Category: books

15 Really, Really Great Books that Got Us Through 2021 – Time Out

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Few sensations beat completing that epic volume that’s been sitting on your shelf for months. And this year – this patchy, patchy year – many of us finally did it. We found ourselves trapped at home, desperate for things to do. And actually, turns out, when it came to it, that book wasn’t so intimidating after all.

But not only did we simply have more time to enjoy stuff like reading, we also went out of our way to do it because we needed an escape. We needed to be transported to new worlds, to open our eyes to new things, to escape the undeniable bleakness of reality. For many us, films, TV shows and books were our lifeline through the roughest of times.

So, as 2021 comes to a close, we asked our editors around the world – literary nerds, one and all – to recommend one book that really resonated with them over the past 12 months. From old classics we really should’ve got round to before to new releases that properly rocked, here are the books that got us through the second (at times nice, but generally godawful) year of the pandemic. We hope you enjoy them, too.

RECOMMENDED: The 20 best films of 2021 and the best TV shows we binged this year

Categories: books

10 Absolutely Gripping Books to Read in the New Year – Book Riot

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Gripping books. Page-turners. Unputdownable reads. We’ve all encountered those gripping books to read that just immediately hook us and don’t let go until the last page. Whether it’s a character that we relate to, a whodunit where we just have to know who did it, or a plot with so many swerves it feels like a Formula 1 track — there’s not much better than finding another book that just scratches the itch for what we’re wanting to read at that moment.

I don’t know about you, but 2020 and most of 2021 have been full of reading slumps. Books that have immediately captured my attention from the very first page have been few and far between. But when those lightning in a bottle moments have happened? Good LORD they’ve been fantastic.

While our specific definitions of “gripping” might differ from person to person, this list is a collection of recent gripping books to read from across different genres, YA to adult, and with diverse casts of characters. These are the kind of books you want to just devour in one sitting, even if that means pulling an all-nighter (you don’t have to, obviously, but the desire is there).

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull cover

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

Realism mixed with fantasy makes for an absolutely captivating social commentary that felt more real than ever these past few years. When Laina learns that her brother has been shot and killed by the Boston PD, everything feels all too familiar — another case of police brutality. But something deeper is happening. Monsters are real, and they’re ready to show themselves to the world. What’s even scarier is that they’re not afraid to take down as many humans as possible.

Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine book cover

Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine by Klara Hveberg

Rakel has always been the studious type — more comfortable with numbers than in groups. Her quick but quiet mind attracts the attention of Jakob, an older teacher at her Oslo university. Despite Jakob’s marriage, they become romantically involved. As time goes on, Rakel’s health declines and she’s forced to take a good look at their relationship and what it truly was. When you can make fractal mathematics sound like the most lyrical song — that’s talent.

You've Reached Sam cover

You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

Get your tissues ready. Julie and her boyfriend, Sam, had their future perfectly mapped out. But their plans are derailed when Sam dies and Julie’s world is turned upside down. Julie calls Sam’s phone in an attempt to hear his voice again through his voicemail. Then someone picks up. That someone is Sam. And he continues to pick up when she calls. As Julie witnesses the pain and grief Sam’s family is going through, she feels guilty about keeping the calls to herself. Will she spill her secret?

Rock Paper Scissors cover

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Set in Britain, Adam and Amelia are a typical married couple — but they’ve been having some difficulties for a while. Adam lives with face blindness and is unable to recognize the people closest to him, including Amelia. When the couple suddenly wins a getaway to the Scottish Highlands, they decide to use it as an attempt to rekindle their marriage and celebrate their tenth anniversary. But there’s something wrong, very wrong. The trip is a setup. And if it’s up to one of them, the other won’t make it back from the trip.

the cover of Blue-Skinned Gods

Blue Skinned Gods by S.J. Sindu

When Kalki is born, he shocks everyone with his vivid blue skin. Believing that Kalki must be an incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu, his family begins making a living off of the people who travel great distances just to see him. As Kalki grows up, he goes through tests to prove divinity and although he technically passes, Kalki has his doubts. This leads him on a quest of self-discovery, and where else to find oneself than NYC?

cover of Vita Nostra

Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

Sasha and Farit meet by chance while she is on vacation. Despite the fact that Farit gives off an air of something that she can’t quite nail down, Sasha can’t help but feel drawn to him — going as far as performing a task for him with potentially scandalous consequences. In just a few days, Sasha comes to consider Farit a leader and a mentor, and he convinces her to move to a remote village to attend a boarding school. Even though she barely knows him, there’s something about her connection with Farit that Sasha can’t explain.

crying in h mart book cover

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

One of two nonfiction titles on this list, this book struck a particular chord in me — also being Korean American — but it can be appreciated no matter your background. In her memoir, Michelle talks about her upbringing, from being one of the few Asian kids in school to her parents’ high expectations to her identity as an Asian American.

cover of Guilty Admissions, which shows ivy covering a brick wall

Guilty Admissions: The Bribes, Favors, and Phonies Behind the College Cheating Scandal by Nicole LaPorte

Chances are that you have at least heard of the Varsity Blues scandal, an event that exposed A+ celebrities such as Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, and the story spun by a college counselor, Rick Singer. Singer specifically targeted desperate, wealthy families obsessed with keeping perfect images and willing to do anything to get their kids into the best colleges in the country.

cover of Never Saw Me Coming, featuring a close-up of a young woman's face in sepia tones

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

If you’re also absolutely enthralled by true crime, this book reads like one. A college professor and renowned psychologist, who strongly believes that psychopaths are misunderstood in today’s society, creates a clinical study to test the theory. Seven university students who fit the textbook definition of a psychopath are chosen to participate. But things go horribly wrong when one of the students is found dead and the remaining participants look SOL. The only trick is they have no idea who else is involved in the study.

cover image of Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

If you’re here for twists on twists on twists, this is the book for you. Mina is a flight attendant who has recently been chosen to participate in the first-ever nonstop flight from London to Sydney. That’s 20 hours in the air; 20 hours with absolutely nowhere else to go. They’ve prepared for this day — they have a plan if something goes wrong. Well, obviously, something goes wrong. When Mina is slipped a note threatening to kill her family, she makes the decision to help hijackers take over the plane.

Looking for more gripping book recommendations or want something more specific to your reading preferences? TBR is a personalized book subscription service where you are paired with a bibliologist who will recommend books tailored to fit you! Find out more now.

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Categories: books

The Best Books We Read in 2021 – The New Yorker

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The Best Books We Read in 2021

Illustration of hand writing

Illustration by June Park

De Gaulle,” by Julian Jackson

2021 in Review

New Yorker writers reflect on the year’s highs and lows.

