The 34 Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2021

22 minute read

Forget summer reading—fall is the season of literary bounty. The next few months bring with them a starry landscape full of returns from the buzziest names in the business as well as bold newcomers with hotly anticipated debuts. There’s a crime novel set in 1960s Harlem from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead, a posthumous novel from British master John le Carré, the very first book from acclaimed television creator Michaela Coel and the latest narrative of young people stumbling their way through romantic strife from superstar Sally Rooney. That’s all to say: there’s truly something for everyone in this jam-packed season. Here, the 34 most anticipated books to read this fall.

Misfits: A Personal Manifesto, Michaela Coel (Sept. 7)

Michaela Coel, creator and star of I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum, makes her literary debut with a slim manifesto written with the same perfect balance of sentiment, insight and wit that made viewers fall in love with her on the screen. Built on a speech Coel delivered at the 2018 Edinburgh International Television Festival, Misfits describes her experience of racism, prejudice and trauma, and her empowering transformation from a person trying to fit in to a person determined to make new space for herself. It’s an impassioned and rousing defense of staying true to yourself and supporting others to do the same.

Buy Now: Misfits on Bookshop | Amazon

Inseparable, Simone de Beauvoir (Sept. 7)

Thirty-five years after Simone de Beauvoir’s death, her never-before-published novel Inseparable is finally being released to the world. The iconic French philosopher (and author of the landmark feminist text The Second Sex) describes a profound and passionate friendship between Sylvie and Andrée, two tenacious young women who meet as children and strengthen their bond as they grow into adulthood in post–World War I France. It’s a vibrant exploration of female will and friendship in a world that is still, too often, intent on constraining both.

Buy Now: Inseparable on Bookshop | Amazon

Matrix, Lauren Groff (Sept. 7)

At the center of Lauren Groff’s new novel, her first since her 2015 hit Fates and Furies, is teenager Marie de France. It’s the 12th century and Marie’s just been sent to an abbey in England after being ousted from the French royal court. The fierce protagonist of Matrix is entering a bleak scene: disease is everywhere at the abbey, and the nuns barely have enough to eat. Marie is tasked with making life better for these women—a challenge that proves both thrilling and heartbreaking. Groff, a two-time National Book Award finalist, crafts an electric work of historical fiction charting Marie’s plight.

Buy Now: Matrix on Bookshop | Amazon

Poet Warrior, Joy Harjo (Sept. 7)

Three-time U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo—the first Native American to hold the title—delivers a follow-up to her 2012 memoir Crazy Brave with Poet Warrior, a lyrical study of her relationship to poetry and music. Alternating between poetry and prose, Harjo meditates on the stories and songs she grew up with, her artistic and ancestral influences and how poetry informs and reflects her connection to her community and home. The result is a memoir that is soulful and celebratory.

Buy Now: Poet Warrior on Bookshop | Amazon

On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint, Maggie Nelson (Sept. 7)

The latest book from poet and writer Maggie Nelson is a meditative and potent examination of freedom. Looking at freedom through the realms of art, sex, drugs and climate, the author of The Argonauts explores the contradictions, complexities and rhetoric that surround the term. Combining thoughtful cultural criticism with anecdotes from her personal life, Nelson delivers an intriguing work of nonfiction that seeks to challenge readers’ definition of freedom and rethink how the concept operates in our lives.

Buy Now: On Freedom on Bookshop | Amazon

Beautiful World, Where Are You, Sally Rooney (Sept. 7)

Sally Rooney exploded onto the literary scene in 2017 with her debut novel Conversations with Friends. Next came her similarly beloved follow-up Normal People, now an acclaimed Hulu series. Rooney’s latest, one of the most anticipated books of the year, is again concerned with Irish millennials navigating the turbulence of falling in and out of love and questioning the seemingly broken world that surrounds them. Tracing the lives of best friends Alice and Eileen, and the emails they write to stay connected to each other, Rooney unravels a sharp narrative about intimacy, religion and romance.

Buy Now: Beautiful World, Where Are You on Bookshop | Amazon

The Magician, Colm Tóibín (Sept. 7)

Colm Tóibín, the award-winning author of Brooklyn and The Master, returns with another sweeping historical novel, this time a fictionalized account of the life of Thomas Mann, the Nobel prize-winning author of Death in Venice. Extensively researched and lyrically wrought, The Magician follows Mann from his childhood in early 20th-century Germany—as a young boy grappling with desires he can’t reveal to his conservative family—through his marriage, the trip that inspires his groundbreaking novel, his discomfort with his new role as a public intellectual during World War II and his escape to the U.S. It’s a complex but empathetic portrayal of a writer in a lifelong battle against his innermost desires, his family and the tumultuous times they endure.

