The best books of 2021

Fifteenth century Constantinople, the American Great Plains, Hollywood, 1960s Harlem, and war-torn Sri Lanka. A transgender woman, a couple on a train, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and a Korean American indie rockstar. These are just a few of the places and people we meet in the best books of 2021.

Thirty titles - 20 fiction and 10 nonfiction - made the list, but the culling was not easy. Our top picks for the best books of the year include Pulitzer Prize winners (Anthony Doerr, Colson Whitehead, Richard Powers, Annette Gordon-Reed), a Nobel Prize winner (Kazuo Ishiguro), New York Times bestsellers, and winners and finalists of the year's big book awards including the Booker Prize, the National Book Award for Fiction and Nonfiction, and the Women's Prize for Fiction.

Of course, there are also a few personal favorites from the AbeBooks editors - I couldn't put down Abigail Dean's debut Girl A and highly recommend Ishiguro's futuristic Klara and the Sun, while Julie marks Michelle Zauner's memoir Crying in H Mart as her top title.

The best fiction books of 2021

By Anthony Doerr
Set in Constantinople in the 15th century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Pulitzer Prize-winner Anthony Doerr’s third novel is a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope - and a book. Cloud Cuckoo Land is a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award, longlisted for the 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal, and a New York Times bestseller.
By Damon Galgut
Winner of the 2021 Booker Prize. Haunted by an unmet promise, the Swart family loses touch after the death of their matriarch. Adrift, the lives of the three siblings move separately through the uncharted waters of South Africa. From author Daman Galgut, The Promise is an epic drama that unfurls against the unrelenting march of national history.
By Jason Mott
Winner of the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book follows a Black author on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel, and a young Black boy named Soot living in a rural town in the recent past. Hell of a Book goes to the heart of racism, police violence, and the hidden costs exacted upon Black Americans, and America as a whole.
By Lauren Groff
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, 17-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. Lauren Groff's first novel since Fates and Furies is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world. Matrix is a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award.
By Laird Hunt
From award-winning author Laird Hunt comes a poignant novel about a woman, Zorrie, searching for her place in the world and finding it in the daily rhythms of life in rural Indiana. Set against a harsh, gorgeous, quintessentially American landscape, this is a deeply empathetic and poetic novel that belongs on a shelf with the classics of Willa Cather, Marilynne Robinson, and Elizabeth Strout.
By Maggie Shipstead
A New York Times bestseller and 2021 Booker Prize finalist, Maggie Shipstead's The Great Circle is the unforgettable tale of daredevil aviator Marian Graves and the Hollywood actress cast to play Marian on film a century later.
By Kazuo Ishiguro
From Nobel Prize for Literature-winner Kazuo Ishiguro comes a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities. Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, Klara and the Sun explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?
By Patricia Lockwood
A finalist for the 2021 Booker Prize and the Women's Prize for Fiction, No One is Talking About This is about a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts, and what happens when real life and the digital portal collide. Patricia Lockwood is a poet and essayist, known for her memoir Priestdaddy. No One is Talking About This is Lockwood's first novel.
By Robert Jones Jr.
A New York Times bestseller and finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction, The Prophets is a singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.
By Anuk Arudpragasam
A young man journeys into Sri Lanka’s war-torn north in this searing novel of longing, loss, and the legacy of war from the author of The Story of a Brief Marriage. Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize.
By Richard Powers
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Powers, Bewilderment is the heartrending story of a father and son’s ferocious love. Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize and longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction, Bewilderment is a New York Times bestseller.
By Abigail Dean
What begins as a propulsive tale of escape and survival becomes a gripping psychological family story about the shifting alliances and betrayals of sibling relationships. For readers of Room and Sharp Objects, an absorbing and psychologically immersive debut novel about a young girl who escapes captivity - but not the secrets that shadow the rest of her life.
By Laurie Frankel
From Laurie Frankel, the New York Times bestselling author of This Is How It Always Is, comes One Two Three, a timely, topical novel about love and family, and how expanding our notions of normal makes the world a better place for everyone. Frankel will make you laugh and cry... and laugh again.
By Zakiya Dalila Harris
Urgent, propulsive, and sharp as a knife, The Other Black Girl is an electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing. 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.
By Torrey Peters
In this debut novel longlisted for the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction, the lives of three women - transgender and cisgender - collide after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to confront their deepest desires. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.
By Laura Dave
With its breakneck pacing, dizzying plot twists, and evocative family drama, The Last Thing He Told Me is a riveting mystery about a woman who thinks she’s found the love of her life - until he disappears. A New York Times bestseller, this novel is certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn.
By Helen Oyeyemi
The prize-winning, bestselling author of Boy, Snow, Bird returns with a vivid and inventive new novel about a couple forever changed by an unusual train voyage. Peaces is a spellbinding tale about what it means to be seen by another person - whether it’s your lover or a stranger on a train - and what happens when things you thought were firmly in the past turn out to be right beside you.
By Rachel Cusk
A haunting fable of art, family, and fate from the author of the Outlinetrilogy. A woman invites a famous artist to use her guesthouse in the remote coastal landscape where she lives with her family. Powerfully drawn to his paintings, she believes his vision might penetrate the mystery at the center of her life. But his provocative presence disrupts the calm of her secluded household.
By Colson Whitehead
From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s. Here is a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.
By Jonathan Franzen
From the award-winning author of Corrections and Freedom, comes a tour de force of interwoven perspectives and sustained suspense. Its action largely unfolding on a single winter day, Crossroads is the story of a Midwestern family at a pivotal moment of moral crisis. Franzen’s gift for melding the small picture and the big picture has never been more dazzlingly evident.

