; of a steady, grinding maintenance; and in many cases, that hush which falls upon a reader. The solitude of two afforded by a book has not been more starkly felt by many in a long time. 2021 was the year readers went back to their shelves, having binged out of various tv shows. Bookstores were open in some places, and books could be given as gifts again, hand to hand. There are not many causes for hopefulness, but a year in which Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize, and books were the opposite of hot, but felt, loved and dove into in the idiosyncratic, passionate ways readers burrow feels like a small consolation in sick times. Every December I ask the contributors to  Freeman’s what they loved, what struck them over the year: this year was the swiftest, most voluminous response yet, with dispatches coming from writers in Pakistan, Japan, France and USA, among many other places. May you get lost in what they found.   –John Freeman, editor,  Freeman’s

books and authors 2021

Graham Greene,  The Heart of the Matter (Penguin Group)

Supply chain disruptions have hit Karachi: we’ve been contending with inflation, shortages across the board. The price of onions, lentils and rice have been on an upward trajectory. One of my staples, Graham Greene’s  The Heart of the Matter , a novel that I reread whenever I feel down,   hasn’t been on the shelves for a year—I lent mine to somebody for some forgotten reason some time ago. A fellow at a commercial bookshop in my neighborhood told me, “No Greenes coming.” As it so happens, neither are my two novels.

Trawling secondhand bookshops double-masked a fortnight ago, however, I finally came across a worn paperback copy Greene’s opus for the price of a dozen eggs. It was like happening across an old friend: “Scobie… turned…along the shaded…corridor to his room: a table, two kitchen chairs, a cupboard, some rusty handcuffs…a filing cabinet: to a stranger it would have appeared a bare uncomfortable room but to Scobie it was home. Other men slowly build up the sense of home by accumulation—a new picture…paperweight, the ashtray bought for a forgotten reason on a forgotten holiday; Scobie built his home by a process of reduction.”

It’s as if no matter how difficult things get, Scobie, a British police officer posted in a country that resembles Sierra Leone during WWII, has it worse. He is a good man, exemplary even, but he slips once, only once, causing him to hurtle into certain oblivion. It has to do with a matter of the heart, and it always hits me like a punch to the gut. As I approach the end, I find I’m rationing: I read a page or two at night. I don’t want to go hungry.  –HM Naqvi, author of  Home Boy  and  The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack

books and authors 2021

Remica Bingham-Risher, Starlight & Error (Diode Editions)

Some poets blossom in tender increments. Quietly. Privately. They are about the word, and they don’t even wait for fame, because that doesn’t matter. The word is what matters—not even “the work,” a phrase which assumes publication and all that comes afterward. Remica Bingham-Risher is one of those poets, and one of the best kept secrets of African American poetry. She’s greatly beloved both for her incredible poetry, and for her kindness and humanity, which shines through on the page. But (as the kids can say) don’t get it twisted: there are plenty of depths to Bingham-Risher’s poetry—and craft, and music, and surprising turns of language—as in her book,  Starlight & Error, which is about realistic familial affection. Sometimes, the realism turns into the most shocking of Blues. Like with “Cleaning House,” about the speaker’s aunt, who stabs her husband for cheating with a lives-down-the-street woman who was considered a friend to that aunt. You’ll gasp, but give a satisfied, “Um,” when you come to the last line of this poem. I won’t spoil it for you. Go on ahead and buy the book.   –Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, author of  The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois  and  The Age of Phillis

books and authors 2021

Dave Eggers, The Every (McSweeney’s)  

Sometimes, love for a novel comes easy—you turn the pages, you fall in love, and then you tell everyone how hard and fast you’ve fallen. At other times, it comes rather more circuitously. For me,  The Every is such a book. The first thing I will say about it is that I finished it. I looked at it and thought I’d never get through it, but then I did, and in these times of pandemic-induced ADHD, that is no small thing. After finishing it, I started a long argument with it that has continued to this day. Why was the revolution so individual? Why did the main character not have any friends, or family, or any sex, for that matter? Not even a kiss. 600 pages without a single snog.

But the arguments meant that the book lingered in my mind, which is why I am talking about it now. It is clever and prescient and angry, all things I love in a novel. It rages against all the ills in the world, a comprehensive rant about late-capitalism that encompasses everything from the death of journalism to the human appetite for surveillance. It is set in the near future, and when it describes our present, it refers to “the pandemics”—which at first annoyed me, because it means we are only at the start of a series of really terrible events, but since I read it, Omicron has reared its ugly head, and so I must confess, I did not love this book, but now I do, because it tells me something about my life that I didn’t know before, even if that news is very, very bad.   –Tahmima Anam, author of  The Startup Wife

books and authors 2021

Samuel Richardson,  Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (Penguin Group)

Samuel Richardson’s  Clarissa , published in 1748, has long been a gap in my literary education. I avoided it not just because it remains (I think) the longest novel written in English, but also because Richardson’s earlier novel,  Pamela , an epistolary tale of a young servant girl desperately eluding her employer’s attempts to rape her, ends with Pamela discovering that she is in love with her “master” and happily marrying into the aristocracy. Blech.

Clarissa  is a brutal inversion of that story, and the fact that it was written by the same author is fascinating in itself. Also epistolary, it tells the story of a young woman determined not to marry the dolt her family has chosen for her husband. Her parents imprison her in her home; she escapes; and from there the story becomes ever more harrowing, unforgiving and extreme. In the end,  Clarissa is a graphic study of the pathologies endemic to a culture that treats women as property. It’s also a passionate celebration of female friendship and of the written word—storytelling as means of power and transcendence. (There is also a superb audio recording by Naxos with multiple readers)   –Jennifer Egan’s new novel,  The Candy House , will be published in 2022.

books and authors 2021

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (Penguin Books)

I’m late to the Ruth Ozeki party but now I’m dancing hard.  A Tale for the Time Being  is a confrontational yet tender novel, the narrative makes the reader work and stretch and think about the way they tell their own stories. Each of its facets is perfectly cut—a teenage girl in Japan, a writer in Canada, Buddhism, the oceans, the inheritances we both keep and throw away—and the whole glimmers and glitters. I’ve given away quite a few copies of a  A Tale for the Time Being over this pandemic; I think it creates a moment to laugh or think or just exhale.   –Nadifa Mohamed, author of  The Fortune Men  

books and authors 2021

Zadie Smith, The Wife of Willesden  (Hamish Hamilton)

The Wife of Willesden  by Zadie Smith is a play rather than a novel, but I’m reading it carefully after watching a performance of it at the Kiln Theatre London. It’s a bawdy, punky reworking of Chaucer’s  The Wife of Bath  and I love the ‘London-ness’ of it. Sexy Alvita regales the locals of a pub with the gory details of her five marriages, to a soundtrack of disco, RnB and soul. It’s crammed with references to the original work but also Greek myths, Jamaican folklore and the story of London itself. Smith has a wonderful ear for dialogue and vernacular and in  The Wife of Willesden it takes centre stage.   –Nadifa Mohamed, author of  The Fortune Men  

books and authors 2021

Maggie O’Farrell, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death (Vintage)

After being absolutely blown away by  Hamnet , I went in search of more Maggie O’Farrell and was duly rewarded by her stunning memoir  I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death , which isn’t nearly as well known here in America. It should be.  –Richard Russo, author of  Chances Are… and  Empire Falls.

books and authors 2021

Georgi Gospodinov, Time Shelter (Liveright)

I recently read another book by Georgi Gospodinov, this one titled  Time Shelter  (it’s translated into English by Angela Rodel) .  It’s the most exquisite kind of literature, on our perception of time and its passing, written in a masterful and totally unpredictable style. Each page comes as a surprise, so that you never know where the author is going to take you next. I’ve put it on a special shelf in my library that I reserve for books that can never be fully exhausted—books that demand to be revisited every now and then.  –Olga Tokarczuk, Nobel Prize-winning author of The Books of Jacob , translated by Jennifer Croft, out now from Fitzcarraldo Editions and forthcoming in the US in 2022 from Riverhead.

books and authors 2021

Teju Cole, Golden Apple of the Sun  (Perimeter Books)

Golden Apple of the Sun by Teju Cole is a book about hunger, the most ancient of our conditions. It opens with photographs of the author’s kitchen counter in Cambridge, MA. It’s Covid-19 pandemic and home cooking is having a moment. Unlike the traditional Dutch still lifes, these photographs don’t conjure up great hunts and feasts. Except for crumbs, spills, and a couple of lemons and limes, the plates are empty, and I almost expect to see my own reflection as I examine the polished surfaces of pans and spoons. The photographs are interspersed with an anonymous handwritten 18th-century cookbook from Cambridge. Cole muses that it might have been written by an enslaved woman. But it is Cole’s own essay, printed on thick, textured brown paper at the end of the book, that offers the most illuminating recipe. The list of ingredients is long: hunger, history, slavery, art, intimacy, mourning, home, trauma, poetry. Cole’s handling of them is elegant and discerning.

Reading this essay, I wonder whether the most important juxtaposition here is not between the photographs and the text but between the objects of daily use often found in the kitchens and the histories of consumptions, which are always the histories of power. Leafing through the photographs of Cole’s mixing spoons and cutlery, I arrive at the image of the 19th century Dutch salt spoon, “for which the scholarship is typically reticent.” This slim object, older than any of us and with the power to outlive all of us, exists because Dutch ships brought salt to Europe from Bonaire, the “paradise” where enslaved people harvested salt in unspeakable conditions, their blistered feet lowered into salt from dawn to dusk. Suddenly, the most boring item on display at the MET appears to us as the most frightening. Look how cold-blooded its silver shine is. Cole’s searching prose is crystal clear. I think of the 20th century Polish poets who wrote powerfully about the value of the day-to-day objects during the war and hunger. Golden Apple of the Sun is in good company on my desk.   –Valzhyna Mort, author of  Music for the Dead and Resurrected , and translator most recently, of  Air Raid , poems from the Russian by Polina Barskova. 

books and authors 2021

Can Xue, The Last Lover  (Yale University Press)

Reading  The Last Lover by Can Xue is like a magical journey. The story asked me to wander through the characters’ experiences. We are in their books, dreams, and even hallucinations. I feel like flying without smoke anything.   –Eka Kurniawan, author of  Kitchen Curse: Stories , translated by Annie Tucker

Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun; cover design by Pete Adlington (Faber (UK), March)

Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun  (Knopf)

In the spring, I read  Klara and the Sun  by Kazuo Ishiguro aloud to my eight-month-old daughter while pregnant with my son. The book’s chapter to chapter plotting made me feel as if I sat down at a magnificently laid table and only towards the end of the meal would I get to know what that special fork was for. I looked into my daughter’s happy little face, her eyes just waking up to every sound and color and I was grateful that she still had years to go before she could understand which words moved me to tears. In a time when I had been so focused on new beginnings, I was not expecting to leave the book thinking about aging loved ones who can no longer communicate. That month the world was just opening up again, and somehow all of life floated to the surface for me in this book, as if in preparation .  –Xuan Juliana Wang, author of Home Remedies: Stories

books and authors 2021

E.J. Koh, The Magical Language of Others (Tin House Books)

So many things to love in 2021! But my favorite is the way that E.J. Koh uses translation as its own vehicle for poetry in  The Magical Language of Others —it becomes a gateway to a third language that spans the distance between two writers. I often think of the translation of the words, I miss you. Translated into Korean it is 보고 싶어요 bogoshipoyo. Translating 보고 싶어요 bogoshipoyo back to English, it is I want to see you, and this journey through translation offers us new words / new stories / new poems: a sense of yearning that comes with a body. Even Korean can be translated into Korean and even English can be translated into English. I miss you also means When I am here you are not here. Throughout the book, the translations (sometimes blunt and ungraceful, sometimes sweet and easy) mimic the distance between Koh and her mother, and later, their fluency. This magic of language—of ours and of others—is precisely the poetry I adore.  –Christy NaMee Eriksen is a multidisciplinary writer and producer of the poetry album  How to Tell if a Korean Woman Loves You


Bette Howland, W-3: A Memoir (Public Space Books)

2021—what a year, spent entirely in a pandemic. The only bright spot is that I’ve read more books than any other year, and the list of books that I’ve loved this year will be running around the block. From the list, two books published this year have launched me into two intense writing projects, so I feel particularly indebted to them.  W-3  by Bette Howland is a touching and thought-provoking memoir about Howland’s experience of a mental breakdown and hospitalization; after attending an event where her two adult sons, who were both young children in the memoir, discussed her life and work, I was inspired to begin a new novel, right the next morning.  –Yiyun Li is the author of  Tolstoy Together: 85 Days of War and Peace with Yiyun Li.

Elizabeth McCracken, The Souvenir Museum

Elizabeth McCracken, The Souvenir Museum  (Ecco Press)

The Souvenir Museum  by Elizabeth McCracken is a collection of superb stories; they are bittersweet, happysad, unforgettable, inexplicable, and they mesmerized me in such a manner that after reading the collection, I wrote three new stories in a month.  –Yiyun Li is the author of  Tolstoy Together: 85 Days of War and Peace with Yiyun Li.

books and authors 2021

Benjamín Labatut, When We Cease to Understand the World (New York Review of Books)

By far the most arresting book I’ve read this year is Benjamín Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World (tr. from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West). In a dreamlike narrative style that often recalls W. G. Sebald—whom Labatut cites as an influence—the author weaves together tales of scientists and their discoveries with larger tales from the last century’s traumatic history in an unforgettably suggestive way. That the eighteenth-century quest to create a man-made blue pigment should have led inextricably to the development of the poison used to murder Hitler’s victims is just one of the astonishing revelations of this idiosyncratic and brilliant work. ­ –Daniel Mendelsohn is the author, most recently, of  Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative and Fate . His new translation of  The Odyssey  will be published in 2022.

books and authors 2021

Steven Millhauser, Voices in the Night  (Vintage)

Reading  Voices in the Night by Steven Millhauser left me feeling both dazzled and nostalgic for another time. It felt like I was peering through a powerful lens, observing the minutiae of human life (and afterlife) from some distant, unknown place. This is a story collection that I will be returning to again and again.   –Sayaka Murata, author of  Earthlings and Life Ceremony: Stories , forthcoming from Black Cat in 2022, both translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori. Citation translated by David Karashima.

books and authors 2021

Etel Adnan,  Paris, When It’s Naked (Post Apollo Press)

Etel Adnan’s  Paris, When It’s Naked , came to me at just the right time. I’d landed in Paris for a fellowship some weeks earlier, along with my dog, and the city seemed to be constantly weeping—unrelenting rain. Etel, who had lived in Paris for the last thirty years at least, and up until her death last month, knew the city in the minutiae. She never owned a pet, but writes—with empathy and humor—about the “courageous citizens” who still had to walk their dogs in rain (an experience new to my dog and me, neither of us too happy about it). Beyond this recurring observation she has of the duties of dog-owners who she seems to pity, the book is a beautiful, thoughtful rumination on a city she came to call home despite the complicated relationship she had to its political history and language. “Why am I living in Paris,” she asks in one chapter. “Because I speak French? That could be a major reason, but it’s not”. Somehow through her words and wisdom, and her eye that missed nothing in the city with it’s often estranging ways, the book offered me a field-guide of sorts, on how to inhabit Paris temporarily, and even find some humor in its downpours. –Yasmine El Rashidi, author of  Chronicle of a Last Summer

books and authors 2021

Stephanie Dickinson, Blue Swan Black Swan: The Trakl Diaries (Bitter Oleander Press)

My bookshelf stutters with multiple copies of things because I’m a sloppy reader and I don’t keep an inventory. Sometimes people send me books. Sometimes I’m hoodwinked by a new cover or seduced by a new translation. They pile up like shelled sunflower seeds on the floor around wherever I’ve been sitting. It’s not uncommon for me to find a book on my desk and have no idea how it got there. Such is the case with Stephanie Dickinson’s Blue Swan Black Swan: The Trakl Diaries . Did I order it because the lyricism is intense, psychedelic and dark? Did someone send it to me knowing I’d go gaga over the intertextual form in which Dickinson’s short prose/ poems respond to quotations lifted from accounts of George Trakl’s brief and wretched life? Whatever brought us together is irrelevant now. I have it and it has me and unlike my glasses, I can tell you exactly where I set it down last.  –Gregory Pardlo, Pulitzer Prize winning author of  Air Traffic  and  Spectral Evidence: Poems, forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf in 2022

books and authors 2021

Brigitte Reimann, tr. Lucy Jones,  I Have No Regrets: Diaries, 1955-1963 (Seagull Books)