Buy Now: The Magician on Bookshop | Amazon

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement, Tarana Burke (Sept. 14)

In her debut memoir, Tarana Burke mines her past, from her coming-of-age as a Black girl in the Bronx to her rise in activism as the founder of the MeToo movement. In candid terms, Burke lays bare her relationship with trauma, exploring how her sexual assault impacted her sense of self, and how she went on to use that experience to empower others and create meaningful change. Bold and inspiring, Unbound is a searing look at leadership, activism and empathy.

Buy Now: Unbound on Bookshop | Amazon

Harlem Shuffle, Colson Whitehead (Sept. 14)

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead is known for narratives that vary greatly in subject matter. His body of work contains multitudes, from his debut about the aftermath of an elevator crash to a zombie apocalypse story to piercing retellings of violent periods in U.S. history. Whitehead’s latest showcases yet more of his range as a storyteller, as Harlem Shuffle follows a 1960s furniture salesman leading a double life of crime. What ensues is part heist novel and part family drama, all set against the backdrop of Harlem, which the author captures in rich, visceral prose.

Buy Now: Harlem Shuffle on Bookshop | Amazon

The Book of Form and Emptiness, Ruth Ozeki (Sept. 21)

Ruth Ozeki, the award-winning author of A Tale for the Time Being, weaves a heartfelt, magical tale in her latest, which centers on 13-year-old Benny and his mother Annabelle as they figure out how to live after the unexpected death of their father and husband. Deep in grief, Benny discovers he can suddenly hear the voices of the objects around him—and there are a lot of objects surrounding him, due to his mother’s hoarding. He develops a symbiotic relationship with the Book, the omniscient voice relating the story we’re reading. Ozeki, a practicing Buddhist priest, infuses her story with Zen philosophy, using themes of mindfulness and our connection to the living world to highlight pressing modern concerns like climate change, capitalism and the function of art. Inventive, vivid and propelled by a sense of wonder, The Book of Form and Emptiness will delight younger and older readers alike.

Buy Now: The Book of Form and Emptiness on Bookshop | Amazon

Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr (Sept. 28)

Sweeping and atmospheric, Cloud Cuckoo Land spans centuries and continents, following five protagonists linked by an ancient Greek manuscript about a shepherd who dreams of escaping into paradise. In 15th-century Constantinople, Anna and Omeir are on opposing sides in a violent siege when Anna first discovers the lost manuscript; in 2020 Idaho, 86-year-old vet Zeno clashes with teenage eco-terrorist Seymour against the backdrop of a suburban production of the Greek story as a play; and in the 22nd century, 14-year-old Constance is aboard a spaceship on its way to colonize a distant planet, secretly preserving the story, told to her by her father, on scraps of paper. These characters—like those in Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel All the Light We Cannot See—hold their ideals and convictions close, and through their resilience Doerr explores the universal power of hope in catastrophic times.

Buy Now: Cloud Cuckoo Land on Bookshop | Amazon

A Calling for Charlie Barnes, Joshua Ferris (Sept. 28)

It’s 2008, failed businessman Charlie Barnes has just found out he has pancreatic cancer, and his novelist son Jake has promised to tell his story. But the story we’re reading—full of multiple wives, divorces and children, larger-than-life inventions and doomed business endeavors—seems more mythical than real, and we’re left wondering how reliable this narrator is, and how much the answer really matters. Joshua Ferris makes the mundane extraordinary in this oddball but poignant story about what gives a life meaning.

Buy Now: A Calling for Charlie Barnes on Bookshop | Amazon

Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence, Anita Hill (Sept. 28)

Blending memoir with social and cultural analysis, Anita Hill dissects gender-based violence in the U.S. and outlines three decades of history to show how it is a systemic problem. Hill’s personal experience of testifying before Congress during the 1991 confirmation hearings for then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas is just one part of her comprehensive account. The legal scholar and advocate highlights how gender-based violence manifests and impacts people on a daily level, culminating in an urgent argument and call to leaders and lawmakers to make change.