This superb biography of the former French leader brilliantly explores how he managed to dominate his country’s political life for decades. Jackson’s account of De Gaulle’s youth and conservative milieu only enhances one’s respect for De Gaulle’s stand, in 1940, against the Vichy government, and his account of De Gaulle’s war years in London makes clear why Churchill and Roosevelt found him almost impossible to deal with. The second half of the book—which deals with De Gaulle’s return to power during the conflict in Algeria, and his somewhat autocratic presidency—is even more compelling; together the two halves form as good an argument as one can make for believing that a single individual can alter the course of history. But Jackson, with sublime prose and a sure grasp of the politics and personalities of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Republics, never allows that argument to overshadow De Gaulle’s extremely difficult and domineering personality, and why it never entirely fit the democracy he helped rescue and then presided over. —Isaac Chotiner

Segu: A Novel,” by Maryse Condé

In a year that began with an attempted coup, it was good to remember that zealotry and factionalism have menaced every society—and often make for excellent storytelling, too. Maryse Condé’s 1984 novel “Segu” opens in the ruthlessly competitive capital of the eighteenth-century Bambara Empire, in present-day Mali, where the ruling mansa uneasily monitors the rise of Islam and the mysterious arrival of white explorers. Griots sing the exploits of a noble family, the Traores, whose sons are destined to suffer every consequence of modernity’s upheavals. Condé, who was born in Guadeloupe but spent years in West Africa, is the great novelist of the Afro-Atlantic world, and “Segu,” her masterpiece, is the mother of diaspora epics. The novel follows the Traores as they are scattered across the globe, from Moroccan universities to Brazilian sugarcane fields, pulled every which way by their ambitions, lusts, and religious yearnings. Condé excels at evoking the tensions of a world in flux, whether it’s the ambivalence of a man torn between his family gods and Islam’s cosmopolitanism or the cynicism of a wealthy mixed woman who sells slaves on the coast of Senegal. Despite its magisterial scope, “Segu” is also warm and gossipy, and completely devoid of the sentimental attachment to heritage that turns too many family sagas into ancestral stations of the cross. Condé has a wicked sense of humor that doesn’t play favorites, especially with her mostly male protagonists, whose naïve adventurism and absent-minded cruelty (especially toward women) profoundly shape the history that eludes their grasp. —Julian Lucas

Upper Bohemia: A Memoir,” by Hayden Herrera

I came upon this recent memoir while browsing the shelves at the Brooklyn Public Library, and was immediately drawn in by its cover: a black-and-white photograph of two young girls, perched out the back window of a sports car, whose ruffled blouses and blond hair suggested a kind of patrician free-spiritedness. Herrera is known for her biographies of artists such as Frida Kahlo and Arshile Gorky, but in “Upper Bohemia” she turns to the story of her own family, a high-Wasp clan as privileged as it was screwed up. During the nineteen-forties and fifties, Herrera and her older sister Blair were shunted, willy-nilly, between their divorced parents, both of whom were possessed of great looks, flighty temperaments, and intense narcissism. Her mother and father—each married five times—often disregarded the girls, treating them as considerably less significant than their own artistic or sexual fulfillment, whose pursuit took them through urbane, artsy circles in Cape Cod and New York, Mexico City and Cambridge. Herrera tells a fascinating cultural history of a particular milieu, but what is most affecting is her ability to channel, in sensate detail, the life of a lonely child trying to make sense of the world around her. Her tone carries a measure of detachment, but I often found it immensely moving. “Blair and I had not spent much time with our mother since the fall of 1948 when, after putting us on a train to go to boarding school in Vermont, she drove to Mexico to get a divorce,” she writes. “Whenever our mother did turn up, she brought presents from Mexico, animals made of clay or embroidered blouses for Blair and me. She always made everything sound wonderful. She was like sunshine. Blair and I moved toward her like two Icaruses, but we never touched her golden rays.” This is a beautiful book. —Naomi Fry

Long Live the Post Horn!,” by Vigdis Hjorth, translated by Charlotte Barslund

Vigdis Hjorth’s “Long Live the Post Horn!”—a swift, darkly funny novel about existential despair, collective commitment, and the Norwegian postal service—buoyed me during this strange, roiling year. Ellinor, the novel’s narrator, is a thirty-five-year-old public-relations consultant whose projects and relationships are characterized by a bleak, steady detachment. When her colleague Dag leaves town, Ellinor grudgingly inherits one of his clients: Postkom, the Norwegian Post and Communications Union, which wants to fight an E.U. directive that would usher in competition from the private sector. For Ellinor, the project begins creakily; gradually, she gets swept up. What results is a personal awakening of sorts—a newfound desire to live, connect, and communicate—and a genuinely gripping treatment of bureaucratic tedium. “Long Live the Post Horn!” is rich with political and philosophical inquiries, and gentle with their delivery. They arrive in the form of dissociative diary entries, awkward Christmas gift exchanges, and the world’s loneliest description of a sex toy (“he had bought the most popular model online, the one with the highest ratings”). There’s also a long yarn told by a postal worker, which makes for a wonderful, near-mythic embedded narrative. “What exactly did ‘real’ mean?” Ellinor wonders, experiencing a crisis of authenticity while desperately trying to produce P.R. copy for the Real Thing, an American restaurant chain. “Was the man behind the Real Thing himself the real thing, I wondered? I googled him; he looked like every other capitalist.” Expansive and mundane—this novel was, for me, sheer joy. —Anna Wiener

Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History,” by Lea Ypi

Some people feel free to imagine their lives unbounded by history. Lea Ypi did not have that luxury. Born in 1979 in Albania, then one of the most sealed-off countries in the Communist bloc, she had little reason to question her love for Stalin until the day, in 1990, that she went to hug his statue and found that protesters had decapitated it. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the edifice of Albanian socialism collapsed, too. Even more disorienting was the fact that Ypi’s parents turned out never to have believed in it—they’d just talked a good line to prevent their dissident, bourgeois backgrounds from tainting her prospects. Ypi’s new book, “Free,” out in the U.K. and to be published stateside in January, is a tart and tender childhood memoir. But it’s also a work of social criticism, and a meditation on how to live with purpose in a world where history, far from having ended, seems energized by disinformation. Ypi, a political theorist at the London School of Economics, is interested in how categories of thought—“proletariat,” for instance—were replaced by reductive rallying cries like “freedom.” “When freedom finally arrived, it was like a dish served frozen,” she writes. “We chewed little, swallowed fast and remained hungry.” Her parents became leaders in the new democratic opposition but lost their savings to a shady investment scheme, and when the country devolved into civil war, in 1997, her formidable mother had to leave for Italy, where she worked cleaning houses. When Ypi studied abroad, her leftist friends didn’t want to hear about her experience: their socialism would be done right, and Albania’s was best forgotten. But Ypi is not in the business of forgetting—neither the repression of the system she grew up in nor the harshness of capitalism. Her book is a quick read, but, like Marx’s spectre haunting Europe, it stays with you. —Margaret Talbot

Harrow: A Novel,” by Joy Williams

I have already written at length about the wonder of Joy Williams’s most recent novel, “Harrow.” But I feel compelled to re-state my case. The book is set in a world that climate change has transformed into a grave, and it’s dense with wild oddity, mystical intelligence, and with a keenness and beauty that start at the sentence level but sink down to the book’s core. “Harrow” tracks a teen-ager named Khristen across the desert, where she eventually meets up with a sort of “terrorist hospice” of retirees determined to avenge the earth. Her companion, Jeffrey, is either a ten-year-old with an alcoholic mother or the Judge of the Underworld. Williams, the real Judge of the Underworld, moonlights here as a theologist, animal-rights activist, mad oracle, social historian, and philosopher of language. Her comic set pieces—e.g., a birthday party in which the hastily provisioned cake depicts a replica, in icing, of Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son”—unlock tears, and her elegies wrest out laughter, if only because it’s absurd to find such pleasure in a study of devastation. When the book was over, I missed the awful, cleansing darkness of its eyes upon me. —Katy Waldman

A Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera,” by Vivien Schweitzer

My late grandfather spent most of his weekends holed up in his study—a sunken room, adorned with a ratty Chesterfield sofa and posters from various international chess championships—listening to opera. As a child, I found this practice impenetrable. I didn’t understand the languages blaring out of his record player, and I wasn’t old enough to grasp the rhapsodic emotion inherent in the form. Opera is about Big Feelings; it radiates youth, yet it remains a passion that most people age into. (Perhaps that has something to do with the cost of a Met ticket.) Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly all I wanted to do was listen to Maria Callas, whose unhinged arias clicked into place as the soundtrack for my anxious, pacing mind. My grandfather was no longer around to discuss my fixation, but, fortunately, I found Vivien Schweitzer’s 2018 book, “A Mad Love,” which is a sparkling cultural history of opera’s greatest composers and their obsessive brains. Beginning with Monteverdi and barrelling through to Philip Glass, the book is about the blood and sweat that goes into writing an opera (an often lunatic effort, it seems), and about the feverish attachment fans have to the resulting work. I found myself tearing through it in the bathtub, delighted not just to inhale the gossipy backstories of the “Ring” cycle and “La Traviata” but to join the society of opera nuts of which my grandfather was a card-carrying member. I finally understood what he was listening for on those Sunday afternoons: anguish, joy, love, betrayal. —Rachel Syme

Not One Day,” by Anne Garréta, translated by Emma Ramadan

It is a peculiar feeling, reading a book that seems to have been written for you but wasn’t. The friend who recommended the Oulipian writer Anne Garréta’s “Not One Day” must have known that I would find this merger of intimacy and anonymity irresistible. While recovering from an accident that has left her body immobile, the book’s narrator, a nomadic literature professor, decides that she will write about the women she has desired. Each woman will be identified by a letter of the alphabet; to each letter, she will devote five hours a day for precisely one month. She knows that narrating desire requires discipline—and she finds that desire always, always exceeds it. Letters are skipped and jumbled, so that the table of contents reads, “B, X, E, K, L, D, H, N, Y, C, I, Z.” The narrator takes a long break from the project and, when she comes back to it, one of the stories she writes is fiction. Slowly, the categories that keep desire and its creation of “our little selves” in check—self and other, past and present, man and woman, heterosexual and homosexual, solipsistic alienation and shared passion—get wonderfully and terrifyingly muddled. Instead of a confession written in the familiar “alphabet of desire,” we glimpse the making of a whole new language. I could smother the book with adoration—it is aching and maddening, intelligent and wildly sexy. But it would be simpler to say that reading it is like meeting someone new and feeling the world come undone. Here is a book that insists that the desire for fiction, for its mimicry and its mirage, is indistinguishable from the desire for another person. —Merve Emre

Tom Stoppard: A Life,” by Hermione Lee

For a time this year, Lee’s newest biography just seemed to be around, and during a couple weeks when I was ostensibly reading other things, I found myself opening it in odd moments—over breakfast, waiting for the pasta pot to boil—until I realized that I’d worked my way through the whole thing. The biography is nearly nine hundred pages, so my experience of it as a side pleasure, a lark, is a testament to Lee’s craft. Much of Stoppard’s history is widely known: his passage from peripatetic refugee youth to Bristol newspaperman and radio-drama hack, and then, with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” to fame and fortune as a witty playwright. What Lee adds is detail, particularly around interesting career turns, plus a big serving of her own admiration. (Not entirely to its credit, I think, this is the sort of biography that everyone dreams of having written about them; our protagonist is always brilliant, invariably a delight. Stoppard, on reading it, was apparently moved to clarify that he was “not as nice as people think.”) What Stoppard contributes is an air of whimsy on the ride up his great tower of success. There is pleasant cohesion to his body of work, with its blend of bookish intellection and breezy verbal humor. Off the page, it becomes clear, he pairs casual social climbing with the cheery pursuit of material ease, often courtesy of Hollywood. He has maintained a stream of scriptwriting work, on projects such as the Indiana Jones franchise, and his constant efforts to boondoggle more luxury out of what’s offered him—his budget must be increased to accommodate a high-end hotel suite, he tells a studio, “because I prefer not to sleep and work in the same room”—are among the smaller charms of this book. Lee’s biography is ultimately such a pleasure, though, because it is a writer’s book: full of respect for the thrill of the craft, able to keep the progress of the life and the work aloft in the right balance. To read it is to be excited about the act of literature all over again. —Nathan Heller

Novel 11, Book 18,” by Dag Solstad, translated by Sverre Lyngstad

I first encountered “Novel 11, Book 18,” by the great Norwegian novelist Dag Solstad, on a bright, warm day, on a walk with some friends who were visiting from out of town. Buzzed on the weather and the handsome paperback cover—deep green on cream—and, above all, on the nearness of my friends, I bought it. It was almost funny, then, to discover how relentlessly bleak the book is. Published in 1992, but released in the United States this year, by New Directions, with an English translation by Sverre Lyngstad, it tells the story of Bjørn Hansen, a mild-mannered civil servant who has left his wife and son in pursuit of his lover, Turid Lammers. The change of life means a change of locale: Hansen leaves Oslo and settles in Kongsberg, a small, airless town where he soon joins an amateur theatre troupe, of which Turid is widely considered the most talented performer and a kind of spiritual leader. In probably the best and darkest bit of situational comedy that I read all year, Hansen tries to persuade the troupe—usually a vehicle for light musicals—to put on a production of Henrik Ibsen’s play “The Wild Duck.” He wins out, but the show is a terrible flop—and, worse in Hansen’s eyes, Turid gives a cynical, crowd-pleasing performance that inoculates her, and only her, from the more general disapproval of the audience. The relationship is soon over. Solstad tells the story in deceptively simple sentences that repeat themselves in a fugal fashion, gathering new and ever sadder aspects of meaning as they recur. Hansen, wading through the disappointing wash of his life—he’s having the worst midlife crisis imaginable—eventually cooks up a scheme of revenge that’s so sad and absurd it’s almost slapstick. The book’s generic title implies that tiny tragedies like Hansen’s are happening everywhere, all the time, as a simple cost of being alive. For Solstad, what feels like a reprieve—sun and intimacy, the company of friends—is just another step on a tightrope that stretches across the void. Maybe save this one for summer. —Vinson Cunningham

Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes,” by Claire Wilcox

Among the books that most surprised and most moved me this year was “Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes,” a memoir by Claire Wilcox. Wilcox is senior curator of fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and she writes about clothing with an intoxicating specificity: century-old gowns are made from “narrow lengths of the finest Japanese silk, hand-stitched together and then pleated into rills like the delicate underside of a field mushroom.” But this fragmentary, dreamlike book is not about fashion as it is often understood. There is no industry gossip, no analysis of trends. Rather, Wilcox uses her encounters with objects—the bags of lace in the museum’s collection, the pair of purple velvet trousers she borrowed from a charismatic friend—to explore themes of love and loss, birth and bereavement, family and tribe. The book, which is as skillful and oblique in its structure as the precious gowns she describes, is stitched together with loving care from narrative scraps and images, ultimately revealing how materiality and memory operate on one another, so that the sensation of holding a button in her fingers brings Wilcox back to her earliest memory of fastening her mother’s cardigan: “buttoning and unbuttoning her all the way up, and then all the way down again.” —Rebecca Mead