Mid-November, a friend sent me a very beautiful surprise present: Brigitte Reimann’s  I Have No Regrets. I started reading it immediately. I’ve never read a book similar to this in my entire life, revealing a mixture of shyness, fragility, passion and boldness. It mounts to almost a literary lesson on how the most fragile are entitled to live life to the fullest.  –Adania Shibli, author of  Minor Detail , translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette

books and authors 2021

Roberto Calasso , The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (Vintage)  

Maybe it was the cover. Maybe the cover is why I picked up  The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony . It is Romain’s “Pandora Descending to Earth with Mercury,” and yes, she is holding the box. Maybe it was the box that drew me? Regardless, Greek mythology, with its finical and flaming gods—toying with us and sleeping with us and waging war with us and then abandoning us—maybe these gods, above all others, could make sense of the times. And in Calasso’s masterful retellings, they do, but not in the way I’d anticipated. Quite by surprise, in the way the best of literature surprises, I realized, on the last page, that the gods make us suffer and wail and want and weep because, ultimately, what they want is exactly what we want: a good story.  –Shobha Rao, author of  Girls Burn Brighter

books and authors 2021

Caleb Azumah Nelson, Open Water (Black Cat)

2021 is the year I truly surrendered to reading. What else was there apart from the continued battle with the virus infested world? I want to shout out loud for a debut novel— Open Water  by Caleb Azumah Nelson. I was deeply impressed by its exquisite prose. It is a subtle but powerful portrait of the realities of race today in Britain, and a very tender, sensual story celebrating youth and romantic love by a young male author. The portrait of urban masculinity in this small book is nuanced and fascinating. I also want to raise my voice for another work, a translation. I was totally absorbed by the French author Nathalie Léger’s trilogy about three real life women figures. I especially loved her  Suite for Barbara Loden , translated by Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon. The book is a retelling of the scenes in the cult film Wanda directed by the 60s American actress Barbara Loden. It interweaves episodes of Loden’s life with Elia Kazan and Hollywood, as well as Léger’s own personal history. The result is a rich, layered narrative. Again, it is a very small book with large themes. It had a forceful Duras-esque effect on me. It reveals to us the possibilities of autofiction, an overused word but nevertheless an inescapable concept in our storytelling lives.  –Xialou Guo, author of many books, including  A Lover’s Discourse  

books and authors 2021

E. M. Forster, Maurice (W. W. Norton & Company)

This year I was drawn back into re-reading  Maurice , by E. M. Forster, and after a third re-read and a first read of Wendy Moffat’s biography of Forster,  A Great Unrecorded History , I wrote about  Maurice , Forster and the new novel  Alec , by William di Canzio—his continuation of Maurice from Scudder’s POV—for The New Republic . And then I just kept at the Forster, re-reading  Howard’s End  and  A Passage to India for good measure. There’s a way Forster can write so devastatingly and yet lovingly about people who aren’t aware of themselves.   –Alexander Chee, author of  How to Read an Autobiographical Novel: Essays

books and authors 2021

David Plante,  Difficult Women (New York Review of Books)

I also read David Plante’s  Difficult Women , a haunting account of his friendships with Jean Rhys, Sonia Orwell and Germaine Greer, and the new translation by Rachel Careau of Colette’s  Cheri  and the  End of Cheri , coming out from Norton next year. And a lot of what I loved of what I read recently is for next year, like three fantastic debut novels: Alejandro Varela’s  The Town of Babylon , Joseph Han’s  Nuclear Family , and Sequoia Nagamatsu’s  How High We Go In The Dark . And at this very moment, I’m riveted by Maud Newton’s forthcoming nonfiction book  Ancestor Trouble , on what she discovered about white supremacy while examining her family’s legends.  –Alexander Chee, author of  How to Read an Autobiographical Novel: Essays

books and authors 2021

Geoffrey Wellum, First Light  (Penguin UK)

This ended up being the year of reading Elizabeth Taylor—seven of her twelve novels, all of them, so far, of stunningly high quality. Before that it was the summer of books about the Battle of Britain. Stephen Bungay’s  The Greatest Enemy , is, I think, the best overall historical account. Richard Hillary’s  The Last Enemy  is the iconic pilot’s memoir, detailing his idyllic undergraduate and flying days and then the slow, agonizing and partial recovery from hideous burns after being shot down over the English Channel. But the book that made the deepest impression, strangely, didn’t have enemy in the title at all! Geoffrey Wellum’s  First Light  covers both the Battle of Britain and subsequent sorties flown in the war.

It is written without any of the literary ambition that actually works to Hillary’s detriment and, perhaps because of that, achieves a remarkable immediacy. It is also very moving. One of the later episodes in the book involves Wellum’s role in the mission to fly planes and supplies to the besieged island of Malta. An account of the whole perilous undertaking is given by Max Hastings in his latest—and thoroughly gripping—installment of Second World War history,  Operation Pedestal .  –Geoff Dyer, author of twenty books including  The Last Days of Roger Federer: And Other Endings , forthcoming in 2022 from Farrar, Straus & Giroux and Canongate Books

books and authors 2021

Vilém Flusser, Vampyrotheuthis Infernalis: A Treatise (University of Minnesota Press)

I’ve become fascinated with the philosophic work of Vilém Flusser, a Czech Brazilian, who escaping the Holocaust in 1940, immigrated to Brazil, then with the rise of the military dictatorship, left for Europe again in the 1970s. My interest began with what he called, a fabula:  Vampyrotheuthis Infernalis: A Treatise , with a report by the Institut Scientifique de Recherche Paranaturaliste, by Louis Bec and Vilém Flusser, originally published in 1987. It’s a philosophical and, I believe, Borgesian fable about the vampire squid from hell, our human physical, intellectual, and psychological opposite, living in the deep abyss of the ocean. What bifurcates our existence also joins us. A fabula for the anthrobscene.  –Karen Tei Yamashita, author of many books including, most recently,  Sansei and Sensibility: Stories  

books and authors 2021

Kurt Vonnegut,  Slaughterhouse-Five (Modern Library)

I read quite a few books in 2021, but if I had to pick one that stuck with me it was rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s  Slaughterhouse-Five . Deep into Vonnegut’s sci-fi masterpiece about the bombing of Dresden in World War II, you realize the heart of the book isn’t sci-fi at all, and that it’s not really about Dresden. It’s about the existential angst of the “Greatest Generation,” and the emptiness of white suburbia and all the totems of white achievement, and all the traumas hidden inside the lives of a seemingly comfortable and affluent people.  –Héctor Tobar, author of  Deep Down Dark  and  The Last Great Road Bum

books and authors 2021

Deb Willis, The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict (New York University Press)

The legendary photographer, curator, and historian Deb Willis has been shifting the way I see and think of images and historical representation for decades.  The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict , her gorgeous and meticulously researched photobook, is expansive, yet it also manages to convey the intimacy of a beloved family heirloom. It is an impassioned tribute to America’s Black soldiers and their families during the Civil War. It is also an insistence that we consider the many ramifications of conflict and racism. This is a monumental work, as well as a monument to the undying quest for freedom.  –Maaza Mengiste, author of  The Shadow King , shortlisted for the Booker Prize

books and authors 2021

Colm Tóibín,  The Testament of Mary  (Scribner)

  Mary is an enigmatic figure. Devalued in the Protestant tradition, revered as a saint in Catholicism, exalted as the mother of a prophet in Islam, she is one of the most wordless figures in history. Colm Tóibín’s  The Testament of Mary is a brilliantly constructed, devastating account of a mother’s experience of the execution of her son, and of her life afterward. Tóibín’s secularization and demystification of a religious story becomes the internal monolog of Mary, witness to one of the most pivotal stories in the history of humanity. Her testament is the heretical récit of a human being mourning the loss of a loved one.   –Rawi Hage, author of  Beirut Hellfire Society

books and authors 2021

Claire-Louise Bennett, Checkout 19 (Riverhead Books)

Claire-Louise Bennett’s  Checkout 19 felt like that Christmas present you long for as a child, the one you have a feeling will magically connect you to the future, and that you therefore very seldom, if ever, get. Just to be clear, I loved  Pond and was waiting impatiently for her second book, but when it arrived, I was not expecting it to blow me away the way that it did, by making writing and reading, menstruation, imagination, class, identity, and thought the centre of a novel where the strings of thought, and the evaporation of a dramaturgical outline—which instead presents itself through thematic patterns and wild, enlarging digressions—transforms such elements as “voice,” “narrator,” “story.” It is rebellious, intelligent, brilliant. The second great love I have not finished reading and will continue reading and loving well into 2022 is Dorthe Nors’ North Sea .

This is a collection of essays about life at the coastline of Denmark. A strong, personal, and moving portrait of a landscape and of a mind—about loneliness, memory and belonging, in wind and waves, time, place—it is hypnotic, consoling. Thirdly I’d like to say that I loved Tarjei Vesaas’ short story “Japp”, about a dog who lies petrified on a cliff, after his “great friend and master” has slipped and fallen off the very same cliff and now lies dead on the ground far below. Have I ever read a short story about a petrified dog on a cliff before, and felt shattered to the very core of my being? No.  –Gunnhild Øyehaug, author of  Present Tense Machine , translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson, forthcoming in 2022 from Farrar, Straus & Giroux

books and authors 2021

Percival Everett, The Trees (Graywolf Press)

I read Percival Everett’s new novel The Trees a couple of months ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the book since. A murder mystery set in Money, Mississippi turns out to be a portal to supernatural vengeance; various conspiracies; and, above all, histories that will not stay buried. The Trees is grisly, surreal, bitingly hilarious. I could keep going, but honestly none of these descriptors can do justice to the experience of reading The Trees. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel like this one before and don’t expect I will again any time soon.  –Laura van den Berg, author of  I Hold a Wolf by the Ears: Stories

books and authors 2021

César Aira,  How I Became A Nun (New Directions)

For the first time in a long while, I went back to closely read César Aira’s  How I Became A Nun . Words break up our world into segments, and they’re inevitably caught up in metaphor. But Aira, while using language, displays in every sentence the essence of what could only be called the true, pre-metaphorical form of the world. There’s nothing strange to what Aira writes, but if I were to find something strange in it, it would have to be the way that I experience the things he’s written: as if they were my own memories, how deeply familiar they feel to me. When I read Aira’s work, I find my mind completely at peace. In Japan,  The Literary Conference  and  How I Became A Nun have appeared in translation.   –Mieko Kawakami, author of  Breasts & Eggs, Heaven , and  All the Lovers in the Night , forthcoming in May of 2022 with Europa and Picador, all translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd, who translated this citation too.

books and authors 2021

Etel Adnan, Sea & Fog (Nightboat Books)

At the start of 2021, on and off, I flitted in and out of Etel Adnan’s magnificent body of work, some ten books of poetry. Fragments stayed in my head, throttling like an engine left on in absolute darkness. When news came of her passing this autumn, I returned to her work, staying with, and reading slowly,  Sea and Fog , her collection of prose poems. She says in one of the sea sentences early in the book: “Water’s iridescence is language,” and such indeed is Adnan’s language. Later in the fog sentences, she writes: “To close one’s eyes is to create one thousand fogs.” Reverie is ecstasy, and Adnan’s Sea and Fog is a work of passionate wisdom. I now consider it my Book of Common Prayer.  –Ishion Hutchinson is the author of two collections of poetry and the collection of essays,  Fugitive Tilts , forthcoming in 2022

books and authors 2021

Halldór Laxness, Independent People  (Vintage)

Urged to read an epic novel about Icelandic sheep-farmers in the early twentieth century I was less than enthusiastic. How foolish of me! Independent People by Halldór Laxness was one of the great immersive imaginative reads of my life. I read it with my eyes popping out on stalks, as if I were fifteen again, gasping with shock, chortling at the pervasive flinty humor, moved to tears by the staunchness of his characters and their fate.   –Helen Simpson, author of  Cockfosters: Stories

books and authors 2021

Jamaica Kincaid, My Garden (Book) (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Jamaica Kincaid is an author whose voice, technique and perspective I admire so much that I’d read anything she writes. In fact, I believed I had read everything she’s published. But this summer a neighbor who has been helping me tend my garden in the Bronx recommended Kincaid’s collected essays on gardening:  My Garden (Book) , which I had never read. I think I avoided this book twenty years ago when I was deep in my phase of devouring Kincaid’s writing, because it seemed so decidedly middle-aged a subject. What did I care in my twenties about gardening? Now I am decidedly middle aged, and in possession of a garden; the same age as Kincaid when she wrote the best of these essays—such as “The Old Suitcase”—which are of course about more than gardening, and offer wisdom about leisure, art, sustenance, colonization, language, and regeneration.  –Emily Raboteau, author of  Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora

books and authors 2021

Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now (Modern Library)

The last time I was in this round-up I was talking about Larry McMurtry and the  Lonesome Dove  series. Anyway, I recommended it to my sister, an English prof who writes about the 19th-century. She ran through them like Reese’s Pieces (they’re pretty long books) and said they reminded her of Trollope—her counter-suggestion was  The Way We Live Now, a domestic epic about literary and aristocratic London, set in the 1870s. So I started reading. My first impressions weren’t great. Characters seemed lightly sketched, along more or less stereotypical lines—the morally bankrupt financier (headed for the other kind later on), the feckless son, the untrustworthy American, the conniving writer . . . The settings were soap-operaish, grand houses, big parties, the action melodramatic, sudden arrivals and reversals of fortune . . . the whole thing seemed written at great speed . . . yet as I kept turning the pages, something seemed to accumulate, the sketches started filling in, the characters took on substance and weight. Trollope was happy to change his mind about them, so I did, too, and the sequence of events felt less inevitable and more and more like life. Or even if not like life (at least, not the life I live in London in the 2020s), then at least intricate enough on its own terms the difference didn’t seem to matter. By the end I liked it much more than many better books.   –Benjamin Markovits is the author of eleven novels, including  You Don’t Have To Live Like This, Christmas in Austin , and  The Sidekick , forthcoming from Faber & Faber in June 2022.

books and authors 2021

Violette Leduc, La Bâtarde (Dalkey Archive Press)

I was feeling blue one afternoon, so I sought out a very particular cure for feeling sorry for one’s self: Violette Leduc. I reread her masterpiece  La Bâtarde. Leduc turns being unloved and broke and unglamorous, into wondrous outrage. If you are feeling restless, reading Leduc mourn the size of her nose for several chapters, will make you feel there is a luxury to sadness and such words for it too!   –Heather O’Neill is an author whose works include Lullabies for Little Criminals  and  The Lonely Hearts Hotel . Her novel  When We Lost Our Heads  is forthcoming in February 2022 from Riverhead.

books and authors 2021

Henry James  Collected Storie s (Everyman’s Library)

In 2021, I went back to reading short stories. I very much enjoyed re-reading Henry James’s  Collected Storie s. I loved them in my early twenties, and they felt like a homecoming—which is ironic because home is precisely what I’ve been fed up with most of the year (and why I should feel especially at home in James’s ghost stories is another question altogether).  –Jakuta Alikavazovic, author of  Night As It Falls , translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman

books and authors 2021

László Krasznahorkai,  The Last Wolf (New Directions)  

I loved László Krasznahorkai’s short story  The Last Wolf , which was published as a stand-alone book in France, where I live and write. What do we lose when we lose a species? he asks—for me, 2021 was all about feeling haunted.  –Jakuta Alikavazovic, author of  Night As It Falls , translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman

books and authors 2021

Camila Sosa Villada, Las Malas

Las Malas / Les Mauvaises  by Camila Sosa Villada is the most important book I’ve read on sexuality since Jean Genet. Sosa Villada tells the story of a gay child who one day become a flamboyant woman, living in a community of prostitutes. It’s about friendship, desire, violence. It defies all the current frames of politics and literature, it’s a fragment of future.  –Édouard Louis, author of  The End of Eddy , translated by Michael Lucey, and  A Woman’s Battles and Transformations: A Novel, translated by Tash Aw, forthcoming in 2022.

books and authors 2021

Diana Vreeland,  Allure (Chronicle Books)  

This year, my most delightful read was Diana Vreeland’s Allure . This is the third time I have pulled out the oversized red hardback to get reacquainted with the old girl. During her illustrious career in fashion (26 years at Harper’s Bazaar and 8 years as Editor-In-Chief at Vogue ), Vreeland met EVERYONE. She somehow managed to meet or know every glamorous actor, singer, model, society person, tycoon, major and minor royal, and artist of note. Sometimes I suspect she was exaggerating or just lying, which is weird because her actual life was so fabulous without any embellishments. Honestly, I don’t care if she lies sometimes, because it is all so fun and charming. She is such a keen observer of people and such an avatar of excess. She connects dots in such a Diana way, as when she said that Brigitte Bardot was a creature of the 50s who made way for the 60s. “Her lips made Mick Jagger’s lips possible!” God, I love that.