Buy Now: Believing on Bookshop | Amazon

Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes: Essays, Phoebe Robinson (Sept. 28)

Though this is Phoebe Robinson’s third essay collection, it’s the very first for her new imprint, Tiny Reparations Books. The imprint, which Robinson announced last year, is committed to highlighting diverse voices in order to “reshape publishing by publishing books from a wide range of people.” Like her previous two books, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes illuminates the comedian’s thoughts on a variety of topics, from the Black Lives Matter movement to COVID-19 quarantine to the decision she made not to have children. Throughout, Robinson is brutally honest, and applies her humor in clever ways.

Buy Now: Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes on Bookshop | Amazon

Stones: Poems, Kevin Young (Sept. 28)

With his latest poetry collection, Kevin Young, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and poetry editor for the New Yorker, reminds us of the power of looking back. In Stones, Young mines his familial history and calls out moments of sorrow and joy, from musings on his grandmother Mama Annie to poems that consider the generations of people that have lived in the American South. The result is a blistering look at love, loss and everything in between.

Buy Now: Stones on Bookshop | Amazon

What Storm What Thunder, Myriam J.A. Chancy (Oct. 5)

Haitian-born author and Guggenheim fellow Myriam J.A. Chancy’s new novel takes on the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. Drawing from years spent talking to survivors, Chancy zooms in on the human toll—the earthquake is estimated to have killed 250,000 people—through evocative and unforgettable portraits of 10 interconnected characters whose lives are caught in the wreckage. There’s a wealthy water executive and his NGO architect daughter; a teen girl stuck and abused in a displacement camp and her brother, a cab driver in Boston, wracked with guilt; a drug trafficker reckoning with his decisions; a sex worker saved by a split second; and more. At the core is Ma Lou, a local produce seller who’s seen enough of the island’s tragedies—and the world’s disregard for them—to carry any false hope. It’s a heartbreaking tale of regret and resilience, and a fiery rebuke of racism, violence and greed.

Buy Now: What Storm What Thunder on Bookshop | Amazon

Crossroads, Jonathan Franzen (Oct. 5)

Critically acclaimed, occasionally controversial author Jonathan Franzen—whose 2001 novel The Corrections won a National Book Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist—releases his sixth novel, a nearly 600-page portrait of a Christian family in 1970s suburban Chicago. Patriarch Russ Hildebrandt is an associate pastor navigating a crush on a new parishioner, a running feud with the too-charming youth group leader and a marriage that lost its spark sometime after the kids were born. His wife, Marion, is tending to her own secrets, processing a decades-old trauma. And his three oldest children are dealing with their own awakenings amidst budding romance, drug use, financial freedom and the Vietnam war. Franzen gives each of these five characters distinct interiority, and their story is a compelling examination of faith, privilege and ambition. Crossroads is the first in a planned trilogy that promises to follow the Hildebrandt family through the present day.

Buy Now: Crossroads on Bookshop | Amazon

My Monticello, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (Oct. 5)

The titular novella of Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s daring debut collection My Monticello centers on a group of neighbors seeking safety in Charlottesville. While fleeing violent white supremacists, the group takes refuge nearby on Thomas Jefferson’s historic plantation. The narrative is bold, harrowing and unfolds with urgency. Johnson’s collection is full of stories like this one, concerned with issues surrounding racial identity and the legacies of slavery and racism. Together they create an unnerving portrait of a country wrestling with its ugly past and present.

Buy Now: My Monticello on Bookshop | Amazon

Sankofa, Chibundu Onuzo (Oct. 5)

Nigerian-British writer Chibundu Onuzo’s latest novel (after Welcome to Lagos) follows Anna Bain, a biracial woman raised by her white mother in London with no connection to her African roots. Now in middle age, Anna finds herself at a moment of profound transformation—she’s separated from her husband, her daughter is fully grown and her mother has just died—and she takes the opportunity to find the father she never knew, armed with his recently discovered diary. Anna’s journey to the fictional African country Bamana, where her father is a polarizing prime minister, sparks an internal reckoning with identity, race, politics and belonging, and forces her to challenge the roles she’s assumed in her life thus far.

Buy Now: Sankofa on Bookshop | Amazon

Smile: The Story of a Face, Sarah Ruhl (Oct. 5)

Shortly after giving birth to her twins, playwright Sarah Ruhl, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, discovered that she could not move the left side of her face. She had developed Bell’s palsy, which meant that half her face was paralyzed, and assumed that she, like most Bell’s palsy patients, would recover fairly quickly. But Ruhl didn’t. Through a series of essays, both wrenching and insightful, Ruhl takes readers through the decade that followed, recounting her challenges and joys as she searched for a cure. Smile is an intimate dive into the mind of an artist and mother as she attempts to make sense of her body, her relationships and more.