Sabbath’s Theater,” by Philip Roth

Over the course of the pandemic, the actor John Turturro and I have been adapting Roth’s novel for the stage, so I’ve read the book probably twenty times now. I have been astonished again and again. It’s never the adulterous urinating or alte kaker underwear-sniffing that shock me. It’s Roth’s singular capacity for conjuring death—its promises, its terrors, its reliability, and the relentless ache that it leaves behind. There are times when Roth approaches the subject with a cosmic lightheartedness: “Exactly how present are you, Ma? Are you only here or are you everywhere?” Mickey Sabbath, the aging, insatiable puppeteer, asks his dead mother’s ghost. “Do you know only what you knew when you were living, or do you now know everything, or is ‘knowing’ no longer an issue?” When it pertains to Drenka, Sabbath’s Croatian mistress—his “sidekicker,” as she puts it—death is tinged with so much yearning that it’s almost too much to bear, for both Sabbath and the reader (this one, anyway). “Got used to the oxygen prong in her nose. Got used to the drainage bag pinned to the bed,” Sabbath thinks, recalling the last of many nights he spent at her hospital bedside. “Cancer too widespread for surgery. I’d got used to that, too.” For all of Sabbath’s lubricious opportunism, Drenka is his one love. “We can live with widespread and we can live with tears; night after night, we can live with all of it, as long as it doesn’t stop.” But it does, of course. It always stops. Though not, in this book, for Sabbath, Roth’s most unrepentantly diabolical hero, despite his relentless flirtation with suicide: “He could not fucking die. How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here.” —Ariel Levy

Warmth,” by Daniel Sherrell

In “Warmth,” the writer and organizer Daniel Sherrell’s bracing début memoir, he refers to climate change as “the Problem”—the horrifying, galvanizing fact that should cause all sentient people to lose sleep, to shout themselves hoarse, to reorient their lives in fundamental ways. And yet, apart from a small minority, most people seem content to listen to the string ensemble on the deck of the Titanic, shushing anyone who tries to interrupt the music. To be clear, this is my harsh indictment, not Sherrell’s. For an unabashed climate alarmist, he is mostly compassionate to the quietists, in part because, like all Americans, he used to be one. Sherrell was born in 1990. His father, an oceanographer, took long research trips to the polar ice caps. Of all people, the Sherrells understood what an emergency climate change was—and yet their household was a normal one, in the sense that the Problem didn’t come up much. “Even when all the evidence was there before us,” Sherrell writes, “it was difficult to name.” The book is marketed as a climate-grief memoir, and it certainly is that, but what came through for me, even more clearly than the grief, was a kind of existential irony: not only are we apparently unable to solve the Problem, we can’t even seem to find an honest way to talk about it. Most Americans claim to believe the science; the science says that, unless we make drastic changes, the future will be cataclysmic; and yet, Sherrell observes, “it still sounded uncouth, even a little ridiculous, to spell this all out in conversation.” This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, and not even with much of a whimper. “Warmth,” written in the form of a letter to a child that Sherrell may or may not conceive, is not a thesis-y sort of book. But, if it has a central claim, it’s that the activist chestnut “Don’t mourn, organize!” is a facile mantra, a false choice. Why not both? —Andrew Marantz

Brothers and Keepers,” by John Edgar Wideman

John Edgar Wideman was teaching at the University of Wyoming in the mid-seventies when, one day, his brother, Robert, showed up in town unannounced. Wideman had a young family and a steady job as a writer and an academic. Robert was on a more tumultuous path; he was on the run after a botched robbery back home, in Pittsburgh, had ended with one of his accomplices shooting a man, who later died from his injuries. Published in 1984, “Brothers and Keepers” is Wideman’s attempt to reckon with their diverging lives, and with the bond that they will never relinquish. He sifts through episodes from their childhood, searching for overlooked turning points. No single genre can tell such a complex story. Sometimes, the book is about the deprivations of the criminal-justice system, as Wideman describes in granular detail his visits to the prison where Robert serves a life term. (Robert would pursue education himself in prison, and, in 2019, his sentence was commuted.) At other times, the book feels surreal and fantastical, as Wideman entertains the possibility that their lives might have taken them elsewhere. And there are moments of austerity and dread, as he contemplates the ethics of turning his brother into a character. I often find that memoirs flatten the degree to which “the personal is political” is an idea rife with contradictions. What makes “Brothers and Keepers” so absorbing is that Wideman feels love but not sympathy—not for his brother, and certainly not for himself. —Hua Hsu

2021 in Review

Categories: books

21 Best Nonfiction Books You Need to Read in 2021 – Cosmopolitan

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2021 best nonfiction books


Although it’s wonderful to get lost in the depths of a really good novel, I’ve found myself reaching for more nonfiction books lately. A ton of brilliant writers, as well as athletes, actresses, and activists, have taken to the original form of storytelling by publishing their own books and sharing their lives and the lessons learned. Some of which offer mind-changing revelations, interesting perspectives, and some very funny anecdotes that’ll make you look at life differently. IDK about you, but I think we could all use a little bit of that. Nevertheless, it’s a perfect time of year to get a reality refresh—step out of your shoes and walk in someone else’s by simply picking up a good book.

From a memoir about a clueless aspiring dog-walking startup to an eye-opening unveiling of some of the darkest secrets behind one of America’s richest families (talk about juicy!), here are 21 of the best nonfiction books of 2021.

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1 ‘Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know’

This book is all about the power of re-thinking and unlearning what you think you know. There’s something to be said about questioning and challenging your own thoughts and opinions. Because, as the author and organizational psychologist Adam Grant suggests, being open to what others have in mind is part of the path to wisdom and success.

2 The House of Gucci [Movie Tie-in]: A True Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed
Custom House

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Even if you loved Lady Gaga’s performance as Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci as much as I did, I promise you’ll love the book even more. In its movie tie-in updated version, Sara Gay Forden shares the ultimate rise and near-fall of one of fashion’s most loved families.

3 ‘London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency: A Memoir’
William Morrow & Company

Now 26% off

Kate Macdougall found herself in a post-college rut working at Sotheby’s in London. After almost accidentally destroying a precious piece of art, she decided to quit and start her own dog-walking company instead. The problem was that she didn’t know much about dogs, nor did she know anything about starting a business. But Macdougall got through it all by navigating her new life, her relationships, and jolly old London one dog walk at a time.

4 ‘Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty’
Random House

It’s sad to say, but sometimes it’s nice to read up on someone else’s family drama. While the Sackler’s family issues may seem a bit un-relatable to the everyday family, take a look into one of America’s most wealthiest families in Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book. Follow three generations of Sackler’s as they create wealth for themselves and inevitably America’s opioid problem.

5 ‘The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet’

Now 26% off

In this collection of essays, bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars John Green reviews the Anthropocene—the current geologic age—and how humans have reshaped the planet.  An extension of his podcast, he rates different phenomena on a five-star scale, including QWERTY keyboards and the Madagascar film franchise.

6 ‘Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone’
Bold Type Books

Now 10% off

If there was one good thing that came out of 2020, it was the idea of questioning America’s work ethic. In this very real and honest book, Sarah Jaffe explores the ideas of “a labor of love” and shares the stories of those in different professions (from the unpaid intern to the professional athlete) and shares no ways to value yourself and your work.

7 ‘Let Me Tell You What I Mean’

Now 38% off

In this very insightful collection of essays, you can truly take a deep dive into the iconic writer Joan Didion’s mind. With 12 never before seen essays written from 1968 to 2000, Didion shares some of her best work that’ll give you a glimpse of her creative process as one of this century’s best writers. 

8 ‘Crying in H Mart: A Memoir’

Now 41% off

In this emotionally honest memoir, Japanese Breakfast singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner tells the story of her life—growing up Korean American in Oregon, having a complicated relationship with her parents, and pursuing a career in music. The memoir is centered around her mom’s death and how food became a means of grieving and therapy.  

9 ‘These Precious Days: Essays’

Now 28% off

You’ll want to call your dearest friend after reading this book. Ann Patchett opens up on her experiences with friendship—particularly Tom Hank’s then-assistant Sooki—and the amazing bond they created, as well as the reflection of connecting art and life as she comes to terms as to what matters most in her life.