Vreeland’s writing voice is so very, I don’t know, draggy. So excessive, so florid. Her prose seems to shed marabou feathers and sequins with every paragraph. She was a relentless name dropper (Mick Jagger, Jackie O, Marilyn Monroe, Maria Callas, Rudolf Nureyev, Josephine Baker, and etcetera), but she is not what I would call a snob. I think she liked anyone who was interesting, regardless of their standing in life. She was riveted by allure above all else. In Allure , she explores that ineffable, utterly unteachable ability that certain people have to draw and hold your attention and affections. During this dark and challenging year, it was such a pleasure to submerge myself in a world where the littlest, most frivolous, most froufrou things become the very most important things. EVER.  –Jaime Cortez, author of  Gordo: Stories  

books and authors 2021

Paul Auster,  The Burning Boy (Henry Holt & Company)  

I’d had galleys of Paul Auster’s thrilling biography of Stephen Crane,  The Burning Boy , for two months before I read it, but once I began, I couldn’t stop. It’s a book about America at a time in the 19th century I didn’t know—after the Civil War but before Modernism (Crane’s dates were 1871-1900)—and a writer I was pretty much ignorant of, except for the odd brilliant poem and  The Red Badge of Courage  which I read in high school. Auster’s book resembles the kind of long, immersive novel Crane never wrote. Embraced by an old novelist’s exacting sympathy, one loses oneself in his subject, a prodigy who never grew old, who suffered terribly from poverty in a gritty boisterous and cruel USA, and who produced a bold and extensive body of work which Auster seamlessly and extensively quotes, evaluates and folds into the life. A treat are portraits of Crane’s vividly documented friendships with Joseph Conrad, Henry James who wept when he died, and HG Wells, all of whom frequented the house Crane and his common law wife Cora maintained in the south of England the last two years of his life.  –Honor Moore is author of  Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury  and, co-editor for the Library of America, of  Women’s Liberation! Feminist Writings that Inspired a Revolution and Still Can .

books and authors 2021

Edward P. Jones  The Known World (Amistad Press)  

I first read Edward P. Jones’ stories in  Lost in the City , his debut collection, and then, loving the modest brilliance of his prose and yearning for the pull of a novel I dove into his 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner  The Known World . How it is characterized, as the story of a Black slaveholder in Virginia before the Civil War, does not begin to describe what the book actually is, which is an immersive, utterly moving, shock of a fully peopled world which seems to rise like some lost testament from the page. I am within his characters as they move through their lives and become  known  to me. He’s a kind of James Baldwin inflected Thomas Hardy, with the former’s insistence on history and the latter’s sense of landscape, fragility and human wildness.  –Honor Moore is author of  Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury  and, co-editor for the Library of America, of  Women’s Liberation! Feminist Writings that Inspired a Revolution and Still Can .

books and authors 2021

Nadifa Mohamed,  The Fortune Men (Knopf)  

Nadifa Mohamed’s The   Fortune Men reads as if the author could not prevent herself from inhabiting this true-life story of a miscarriage of justice. As if she were propelled to the 1950s by a powerful sense of injustice and all she needed to do was guide us around a territory that will be achingly familiar for some readers, and hideously new for many others. A young black man is convicted for a murder he did not commit. We are made privy to details of space, sounds, visuals and mood. A masterful blend of the universal and specific. Not any black man, not any murdered spinster but distinctive characters palpitating on the page. A chronicle of the African diaspora, specifically the East African, Somali experience. The British, specifically Welsh working-class experience. Black British history. British Muslim history, the immigrant sense of community. The novel is conscientious in depicting the day-to-day struggles of being constantly in debt, constantly in poor housing conditions. The cultural vertigo of the outsider, his struggle with the language, eating with his hands and knowing the disdain this triggers, trying to guess and double-guess how white people think—police, judge, jury and the prison wardens who will sling the noose around his neck.  – Leila Aboulela, author of  Bird Summons

books and authors 2021

francine j. harris,   Here is the Sweet Hand (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

Since the lockdown in 2020, a book that I keep rereading and rereading is francine j. harris’  Here is the Sweet Hand , which received a well-deserved 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. What harris manages to do in her poetry is miraculous. harris is unafraid to take in, and take on, everything. Each poem creates a kind of journey of language, to get to what is felt, trying to stay ahead of itself, truly  avant garde , a profoundly introspective language that is always moving toward a hoped-for sense of justice and an envisioned beauty. harris’ poems are sonically and visually dazzling in their emotionally intricate vocal combinations of the political, intellectual and erotic, playfully pushing the boundaries of grammar and syntax into ever-new aesthetic spaces. A moral intensity also infuses harris’ poetry, a source of which is found in harris’ Detroit, the city of her birth, a city she loves: a passionate, tough-minded, spiritually-centered Detroit attitude informs all of harris’ work. harris’ poems will transport you and they will transform you, like all great poetry does.    –Lawrence Joseph, author of  A Certain Clarity: Selected Poems

books and authors 2021

Alexandra Richie,  Faust’s Metropolis (Hogarth Books)

I greatly admired Faust’s Metropolis , Alexandra Richie’s brilliant history of Berlin. It’s a long book that moves swiftly thanks to the liveliness of Richie’s prose and the inherent drama of her narrative. But what makes it well worth reading, even if you have limited interest in Berlin, are Richie’s meditations on the warping of historical memory. Time and again, she demonstrates how a succession of German governments have sanitized and simplified the past to legitimize their political aims. This book ultimately tells two parallel narratives: a history of Berlin and a chronicle of how Berliners have understood their history. It’s outstanding.  –Anthony Marra, author of  Mercury Pictures Presents , forthcoming from Hogarth Books in July 2022

books and authors 2021

Anthony Doerr,  Cloud Cuckoo (Scribner Book Company)

I recently read Anthony Doerr’s  Cloud Cuckoo Land  and it stayed with me, especially the parts about the 1453 siege of Constantinople. Following several storylines and through various time zones it is a marvelous novel that can only be savored, not rushed. It’s a book about this mysterious love that continues to connect us all: the love of written manuscripts.  –Elif Shafak, author of  The Island of Missing Trees

books and authors 2021

Cal Flyn,  Islands of Abandonment (Viking)

In  Islands of Abandonment , Cal Flyn visits places from which humans have departed: an island off the coast of Scotland, parts of Detroit; Verdun, the burial site of First World War chemical weapons. Her descriptions of the ability of plants and animals to survive man’s ecological vandalism contain hope. The outlook for humans feels less so.  –Aminatta Forna, author of  The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion    

books and authors 2021

Federico Garcia Lorca,  Selected Poems (Oxford University Press)

Life became smaller still and my reading patterns changed, again. Even more reading, even more scattered. Books sit where people might have sat with wine and laughter. I bought Federico Garcia Lorca’s selected poems and read them for the first time. The Oxford World’s Classics edition I have, offers the poems side by side in Spanish and English, which does something to me I am still trying to understand. I have returned to them frequently over the last few months. There’s some very large living on those pages.  –Michael Salu is a writer, artist and creative director.

books and authors 2021

Kurt Vonnegut,  Slaughterhouse-Five (Modern Library)  

Another deeply weird year. Perhaps this is normality now. The weird is normal and if we ever encountered the normal again we would find it deeply weird. So it goes, as Vonnegut writes a thousand times in  Slaughterhouse-Five . I re-read that earlier this year—still very funny and very sad.  –Joanna Kavenna, author of  Zed: A Novel

books and authors 2021

Wolfram Eilenberger,  Time of the Magicians (Penguin Books)

I read a lot of books about people trying to carry on in the face of prevailing carnage and among these my favorite was  Time of the Magicians by Wolfram Eilenberger, which is brilliant if very sad too.   –Joanna Kavenna, author of  Zed: A Novel

books and authors 2021

I loved  Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog, in which he walks from Munich to Paris so Lotte Eisner doesn’t die. He is convinced this unorthodox tactic will cure her and perhaps it does, as when he arrives Eisner is fine, but Herzog thinks he is dying. It turns out he just has really bad blisters. It’s a great post-Hamsun book.    –Joanna Kavenna, author of  Zed: A Novel

books and authors 2021

Wislawa Szymborska,  How to Start Writing (and When to Stop) (New Directions)

Another tragic-comic classic I enjoyed this year is  How to Start Writing (and when to Stop) by Wislawa Szymborska, her advice to authors. Sensibly enough her main advice is Stop writing! And never start again!—but no one believes her. Me neither. So it goes (one more time)…  –Joanna Kavenna, author of  Zed: A Novel

books and authors 2021

Isabel Waidner,  Sterling Karat Gold (Peninsula Press)  

Isabel Waidner’s Sterling Karat Gold (out in the US in 2022) is a madly brilliant and deeply sane novel that reveals surrealism as possibly the most effective way of talking about the political moment we find ourselves in. It has time travel (constrained by Google Maps), fashion, friendship and matadors. What’s not to love?  –Kamila Shamsie, author of  Home Fire

books and authors 2021

Tahmima Anam’s The Startup Wife (Scribner Book Company)

Tahmima Anam’s The Startup Wife is one of the sharpest novels I’ve read on the power dynamics between women and the men they love. It’s fresh and funny and so astute about a changing world and the things that aren’t changing in it.  –Kamila Shamsie, author of  Home Fire

books and authors 2021

Teju Cole,  Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time (University of Chicago Press)  

The best book I read this year is Teju Cole’s  Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time . This collection of essays is a powerful testimony of our age, written with astonishing erudition, and at the same time very personal. For me as a reader, a special treasure in the book are the lyrical vignettes that seem to have been written by a poet. A valuable book because of its microscopic precision in detecting problems in the world, in a time of universal superficiality.  –Semezdin Mehmedinović, author of  My Heart: A Novel , translated by Celia Hawkesworth

books and authors 2021

Rabee Jaber,  Berytus Underground City (Gallimard)

It’s been a year of deep grief in Lebanon; as the economy has collapsed out from under us, we’ve all watched the lives we’ve built over the last two decades come swiftly and totally undone. And so it’s not surprising that the two books that have resonated most with me have been, in their own way, about grief. Though I didn’t read them in this order, first up is Lebanese novelist Rabee Jaber’s  Berytus Underground City (2005)—available in French translation but not as of yet in English. A security guard in downtown Beirut chases a figure through a ruined cinema and falls into a hole. He wakes up in a stone bed deep underground, being nursed by the inhabitants of an underground city called Beirut, while the world above is known to them only as “up there.” Exploring the labyrinth below, Jaber maps all the memory holes and dark caverns beneath the unresolved grief of the civil war so expertly that, reading it in the wake of the collapse, it felt less like a piece of speculative fiction than a proof of foreknowledge.  –Lina Mounzer is a Lebanese writer and translator. She writes a monthly column for the Lebanese daily  L’Orient Today , chronicling social changes in the wake of the country’s economic collapse.

books and authors 2021

Hisham Matar,  A Month in Siena (Random House)

Hisham Matar’s brief essay-memoir A Month in Siena (2019) follows Matar who, long bewitched by the Sienese school of painters, takes a month-long trip to the city in the aftermath of finishing a memoir about his father ( The Return , 2016), a Libyan dissident disappeared in 1990 by Qaddafi’s agents. The trip’s purpose is to spend time looking at the paintings in the museum there, but transforms into an opportunity to come to terms with the fact that he will never know what has become of his father and to finally lay his memory to rest. In the book, Matar pulls off the most delicate trick of all: writing about the redemptive power of love, art, and faith in a way that is not cloying or pat or simplistic in the least. In precise, beautiful language, he takes the reader on a real journey, recreating both the profound melancholy of loss and the quiet exaltations he has stacked against it, so that by the end of the book that arrival at a sense of redemption feels like a real choice, one earned and made not just despite, but through the experience of grief itself.  –Lina Mounzer is a Lebanese writer and translator. She writes a monthly column for the Lebanese daily  L’Orient Today , chronicling social changes in the wake of the country’s economic collapse.

books and authors 2021

Fanny Howe,  The Winter Sun (Graywolf Press)

Fanny Howe is a rarity in American letters: a genius who wants no laurels (I met her in 2014 when she was a finalist for the National Book Award, and after I wished her luck, she said “No: Lose! Lose!”), and a mystic who’d likely scoff at the word. These traits make me trust her, and are why I reached for her linked essays,  The Winter Sun,  last February, the first book I read after a concussion made reading impossible for two months. It felt momentous, which book to strive to read, which author I wanted in my book-empty brain, and I thank her for being there on my shelf, for all the “soul-forging events” she lived through to come to such singular insights, insights I’d say  shine if her humility would only allow it.   – Katie Ford, author of If You Have to Go

books and authors 2021

Geoffrey Brock, (ed. and tr.) The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)  

There were thankfully several books that served over the year like some gift from a god, magical shields to fend off the bald faced lies and bad juju incoming, defensive armor one could still find hope behind. There were several anthologies among them—one a reread edited by the brilliant translator Geoffrey Brock,  The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry . Reading is also an immersion into a living history. My pick is a book of poems from early in ’21: Reg Gibbons’  Renditions . Gibbons is a gifted translator, as well as a poet. I especially love his lucid Greek translations such as Sophocles  Selected Poems, Odes and Fragments. A book I first read in college that I have carried with me ever since is Robert Lowell’s  Imitations . It’s title is key to how it is to be read. The same can be said about Gibbon’s title,  Renditions . The book is located at a radiant crossroads where literary experience and personal experience are forged into an empathetic, consoling vision.  –Stuart Dybek, author of  The Start of Something: The Selected Stories of Stuart Dybek

books and authors 2021

Agota Kristof,  La analfabeta (Alpha Decay) , Da igual (Alpha Decay) , and Claus y Lucas (Libros del Asteroide)

This year I have loved discovering the Hungarian writer Agota Kristof, a kind of Marguerite Duras with the dark, raw, tender heart of MittelEuropa ( La analfabeta,  autobiography;  Da igual ;  Claus y Lucas) .  –Pola Oloxiorac, author of  Mona: A Novel , translated from the Spanish by Adam Morris

books and authors 2021

Mary Gaitskill,  This is Pleasure (Pantheon)  

This is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill is slim and edged like an arrow directed to the medulla of contemporary life.   –Pola Oloxiorac, author of  Mona: A Novel , translated from the Spanish by Adam Morris

books and authors 2021

Milena Busquets,  Todo esto pasará , Gema , and Hombres elegantes (Pontas)  

I read everything available by Milena Busquets ( Todo esto pasará, Gema, Hombres elegantes ) and I can’t wait to read more from her.  –Pola Oloxiorac, author of  Mona: A Novel , translated from the Spanish by Adam Morris

books and authors 2021

Luke Brown,  My Big Life (Canongate)

My favorite Argentine read was  My Biggest Lie  by Luke Brown, an Englishman who brought me back to Buenos Aires in a comedy of awfully smart literary drifters.  –Pola Oloxiorac, author of  Mona: A Novel , translated from the Spanish by Adam Morris

books and authors 2021

Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel (eds.),  We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics (Nightboat Books)  

One of my constant poetic companions through this difficult year was the remarkable anthology,  We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics , edited by Andrea Abi-Karam & Kay Gabriel. Almost 450 pages of fascinating, challenging, beautiful and moving work from names I knew, names I should have known better and names who were new to me. It should be an immediate addition to the shelves of every poet, every school and every university. A shoutout also to Pilot Press, and Joshua Jones’ magnificent  Diametric Fist Tender. Poetry which has stayed with me.   –Andrew McMillan, author of physical, playtime and pandemonium , all with Jonathan Cape

books and authors 2021

Albert Samaha,  Concpetion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes (Riverhead Books)  