Buy Now: Smile on Bookshop | Amazon

Such Color: New and Selected Poems, Tracy K. Smith (Oct. 5)

Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith returns with a retrospective comprising selections from her four previous collections alongside 18 new poems. Highlighting the existential questions underlying Smith’s work—how does a history of trauma affect the present? What does hate do to the body and spirit? How does hope transcend?—these poems are especially resonant in their addressing anti-Black racism and misogynoir in the U.S. Haunting and vital, it’s the perfect encapsulation of a remarkable body of work.

Buy Now: Such Color on Bookshop | Amazon

Fight Night, Miriam Toews (Oct. 5)

Miriam Toews’ Women Talking was a trenchant imagining of a real-life story of women uniting to fight their abusers. In her new novel, she draws on similar themes of women’s alliance and survival, this time rendered through 9-year-old Swiv and her firecracker grandmother. Written as a letter from Swiv to the father who abandoned her and her pregnant mother—an exercise encouraged by her grandmother—Fight Night describes a precocious young girl making sense of a harsh world and a woman committed to spending her last years passing down hard-won wisdom about demanding and protecting one’s autonomy.

Buy Now: Fight Night on Bookshop | Amazon

The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles (Oct. 5)

Best-selling author Amor Towles follows up his internationally acclaimed 2016 novel A Gentleman in Moscow with another captivating piece of historical fiction, this one transporting readers to 1950s Americana. Eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson has done 15 months at a juvenile work camp for involuntary manslaughter when he’s released early to deal with his father’s death and the foreclosure of the family farm. When Emmett arrives at his Nebraska home, his neighbors aren’t pleased about the fact that he didn’t serve his full sentence, and his little brother, Billy, is convinced the mother who abandoned them is now in San Francisco—and that they need to go find her. Before they’re able to leave, though, Emmett discovers two stowaways who traveled out of the detention center with him and now insist he take them to New York instead. What follows is a rollicking cross-country adventure, rife with unforgettable characters, vivid scenery and suspense that will keep readers flying through the pages.

Buy Now: The Lincoln Highway on Bookshop | Amazon

Silverview, John le Carré (Oct. 12)

When he died last year, the legendary British spy novelist John le Carré left behind only one unpublished full-length novel. Silverview, to be published posthumously in October, is the iconic writer’s 26th novel. The new installment in le Carré’s enormous body of work is another classic espionage tale. This time, the focus is on a bookseller living in contemporary Britain and the spy chief who arrives at his seaside town to investigate a potential leak.

Buy Now: Silverview on Bookshop | Amazon

Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief, Victoria Chang (Oct. 12)

Following her formally inventive poetry book OBIT—a collection of obituaries for the people, items and experiences she’s lost, spurred by her mother’s death—award-winning writer Victoria Chang further explores themes of grief and remembrance in this book of letters to family members, mentors and creative influences, as well as abstract ideas. Built on interviews with Chang’s immigrant mother and interwoven with mementos and formal documents, it’s both a chronicling of her family’s history and a powerful, stirring rumination on ancestry, inherited trauma and home.

Buy Now: Dear Memory on Bookshop | Amazon

State of Terror, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny (Oct. 12)

Hillary Rodham Clinton pairs up with powerhouse mystery novelist Louise Penny for State of Terror, a political thriller full of action and intrigue. It’s a new era in American politics, and the just-sworn-in president announces Ellen Adams—leader of a highly influential media conglomerate and one of the president’s most powerful political enemies—as his choice for secretary of state. She’s up against a steep learning curve when a mysterious text to a young diplomat to Pakistan reveals a calculated, multinational conspiracy against the U.S. government—a government which spent the past four years losing ground as a global power. Through Adams and her ragtag defense team, working against an overwhelming enemy, Clinton and Penny create a heart-pounding mystery about terrorism, corruption and diplomacy, meticulously written with the promise of details only someone on the inside could contribute.

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Oh William!, Elizabeth Strout (Oct. 19)

At the core of Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s best-selling fiction are characters grappling with huge questions about love, loss and family through seemingly ordinary moments. The domestic dramas that fill her books lead to startling revelations about the complexities that accompany marriage, parenthood and growing old. Her new novel is no exception. In Oh William!, Strout revisits her beloved character Lucy Barton, and explores the protagonist’s relationship with her ex-husband. The two have stayed close since their separation—and the discovery of a family secret might just bring them even closer.