The best non-fiction books of 2021

By Tiya Miles
Winner of the 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction. A renowned historian traces the life of a single object handed down through three generations of Black women to craft an extraordinary testament to people who are left out of the archives. A poignant story of resilience and of love passed down through generations of women against steep odds.
By Michelle Zauner
From Michelle Zauner, the indie rockstar and author of the viral 2018 New Yorker essay that shares the title of this book, comes an unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity. Rich with intimate anecdotes that will resonate widely, and complete with family photos, Crying in H Mart is a book to cherish, share, and reread.
By Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha N. Blain (editors)
A chorus of extraordinary voices tells the epic story of the 400-year journey of African Americans from 1619 to the present - edited by Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, and Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire.
By Ashley C. Ford
One of the most prominent voices of her generation debuts with an extraordinarily powerful memoir: the story of a childhood defined by the looming absence of her incarcerated father. Somebody’s Daughter steps into the world of growing up a poor Black girl in Indiana with a family fragmented by incarceration, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be. Ashley embarks on a powerful journey to find the threads between who she is and what she was born into.
By Walter Isaacson
The bestselling author returns with the account of how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies. Doudna's story is one that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.
By Lucas Bessire
The Ogallala aquifer has nourished life on the American Great Plains for millennia. But less than a century of unsustainable irrigation farming has taxed much of the aquifer beyond repair. The imminent depletion of the Ogallala and other aquifers around the world is a defining planetary crisis of our times. Finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Running Out offers a uniquely personal account of aquifer depletion from anthropologist Lucas Bessire.
By Nicole Eustace
An immersive tale of the killing of a Native American man and its far-reaching implications for the definition of justice from early America to today. Leading historian Nicole Eustace reconstructs the crime and its aftermath, bringing us into the overlapping worlds of white colonists and Indigenous peoples in this formative period. Covered with Night is a 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction finalist.
By Lisa Genova
A fascinating exploration of the intricacies of how we remember, why we forget, and what we can do to protect our memories, from Harvard-trained neuroscientist and bestselling author of Still Alice Lisa Genova.
By David Sedaris
A hilarious collection of diary entries from bestselling writer David Sedaris. These diaries remind you that you once really hated George W. Bush, and that not too long ago, Donald Trump was just a harmless laughingstock, at least on French TV. Time marches on, and Sedaris, at his desk or on planes, in hotel dining rooms and odd Japanese inns, records it.
By Suleika Jaouad
A New York Times bestseller, Between Two Kingdoms is a searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman’s journey from diagnosis to remission to re-entry into “normal” life from the author of the Life, Interrupted column in The New York Times.


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