Of all the books I read in 2021, I especially loved Albert Samaha’s  Concepcion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes , and also the photography book (by Jesse Freidlin, Robert Garofalo and Zach Stafford)  When Dogs Heal: Powerful Stories of People Living with HIV and the Dogs that Saved Them ; the former for its gorgeous macro and micro lens on family, diaspora and empire; the latter for its celebration of survival and love—particularly in queer, trans, BIPOC lives—with the help of our canine better halves.  –Elaine Castillo, author of  America is Not the Heart  and  How To Read Now: Essays , forthcoming in 2022 from Viking and Atlantic Books

books and authors 2021

Michelle Latiolas,  She

Among the most memorable books I read this year was  She  by my colleague Michelle Latiolais. A refusenik of a book, formally—neither stories nor a novel and not at all bothering to announce its place within the standard modes of contemporary fiction— She loosely follows an unnamed teenage runaway from Needles, Calif. across the night she arrives to start a life of her own in Los Angeles: “She’d been home-schooled for ten years, and whipped for eleven, and tomorrow she would celebrate her fifteenth birthday.” Each vignette is a stunner, precise yet organic, capable of tremendous depths and nimble enough to surprise. I loved it.   –Claire Vaye Watkins, author of  I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness.

books and authors 2021

Miguel Murphy,  Shoreditch (Barrow Street Press)

In  Shoreditch , Miguel Murphy imagines his medical regimen as a video game, taking out alien mutations. In another poem he feels the ripples of implication as Greg Louganis hits the Olympic diving pool. Injuring his head, bleeding his hiv infected blood into the water. Theatrical, historical, personal, this book ties together plagues old and new, along with the violence experienced by queer men over centuries of abuse and, ultimately, their strength and survival. It’s an inspiring read, full of filth and longing.  –D.A. Powell, author of Atlas T

books and authors 2021

Bryan Washington,  Memorial (Riverhead Books)

Bryan Washington’s  Memorial  is a brilliant novel: artfully constructed and somehow both hard-hitting and tender, it’s a book that knows a great deal about what makes people tick. I read it back in January and still think of Mike and Benson with fondness today. –Sunjeev Sahota, author of  China Room: A Novel

books and authors 2021

John Steinbeck,  The Log from The Sea of Cortez (Penguin Group)

A work I had been meaning to read for ages, John Steinbeck’s  The Log from The Sea of Cortez is the narrative of the 1941 book by Steinbeck and boho marine biologist Ed Ricketts, minus the catalog of the creatures found by the two and their crew on a specimen-collecting expedition to the waters of Mexico. What’s interesting about having read it this year is that Steinbeck embarks on this journey of several weeks knowing the world is on fire. That time spent in the Gulf of California—working on the boat, picking through the shores—out of time and immersed in something greater than himself, reduced to just being, stuck with me. Our minds and spirits need refuge, and refuge of a sort is a lot closer than we think: in the briny tidepools, in the hold of a small ship. z –Oscar Villalon, managing editor of  Zyzzyva  

books and authors 2021

Matt Rohrer,  The Sky Contains the Plans (Wave Books)

The books I began and am ending 2021 with have bracketed this strange year in memorable ways. I spent a few January pandemic days with Matt Rohrer’s  The Sky Contains the Plans , reading in the below-freezing air outside my favorite NYC cafe, which was only open for take-out. Wearing my heated vest, heated socks, and sitting on a heated stadium seat with my cafe con lèche, I laughed aloud at Rohrer’s fabulously inventive poems, each of which begins with a line that came to him at the edge of sleep (hypnagogic, he calls it) and unfolded its tender luminous shocks to deliver jolts of pleasure to my anxious mind. z –Catherine Barnett, author of  Human Hours: Poems

books and authors 2021

G. Gabrielle Starr,  Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience (MIT Press)

And then this fall I found G. Gabrielle Starr’s eye-opening  Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience and Starr’s description of the default mode network, which can “link aesthetic experience to…a heightened sense of both the external world and its internal, subjective representation” and which is just what Rohrer’s poems were doing to me. This network goes offline when you’ve got tasks to accomplish but lights up in response to art and, when lit, leads to other essential longed-for states of being: mind-wandering, understanding others. z –Catherine Barnett, author of  Human Hours: Poems

books and authors 2021

Clarice Lispector,  The Hour of the Star (New Directions)

Dripping with stunning prose,  The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector, has the depth of an ocean. For the Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector to capture so much beauty, truths about life and death, and the process of telling the story in a few words while transcending genre boundaries is a testament to her immense skill. This book epitomizes the greatness of short novels. –Sulaiman Addonia, author of  Silence is My Mother Tongue  

books and authors 2021

  Tom Lutz,  The Kindness of Strangers (University of Iowa Press)

I loved  The Kindness of Strangers  by Tom Lutz. Each step Tom takes in this compendium of world journeys is an enlightenment. I am mesmerized at how the word of the peoples is cradled in this tour de force.  –Juan Felipe Herrera, author of many books, including, most recently,  Imagina.

books and authors 2021

Justin Torres, We The Animals (Mariner Books)

I don’t know if I was living in a hole back in 2012, but I somehow missed the release of Justin Torres’  We The Animals , and all its attendant (and deserved) adulation. When I picked up the book earlier this year, I was floored—at the kinetic dynamism between the book’s brothers, at how Torres’ prose manages to be liquid-lyric and laser-sharp all at once. I can’t believe I lived without this book for so long.  –Lauren Markham, author of  The Far Away Brothers  

books and authors 2021

Pierrine Poge, Warda s’en va, Carnets du Caire (La Baconniere)

I read Pierrine Poget,  Warda s’en va, Carnets du Caire, in which a young swiss French speaking woman (she usually writes poetry) is alone in Cairo and trying to keep a diary there, then re-reading it and commenting on it. It’s a delicate, subtle book about time passing and perceptions, about walking as a woman alone, and about the simple pleasure of being abroad in another culture and meeting new people. A too discreet book. I loved it.  –Marie Darrieussecq, author of  Being Here Is Everything: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker , translated from the French by Penny Hueston

books and authors 2021

Maceo Montoya, Preparatory Notes for Future Masterpieces   (University of Nevada Press)

One of my 2021 faves was  Preparatory Notes for Future Masterpieces by Maceo Montoya. Channeling the spirit of Candide, Montoya’s use of humor, pathos, and satire to tell the story of a misunderstood artist clamoring for his place in posterity and his voice to be heard, had me laughing from beginning to end.   –Reyna Grande, author of  The Distance Between Us: A Memoir, and A Ballad of Love and Glory: A Novel

books and authors 2021

Pola Oloixarac, trans. by Adam Morris, Mona (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

One of the most unforgettable books I read this year was Pola Oloixarac’s brilliant, provocative and fearless  Mona (translated from the Spanish by Adam Morris.). Mona is a force, and the novel’s irreverent, unfiltered, and often hilarious send-up of the rarefied world of academia and literary culture is exhilarating. The pages blaze—I read it in a single day, and it stays with me. I also kept returning to Alex Dimitrov’s Love and Other Poems . Dimitrov’s obsessive subjects—love and desire and the passage of time—find full expression in poems that feel both of-the-moment and timeless. The poems move with the power of music–they are music–and, while often saturated with pain, are also lush with the abundant pleasures of inhabiting a living body.  –Deborah Landau, author of  Soft Targets  and  Skeletons: Poems , forthcoming in 2023

books and authors 2021

Michael Chabon, Moonglow (Harper Perennial)

Michael Chabon’s  Moonglow helped me to clear the haze of the pandemic. Written in an intuitively nonlinear style that mimics how we piece together family history, this fictionalized biography, narrated by an author proxy named “Mike” Chabon, recounts the life and times of Mike’s grandfather, devoting lots of space to a woefully overlooked topic: late-life romance. One night in the “luminous Florida dark” of the Fontana Village retirement community, Mike’s grandfather hears his neighbor Sally Sichel yelling for her cat Ramon, convinced it has been eaten by a boa constrictor. What begins as a screwball act of chivalry using improvised tools like a “snake hammer” evolves into a genuinely hot love affair, defying their emotional scars and the specter of bone cancer. Sex like this is something we want to believe can happen in our seventies but few authors are willing or able to explore, and only rarely in language so brave, comical and lush.   –Sam Bett is a writer and Japanese translator, most recently of  My Annihilation , by Fuminori Nakamura.

books and authors 2021

Natalia Ginzburg, Family Lexicon (New York Review of Books)

The read of the year was a reread for me, Natalia Ginzburg’s  Family Lexicon . I was walking the streets of Florence in September and walked inside a little bookshop and picked up a new edition of  Family Lexicon . I had read the book in high school, quite a few years ago, vaguely unaware of the real power of language. Unaware that language shapes families, communities, cultures, entire ecosystems, that it is as much a tool of survival as it is a tool of domination and oppression, that it can bruise as much as it can cure, that it can hate as much as it can love, that sometimes it can kill. Ginzburg manages to encapsulate an enormous amount of what words can do and undo in this marvelous classic keeping everything grounded and palpable. Her account of her everyday family life from the 20s all throughout the 50s might be one of the truest and realest novels ever written. In fact, it might be o novel only because that is the lexicon that Ginzburg chose for molding it. A phenomenal radiography of a speech famine during fascism and of the vitality and resilience of language alike.  –Elena Marcu is cofounder of Black Button Books, publishers of Freeman’s in Romanian.

books and authors 2021

Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

This year, I accepted my life as a party boy and recovered from  sksksks  in bed with my boyfriend and two novels that matched the highs and lows of the night life:  Memoirs of Hadrian  by Marguerite Yourcenar and  The Transit of Venus  by Shirley Hazzard. An emperor’s musings on the rise and fall of civilization combined with the brutal loss of his gay lover and the speeding diverging lives of two sisters across time and space. Books for after the afters, returning to life.  –Kyle Dillon Hertz, author of  The Lookback Window , forthcoming in 2023 from Simon & Schuster

books and authors 2021

Shrilal Shukla, Is Umr Men (Prabhat Prakashan)

This past year was challenging. I felt distracted and often unmoved by words. The day to day of life seemed to eclipse what words could offer by way of insight or solace. But then I read the Hindi writer Shrilal Shukla’s  Is Umr Men , or, loosely,  At My Age , published in 2004. Having just translated a book of his satire, I wasn’t expecting to be as interested in his short stories. But I found myself captivated by his middle-class portraits of late 20th-century North Indian life. Reading his stories, I felt like he was speaking obliquely about the USA in 2021. In one story, a state’s governor, called in the Indian political system a Chief Minister, inspects by helicopter the devastation of a flood in the countryside. He witnesses a family hanging on for their lives in a tree, and one of his advisors remarks dryly that that is what “they” do when there are floods. The poor people of the countryside are only bestial, anthropological subjects. Or, in another story, a grandfather tries to get his grandson to speak more politely to one of the family’s servants, but the obvious incongruity between lineal servanthood and middle-class decorum makes the lesson absurd to the boy. I read the stories as reflections on the internal contradictions of middle-class life in a society where various ruptures or disconnects separate people more than connect them. There’s a lingering sense of regret and sadness about this in Shukla’s stories. And that’s my overwhelming feeling about the US today, as well.  –Matt Reeck’s latest translations include  Selected Satire: Fifty Years of Ignorance  (Penguin-Random House India) from the Hindi of Shrilal Shukla and the forthcoming  Manifestos with Betsy Wing  from the French of Édouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau.

books and authors 2021

Maria Ospina, trans. by Heather Cleary, Variations on the Body (Coffee House Press)

I was very struck by  Variations on the Body by Maria Ospina, translated by Heather Cleary, an incredibly thoughtful set of reflections on how violence is refracted into scenes of everyday life. Policarpa, one short story that sets the battlefield memories of a guerilla fighter within the mundane aisles of a super store, perfectly collapses categories of existence into one, unreconciled, political being.   –Nimmi Gowrinathan, author of  Radicalizing Her: Why Women Choose Violence

books and authors 2021

Tomás Q. Morín, Machete (Knopf)

Near the end of  Machete , Tomás Q. Morín’s terrific third book of poems, the poet writes, “God is nothing / if not a comedian,” which struck me as just the kind of incisive line I needed in these uncertain and almost inconsolable times. These are deeply pleasing poems for the unpredictable ways they extract wit, temper anger, and shape tenderness from the moments in our lives that challenge us to “say different.”  –Manuel Muñoz, author of  The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue  and  The Consequences , forthcoming in 2022 from Graywolf

books and authors 2021

Laksmi Pamuntjak, Kitab Kawin (Gramedia)

A standout for me has been the as-yet-untranslated  Kitab Kawin , by Laksmi Pamuntjak, out earlier this year with Gramedia. Loosely translated as  The Book of Mating this collection explores all the connotations of the word. Informed by Pamuntjak’s work as a journalist, the short stories are told in diverse voices of female characters from across the archipelago—by turns fierce, hilarious, sensuous, horrific and tender.   –Annie Tucker is a writer and translator from Bahasa Indonesia.

books and authors 2021

César Aira, trans. by Chris Andrews, The Divorce (New Directions)

The Divorce by César Aira (translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews) is a tiny novel that contains worlds within worlds, imagination and coincidence tethered by reality and increasingly wild scenes, like two characters jumping into a miniature model of a school to escape the same school that’s on fire, which is all triggered by a young man on a bike who is soaked by the pooled rain in an awning. Entangled, dark, breathtaking, magical, Aira’s prose is as singular as he and the multiverse pig-pile he has crafted.   –Kerri Arsenault, author of  Mill Town

books and authors 2021

R.J. Ivankovic , H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for Beginning Readers (Chaosium)

This year I was delighted to discover  H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for Beginning Readers  by R.J. Ivankovic, Chaosium Publications, 2017. It is precisely in the manner of Dr. Seuss. Illustrations dead-on. Anapestic tetrameter as well. And you’re left with such a strange and airy gulf between this rendering and its model. Suggesting, dare I say it, even stranger, deeper gulfs.  –David Searcy, author of  The Tiny Bee that Hovers at the Center of the World

books and authors 2021

Catherine Taylor, Apart (Ugly Duckling Presse)

I spent the second half of 2021 reading books of prose poems, or books I read as prose poems, and dividing them not into prose or poetry but rather into where the volumes’ authors seemed to place their authorial trust—whether in the world or in their own ideas and voices. Those who trusted the world created documentary collections that often relied on archives, like Holly Iglesias’ fascinating  Souvenirs of a Shrunken World , about the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, or Catherine Taylor’s  Apart , which attempts to reckon with the legacy of South Africa’s apartheid. Those who mistrusted the world wrote absurdist or surrealist volumes, starting with Arthur Rimbaud’s  Illuminations , continuing into our era with books that delighted me like Renee Gladman’s  Event Factory  or Ida Vitale’s  Byobu  (translated by Sean Manning).

But my favorites were the ones that defied even these two categories, focusing so narrowly on the observed world that real details rebelled and grew both ridiculous and—in their ridiculousness—poignant. These include Francis Ponge’s  Unfinished Ode to Mud  (translated by Beverley Bie Brahic), Robert Walser’s  Microscripts  (translated by Susan Bernofsky), and the fabulous 2020 collection  Flèche , by Mary Jean Chan, which might have been the book I liked the best of all.  –Jennifer Croft, author of  Homesick  and translator of Olga Tokarczuk’s  Books of Jacob

books and authors 2021

Tor Ulven, Replacement (Dalkey Archive Press)

The most demanding and at the same time the most satisfying book that I have read in recent months is  Replacement the only novel written by the Norwegian poet Tor Ulven (1953-1995). There is no plot in this book. Or rather, the plot is life itself, which jumps between the past and the present without warning. Between the most intimate childhood memories (the pearls of a mother clinking before nursing her child) and the most distressing sensations that the proximity of death brings (having to sleep with a shotgun next to it that has not been fired in fifty years).