10 ‘Unfinished: A Memoir’
Ballantine Books

Now 39% off

It’s safe to say that Priyanka Chopra Jonas is probably one of the most inspiring yet fascinating women out there. In this bold and sassy memoir, Priyanka takes us on her life journey growing up in India as a child as well as in the United States as a teen. We follow her progression to see how she became the woman she is today in this very open, honest, and raw story of her life. 

11 ‘What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing’
Flatiron Books

Now 50% off

This book by Oprah Winfrey and brain and trauma specialist Dr. Bruce Perry provides scientific as well as emotional insights on healing and overcoming trauma. Through Winfrey’s personal stories and Perry’s expertise, they want to help readers reframe their way of thinking—such as asking, “What’s happened to me?” instead of, “What’s wrong with me?”

12 ‘A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life’
Random House

Now 32% off

If you want to get in touch with your creative side, this book might just be the trick. As the title suggests, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a literary master class that takes readers into the mind of Booker Prize-winning author George Saunders. He discusses what makes great stories, how they work, and what they say about ourselves and today’s world.

13 ‘The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War’

Now 35% off

The Afghanistan Papers is a thorough investigation by Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock about one of 2021’s most important political topicsIt looks into how the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations mishandled America’s longest war and deceived the public.

14 ‘Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir’
Flatiron Books: An Oprah Book

Now 56% off

Ashley C. Ford talks about growing up as a Black girl in Indiana, dealing with poverty, the complexities of adolescence, and a fraught relationship with her mother. She often wished that she could confide in her father, but he was incarcerated for reasons she didn’t know. Until one day—after going through a traumatic experience with a boy, which she kept from her family—her grandmother told her. And what she learned turned her entire world upside down.  

15 ‘You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism’
Grand Central Publishing

Now 48% off

New York-based comedian Amber Ruffin, along with her sister Lacey Lamar, share their everyday experiences with casual racism. It gets especially bad for Lacey, who still lives in their home state of Nebraska and is a magnet for these ridiculous but all-too-real encounters.  

16 ‘The 2000s Made Me Gay’
St. Martin’s Griffin

Now 12% off

In this collection of essays, The Onion and Reductress contributor Grace Perry takes readers on a trip through pop culture and media during the early aughts. And as she does so, she shares hilarious stories from her own personal experiences and comments on the decade that made her gay. 

17 ‘All In: An Autobiography’

Now 57% off

Sports legend Billie Jean King writes an intimate self-portrait that talks about the highs and lows of her amazing tennis career, her work in activism, and the ongoing fight for social justice and equality. 

18 ‘How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America’
Little, Brown and Company

Now 51% off

How the Word Is Passed walks readers through a tour of monuments and landmarks in the United States that tell the story of how slavery has been central in shaping the nation’s history and people. And while a lot of the book delves into the past and stories of those who have passed, Clint Smith also brings it to life with the help of stories of people still alive today.  

19 ‘Dog Flowers: A Memoir’
One World

Now 34% off

Danielle Geller returns to Florida after her mother dies, and finds a suitcase filled with diaries, photos, letters, undeveloped disposable cameras, dried sage, jewelry, and a bandana. She uses these items as a gateway to her journey in understanding her mother’s relationship to her heritage and confronting her family history. This leads her back to the Navajo reservation her mother once called home.

20 ‘An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination’

Now 50% off

What some view as a tech company’s fall from grace is actually a far more complicated story. This exposé written by New York Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang gives readers a look into the truth of what really happened to Facebook (or, ahem, what is now called Meta) and how it went from a success story to a social media platform constantly under fire.  

21 ‘Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir’
Grand Central Publishing

Now 50% off

After Kat Chow’s mother dies unexpectedly, she and her family suddenly plummet into grief. To cope, Chow then decides to reclaim her family’s story by tracing her extended family’s roots—from China to Hong Kong, to Cuba, and finally to America. 

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Categories: books

50 Best Books of 2021 – Esquire

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best books of 2021


2021 has proved a remarkable year for literary releases. From authors both established and new, our favorite books of the year meditate on everything from life online to life in the intersections of identity. Set everywhere from the all-too-real world or solely in the mind, the distant past or the speculative future, these books offer escape, education, and spiritual enlargement—whatever you’re looking for.

With such an embarrassment of riches on offer, ranking these books is a downright impossible task, so we present our selections in no particular order. In this singularly strange and challenging year, books comforted us, allowed us to travel even when borders were closed, and ultimately, kept us sane. We made it to the end of this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, and we’re still reading. Congratulate yourself for that—and don’t waste any time stocking up your “to be read” pile.

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Virtue, by Hermione Hoby

Now 41% off

“That was just what you did on weekends—brunch and protest,” narrates Luca Lewis from the distant remove of 2027, looking back on his formative time as a magazine intern in New York City during the heated year of 2016. As he learns the elite ways and means of the rarefied magazine world, Luca dismisses a Black coworker’s efforts to recruit him to workplace activism, then becomes infatuated with a wealthy creative couple and their life of privilege. It takes a tragedy to awaken Luca to his misbegotten allegiances in this trenchant story of complacency and social consciousness.

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones

Now 40% off

In this groundbreaking compendium of essays, poems, works of fiction, and photography, Hannah-Jones expands on her Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Magazine project about the “unparalleled impact” of chattel slavery on American life. These bracing and urgent works, by multidisciplinary visionaries ranging from Barry Jenkins to Jesmyn Ward, build on the existing scholarship of The 1619 Project, exploring how the nation’s original sin continues to shape everything from our music to our food to our democracy. This collection is an extraordinary update to an ongoing project of vital truth-telling.

I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness, by Claire Vaye Watkins

Now 40% off

In this daring work of autofiction, a writer named Claire Vaye Watkins boards a plane to a speaking engagement in her hometown of Reno, where she aims to put the discontents of marriage and motherhood behind her. When her past rushes up to meet her, from her self-destructive first love to her father’s entanglement with the Manson Family, Claire’s brief getaway slides into a monthslong stay. Seared in visceral realizations about the pain of her past, Claire can’t go back home again, but how can she move forward? Boldly imagined and authoritatively told, this ambitious novel reminds us that Watkins is one of the most visionary writers working today.

Harrow, by Joy Williams

Now 38% off

In her first novel since The Quick and the Dead, the inimitable Williams remains as beguilingly strange as ever. When teenage Khristen’s boarding school for gifted children shutters its doors, she roves across the desiccated American West until she washes up at Big Girl, a toxic lake frequented by the elderly residents of a “razed resort.” Together with these ecological terrorists and creative visionaries, Khristen queues up to wait for a looming climate apocalypse, while Williams meditates on finding hope, compassion, and reason as the doomsday clock ticks down. 

Reprieve, by James Han Mattson

Now 50% off

It’s April 1997, and four hopeful contestants have made it to the final room of the Quigley House, a “full contact” haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska. If they can endure the home’s six cells of ghoulish horror without shouting “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize, but not everyone will make it out alive. When a man breaks into Quigley House and murders one of the contestants, Reprieve sifts through its characters’ back stories and witness statements to solve the crime. Mattson crafts a nail-biting horror saga while also implicating us in our sick obsession with tales of this kind. Unrelenting and unforgettable, Reprieve is an American classic in the making.

