The 21 Most Anticipated Books of 2021

13 minute read

Reasons to be excited about 2021 abound, and among them is a literary landscape packed with promise. Some of the most celebrated names in the industry will be releasing new work, from Jhumpa Lahiri and Kazuo Ishiguro to Haruki Murakami and Viet Thanh Nguyen. The new year also features a slate of new and rising voices like Morgan Jerkins, Ashley C. Ford and Zakiya Dalila Harris. These most anticipated fiction and nonfiction books of the year offer something for every reader: there is Bill Gates’ guide to achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions, George Saunders’ lessons on writing and Stacey Abrams’ gripping legal thriller. Here, the 21 most anticipated books of 2021.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, George Saunders (Jan. 12)

The Booker Prize-winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo invites us to consider what makes fiction work and why, through his dissection of Russian short stories. In seven essays, George Saunders examines works by Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy and Nikolai Gogol to underline the power of successful narrative writing. A master of the short story form himself, Saunders’ writing advice is wide-ranging and captured in witty and accessible prose.

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Let Me Tell You What I Mean, Joan Didion (Jan. 26)

The 12 essays that comprise Joan Didion’s Let Me Tell You What I Mean are primarily from the beginning of her celebrated writing career. Though many of the pieces were previously published in magazines, they have never appeared in a collection together, and they provide a new view into the essayist’s mind at work. Didion ruminates on her most familiar subjects—politics, California and writing itself—in a voice that is refreshing, critical and ahead of its time.

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Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (Feb. 2)

An anthology of enormous scope, Four Hundred Souls traces 400 years of African American history, beginning in 1619. Historians Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain assembled a team of 90 writers—each tackling a different five-year period—to create a comprehensive telling of this history from a multitude of perspectives. The result is an impressive and illuminating collection that rejects Blackness in America as a singular experience and instead illustrates the range of Black experiences and voices.

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How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, Bill Gates (Feb. 16)

For the last 10 years, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has studied the impacts of climate change. In his new book, he outlines how and why the world needs to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions in order to change the course of the planet’s disastrous future. Not only does Gates lay out his argument for zero emissions in persuasive terms, but he also describes a tangible course of action for how to get there.

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Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro (March 2)

In his first novel since winning the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro introduces readers to a technologically advanced future filled with dystopian elements. The story is centered around an “Artificial Friend” named Klara who makes observations about the world from her spot inside a store, where she hopes she’ll soon be chosen by a prospective owner. Like his previous groundbreaking fiction, Ishiguro’s latest tackles major questions about love and humanity through a unique and perceptive lens.

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The Committed, Viet Thanh Nguyen (March 2)

Following the spy from Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2015 novel The Sympathizer, The Committed takes the reader on a crime-filled intellectual journey. After ending his career as a Communist spy, the unnamed protagonist has made his way to Paris, where his zest for life is reinvigorated, even as he runs from his past. He and his brother turn to drug dealing, and soon find themselves in deeper trouble than they anticipated. As he works his way into an intriguing circle of intellectuals and politicians, the former spy finds himself motivated not only by capitalism but also by French philosophers like Sartre and de Beauvoir.

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How Beautiful We Were, Imbolo Mbue (March 9)

In the fictional African village of Kosawa, the unwelcomed presence of an American oil company in the 1980s has unforeseen and irreparable consequences. Imbolo Mbue charts the damage in her new novel, which explores the intersection of greed and colonialism, and the young woman who finds herself in the middle of it all. Wider in scope than her bestselling debut Behold the Dreamers, Mbue’s new work promises to be just as moving.

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Caul Baby, Morgan Jerkins (April 6)

After suffering multiple failed pregnancies, Laila turns to the Melancon family, known for their special protective abilities, to no avail. Her baby is stillborn—but her niece Amara soon delivers a child with a striking commonality with the Melancons, and the powerful family raises the girl as their own. As she grows up, she begins to wonder if she is being raised by her true mother, deepening Morgan Jerkins’ debut novel that blends family drama with magic.

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First Person Singular: Stories, Haruki Murakami (April 6)

In this long-awaited collection of eight first-person short stories, novelist Haruki Murakami writes of baseball, jazz, childhood memories, young love and more. Translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel, First Person Singular is filled with Murakami’s classic use of magical realism. In “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova,” the ghost of Charlie Parker comes to life, and in “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,” a monkey makes deep conversation with a traveler. Murakami blurs the lines between memoir and fiction throughout the collection, leaving the reader to decide whether the narrator is a made-up character or Murakami himself.

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Whereabouts, Jhumpa Lahiri (April 27)

It’s been nearly a decade since the arrival of Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s last novel The Lowland, a sweeping portrait of two brothers from Calcutta who lead very different lives. Her new novel has a tighter focus: Whereabouts follows a woman as she navigates the complexities of work, love and life. A day at the sea forces her to change the way she views them all. Lahiri’s novel, her first to be written in Italian and translated into English, asks what it means to be transformed.

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While Justice Sleeps, Stacey Abrams (May 11)

Apart from serving in the Georgia House of Representatives for 11 years, becoming the first Black woman nominated to run for governor by a major party in any state and playing a major role in flipping her state in the 2020 election, Stacey Abrams has also somehow managed to nurture a side career as a novelist. She has published eight romance novels under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, and now with While Justice Sleeps, Abrams tells the story of astute young law clerk Avery Keene. Juggling a demanding career alongside family troubles, Keene’s life is shaken when the celebrated justice she works for goes into a coma. She becomes his power of attorney and legal guardian, and as the title suggests, discovers what exactly happens while justice sleeps. As Keene steps into her boss’s shoes, she finds herself in the middle of a controversial merger, a political conspiracy and more, working with the clues he left behind.