Replacement is assembled from the monologues of fifteen characters, each one distributed throughout a book that barely reaches 150 pages. All those voices in the end make up a single narrative voice. Ulven reminds us that we are inhabited by dozens of people, that we are not one as we falsely believe.   –Andrés Felipe Solano, author of  Los días de la fiebre: Corea del Sur, el país que desafió al virus

books and authors 2021

Catherine Lacey, Pew (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Unnamed and ambiguous narrators seem to be my thing this year, like the ones in  Pew  by Catherine Lacey and  White on White  by Aysegül Savas. Embodying a certain shapelessness and intangibility, these narrators are blank canvases for others characters to paint on. While the brushstrokes are more than fascinating, the most profound stories might be those that lie within the canvases themselves, invisible on the surface but deeply present beneath. In two confident and gracefully written novels, Lacey and Savas have given us the possibility to see into those psychological and philosophical truths that we, as readers and writers, are always on a quest to unveil. ­­­ – An Yu, author of  Ghost Music,  forthcoming from Grove

books and authors 2021

Diane Williams, The Collected Stories of Diane Williams (Soho Press)

My favorite book from this last year was  The Collected Stories of Diane Williams, which I found myself returning to between all of the novels I was assigned in my MFA program. Picking up Williams after reading more standard literary fiction like Don Delillo was a bit like going from an indie rock concert to showing up at someone’s basement where there’s a woman playing an acoustic guitar with a coat hanger. At first you’re a little confused about what’s going on and you’re sort of worried she’s going to break a string, but after some time, watching her approach the act of playing that way changes your whole experience of listening in general. Williams’ stories are dark, hilarious, difficult, and enlivening. She also has the best titles of any short story writer out there, and she really knows her way around an exclamation point. ­  – Elizabeth Ayre, writer and MFA student at NYU

books and authors 2021

Glenn Frankel, Shooting Midnight Cowboy (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

These days I’m big on  Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic . A good book about making a movie dramatizes every aspect of the artistic process—coming up with an idea, changing it as you go, dealing with the inevitable accidents—better than one about an individual writer or artist or band. I read them all, and this is the best book of its kind.  – David Kirby’s latest books are  The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them , and  Help Me, Information: Poems . 

Book of Delights

Ross Gay, The Book of Delights (Algonquin)

Ross Gay’s  The Book of Delights  got me through the darker days of 2021. A collection of short essays about things that delight the author, the book invites us to be more attentive to the world around us and to the small but profound joys that exist there. Another standout for me was Joe Wilkins’ timely novel  Fall Back Down When I Die , which is impossible to put down, perfectly evokes hardscrabble eastern Montana, and might’ve made me cry just a little bit.  – Amanda Rea is a writer in Denver. 

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Rivka Galchen, Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

This year I was grateful for stories that were both funny and grim as hell. My favorite of these was  Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch by Rivka Galchen. You could say this is a book for our times, given that it involves truth and untruth, as framed by Katharina Kepler’s harrowing quest to clear herself of witchcraft accusations in 17th century Germany. But it’s also a book full of weirdness and joy, in large part due to Katharina’s voice—brilliant, blunt, and unforgettable.   – Tania James, author of  The Tusk That Did the Damage

books and authors 2021

Anna Swir, trans. by Czeslaw Milosz, Talking to My Body (Copper Canyon)

Over the past year, I have read selected poems by the Polish poet Anna Swir ( Świrszczyńska ) over and over again (Miłosz loved her poetry and translated it into English). I admire how she writes about tragic and traumatic events like the war (she took part in the Warsaw Uprising) with some delicate humor. Her poetry is so ironic, sharp, critical and at the same time deeply humane. She deals a lot with the female body experience. There is also this wonderful poem about a young nurse in the war who wishes to die so no one else would ever have to (not even the Germans“): this girl is like some little gentle female Jesus, but she doesn’t even want to be known for her sacrifice. This is simply my kind of poetry.  – Adisa Bašić, is the author of seven books in Bosnian including  A ti zaključaj  (Lock Up After Me), a fiction, and the poems,  Košćela  (Nettle Tree)

books and authors 2021

David Searcy, The Tiny Bee That Hovers at the Center of the World (Random House)

“We are lost,” David Searcy writes in  The Tiny Bee That Hovers at the Center of the World , his luminous collection of meditations. “We’re neither here nor there. There’s you, and there’s the you that knows there’s you. And in that gap between the two—and we are always in that gap—we’re migratory.” I loved the way this book didn’t make me feel limited to a single place, or a single idea. I was totally free to wander through time and space, and at the same time be perfectly still as some hovering insects do. If you’re still human, this book will speak to you.   –Sara Reggiani, translator, founder of Edizioni Black Coffee and Italian publisher of Freeman’s


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The preceding is from the  Freeman’s channel at Literary Hub, which features excerpts from the print editions of Freeman’s , along with supplementary writing from contributors past, present and future. The latest issue of Freeman’s, a special edition gathered around the theme of change, featuring work by Joshua Bennett, Sandra Cisneros, Lauren Groff, Sayaka Murata and Ocean Vuong among others, is available now.

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books and authors 2021

The Ultimate Best Books of 2021 List

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books and authors 2021

The best books of 2021, chosen by our guest authors

From piercing studies of colonialism to powerful domestic sagas, our panel of writers, all of whom had books published this year, share their favourite titles of 2021

Kazuo Ishiguro

Author of Klara and the Sun (Faber)

Kazuo Ishiguro

The beautiful, horrible world of Mariana Enriquez, as glimpsed in The Dangers of Smoking in Bed (Granta), with its disturbed adolescents, ghosts, decaying ghouls, the sad and angry homeless of modern Argentina, is the most exciting discovery I’ve made in fiction for some time. Horrifying in another way, Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott’s Failures of State (Mudlark) is a brilliantly presented indictment of the UK’s fumbling attempt to meet the Covid challenge. Read alongside Jeremy Farrar’s more personal Spike: The Virus v The People (Profile) and Michael Lewis’s compelling The Premonition (Allen Lane), we see a disturbing common trait emerging in our country and others: the unwillingness to prioritise people’s lives over ideas and ingrained structures.

Bernardine Evaristo

Author of Manifesto: On Never Giving Up (Hamish Hamilton)

Bernardine Evaristo

I have been deeply impressed by recent books that invite us to reconsider aspects of British and global history, culture and identity beyond the often distorted, dishonest and pumped-up myth-making that has long prevailed. History is an interpretation of the past and these three books, each one powerfully persuasive and offering new ways of seeing, are in conversation with each other. Empireland : How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain (Penguin) by Sathnam Sanghera, The New Age of Empire : How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World (Allen Lane) by Kehinde Andrews and Green Unpleasant Land : Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connection s (Peepal Tree Press) by Corinne Fowler.

Damon Galgut

Damon Galgut

Author of The Promise (Chatto & Windus)

I seldom read books when they first appear, but there were two slim volumes that especially impressed me this year. Burntcoat (Faber) by Sarah Hall is in the vanguard of a new genre of pandemic/lockdown fiction: the connections between isolation and creation are laid bare in a disquieting dystopia of the not-quite-now. Small Things Like These (Faber) by Claire Keegan, on the other hand, casts its gaze backward, to Ireland in 1985; its balance of crystalline language and moral seriousness makes it profoundly moving.

Wole Soyinka

Author of Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People on Earth (Bloomsbury)


I sometimes suspect that I was actually found abandoned in a tree, adopted and raised as a family secret. Amos Tutuola, Gabriel García Márquez, DO Fagunwa, Shahrnush Parsipur and other exponents of tree anthropomorphism are perhaps the outsiders in the know. Now they are joined by Elif Shafak in The Island of Missing Trees (Viking) with her integrative literary sensibility, and the genre sprang back on its feet, tender and savage by turns in a Greco-Turkish-Cypriot historic setting. The rigorous questioning of nation and identity, given my incessant preoccupations, made it a truly therapeutic literary meal.

Colm Tóibín

Author of The Magician (Viking)


I enjoyed Hugo Hamilton’s The Pages (Fourth Estate), narrated with verve and ingenuity by an actual book, a novel by Joseph Roth, which got saved from the Nazi bonfire and then taken on a picaresque journey across the Atlantic and back to Germany. I also enjoyed the social historian Patrick Joyce’s Going to My Father’s House (Verso), a haunting meditation on Ireland and England, war and migration, Derry and Manchester. I admired the originality of his observations and his tone of melancholy, calm wisdom. I love John McAuliffe’s Selected Poems (Gallery) for the way that ordinary things are rendered and rhythm handled so deftly and artfully.

Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner

Author of The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000–2020 (Jonathan Cape)

My generation is very much marked by Dennis Cooper’s George Miles cycle: in the 1990s, everyone read these books; I was awed by them. For many years, Dennis took a break from novels to focus on theatre and film. He’s back with I Wished (Soho Press), which is classic Dennis Cooper: intricate, funny, destabilising and totally unforeseen. Wolfgang Hilbig is apparently one of the most acclaimed German writers, but was new to me. I’ll confess I fell for the blurb on the back of The Interim (Two Lines Press): the great László Krasznahorkai calls him “an artist of immense stature”. As soon as I started reading, I had to agree. This novel, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole, is comic and terrifying and profound.

Elif Shafak

Author of The Island of Missing Trees (Viking)


This year, reading Anita Sethi’s I Belong Here (Bloomsbury) was an unforgettable journey. Sethi wrote this book after being the victim of a horrible racist attack on a train from Liverpool to Newcastle. The genius of the author is how she takes the narrative of hatred and discrimination hurled at her and turns it upside down by “going back to where she is from” – the landscapes of the north. Through long walks in nature as she finds a true sense of belonging, connectivity, renewal and hope, so do we, her readers. I found it not only deeply moving but also quietly transformative. Another read that stayed with me this year has been Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s fabulous Thin Places (Canongate). Born in Derry, at the height of the Troubles, the author’s voice is piercingly honest, movingly heartfelt. There is so much soul and knowledge and compassion, it gave me shivers.

Author of Burntcoat (Faber)


Sea State (Fourth Estate) by Tabitha Lasley completely took me by surprise. Part memoir, part investigation into oil-rig culture, part critique of gender and class dynamics, it’s incredibly compelling, often dark as the drilled-for product. Lasley infiltrates this masculine offshore industry, with its dangers, profit and comradeship. She also explores female loneliness and desire, accommodation of a male-designed world and the spaces where women hold power. Reissued this year with impassioned praise from fellow authors such as Marlon James, Patricia Lockwood and Max Porter, Mrs Caliban (Faber) by Rachel Ingalls is a work of true verve and imagination. Along with her suburban housewife and lab-tested reptilian lover, Ingalls deftly, wittily and rather incredibly liberates readers from the awfulness of convention to a state where weirdness and otherness are beautiful and right.

Author of Sorrow and Bliss (Weidenfeld and Nicolson)


After the joy of discovering that one of your favourite authors has a new book out can follow a peculiar kind of anxiety, because what if you don’t like it as much as the others? I needn’t have worried with Rachel Cusk’s Second Place (Faber). It is stunning, in all senses. Assembly (Hamish Hamilton) by Natasha Brown left me winded for how clever and sad and beautiful and spare it was. Truly the perfect novel. And I adored Ann Patchett’s new essay collection, These Precious Days (Bloomsbury), which I read in November and will end the year by listening to her read, as audio. Because it’s Ann Patchett, one time through isn’t enough.

Caleb Azumah Nelson

Caleb Azumah Nelson

Author of Open Water (Viking)

This year, I loved Transcendent Kingdom (Viking) by Yaa Gyasi, the story of a family of four who travel from Ghana to Alabama to make a new life for themselves. Through the course of the novel, the family’s history begins to unfold, illuminating stories that have gone unspoken for generations. It’s a brilliant novel, with not a word out of place. I also really enjoyed Vanessa Onwuemezi’s Dark Neighbourhood (Fitzcarraldo), a collection of short stories from an unforgettable, searing voice. They occupy a hallucinatory landscape, often veering into the surreal, and each pulses with an electric energy.

Lauren Groff

Author of Matrix (Heinemann)


I have been in headlong love with Patricia Lockwood’s hilarious and subversive mind since her memoir Priestdaddy , but her first novel, No One Is Talking About This (Bloomsbury) , sent me reeling. Everything about this book, from its structure to its prose to the way it hits a reader unawares in the second half, is testament to Lockwood’s wicked genius. Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch (Fourth Estate) by Rivka Galchen flew a bit under the radar, but it is a wise meditation on the kind of hysterical scapegoating we see so often in the age of the internet, though based on a historical fact: that the mother of astronomer Johannes Kepler was once accused of witchcraft. I loved this book intensely when I read it this summer and have thought of it nearly every day through this strange autumn. I’ve been thinking deeply about anagogical literature recently and very few living writers write so achingly toward God as Kaveh Akbar. Real faith, Akbar writes in Pilgrim Bell (Chatto & Windus), “passes first through the body/ like an arrow”; each of the poems in this collection finds its target.

Chibundu Onuzo

Author of Sankofa (Virago)


My favourite nonfiction book published in 2021 was Otegha Uwagba’s We Need to Talk About Money (Fourth Estate). It’s a memoir that shows how money has affected every stage of Uwagba’s life, from growing up on a council estate, to winning a scholarship to a private school, to negotiating her salary when she entered the workforce. Uwagba is particularly nuanced about class and race. My favourite novel published in 2021 was Our Lady of the Nile (Daunt) by Scholastique Mukasonga. It’s set in the 1980s, in a Rwandan girls boarding school. It follows all the girlish intrigues, of who is the most popular, who is the prettiest, but this is no Malory Towers . Looming in the background is the coming genocide. Both playful and sinister, this is an excellent read.

Olivia Laing

Author of Everybody: A Book About Freedom (Picador)


Anyone with a mother ought to read My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley (Granta), a novelist of uncompromising brilliance. It mines the same narrow, dangerous territory as Beryl Bainbridge and Ivy Compton-Burnett: the dysfunctional family unit. Riley homes in on the failing relationship between a mother and daughter, anatomised by way of astonishingly precise dialogue, alongside angular, razor-sharp sentences that delineate an entire emotional landscape. Ouch and wow. There’s a similar marvel of ventriloquism in Adam Mars-Jones’s Batlava Lake (Fitzcarraldo), a story about war and soldiers delivered by the hopeless, weirdly endearing Barry, which builds to a blindsiding final paragraph.

Sunjeev Sahota

Sunjeev Sahota

Author of China Room (Harvill Secker)

Barbara Ehrenreich is an incisive diagnostician of societies and in Had I Known: Collected Essays (Granta) she is clear-eyed on the ways in which the American working class has been politically abandoned and culturally demonised. Much of the analysis applies to our own country. On the novel front, I could not recommend more strongly Gwendoline Riley’s My Phantoms (Granta): flinty, bracing, exquisite.

Anthony Doerr

Author of Cloud Cuckoo Land (Fourth Estate)


In The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (Allen Lane), David Graeber and David Wengrow offer an engrossing series of insights into how “the conventional narrative of human history is not only wrong, but quite needlessly dull”. They re-inject humanity into our distant forebears, suggesting that our prevailing story about human history – that not much innovation occurred in human societies until the invention of agriculture – is utterly wrong. I could have lived in the first hundred pages of Piranesi (Bloomsbury) by Susanna Clarke for ever. It’s a dream of a novel. Zorrie (Riverrun; published early next year) by Laird Hunt is a tender, glowing novel that is just as beautiful as Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead or Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams .

Ferdinand Mount

Author of Kiss Myself Goodbye: The Many Lives of Aunt Munca (Bloomsbury)


These days, I seem to read mostly female novelists from the colder parts of North America. You can’t get much farther north than the Ontario of Mary Lawson’s icy, compelling stories of calamity and redemption. A Town Called Solace (Chatto) keeps you breathless with anxiety, then relief and finally even joy. I felt the same total engagement with Gill Hornby’s Miss Austen (Arrow). She reconstructs in beautifully simple detail the story of Jane Austen’s sister, Cassandra, and her struggle to protect Jane in life and death. It is also an unforgettable account of an unremembered life.

Kehinde Andrews

Author of The New Age of Empire (Allen Lane)


David Harewood’s documentary Psychosis and Me was an eye-opener for his honesty in reflecting on his experiences in the mental health system. His book Maybe I Don’t Belong Here (Bluebird) is one of the most powerful testimonies to the impact of racism I have ever read. In a similar vein, Guilaine Kinouani’s Living While Black (Ebury) highlighted the severe problem of racism in the psychological professions that has hallmarked so much of our experiences in the UK, an unfortunate experience we have in common with our American cousins. I had been looking forward to learning more about one of the most important US civil rights activists Fannie Lou Hamer and Keisha Blain’s Until I Am Free (Beacon) did not disappoint.