My Body, by Emily Ratajkowski

Now 50% off

Superstar model, entrepreneur, and actress Emily Ratajkowski explodes onto the literary scene with My Body, a revealing and personal exploration of what happens when a woman’s body becomes a commodity. My Body is a fascinating memoir of the objectification and misogyny Ratajkowski experienced as a young model, but also a searing work of cultural criticism about sexuality, power, fame, and consumption. My Body is the brilliant debut of a fearless multihyphenate from whom we’re eager to read more. Read an exclusive interview with Ratajkowski here at Esquire.

Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon, by Mark McGurl

Now 32% off

With its staggering American market share of 50% of printed books and upwards of 75% of ebooks, Amazon has changed literary life as we know it. That’s not all the Everything Store has done. According to Mark McGurl, it’s transformed not just how we buy, but what we buy as well as what we read and how we write. In Everything and Less, McGurl draws a line from Amazon’s distribution model to the contemporary dissolution of genre boundaries, arguing that Amazon’s algorithm has effectively turned all fiction into genre fiction. In lucid and well-argued prose, McGurl goes spelunking through the many genres shaped by Amazon’s consumerist logic, from the familiar realms of science fiction to the surprising outer reaches of billionaire romance and Adult Baby Diaper Erotica. Perceptive and often deeply funny, Everything and Less raises compelling questions about the past, present, and future of fiction. Read an exclusive interview with McGurl here at Esquire.

Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Expectations were high for Beautiful World, Where Are You, Rooney’s first outing since she became a global literary phenom—and her 2021 novel doesn’t disappoint. In these pages, Rooney explores the intertwined lives of four twenty-somethings: in one corner, we have Alice, a novelist who takes up residence in the Irish countryside following a psychiatric breakdown, and Felix, a local warehouse worker with whom Alice begins a noncommittal tryst. Alice’s oldest friends are Eileen, a dissatisfied magazine editor with big ideas, and Simon, Eileen’s on-again, off-again beau, an earnest and devout political activist. In Alice, Rooney’s anxieties about precocious literary success come into view. At once stylistically consistent with her previous novels and touched with a maturing sensibility, Beautiful World, Where Are You lucidly explores the ways we break up and make up in a world on fire.

Palmares, by Gayl Jones

Now 40% off

When Toni Morrison discovered Jones in the seventies, she said of her debut novel, Corregidora, “No novel about any Black woman could ever be the same after this.” Palmares, Jones’ long-awaited fifth book, is a blistering return to form worth the two decade wait. Set in colonial Brazil, Palmares is the story of Almeyda, a young enslaved woman spirited away to Palmares, the last of the nation’s seven fugitive slave settlements. When Palmares is razed in the night by Portuguese soldiers, Almeyda travels Brazil’s luscious landscapes in search of her missing husband, only to find that it may take a medicine woman’s enchantments to bring him back. Gorgeously suffused with mystery, history, and magic, Palmares is a remarkable new outing from a major voice in American letters. 

A Calling for Charlie Barnes, by Joshua Ferris

Now 50% off

With A Calling for Charlie Barnes, Ferris has written his finest novel yet: a fabulist yarn about a flawed father in the twilight of his life, whose numerous get-rich-quick schemes and busted marriages have vaulted the American Dream forever out of his reach. Our narrator is Jake Barnes, Charlie’s son, whose earnest but unreliable memories of his father call the narrative’s very fabric into question: how can we rightly remember those closest to us? Does our intimacy blot out the truth? By turns lively, laugh-out-loud funny, and tear-jerking, this is Ferris at the height of his powers. 

Billy Summers, by Stephen King

Now 53% off

King’s latest endeavor begins with a familiar premise: ex-Marine sniper Billy Summers, a principled hit man on the eve of retirement, agrees to do one last job. With a $2 million payout looming, Billy goes undercover to assassinate a criminal, but the cover his employers dream up hits a nerve: while masquerading as a novelist, avid reader Billy sets to the task of writing his own lightly fictionalized autobiography, unspooling the wounds of a traumatic childhood and a bruising tour of duty in the Iraq War. Billy’s escape from the wreckage of the job is complicated by Alice, a young woman he rescues after her brutal gang rape, who becomes an unlikely partner in his plans to get even. Remembering a Tim O’Brien aphorism, that fiction “was a way to the truth,” Billy writes his way through the morass of his past and present, making for a poignant story about how fiction can redeem, heal, and empower. Read an exclusive interview with King here at Esquire.

Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead goes back to his literary beginnings in his first noir since 1999’s The Intuitionist. In Harlem Shuffle, it’s 1959, and used furniture salesman Ray Carney is expecting a second child with his wife. The son of a small-time crook, Ray has worked hard to become an upstanding member of his community, but when money gets tight, Ray is soon wrapped up in a risky caper to rob “the Waldorf of Harlem.” Whitehead’s Harlem—“that rustling, keening thing of people and concrete”—pulses with a vibrant heartbeat, evoked through bars and greasy spoons and Strivers’ Row townhomes. In this page-turning novel about how good people come to justify lives of crime, a master storyteller delivers beautifully rendered people and places.

Matrix, by Lauren Groff
Riverhead Books

Groff’s first novel since Fates and Furies (which dropped in 2015) turns the clock back—way back. In these incandescent pages, Groff reverently imagines her way into the life and lore of Marie de France, the twelfth-century poet considered the first woman to write poetry in French. Cast out from the court by Eleanor of Acquitaine, seventeen-year-old Marie washes up at an impoverished English abbey, where she transforms from a reluctant refugee to a fiercely devoted leader. Through great works of construction and community, Marie fashions the now-wealthy abbey into an “island of women,” all while furtively writing the divinely-inspired poems that made her name. Woven from Groff’s trademark ecstatic sentences and brimming with spiritual fervor, Matrix is a radiant work of imagination and accomplishment.

Nightbitch, by Rachel Yoder

Now 38% off

In this unforgettable debut novel, Yoder delivers an outrageous Kafka-esque parable about the mundanity and monstrosity of early motherhood. Our protagonist, an artist turned stay-at-home parent known only as “the mother,” has become a husk of herself after two years of raising a toddler without the support of her husband, who’s all-too often away on weekly business trips. Soon, her mind and body begin to change; she grows dense patches of hair, her teeth sharpen, and she develops canine impulses. It’s only through her surreal transformation into “Nightbitch” that she experiences liberation from the pressure cooker of motherhood. Yoder touches on a kaleidoscope of themes, from the towering inferno of female rage to grieving the loss of self that accompanies motherhood, all of it undergirded by feral, ferocious scenes of our heroine feasting on rabbits and pissing on the lawn. Nightbitch will grab you by the scruff and refuse to let go. Read an exclusive interview with Yoder here at Esquire

Falling, by T.J. Newman
Avid Reader Press

Written by a former flight attendant while she worked red eye trips, this bruising thriller unfolds over the course of one transcontinental flight. When the pilot’s family is kidnapped, he has a choice: crash the plane to save his loved ones, or deliver his 130 passengers safely and let his family die. With a terrorist organization holding the plane captive, the pilot and his resourceful crew must race against time to do the impossible; meanwhile, an impulsive FBI agent stationed on the ground goes rogue to save lives. Expect major anxiety as this nail-biter barrels to a stunning conclusion.

Somebody’s Daughter, by Ashley C. Ford
Flatiron Books

In this searingly honest memoir, Ford recounts her turbulent coming of age in Indiana, where she was raised by a volcanic and sometimes abusive mother. Her childhood was haunted by the specter of her incarcerated father, whom she visited only occasionally during his decades in prison, but idealized as the loving and supportive parent she lacked. When an adult Ford learns that her father will be released after almost thirty years, she is ushered to reckon with the heinous crime he committed. Ford’s vulnerability on the page is an extraordinary feat, as she masterfully traces how the yearning girl she once was became the empowered woman she is today.