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Somebody’s Daughter, Ashley C. Ford (June 1)

Ashley C. Ford, the co-host of HBO’s Lovecraft Country Radio podcast (and a TIME 100 Talks correspondent), had few memories of her father growing up. But that didn’t stop her from idolizing him and dreaming about their connection. In her debut memoir Somebody’s Daughter, Ford retraces her childhood to tell the story of her father’s imprisonment—for a reason she is not told for years. Layering in the complexities of her relationship with her mother, her changing body and a boyfriend who grows abusive, Ford offers a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story.

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The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris (June 1)

Nella Rogers is the only Black employee at Wagner Books, where she works as an editorial assistant. So she’s ecstatic when Wagner finally hires another Black assistant, Hazel, and the two begin working together. Though they initially bond over natural hair care regimens and share frustrations about working in an overwhelmingly white industry, Hazel begins rising in the ranks at Wagner and Nella is left behind. And then there are the notes. Nella finds the first on her desk, which reads: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. The novel takes off from there and is filled with twists both unsettling and unexpected—and it’s such a timely read that Zakiya Dalila Harris, a former assistant editor at Knopf, sold the novel in a seven-figure deal after an intense bidding war.

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One Last Stop, Casey McQuiston (June 1)

In her follow up to her charming debut Red, White & Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston spins a new kind of love story. Another romantic comedy about queer characters, One Last Stop focuses on a pessimisstic 23-year-old who just moved to New York City and falls hard for a woman she spots on her subway commute. The only issue is that it turns out the woman is lost in time from the 1970s. McQuiston sets in motion a dazzling romance, filled with plenty of humor and heart.

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How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, Clint Smith (June 1)

Clint Smith, author of the poetry collection Counting Descent, makes his nonfiction debut with How the Word Is Passed. Starting in Smith’s hometown of New Orleans, the author asks us to take a closer look at the ways in which the legacy of slavery has impacted everyday life today. Smith brings readers to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation, Louisiana’s Angola prison, Blandford Cemetery in Virginia and more, as he explores the tortured histories each of these places holds. In reexamining neighborhoods, holidays and quotidian sites, Smith forces us to reconsider what we think we know about American history.

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The President’s Daughter, Bill Clinton and James Patterson (June 7)

In 2018, former President Bill Clinton and mega-author James Patterson teamed up to write The President Is Missing. Now, the duo is back with a second presidential thriller, The President’s Daughter, which follows Matthew Keating, a former president and Navy SEAL who now lives in New Hampshire. Keating wants to disappear quietly out of the spotlight and into rural life, but when his daughter is kidnapped, he must put all his training and connections to use. Patterson’s storytelling skills combined with Clinton’s deep knowledge of the government make for a page-turning synergy.

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Filthy Animals: Stories, Brandon Taylor (June 22)

In his debut novel Real Life, a finalist for the 2020 Booker Prize, Brandon Taylor told the wrenching story of a Black and queer graduate student reevaluating his relationships over a long weekend at his midwestern university. Now, he presents a collection of linked short stories, again centered on young adults in the American midwest. Though the narratives range in subject matter—one follows a girl and her babysitter, another looks at the intricacies of an open relationship—they all explore themes of intimacy, desire and love.

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The Nature of Middle-Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien (June 24)

Edited by Carl Hostetter, a leading J.R.R. Tolkien expert and specialist in Tolkien’s constructed languages, The Nature of Middle-Earth is a collection of previously unpublished essays written by the high fantasy master. Elvish reincarnation, the geographic wonder of the kingdom of Gondor and which characters had beards (a subject long debated in the fandom) are all explored in this unofficial addition to the History of Middle-earth series. The collection reveals new information about Tolkein’s fantasy world, while also answering age-old questions.

The Turnout, Megan Abbott (July 6)

The Durant sisters, Dara and Marie, have been dancers for as long as they can remember. Their mother, who trained and homeschooled them both, was also the founder of the Durant School of Dance. After she died in a tragic accident years ago, the sisters took over the school with Dara’s husband Charlie, a beloved former student of their mother’s. Marie handles the younger dancers, Dara trains the older ones, and Charlie runs the office. But their workflow is interrupted when an accident occurs right at the start of the studio’s annual performance of The Nutcracker, and the presence of an outsider threatens everything they’ve worked for. In The Turnout, Edgar Award-winning author Megan Abbott weaves a thrilling tale of family drama, power and femininity.

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Matrix, Lauren Groff (Sept. 7)

Two-time National Book Award finalist Lauren Groff returns with her first novel since her 2015 bestseller Fates and Furies. Set in the 12th century, Matrix follows 17-year-old Marie de France, who has just been banished from the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine. Instead of being married off, she’s sent to a poverty-stricken abbey in England, where she becomes the prioress. Forced to adjust to a completely different life, Marie is fixated on paving a new path for the women she is now charged with protecting in a world that keeps changing.

Harlem Shuffle, Colson Whitehead (Sept. 14)

In his last novel, The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead followed two boys at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. The book earned the author his second Pulitzer Prize, and joined a backlist of work that shows off his range, which has also yielded a zombie apocalypse novel and a poker memoir. His upcoming novel again demonstrates that versatility: set in 1960s Harlem, Harlem Shuffle centers on Ray Carney, a furniture salesman who gets caught up in a heist gone wrong. What ensues is both family drama and crime saga as Carney finds himself leading a double life.

Buy Now: Harlem Shuffle on Amazon

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