Ruth Ozeki

Author of The Book of Form and Emptiness (Canongate)

Double Blind (Harvill Secker) by Edward St Aubyn is about nature, science, rapacious capitalism, psychoanalysis and human folly, and it is both moving and so funny I had to stop every few pages to wipe tears from my eyes. Nobody’s Normal (WW Norton) by Roy Richard Grinker is a compassionate, well-researched chronicle of the historical stigmatisation of mental illness. Since “normal” is a social construct, why can’t we change it? I love how Katie Kitamura can channel a mind and in Intimacies (Vintage) it is the mind of an unnamed interpreter living in The Hague, interpreting for a former president on trial for war crimes.​​

Monique Roffey

Author of The Mermaid of Black Conch (Vintage)


Still Life (Fourth Estate) by Sarah Winman gets my vote, not just for its mastery and sweep (Tuscany, the East End of London, war and beyond war, old gay ladies, young men) and the overarching theme of the power of love, but for its talking parrot as character, Claude. Claude gets some of the best lines. Also, Fortune (Peepal Tree Press) , by Amanda Smyth, another historic novel, a clandestine love story set amid Trinidad’s early oil drilling years in the 1920s. I also loved English Pastoral : An Inheritanc e (Penguin) by James Rebanks, out in paperback this year. His family have farmed the same land for 600 years. We’ve lost so much, but Rebanks gives us solutions and myth-busts; a poignant and sad book we need in a time of climate emergency.

Elizabeth Day

Author of Magpie (Fourth Estate)


My two favourite novels of the year were Sorrow and Bliss (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) by Meg Mason, for being hilarious, moving and utterly humane, and Damon Galgut’s The Promise (Chatto). The label “masterpiece” is far too liberally applied these days, but I did think Galgut’s book was deserving of it. In nonfiction, I enjoyed We Need to Talk About Money (Fourth Estate) by Otegha Uwagba, which challenged me to rethink my relationship with my finances and did so in a witty, intelligent and surprisingly touching way.

Author of The Echo Chamber (Doubleday)


Kevin Power’s long-awaited second novel, White City (Scribner), was a triumph. There’s not enough humour in contemporary fiction but Power brought the laughs and the pathos to this account of a young Dubliner, reared with privilege, who gets involved in a dodgy land deal in the Balkans. In nonfiction, I was impressed by Helen Joyce’s Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality (Oneworld), a scholarly, compassionate and courageous examination of a subject that’s sparked an unhelpful civil war within the LGBTQ community. Unlike those of her online counterparts, Joyce’s arguments are well researched, soundly made and avoid the toxicity that mars so much conversation on this topic.

Courttia Newland

Courttia Newland

Author of A River Called Time (Canongate)

Keeping the House (And Other Stories) by Tice Cin is a truly beautiful debut. A mistress of deftly sketched characters that become whole humans in a few lines, Cin tells stories of working-class, inner-city life steeped in truth, emotion and vulnerability. She is one of a new generation of writers who see the splendour of these streets and articulate it with great majesty. Jo Hamya’s Three Rooms (Vintage) is written in a classical style that’s no less incisive for its formality. From the first paragraph, I was hooked. Tension drips through every scene and Hamya depicts London so well. There’s quiet, raw power in this book and its author.

Cathy Rentzenbrink

Author of Everyone Is Still Alive (Phoenix)


I like a novel to grab me and The Book of Form and Emptiness (Canongate) by Ruth Ozeki gave me very peculiar dreams for a long time, as though it did not want to release me to other things. I enjoyed the robust style of Empireland (Penguin) by Sathnam Sanghera, an illuminating examination of the “toxic cocktail of nostalgia and amnesia” that still hugely influences our life today. Erudite and reassuring , Four Thousand Weeks (Vintage) by Oliver Burkeman persuaded me to accept that my time on Earth is finite so I should therefore not fritter it away in overwork and overwhelm.

Author of Razorblade Tears (Headline)


Her Name Is Knight (Thomas & Mercer) by Yasmin Angoe is a dazzling, suspenseful tale of international intrigue and revenge with a protagonist who is as deadly as she is beautiful. A feared assassin, Nena Knight soon finds her latest mission to be her most dangerous as it puts her life and her heart at risk. Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala is a quirky, cosy mystery full of humour and heart with a clever heroine who is as talented in the kitchen as she is at a murder scene. A fantastic debut. The Heathens (Little, Brown) by Ace Atkins is pure, uncut, US southern noir with a modern social media twist. Few writers know the tortured soul of the south better than Atkins and he is at the top of his game here.

Fintan O’Toole

Fintan O’Toole

Author of We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958 (Head of Zeus)

Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You (Faber) has really stayed with me. For all its wit and style, it has a deep seriousness about the world. Rooney has an old-fashioned belief that the novel can be a place in which the question of how we should live is continually at play. Damon Galgut’s The Promise (Chatto) sustains the same moral purpose while being funny, angry and absurd all at once. Paul Muldoon had a remarkable year. His conversations with Paul McCartney for The Lyrics (Allen Lane) spark endlessly fascinating reflections on the relationship between life and creativity. And his new collection, Howdie-Skelp (Faber), is dazzling, moving, profound and playful.

Author of Bessie Smith (Faber)


I loved Neil Bartlett’s Address Book (Inkandescent). It took me back to all the addresses I’ve lived in - the lesbian squat in Vauxhall, John le Carré’s house in Hampstead! Brilliantly written, interweaving seven different characters across various times, Bartlett’s precise storytelling pulled me in. I’m glad we have him. He is a pioneering chronicler of queer lives. Ian Duhig’s New and Selected Poems (Picador) is a must have, must read gathering of the best of his work. Always fascinating, Duhig is poetry’s best chronicler of both ordinary lives, strange lives. His eclectic and effervescent work draws on folklore and myth to tell the stories we never get to hear. Duhig is interested in everything. He makes his reader sit up and take stock. I was inspired by the beauty and the power of the fabulous collective 4 Brown Girls Who Write – their poetry reminds me of the strength and exhilaration of a collective voice. Beautifully produced by Rough Trade Books, each of the four poets produces a standalone pamphlet that comes to form part of an incredible whole. The perfect stocking pressie. I was touched by Michelle Zauner’s cathartic memoir about losing her mother, Crying in H Mart (Picador). Zauner writes about food, music, grief and love candidly, bravely.

Chris Power

Author of A Lonely Man (Faber)


Two novels that stunned me this year involve characters overwhelmed by the force of another’s personality. The narrator of Gwendoline Riley’s My Phantoms (Granta) reckons with her parents, one dead, one ailing, who emerge as both spiteful and pitiable. Riley is an immensely talented writer whose sentences cut like knives and she doesn’t flinch when blade meets bone. Similarly dauntless, in Second Place (Faber), Rachel Cusk abandons the distinctive style of her Outline trilogy for a new voice. When M invites L, a painter she admires, to her remote coastal home, psychic combat ensues. It’s a profound book and a funny one, which hasn’t been mentioned enough.

Megan Nolan

Megan Nolan

Author of Acts of Desperation (Jonathan Cape)

After the past few years, when even the most ignorant among us took to slinging around virology terms as though we knew what we were talking about, I’ve found myself drawn to accounts and oral histories of the Aids crisis. Let the Record Show (Farrar) by Sarah Schulman is profoundly moving, as most are, but also does the important work of reasserting the place of women and people of colour in the history of Act Up. Paul (Granta) by Daisy Lafarge is a mesmerising novel about a young woman’s trip to France and ensuing entanglement with a man whose grotesque secrets begin to surface. It moves at a pace it feels Lafarge invented herself. It’s enviably, coolly intelligent without ever becoming ironic or snide and just one more exposition of Lafarge’s many gifts following on from her poetry collection Life Without Air .

Joshua Ferris

Author of A Calling for Charlie Barnes (Viking)


Three great pleasures for me this year came from reliable sources. Jo Ann Beard’s essays in Festival Days (Little, Brown) are some of her finest. Dana Spiotta’s novel Wayward (Virago) is razor-sharp on any number of things, above all the insoluble ravages of time. Then there were three writers new to me whose books were both reinvigorating and enlightening: Angélique Lalonde’s Glorious Frazzled Beings (Astoria), Miriam Toews’s Fight Night (Bloomsbury) and Casey Plett’s A Dream of a Woman (Arsenal Pulp Press).

Lisa Taddeo

Author of Animal (Bloomsbury)


Magpie (Fourth Estate) by Elizabeth Day is that rare novel that moves and taunts like a thriller, but also envelops and comforts like Middlemarch . I didn’t want it to end, I wanted to read it in fancy bars for ever. As for The Right to Sex (Bloomsbury) by Amia Srinivasan , I cannot say enough about this book. How crucial. How brilliant. How absolutely gratifying to see a mind at work like Srinivisan’s, handling the profane and the erudite with equal clear, unflinching diamond prose.

Sathnam Sanghera

Author of Empireland (Viking)


My novel of the year would be A Calling for Charlie Barnes (Viking) by Joshua Ferris, a hilarious skewering of the American Dream by the man who must be the funniest writer we have. I also really appreciated The Anarch y (Bloomsbury) by William Dalrymple, out in paperback this year, which does a great job explaining the East India Company, responsible, more than anything else, for Britain’s involvement in the subcontinent. And Imperial Nostalgia (Manchester University Press) by Peter Mitchell, which explains how the delusions of the Raj continue to shape our national psychology today.

Joan Bakewell

Author of The Tick of Two Clocks: A Tale of Moving On (Virago)


The sensitivity of Susie Boyt’s story of family love, Loved and Missed (Little, Brown), wrings the heart: it shows tenderness to each, makes you care for all… a gentle masterpiece. The Promise (Chatto) by Damon Galgut is a remarkable tale of four generations of one South African family and of the country itself. Like his earlier books, which I have also enjoyed, it reveals him as a master of human complexity. No wonder it won the Booker. Mothering Sunday (Scribner) by Graham Swift was not published this year, I know, but was picked up by me at the secondhand stall of Didcot Parkway station. It’s now released as a film. Reading it, I discovered a total gem: not a word out of place, not a false sentiment. Can the film be as good?

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The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2021

books and authors 2021

T he year 2021 was poised to be a great one for established, fan-favorite authors. We were blessed with new work from a buzzy roster of titans, from Colson Whitehead to Lauren Groff to Kazuo Ishiguro . But while they, along with several others, did not disappoint (see TIME’s list of the 100 Must-Read Books of 2021 ), it was debut authors who truly shined. In an industry that has long been criticized for exclusion—and where it’s increasingly difficult to break out from the crowd—a crop of bright new voices rose to the top. From Anthony Veasna So to Torrey Peters to Jocelyn Nicole Johnson and more, these writers introduced themselves to the world with fiction that surprised us, challenged our perspectives and kept us fulfilled. Here, the top 10 fiction books of 2021.

10. Klara and the Sun , Kazuo Ishiguro

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    Penguin Random House

    The Must-Read Books of 2021

    2021 has brought us some incredible titles. if you want to read the books that people couldn’t stop talking about this year, see below for our list of powerful memoirs, page-turning novels, and more.

    Project Hail Mary Book Cover Picture

    Project Hail Mary

    By andy weir, paperback $20.00, buy from other retailers:.

    Hamnet Book Cover Picture

    by Maggie O’Farrell

    Paperback $16.95.

    Klara and the Sun Book Cover Picture

    Klara and the Sun

    By kazuo ishiguro.

    The Anthropocene Reviewed Book Cover Picture

    The Anthropocene Reviewed

    By john green, paperback $18.00, also available from:.

    Gold Diggers Book Cover Picture

    Gold Diggers

    By sanjena sathian, paperback $17.00.

    Broken Horses Book Cover Picture

    Broken Horses

    By brandi carlile.

    Before She Disappeared Book Cover Picture

    Before She Disappeared

    By lisa gardner.

    The Prophets Book Cover Picture

    The Prophets

    By robert jones, jr..

    Four Hundred Souls Book Cover Picture

    Four Hundred Souls

    By ibram x. kendi and keisha n. blain.

    Great Circle Book Cover Picture

    Great Circle

    By maggie shipstead.

    People We Meet on Vacation Book Cover Picture

    People We Meet on Vacation

    By emily henry, paperback $16.00.

    My Life in Full Book Cover Picture

    My Life in Full

    By indra nooyi, hardcover $28.00.

    Crying in H Mart Book Cover Picture

    Crying in H Mart

    By michelle zauner.

    Oh William! Book Cover Picture

    Oh William!

    By elizabeth strout.

    Malibu Rising Book Cover Picture

    Malibu Rising

    By taylor jenkins reid.

    The Turnout Book Cover Picture

    The Turnout

    By megan abbott.

    A Swim in a Pond in the Rain Book Cover Picture

    A Swim in a Pond in the Rain

    By george saunders, paperback $18.99.

    How to Avoid a Climate Disaster Book Cover Picture

    How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

    By bill gates.

    The Sum of Us Book Cover Picture

    The Sum of Us

    By heather mcghee.

    Call Us What We Carry Book Cover Picture

    Call Us What We Carry

    By amanda gorman, hardcover $24.99.

    While Justice Sleeps Book Cover Picture

    While Justice Sleeps

    By stacey abrams.

    1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows Book Cover Picture

    1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows

    By ai weiwei.

    Yearbook Book Cover Picture

    by Seth Rogen

    The Paper Palace Book Cover Picture

    The Paper Palace

    By miranda cowley heller.

    Empire of Pain Book Cover Picture

    Empire of Pain

    By patrick radden keefe.

    The Judge's List Book Cover Picture

    The Judge’s List

    By john grisham.

    Beautiful Country Book Cover Picture

    Beautiful Country

    By qian julie wang.

    Will Book Cover Picture

    by Will Smith

    Hardcover $30.00.

    Whereabouts Book Cover Picture


    By jhumpa lahiri.

    Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone Book Cover Picture

    Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone

    By diana gabaldon, paperback $22.00.

    Harlem Shuffle Book Cover Picture

    Harlem Shuffle

    By colson whitehead.

    Matrix Book Cover Picture

    by Lauren Groff

    A Slow Fire Burning Book Cover Picture

    A Slow Fire Burning

    By paula hawkins.

    No Cure for Being Human Book Cover Picture

    No Cure for Being Human

    By kate bowler.

    The Lincoln Highway Book Cover Picture

    The Lincoln Highway

    By amor towles, paperback $19.00.

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    Our 20 Favorite Books of 2021

    Playful, majestic, dazzling. These titles stole our hearts.

    best books 2021

    2021 marked the release of new books by some of our most prominent authors—among them Richard Powers, Jonathan Franzen, Louise Erdrich, Amor Towles, Ann Patchett, Anthony Doerr, Colson Whitehead, and Maggie Shipstead, whose latest works made it onto our Top 20 List. Some of them, like Shipstead’s Great Circle, are epics in which the heroes and heroines’ adventures light up the reader’s imagination, while others go a bit more micro. For example, Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle is a 1960s period piece in which a furniture dealer gets suckered into a caper; Erdrich’s The Sentence is a contemporary novel set in a Minneapolis bookstore exactly like the one the author owns.

    Two of the debut novels on our list—the breathtaking The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois , by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, and Nathan Harris’s The Sweetness of Water —were also selected for Oprah’s Book Club. Fiction from rising stars Patricia Engel, Mariana Enriquez, and Virgina Feito also wowed us.

    Maggie Nelson is one of America’s leading intellectuals, and her brilliant collection, On Freedom , is a must-read for anyone who wants to deconstruct the most urgent social debates of the day. And the The Man Who Lived Underground , which Richard Wright wrote in the 1940s but was unable to get published at the time, underscores that great literature never loses its relevance: His tale of police brutality and racial inequality reads like it happened today. And then there’s Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Annette Gordon Reed’s On Juneteenth, her stirring personal ode to a holiday that is only now finally getting its due.

    And for fun, New York, My Village , by Uwem Akpan, satirizes the self-serious book publishing business, while James LaPine’s sublime Putting It Together is a reminder, amid all our world’s uncertainty, that making art and sharing it with audiences is one of those life-affirming acts we were put on this planet for.

    Drumroll, please...

    Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr

    The man who lived underground, by richard wright.

    This previously unpublished novel, written in the 40s by the iconic author of Native Son , indicts police brutality and white supremacy through the terrifying saga of Fred Daniels, a Black man framed for double murder. Wright’s publisher refused to release the book at the time, deeming it incendiary. But this powerful, eerily prescient allegory finally saw the light of day earlier this year, at last getting the platform it has long deserved.