The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Atria Books

Now 50% off

Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in the summer’s buzziest debut: a blistering work of semi-autobiographical fiction about Nella, the lone Black employee at Wagner Books. The arrival of Hazel, another Black editorial assistant, seems like the answer to Nella’s prayers—but Hazel isn’t the ally she seems to be. When Nella begins to receive threatening anonymous notes demanding that she leave Wagner, she immediately suspects Hazel. The truth is far more sinister, exposing Nella to a dangerous conspiracy that alters her worldview forever. In this powerful story of racism, privilege, and gatekeeping’s damage to the Black psyche, Harris puts corporate America on blast. Read an exclusive interview with Harris here at Esquire

How the Word Is Passed, by Clint Smith
Little, Brown and Company

Now 51% off

The summer’s most visionary work of nonfiction is this radical reckoning with slavery, as represented in the nation’s monuments, plantations, and landmarks. As he tours the country, Smith observes the wounds of slavery hiding in plain sight, from Confederate cemeteries to plantations turned tourist traps, like Monticello. As he considers how the darkest chapter of our nation’s past has been sanitized for public consumption, Smith explores how slavery has shaped our collective history, and how we might hope for a more truthful collective future.

Appleseed, by Matt Bell

Now 63% off

In this epic speculative novel, Bell braids three narrative strands: the eighteenth-century rise of a proto-Johnny Appleseed, a portrait of civilization on the brink of ecological collapse fifty years from now, and the tale of the next millennium’s inhospitable Earth, plunged into a new Ice Age. Together, these narrative threads coalesce into a gripping meditation on manifest destiny and humanity’s relationship to this endangered planet, making for a breathtaking novel of ideas unlike anything you’ve ever read. 

An Ordinary Age, by Rainesford Stauffer
Harper Perennial

Now 10% off

All too often, we’re told that young adulthood will be the time of our lives—so why isn’t it? Stauffer explores the diminishing returns of young adulthood in this soulful book, providing a meticulous cartography of how outer forces shape young people’s inner lives. From chronic burnout to the loneliness epidemic to the strictures of social media, An Ordinary Age leads with empathy in exploring the myriad challenges facing young adults, while also advocating for a better path forward: one where young people can live authentic lives filled with love, community, and self-knowledge. 

The Atmospherians, by Alex McElroy

Now 34% off

McElroy’s thrilling debut novel centers on Sasha, a wellness influencer who comes into the crosshairs of men’s rights activists when a troll publicly blames her for his suicide while live-streaming the act. Sasha lives in a hyper-real speculative world plagued by “man hordes”: groups of men who temporarily lose consciousness and wreak havoc on society. Sasha’s fall from grace leads to a reunion with her oldest friend, a struggling actor who persuades her to sign on as his partner in The Atmosphere, a cult to reform toxic men. Darkly funny and glitteringly satirical, The Atmospherians unforgettably takes aim at wokeness, wellness, and toxic masculinity. Read an exclusive excerpt here at Esquire.

Third Eye Rising, by Murzban F. Shroff
Spuyten Duyvil

In these warm and wise parables of an ever-changing India, Shroff explores the tension between spiritual faith and modern life. In the harrowing title story, a dowry-less bride is forced to perform an agonizing ritual by her sadistic in-laws. Another unforgettable story invites us into the mind of a sacred cow, who narrates a confrontation between patrons at her temple. Each richly imagined story rings out with soulful truths about the collision between time-honored traditions and twenty-first century values, making for a stirring collection about where the past and present collide.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton
37 INK

Now 46% off

In this striking debut novel, structured as a polyphonic oral history, a magazine editor traces the electrifying origin story of Opal Jewel, an Afro-punk performer, and Nev Charles, an English singer-songwriter. Together the duo produced a singular seventies sound, until they flamed out when a photograph of Opal wrapped in a Confederate flag emerged from a gig turned riot. Decades later, Opal and Nev’s 2016 reunion tour is threatened by a shocking secret. Walton brings rock and roll to life in this powerful story of art and activism’s intersections.

The Man Who Lived Underground, by Richard Wright
Library of America

Now 32% off

What if you could look at life from outside of life? What would you see? That’s the provocative question posed in this previously unpublished novel from one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers, wherein a Black man named Fred Daniels is apprehended by the police, brutally tortured, and forced to sign a confession for a violent crime he did not commit. To escape his captors, Daniels flees into the city’s underground sewers, where he transforms into someone else entirely. Beneath an unfair world, Daniels tunnels into the basements of local establishments, leading him to startling truths about morality, injustice, and what matters most when the world’s systems are stripped away. Though the novel was written in the 1940s, its visceral vision of crime and punishment continues to hold modern resonance. 

Last Call, by Elon Green
Celadon Books

Now 17% off

In this gripping true crime story about the Last Call Killer, who preyed on New York City’s queer men during the 80s and 90s, Green foregrounds the shamefully forgotten lives of the killer’s known victims. Not only does he consider the profound losses carved out by their murders, but also the role of homophobia in shaping their lives and deaths. Green thoroughly sketches the queer bar scene of the era, ravaged by the AIDS crisis, and the law enforcement indifference that allowed the killer to lure men to their gruesome deaths. In these riveting pages, Green reclaims a time, a place, and a community, weaving together a decades-long forensic investigation with a poignant elegy to murdered men. 

Early Morning Riser, by Katherine Heiny

Now 49% off

Few writers so memorably capture the quirky interior lives of their characters as Heiny, the author of Standard Deviation. She returns to form with Early Morning Riser, a wry and wise novel about the intertwined romantic lives of the residents of a small Michigan town. New-in-town Jane falls hard for handyman Duncan, but struggles to come to terms with the growing knowledge that Duncan is the local casanova, having slept with nearly every woman in town. When a tragic car crash binds Jane forever to Duncan, his ex-wife, and his mysterious coworker, Heiny soars in her offbeat examination of small-town baggage and found families.

Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead

Now 47% off

This sweeping novel, beginning in 1914 and clocking in at just under six hundred pages, revolves around two lead characters: Marian Graves, a thrill-seeking female aviator who disappears over Antarctica, and Hadley Baxter, the ambitious actress set to play Marian in a biopic a century later. Marian’s globe-trotting story of adventure, courage, and longing moves through Prohibition-era Montana, Alaska, and the South Pacific, culminating in her fateful disappearance during a record-setting pole-to-pole flight. Years later, Hadley’s determination to break free of tabloid celebrity sees her quest for self-determination overlap with Marian’s, making for a mellifluously intertwined meditation on how women chart their own courses, in the sky and on the ground. 

Aftershocks, by Nadia Owusu
Simon & Schuster

Now 47% off

Nadia Owusu is the daughter of an Armenian-American woman who all but abandoned her as a toddler and a larger-than-life Ghanaian diplomat who died when she was thirteen years old. That alone is enough to pull you into her story. Owusu interrogates her stateless, motherless upbringing in this dazzling memoir, reflecting on how she grew up both everywhere and nowhere. Now an adult, Owusu ruminates on the lingering claw marks of loss—of country, of family, of innocence—while charting her peripatetic journey across continents in search of a homeland to call her own. Powerfully and poetically told, Owusu’s remarkable story chronicles the lasting legacies of grief and trauma, as well the thorny, non-linear journey of healing.