Buy Now: Oh William! on Bookshop | Amazon

The Island of Missing Trees, Elif Shafak (Nov. 2)

From award-winning British-Turkish writer Elif Shafak comes a magical story about nature, humanity and love. On the island of Cyprus in 1974, two teenagers—Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim—nurture a deep but forbidden love in the tavern where they met, under the watch of a fig tree that’s been there since before the tavern was built. Shafak traces the long wake of Kostas and Defne’s love, from their secret courtship in the ’70s to 2010s London, where their 16-year-old daughter is frustrated by the secrecy of her family history. It’s a beautiful contemplation of some of life’s biggest questions about identity, history and meaning.

Buy Now: The Island of Missing Trees on Bookshop | Amazon

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir, Ai Weiwei (Nov. 2)

This highly anticipated memoir from renowned artist and political activist Ai Weiwei is both intimate and expansive, an interrogation of art and freedom. After China’s Cultural Revolution, Weiwei’s father, the celebrated poet Ai Qing, was sentenced to hard labor in a remote area called “Little Siberia,” with his family—including young Weiwei—in tow. In 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, Weiwei describes his complicated relationship with his home—from his upbringing in exile, to his decision to study art in the U.S., to his return to China as he grew into international fame. It’s a fascinating sociopolitical history, and a behind-the-scenes look at how one of the world’s most significant living artists became who he is.

Buy Now: 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows on Bookshop | Amazon

The Sentence, Louise Erdrich (Nov. 9)

Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author Louise Erdrich’s latest novel is a profound and darkly funny story about Minneapolis in 2020, shown through the lens of a local independent bookstore. Tookie, a formerly incarcerated Indigenous woman working at Birchbark Books (an actual Minneapolis bookstore owned by Erdrich), is now being haunted—literally—by one of the store’s most annoying customers, a recently deceased white woman who was obsessed with claiming Native American ancestry. Spanning one calendar year, from Flora’s death on All Souls’ Day 2019 to November 2020, The Sentence follows Tookie as she tries to solve the mystery of the store’s haunting while grappling with the specters of racism and corruption that haunt the entire city.

Buy Now: The Sentence on Bookshop | Amazon

Five Tuesdays in Winter: Stories, Lily King (Nov. 9)

In her first collection of short stories, composed of previously published and new work, Lily King explores the highs and lows of human connection. In one, a bookseller has feelings for his employee. In another, a teenage boy makes an unexpected bond with a pair of college students. Like her acclaimed books Writers & Lovers and Euphoria, King’s latest finds characters longing for love and wrestling with change.

Buy Now: Five Tuesdays in Winter on Bookshop | Amazon

My Body, Emily Ratajkowski (Nov. 9)

Multi-hyphenate celebrity Emily Ratajkowski (model, actor, businesswoman) adds “author” to her resume with the release of My Body, her collection of essays about feminism, sexuality, power and abuse. No stranger to discourse and scrutiny over women’s bodies—her fame blew up in 2013, when she starred in the music video for “Blurred Lines”—Ratajkowski brings nuanced insight to questions about empowerment versus commodification of women’s bodies and sexuality. Blending cultural criticism and personal stories, My Body is smart and powerful.

Buy Now: My Body on Bookshop | Amazon

Dava Shastri’s Last Day, Kirthana Ramisetti (Nov. 30)

When she’s diagnosed with brain cancer at 70 years old, one of the wealthiest women in the world, Dava Shastri, decides to end things on her own terms. The matriarch shocks her four adult children by leaking the news of her death while she is still very much alive in order to read what everyone has to say about her. But soon the secrets she buried long ago float up to the surface, and she’s forced to face the consequences. In her debut novel, Kirthana Ramisetti crafts a hilarious and heartfelt narrative about legacy, power and privacy, all through the journey of a lively character who has limited time to make things right with the people she loves most.

Buy Now: Dava Shastri’s Last Day on Bookshop | Amazon

Call Us What We Carry: Poems, Amanda Gorman (Dec. 7)

In her new poetry collection, the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, continues to share her vibrant voice and lyricism. Including the poem Gorman read at President Biden’s inauguration, “The Hill We Climb,” this collection features poetry centered on everything from grief to memory to hope. “For me, this book is a receptacle, a time capsule both made by and for its era,” Gorman said in a statement released by her publisher. “What is poetry if not a mirror for our present and a message for our future?”

Buy Now: Call Us What We Carry on Amazon

More fall culture recommendations:

  • The 33 Most Anticipated TV Shows of Fall 2021
  • The 23 Most Anticipated Movies of Fall 2021
  • More Must-Reads from TIME

    Write to Annabel Gutterman at