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    Harper The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

    This sweeping kitchen-table epic is the Great American Novel told through the family and ancestors of its protagonist, Ailey Pearl Garfield. Their narratives are anchored in centuries of oppression, sexual violations, and wounds made bearable by the humor, love, and resilience of Black matriarchs, then and now.

    On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint, by Maggie Nelson

    The acclaimed author of The Argonauts   challenges, excites, and ignites with this cerebral mélange of reporting, memoir, and scholarship on topics ranging from cultural appropriation to climate change, to the distinction between obligation and responsibility. Settle in and observe Nelson’s mind at work and on fire.

    Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead

    Shipstead’s exhilarating feminist epic is an ode to independence, persistence, and aviation. Marian Graves is the unforgettable protagonist at the heart of this Booker-nominated novel, who from an early age wants only to learn to fly. How she manages to make this dream come true as an orphan growing up in early-20th-century Montana is a study in courage, a thrilling ascent into a writer’s untethered imagination.

    Farrar, Straus and Giroux Putting It Together, by James Lapine

    The three-time Tony winner and Theater Hall of Fame inductee recounts the making of storied musical Sunday in the Park with  George , which he created with Stephen Sondheim. This illustrated book includes scintillating behind-the-scenes conversations with cast and crew. Anyone interested in how art is made will love Lapine’s tale of legends in collaboration.

    The Sweetness of Water, by Nathan Harris

    Newly freed in Old Ox, Georgia, two brothers, Prentiss and Landry, work on the homestead of George and Isabelle Walker—a couple mourning their son presumed lost to the Civil War—while also exploring the boundaries of their independence. A forbidden romance between Confederate soldiers underscores the tension between intimacy and duplicity in this singular debut, which also demonstrates how simple acts—of valor or violence—can ripple through time and space.

    The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles

    Towles’s picaresque tale is a paean to American mythology and the innocence of youth. In June 1954, four boys—Emmett, a Nebraska teenager just released from juvie; his little brother, Billy, a savant; Duchess, a streetwise hustler; and Woolly, heir to a Manhattan fortune—hit the road, staking out their dreams on opposite coasts but each drawn inevitably to New York. The author of A Gentleman i n Moscow has delivered a novel at once magical and melancholy.

    New York, My Village, by Uwem Akpan

    When Ekong Udousoro ventures from Nigeria to Manhattan to work as a book publishing fellow, he’s at first entranced and then gradually disillusioned by the patronizing, cultural superiority of his American colleagues. This satiric first novel, by the author of the memoir Say You’re One of Them , is both hilarious and spot-on.

    Infinite Country, by Patricia Engel

    Fifteen-year-old Talia escapes an all-girls correctional facility in the Colombian mountains on a mission to get back to Bogotá, where her father is waiting with her plane ticket to the U.S. It’s her one chance to unite with her mother and the siblings she has never met. Alternating between Talia’s journey and her parents’ struggles as undocumented immigrants separated by deportation, Engel’s astounding novel is an ode to family and heritage.

    Shop Bookshop 

    Crossroads, by Jonathan Franzen

    His strongest work since The  Corrections , Franzen’s sumptuous new novel maps the interior lives of the Hildebrandts, a suburban family mired in the quicksand of desire and deceit. It’s Christmas 1971, and a disingenuous pastor, his depressed wife, and their four children are torn between religious beliefs and roiling cultural change. Franzen embroiders his narrative with piercing social observation, an American Balzac.

    Bewilderment, by Richard Powers

    A grieving astrophysicist, his neuroatypical 9-year-old son, and the fern-fringed trails and waterfalls of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains: From these elements the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The  Overstory weaves a gorgeous, generous heartbreak of a novel that mourns our ailing planet, as well as our ailing souls.

    Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead

    The two-time Pulitzer winner tilts genre on its head with an immersive, witty tale about a heist run amok. As the 1960s commence, Ray Carney, a Harlem furniture dealer, gets sucked into a hotel robbery. Afterward he dodges dangers real and imagined, glomming onto an American Dream that shrugs off his aspirations.

    Hogarth The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, by Mariana Enriquez

    An emerging Argentine star goes for Gothic gold, gleefully poking the scars of friendships and attraction in this spine-tingling, luminous collection whose enthralling characters all dance across the spectral line between our world and the beyond.

    Mrs. March, by Virginia Feito

    Feito’s electrifying debut novel opens a scary window into a husband’s gaslighting and its effects on his increasingly unhinged wife, Mrs. March... or is the gaslighting just in her head? Our heroine is beginning to fear that the walls of the Marches’ sumptuous Manhattan apartment have ears. Elisabeth Moss is set to star in the film version.

    Intimacies, by Katie Kitamura

    In the aftermath of her father’s death, the narrator of Kitamura’s crystalline novel trades New York for The Hague, translating in the World Court for a West African dictator accused of ethnic cleansing while fumbling through a tortuous romance. Kitamura is drawn to seductions, sexual and otherwise, and her slim, graceful novel punches above its weight, reckoning with the ways we deceive each other and ourselves.

    These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett

    To read this collection is to be invited into that sacred space where a writer steps out from behind the page to say  Hello; let’s really get to know each other.  Stoic, kindhearted, fierce, funny, brainy, Patchett’s essays honor what matters most “in this precarious and precious life.”

    The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich

    The 2021 Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist for The Night Watchman returns with a beguiling ode to bibliophiles set in an unnamed bookstore in Minneapolis that very closely resembles BirchBark, the shop Erdrich owns in real life. Her quirky, captivating characters—ex-con Tookie chief among them—care deeply about each other and our troubled world, but perhaps their deepest passion is for...books.

    Major Labels, by Kelefa Sanneh

    From Beyoncé to Kurt Cobain to De La Soul, the stars align in this virtuosic survey of popular music’s seven pillars: rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance, and pop. Sanneh brings a contagious zeal for genres and cross-fertilizations to artists and records that are now playlists for an increasingly diverse America. “Over the past half-century, many musicians and listeners have belonged to tribes,” he writes. “What’s wrong with that?”

    On Juneteenth, by Annette Gordon-Reed

    A Harvard law professor and author of  The Hemingses of Monticello,  which won both the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, Gordon-Reed is the textbook definition of public intellectual; and yet she gets personal in this slender, evocative memoir, blending textures from her small-town Texas girlhood with the unofficial celebration of slavery’s demise and the broader canvas of race in America, as when she integrated her public school: “My great-great-aunt…the one who lived in Houston and was also quite extravagant—bought boxes and boxes of dresses, tights, blouses, skirts, and hats from the most upscale department store in the city at the time, Sakowitz… Making sure I was dressed to the nines was her contribution to the civil rights movement.”

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    Leigh Haber is Vice President, Books, Oprah Daily and O Quarterly. She is also Director of Oprah's Book Club. 

    Headshot of Hamilton Cain

    A former book editor and the author of a memoir, This Boy's Faith, Hamilton Cain is Contributing Books Editor at Oprah Daily. As a freelance journalist, he has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Men’s Health, The Good Men Project, and The List (Edinburgh, U.K.) and was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. He is currently a member of the National Book Critics Circle and lives with his family in Brooklyn.  

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    books and authors 2021

    Best of 2021: Our 15 Most Popular Books of the Year

    books and authors 2021

    While 2021 was another tough year, we found immense comfort in reading. That’s why we could never agree on the “best” books of the year—what an impossible task! Instead, allow us to present the 15 most popular books on Off the Shelf from the past year. We hope you enjoy discovering which reads resonated the most with your fellow booklovers!

    For more, check out Simon & Schuster’s roundup of the Best Books of the Year!

    The Last Thing He Told Me

    What would you do if, out of the blue, you learned that your new husband’s company was under federal investigation and he was nowhere to be found? It’s not a hypothetical question for Hannah Hall, whose idyllic life turns nightmarish in the space of a day in THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME. Guided only by a cryptic note from her husband that simply reads “Protect her,” Hannah assumes responsibility for her moody teenage stepdaughter, Bailey, and together the two of them try to figure out what on earth is going on. Because while they may not agree on much, they’re on the same page about one thing: Owen Michaels’s disappearance must be solved. Laura Dave’s discussion-worthy thriller was not only a perfect beach read, but it also made me wonder how I would react if I were in Hannah’s shoes. In fact, I’m still thinking about it . . .

    Read more of Staff Picks: The 10 Best Books We’ve Read This Year (So Far)

    Allow us to present the most popular thrillers on Off the Shelf from the past year! Find out which reads resonated the most with your fellow booklovers! ? ❤️ — Off The Shelf (@OffTheShelf) December 9, 2021

    books and authors 2021

    From internationally bestselling author Laura Dave comes a riveting new suspense novel about a woman’s search for the truth about her husband’s disappearance—no matter the cost.

    We all have stories we never tell.

    Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

    As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

    Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.

    With its breakneck pacing, dazzling plot twists, and unforgettable characters, The Last Thing He Told Me is bestselling author Laura Dave’s finest novel yet, certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn. This propulsive thriller with a heart is for fans of Liane Moriarty and Jojo Moyes.


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    Lightning Strike

    In the summer of 1963, change is coming to the small Minnesota town of Aurora, but 12-year-old Cork doesn’t know it yet. After stumbling on to the hanging body of a man he once admired, Cork’s belief in his family, hometown, and way of life is rocked. As he and his sheriff father, Liam, begin to investigate if the death was suicide or something more, Cork begins to see that the truth might not be so simple. LIGHTNING STRIKE is the emotionally resonant prequel to William Kent Krueger’s powerful Cork O’Connor series.

    Read more of 10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

    books and authors 2021

    The author of the instant New York Times bestseller This Tender Land returns with a powerful prequel to his acclaimed Cork O’Connor series—a book about fathers and sons, long-simmering conflicts in a small Minnesota town, and the events that echo through youth and shape our lives forever.

    Aurora is a small town nestled in the ancient forest alongside the shores of Minnesota’s Iron Lake. In the summer of 1963, it is the whole world to twelve-year-old Cork O’Connor, its rhythms as familiar as his own heartbeat. But when Cork stumbles upon the body of a man he revered hanging from a tree in an abandoned logging camp, it is the first in a series of events that will cause him to question everything he took for granted about his hometown, his family, and himself.

    Cork’s father, Liam O’Connor, is Aurora’s sheriff and it is his job to confirm that the man’s death was the result of suicide, as all the evidence suggests. In the shadow of his father’s official investigation, Cork begins to look for answers on his own. Together, father and son face the ultimate test of choosing between what their heads tell them is true and what their hearts know is right.

    In this masterful story of a young man and a town on the cusp of change, beloved novelist William Kent Krueger shows that some mysteries can be solved even as others surpass our understanding.

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    The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton

    I know I can’t be the only one who blew off their reading goal for 2020, but back in the early winter, when it was perfect weather to curl up with a book, I couldn’t think of anything less appealing. Focus on a story for longer than the length of a TikTok? No thanks. But when one of my colleagues with perfect editorial taste passed me THE MISSING TREASURES OF AMY ASHTON, I decided to read a chapter—just a chapter—to see how it felt after my monthlong reading drought. From the first few pages of THE MISSING TREASURES OF AMY ASHTON, I could tell I was reading something special. Amy Ashton’s house is littered, cluttered; she’s spent the past twenty years hoarding vases, ceramic birds, newspapers, and mugs. But as you uncover the story behind each object and learn to appreciate its beauty, your heart will open for Amy more and more. And as Amy gets to know her unjudgmental neighbor Richard and his sons, you’ll be reminded to be gentle and patient with yourself. THE MISSING TREASURES OF AMY ASHTON (publishing as EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL in the UK) will remind you what it’s like to fall into a story and back in love with reading.

    Read more of 6 Books That Made Us Fall Back in Love With Reading

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    books and authors 2021

    For fans of The Keeper of Lost Things and Evvie Drake Starts Over comes a funny and tender debut about a reclusive artist whose collection has gotten out of control—but whose unexpected friendship with a pair of new neighbors might be just what she needs to start over.

    Amy Ashton once dreamed of becoming an artist—of creating beautiful objects. But now she simply collects them. Aquamarine bottles, bright yellow crockery, deep Tuscan red pots (and the odd slow-cooker) take up every available inch of space in her house. Having suffered a terrible tragedy—one she staunchly refuses to let herself think about, thank you very much—she’s decided that it’s easier to love things than people. Things are safe. Things will never leave you.

    But when a new family moves in next door with two young boys, one of whom has a collection of his own, Amy’s carefully managed life starts to unravel, prompting her to question why she began to close herself off in the first place. As Amy embarks on a journey back into her past, she has to contend with nosy neighbors, a meddlesome government worker, the inept police, and a little boy whose love of bulldozers might just let Amy open up her heart—and her home—again.

    Quirky and charming, big-hearted and moving, The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton proves that it’s never too late to let go of the things that don’t matter...and welcome the people who do.

    8 Master-Class Mysteries Told from Multiple Perspectives

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    By Alice Martin | March 13, 2023

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    By Chris Gaudio | March 9, 2023

    Indie Booksellers Recommend: 17 Spring New Releases Hand-Picked for You

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    Yellow Wife

    Pheby Delores Brown is a survivor. Every step of the way while reading YELLOW WIFE you will be rooting for Pheby—a mixed slave who has lived a relatively sheltered life on a plantation in Virginia. She has been promised to be freed on her 18th birthday, in 1850, and is looking forward to her emancipation and to being able to marry her true love, Essex Henry. When her promise of freedom is stolen from her, Pheby is forced to leave the plantation and finds herself at an infamous slave prison called the Devil’s Half Acre, where she is slated to be sold to a new owner. There she attracts the eye of the sadistic Jailer, who wants Pheby for himself. She will have to figure out how to survive in this new environment, outwit the Jailer, and protect the ones she loves.

    Read more of 18 Meaningful Book Gifts That’ll Just Keep Giving

    books and authors 2021

    Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this “fully immersive” (Lisa Wingate, #1 bestselling author of Before We Were Yours ) story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

    Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

    She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

    14 Reflective Ways to Celebrate Black History Month

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    In Five Years

    During the past year, I found myself drawn to books that asked “what if,” probably as my own way of coping with and embracing the absurdity of reality. The one I was most intrigued by, IN FIVE YEARS, asks: What if you woke up five years in the future to find that you’re in bed next to a man who is definitely not your fiancé? That’s what happens to NYC lawyer Dannie Kohan. When she returns to her present day and ends up crossing paths with that same man, she tries to avoid him, but fate—or something like it—keeps pulling them together. Echoing the craziness of pandemic life, this book takes some sharp turns into unexpected territories that’ll remind you to cherish the simple moments in life. It gave me a much-need cathartic cry right when I needed it.

    Read more of Books as Lifeboats: 6 Novels That Carried Us through the Last Year

    books and authors 2021

    An Atria Book. Atria Books has a great book for every reader.

    The Paris Library

    THE PARIS LIBRARY is based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during the dangerous times of World War II. Alternating between Paris 1939 and Montana 1983, this novel weaves its story through two libraries. Odile in Paris makes the brave decision to join the Resistance after the Nazis invade her city. But once freedom comes, she is faced with unbelievable betrayal. Flash-forward to Lily in Montana, whose interest is piqued by her elderly neighbor. As she uncovers mysteries about her neighbor’s past, she slowly comes to realize that one dark secret connects them both.

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    books and authors 2021

    Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife .

    Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

    Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

    A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors— The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

    In a Book Club Far Away

    I devoured Tif Marcelo’s THE KEY TO HAPPILY EVER AFTER—a charming rom-com with a lot of heart. I was thrilled to find out she had more books on the horizon. And I was even more excited when I found out the plot of her newest novel, IN A BOOK CLUB FAR AWAY. Three women—Regina, Sophie, and Adelaide—became inseparable during their book club days but they are wrenched apart after a betrayal destroys their friend group. Years later, they are pulled back together when Adelaide needs help and has no one else to turn to. Throughout the novel, they rediscover one another and the books that brought them together the first time. I love any good story that looks to explore female friendships and the power that they hold in our lives, and this new novel from Tif Marcelo is a perfect fit.

    Read more of 8 Books About Books for Booklovers

    books and authors 2021

    From the author of Once Upon a Sunset and The Key to Happily Ever After comes a heartwarming and moving novel following three Army wives—estranged friends—who must overcome their differences when one of them is desperate for help.

    Regina Castro, Adelaide Wilson-Chang, and Sophie Walden used to be best friends. As Army wives at Fort East, they bonded during their book club and soon became inseparable. But when an unimaginable betrayal happened amongst the group, the friendship abruptly ended, and they haven’t spoken since.

    That’s why, eight years later, Regina and Sophie are shocked when they get a call for help from Adelaide. Adelaide’s husband is stationed abroad, and without any friends or family near her new home of Alexandria, Virginia, she has no one to help take care of her young daughter when she has to undergo emergency surgery. For the sake of an innocent child, Regina and Sophie reluctantly put their differences aside to help an old friend.

    As the three women reunite, they must overcome past hurts and see if there’s any future for their friendship. Featuring Tif Marcelo’s signature “enchanting prose” (Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake ) and the books that brought them together in the first place, In a Book Club Far Away honors the immense power of female friendship and how love can defy time, distance, and all old wounds.

    The Night She Disappeared

    Thrill master Lisa Jewell is never one to disappoint, with her multitude of characters and heart-stopping twists. Her latest novel, THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED, only serves to further cement that reputation. What thrills and terrors could await in an idyllic English cottage? Newly-moved-in writer Sophie certainly isn’t expecting a dark mystery in her own backyard. But when she finds a note on a tree that reads “Dig here,” she gets sucked into the dark intrigue of what happened to a young couple, and what happened to them on these haunted grounds. The twists don’t stop coming until the very end, leaving your heart in tatters.

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    “I love all Lisa’s books, but The Night She Disappeared is her best thriller yet.” —Harlan Coben, New York Times bestselling author of Win

    From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and The Family Upstairs comes another riveting work of “gloriously twisted” ( Marie Claire ) psychological suspense about a web of people whose lives are forever changed in the wake of a young couple’s disappearance.

    On a beautiful summer night in a charming English suburb, a young woman and her boyfriend disappear after partying at the massive country estate of a new college friend.

    One year later, a writer moves into a cottage on the edge of the woods that border the same estate. Known locally as the Dark Place, the dense forest is the writer’s favorite area for long walks and it’s on one such walk that she stumbles upon a mysterious note that simply reads, “DIG HERE.”

    Could this be a clue towards what has happened to the missing young couple? And what exactly is buried in this haunted ground?

    With her signature “rich, dark, and intricately twisted” (Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Lisa Jewell has crafted a dazzling work of suspense that will keep on the edge of your seat until the final page.

    17 Bookish Holiday Gift Ideas to Delight Your Loved Ones

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    When I first read the manuscript of Carol Edgarian's VERA, set in San Francisco around the 1906 earthquake, I knew it was a gorgeous piece of literary historical fiction. But I couldn't have predicted how resonant and relevant this thoughtful, lively account of a world recovering from disaster would feel at the time of our publication. The girl at the center of this novel discovers an unexpected strength and resilience, and readers will root for her and her new family of survivors.

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    books and authors 2021

    New York Times bestselling author Carol Edgarian delivers an astonishing feat of imagination, a grand adventure set in 1906 San Francisco—a city leveled by quake and fire—featuring an indomitable heroine coming of age in the aftermath of catastrophe and her quest for love and reinvention.

    Meet Vera Johnson, the uncommonly resourceful fifteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello and ally to the city’s corrupt politicians. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam’s alluring sphere, replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the violent, debt ridden domestic life of the family paid to raise her.

    On the morning of the great quake, Vera’s worlds collide. As the shattered city burns and looters vie with the injured, orphaned, and starving, Vera and her guileless sister, Pie, are cast adrift. Vera disregards societal norms and prejudices and begins to imagine a new kind of life. She collaborates with Tan, her former rival, and forges an unlikely family of survivors. Together they navigate their way beyond disaster.

    In Vera , Carol Edgarian creates a cinematic, deeply entertaining world, in which honor and fates are tested; notions of sex, class, and justice are turned upside down; and love is hard-won. A ravishing, heartbreaking, and profound affirmation of youth and tenacity, Vera’s story brings to life legendary characters—tenor Enrico Caruso, indicted mayor Eugene Schmitz and boss Abe Ruef, tabloid celebrity Alma Spreckels—as well as an unforgettable cast that includes Vera’s young lover, Bobby, protector of the city’s tribe of orphans, and three generations of a Chinese family competing and conspiring with Vera.

    This richly imagined, timely tale of improbable outcomes and alliances takes hold from the first page, gifting readers with remarkable scenes of devastation, renewal, and joy. Told with unflinching candor and wit, Vera celebrates the audacious fortitude of its young heroine and marks a stunning achievement by an inventive and generous writer.

    Cloud Cuckoo Land

    What do fifteenth century Constantinople, modern-day Idaho, and an interstellar starship have in common? These are the settings for Anthony Doerr’s latest book, CLOUD CUCKOO LAND. The book follows three separate stories that are all connected by the characters reading the tale of Aethon, a man who longs for paradise so much that he wishes he could turn into a bird to fly there. Ironic, given that all the characters are trapped in dangerous situations they would love to fly away from. Each story connects the lives of these protagonists separated by time, telling a profound tale of hope, humanity, and the strength to continue in the face of uncertainty.

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    books and authors 2021

    From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of All the Light We Cannot See , perhaps the most bestselling and beloved literary fiction of our time, comes a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring novel about children on the cusp of adulthood in a broken world, who find resilience, hope, and story.

    The heroes of Cloud Cuckoo Land are trying to figure out the world around them: Anna and Omeir, on opposite sides of the formidable city walls during the 1453 siege of Constantinople; teenage idealist Seymour in an attack on a public library in present day Idaho; and Konstance, on an interstellar ship bound for an exoplanet, decades from now. Like Marie-Laure and Werner in All the Light We Cannot See , Anna, Omeir, Seymour, and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of peril.

    An ancient text—the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky—provides solace and mystery to these unforgettable characters. Doerr has created a tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness—with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us and those who will be here after we’re gone.

    Dedicated to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come,” Cloud Cuckoo Land is a hauntingly beautiful and redemptive novel about stewardship—of the book, of the Earth, of the human heart.

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    The Lost Queen

    Whenever I think about historical fantasy, my mind immediately goes to THE LOST QUEEN. If you enjoy the enduring legends of Merlin and great wizards, then this book is worth a read as Signe Pike’s extensive historical research brings those stories to life. In ancient Scotland, Languoreth and her brother were raised on the old ways of superstition and magic. But the Anglo-Saxons, who are bent on colonization and the spread of Christianity, bring bloodshed to their doors. Languoreth and her brother join forces with the druid Myrddin, the inspiration for Merlin. But Langoureth has been promised to marry the High King’s son, Rhydderch. She must learn to adapt and preserve the ways of her people.

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    7 Mythic Novels Best Read by the Campfire

    By Maddie Nelson | October 28, 2022

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    The Forest of Vanishing Stars

    For a unique and harrowing take on a survivalist story, check out Kristin Harmel’s latest WWII historical fiction, THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS. As a child, Yona was kidnapped from her German parents, and was taught by her kidnapper to survive in the Polish forests. But when her kidnapper dies in 1941, Yona must fend for herself. She hunts, forages, finds shelter, and grows used to living in isolation, but when she discovers Jewish refugees hiding from the Nazis, she opens up her heart (at great risk to herself) and teaches them all she knows. Along the way she discovers some things herself about trust, friendship, and her own past. This is one heartbreaking narrative based on true stories and impeccable historical research.

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    books and authors 2021

    The New York Times bestselling author of the “heart-stopping tale of survival and heroism” ( P eople ) The Book of Lost Names returns with an evocative coming-of-age World War II story about a young woman who uses her knowledge of the wilderness to help Jewish refugees escape the Nazis—until a secret from her past threatens everything.

    After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what’s happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.

    Inspired by incredible true stories of survival against staggering odds, and suffused with the journey-from-the-wilderness elements that made Where the Crawdads Sing a worldwide phenomenon, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a heart-wrenching and suspenseful novel from the #1 internationally bestselling author whose writing has been hailed as “sweeping and magnificent” (Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author), “immersive and evocative” ( Publishers Weekly ), and “gripping” ( Tampa Bay Times ).

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    The Other Black Girl

    “ Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada . . . ” and that’s about right for this debut by Zakiya Dalila Harris, THE OTHER BLACK GIRL. Nella is the only Black employee at a very tony publishing house, until Hazel arrives, and what should be a positive step turns Nella's world upside down. Downright chilling.

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    books and authors 2021

    “Riveting, fearless, and vividly original. This is an exciting debut.” —Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Hotel

    G et Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

    Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

    Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

    It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

    A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

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    Dear Mrs. Bird

    Taking place in London in 1940, we meet Emmeline Lake as she begins working for Woman’s Friend magazine as a typist for the well-known advice columnist Henrietta Bird. Emmy soon learns that Mrs. Bird will not answer any letters that are unpleasant in her eyes. To Emmy, though, these are the letters that are the important ones, the ones calling out to be answered. Pretending to be Mrs. Bird, Emmy begins to answer the letters one by one. This endearing story is one of my favorites

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    The Last Garden in England

    Five women. Three time periods. One amazing book. In THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND, Julia Kelly tells the story of how the lives of five women are irrevocably changed over the course of a century because of one garden. Spanning 1907 to the present, the sweeping novel shows the life-changing impact of one special place in England. If you want to make the reading experience extra delightful, make sure to grab a chair or blanket and find a garden to relax in.

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    From the author of the international bestsellers The Light Over London and The Whispers of War comes “a compelling read, filled with lovable characters and an alluring twist of fates” (Ellen Keith, author of The Dutch Wife ) about five women living across three different times whose lives are all connected by one very special garden.

    Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.

    1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.

    1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.

    “Gorgeously written and rooted in meticulous period detail, this novel is vibrant as it is stirring. Fans of historical fiction will fall in love with The Last Garden in England ” (Roxanne Veletzos, author of The Girl They Left Behind ).

    Photo credit: iStock / artisteer

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    How Beautiful We Were

    By imbolo mbue.

    books and authors 2021

    Following her 2016 debut, “ Behold the Dreamers ,” Mbue’s sweeping and quietly devastating second novel begins in 1980 in the fictional African village of Kosawa, where representatives from an American oil company have come to meet with the locals, whose children are dying because of the environmental havoc (fallow fields, poisoned water) wreaked by its drilling and pipelines. This decades-spanning fable of power and corruption turns out to be something much less clear-cut than the familiar David-and-Goliath tale of a sociopathic corporation and the lives it steamrolls. Through the eyes of Kosawa’s citizens young and old, Mbue constructs a nuanced exploration of self-interest, of what it means to want in the age of capitalism and colonialism — these machines of malicious, insatiable wanting.

    Random House. $28. | Read our review | Read our profile of Mbue | Listen to Mbue on the podcast

    By Katie Kitamura

    In Kitamura’s fourth novel, an unnamed court translator in The Hague is tasked with intimately vanishing into the voices and stories of war criminals whom she alone can communicate with; falling meanwhile into a tumultuous entanglement with a man whose marriage may or may not be over for good. Kitamura’s sleek and spare prose elegantly breaks grammatical convention, mirroring the book’s concern with the bleeding lines between intimacies — especially between the sincere and the coercive. Like her previous novel, “A Separation,” “Intimacies” scrutinizes the knowability of those around us, not as an end in itself but as a lens on grand social issues from gentrification to colonialism to feminism. The path a life cuts through the world, this book seems to say, has its greatest significance in the effect it has on others.

    Riverhead Books. $26. | Read our review | Read our profile of Kitamura

    The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

    By honorée fanonne jeffers.

    “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois,” the first novel by Jeffers, a celebrated poet, is many things at once: a moving coming-of-age saga, an examination of race and an excavation of American history. It cuts back and forth between the tale of Ailey Pearl Garfield, a Black girl growing up at the end of the 20th century, and the “songs” of her ancestors, Native Americans and enslaved African Americans who lived through the formation of the United States. As their stories converge, “Love Songs” creates an unforgettable portrait of Black life that reveals how the past still reverberates today.

    Harper/HarperCollins. $28.99. | Read our review | Listen to Jeffers on the podcast

    No One Is Talking About This

    By patricia lockwood.

    Lockwood first found acclaim as a poet on the internet, with gloriously inventive and ribald verse — sexts elevated to virtuosity. In “ Priestdaddy ,” her indelible 2017 memoir about growing up in rectories across the Midwest presided over by her gun-loving, guitar-playing father, a Catholic priest, she called tweeting “an art form, like sculpture, or honking the national anthem under your armpit.” Here, in her first novel, she distills the pleasures and deprivations of life split between online and flesh-and-blood interactions, transfiguring the dissonance into art. The result is a book that reads like a prose poem, at once sublime, profane, intimate, philosophical, hilarious and, eventually, deeply moving.

    Riverhead Books. $25. | Read our review | Read our profile of Lockwood

    When We Cease to Understand the World

    By benjamín labatut. translated by adrian nathan west..

    Labatut expertly stitches together the stories of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers to explore both the ecstasy and agony of scientific breakthroughs: their immense gains for society as well as their steep human costs. His journey to the outermost edges of knowledge — guided by the mathematician Alexander Grothendieck , the physicist Werner Heisenberg and the chemist Fritz Haber , among others — offers glimpses of a universe with limitless potential underlying the observable world, a “dark nucleus at the heart of things” that some of its witnesses decide is better left alone. This extraordinary hybrid of fiction and nonfiction also provokes the frisson of an extended true-or-false test: The further we read, the blurrier the line gets between fact and fabulism.

    New York Review Books. Paper, $17.95. | Read our review

    The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood; Youth; Dependency

    By tove ditlevsen. translated by tiina nunnally and michael favala goldman..

    Ditlevsen’s gorgeous memoirs, first published in Denmark in the 1960s and ’70s and collected here in a single volume, detail her hardscrabble upbringing, career path and merciless addictions: a powerful account of the struggle to reconcile art and life. She joined the working ranks at 14, became a renowned poet by her early 20s, and found herself, after two failed marriages, wedded to a psychopathic doctor and hopelessly dependent on opioids by her 30s. Yet for all the dramatic twists of her life, these books together project a stunning clarity, humor and candidness, casting light not just on the world’s harsh realities but on the inexplicable impulses of our secret selves.

    Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $30. | Read our review

    How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America

    By clint smith.

    For this timely and thought-provoking book, Smith, a poet and journalist, toured sites key to the history of slavery and its present-day legacy, including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello; Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary; and a Confederate cemetery. Interspersing interviews with the tourists, guides, activists and local historians he meets along the way with close readings of scholarship and poignant personal reflection, Smith holds up a mirror to America’s fraught relationship with its past, capturing a potent mixture of good intentions, earnest corrective, willful ignorance and blatant distortion.

    Little, Brown & Company. $29. | Read our review | Listen to Smith on the podcast

    Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City

    By andrea elliott.

    To expand on her acclaimed 2013 series for The Times about Dasani Coates, a homeless New York schoolgirl, and her family, Elliott spent years following her subjects in their daily lives, through shelters, schools, courtrooms and welfare offices. The book she has produced — intimately reported, elegantly written and suffused with the fierce love and savvy observations of Dasani and her mother — is a searing account of one family’s struggle with poverty, homelessness and addiction in a city and country that have failed to address these issues with efficacy or compassion.

    Random House. $30. | Read our review | Listen to Elliott on the podcast

    On Juneteenth

    By annette gordon-reed.

    This book weaves together history and memoir into a short volume that is insightful, touching and courageous. Exploring the racial and social complexities of Texas, her home state, Gordon-Reed asks readers to step back from the current heated debates and take a more nuanced look at history and the surprises it can offer. Such a perspective comes easy to her because she was a part of history — the first Black child to integrate her East Texas school. On several occasions, she found herself shunned by whites and Blacks alike, learning at an early age that breaking the color line can be threatening to both races.

    Liveright Publishing. $15.95. | Read our review | Listen to Gordon-Reed on the podcast

    Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

    By heather clark.

    It’s daring to undertake a new biography of Plath, whose life, and death by suicide at 30 in 1963, have been thoroughly picked over by scholars. Yet this meticulously researched and, at more than 1,000 pages, unexpectedly riveting portrait is a monumental achievement. Determined to rescue the poet from posthumous caricature as a doomed madwoman and “reposition her as one of the most important American writers of the 20th century,” Clark, a professor of poetry in England, delivers a transporting account of a rare literary talent and the familial and intellectual milieu that both thwarted and encouraged her, enlivened throughout by quotations from Plath’s letters, diaries, poetry and prose.

    Alfred A. Knopf. $40. | Read our review

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