Dog Flowers, by Danielle Geller
One World

Now 34% off

Geller’s skill as an archivist takes center stage in her formally ambitious memoir, constructed from the ephemera of her late mother’s life, which includes diaries, receipts, photographs, and letters. This fragmented inheritance sends Geller spinning unflinchingly backward through the alcoholism and neglect that colored her childhood, as well as through her mother’s slippery reminiscences of her upbringing in the Navajo Nation. Moved by her mother’s stories, Geller sets out to discover her heritage, heading to the Navajo reservation to reconnect with her estranged family—and with the part of herself she’s never known. In this transcendent story, Geller refuses to look away from the agonizing cycles of abuse and addiction, while also writing with deep compassion about the limitations of the people we love.

Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters
One World

Now 17% off

In this electrifying debut novel, three lives coalesce around an unexpected pregnancy, forcing a bittersweet examination of identity, parenthood, and family. When Ames learns that his boss-turned-lover is pregnant, he confesses that he once identified as a trans woman, then hatches a plan for his lover to co-parent with his ex-girlfriend, a lonesome “trans elder” yearning to become a mother. In this compassionate, gut-punching story, Peters leans all the way into the tragicomedy of how families and identities are formed, making for a deeply searching novel that resists easy answers. Read an exclusive excerpt here at Esquire.

Concrete Rose, by Angie Thomas
Balzer & Bray/Harperteen

Now 31% off

In this moving prequel to The Hate U Give, the smash bestseller that launched Thomas into the literary stratosphere, Thomas returns us to Garden Heights while turning back the clock seventeen years, transporting us to the fraught young adulthood of Maverick Carter. At seventeen years old, Maverick has inherited his imprisoned father’s gang affiliation, and he sells hard drugs to make money while attending high school. When Maverick becomes a father, he decides to go straight, but the astronomical cost of leaving the gang soon threatens to tear him apart. Through Maverick’s powerful coming of age story, Thomas probes bittersweet truths about boyhood, manhood, and the winding road in between. 

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders
Random House

Now 32% off

“The part of the mind that reads a story is also the part that reads the world,” George Saunders writes in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. It’s perhaps the truest distillation of Saunders’ visionary life and work, encapsulating the characteristic generosity and humanity of his artistic outlook. Saunders has spent over two decades teaching creative writing in Syracuse University’s MFA program, where his most beloved class explores the 19th-century Russian short story in translation. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, Saunders has distilled decades of coursework into a lively and profound master class, exploring the mechanics of fiction through seven memorable stories by Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Gogol. In these warm, sublimely specific essays, Saunders’ astounding powers of analysis come into full view, as does his gift for linking art with life. By becoming better readers, Saunders argues, we can become better citizens of the world.

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Now 36% off

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction returns with another sobering look at our Anthropocene Epoch, this time centered not on the countless calamities ahead, but on the trailblazing efforts of scientists to turn back the doomsday clock. Kolbert describes the subjects of Under a White Sky as “people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems”; she turns her lens to human interventions in nature, like the storied redirection of the Chicago River, and to the pressing need for further intervention to correct our folly. Traveling everywhere from the Great Lakes to the Great Barrier Reef, she chronicles her encounters with scientists, who are pioneering cutting-edge technologies to turn carbon emissions to stone and shoot diamonds in the stratosphere. Heralded by everyone from Barack Obama to Al Gore, Kolbert’s urgent, deeply researched text asks if our ingenuity can outrun our hubris.

Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping, by Matthew Salesses

Now 10% off

In this firmament-shattering examination of how we teach creative writing, Salesses, a novelist and professor, builds a persuasive argument for tearing up the rulebook. Tracing the traditional writing workshop to its roots in white, male cultural values, Salesses challenges received wisdom about the benchmarks of “good” fiction, arguing that we must reimagine how we write and how we teach. Only then will our canon and our classrooms be the inclusive, expansive spaces we want them to be.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean, by Joan Didion

Now 38% off

From a titan of American letters comes a compendium of twelve early pieces, never before anthologized together, which find everyone from Martha Stewart to Ernest Hemingway in Didion’s crosshairs. Each essay showcases Didion at her very best, spotlighting her incisive reporting, her steely narrative gaze, and her commanding gifts as a prose stylist. Anthologized together in this compact volume, these peerless essays remind us just why Didion looms so large in the pantheon of American literature.

Love Is an Ex-Country, by Randa Jarrar

Now 47% off

Through the lens of a transformative cross-country road trip from California to Connecticut, Jarrar recounts her lifelong hunger for liberation from the forces of domestic violence, doxxing, and systemic racism. Along the interstate, she tangles with racist truck drivers, destroys Confederate flags in the desert, and pays a visit to the Chicago neighborhood where her immigrant parents lived when they first touched down in the United States. This visceral, unforgettable memoir is Jarrar’s barbaric yawp, asserting her triumphant choice to live joyfully in a hostile world.

Surviving the White Gaze, by Rebecca Carroll
Simon & Schuster

Now 40% off

Carroll’s searing memoir recounts her complicated childhood as the only Black person in a rural New Hampshire town, where even the love of her adoptive white parents could not answer the incompleteness within her. When her white birth mother enters the picture to cruelly undermine Carroll’s Blackness and self-worth, the aftershocks reverberate across Carroll’s lifetime, sending her spiraling through a pattern of self-destructive behaviors in search of her racial identity. In this vulnerable and layered meditation on race, adoption, and family, chosen and otherwise, Carroll unspools a poignant story of becoming.

Land of Big Numbers, by Te-Ping Chen
Mariner Books

Now 35% off

Chen’s remarkable debut collection of stories unfolds across the modern Chinese diaspora, pinballing between acutely observed realism and tragicomic magical realism. In one story, a man becomes addicted to chasing the highs and lows of the volatile Chinese stock market; in another, a group of commuters remain trapped in a subway station for months on end, awaiting permission to leave. Each haunting, exquisitely crafted story poses powerful questions about freedom, disillusion, and cultural thought, firmly establishing Chen as an emerging visionary to watch.

Milk Fed, by Melissa Broder

Now 42% off

The novelist and viral poet behind So Sad Today returns with her outstanding second novel, a bold and luscious story of desire in all its forms—for food, for sex, for belonging. Twenty-four-year-old Rachel has replaced Judaism with calorie restriction as her religion, but when she begins a three month detox from her impossible-to-please mother, who prizes thinness at all costs, her obsessively structured life soon changes course. Enter Miriam, the devout Orthodox heiress to a frozen yogurt fortune, who wants nothing more than to feed Rachel. When Rachel’s psychosexual obsession with Miriam spirals out of control, it leads to startling insights about faith, family, and food. Rarely has the fraught intersection of pleasure, appetite, and diet culture been written about so deliciously as in Milk Fed.

Fake Accounts, by Lauren Oyler

Now 37% off

One of the year’s sharpest debut novels, Fake Accounts opens on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, when a young woman snooping on her boyfriend’s phone discovers his secret life as an online conspiracy theorist. She plots to end the relationship, then decamps to Berlin, where the dizzying weight of her own falsehoods soon warps her reality. Told in our narrator’s seductive, incisive, and often deceptive voice, Fake Accounts is a ferociously smart dissection of the social media age, where we’re long on carefully-crafted fictions and short on truth.

We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy, by Kliph Nesteroff
Simon & Schuster

Now 11% off

Nesteroff traces the long and shameful marginalization of Native American comedians in this deeply researched volume, beginning as early as the 1800s, when Native Americans were forced to perform as caricatures of themselves in traveling Wild West shows in order to avoid imprisonment. The book toggles between historical analysis and modern-day interviews with emerging Native comedians, who are struggling to break into show business amid the dearth of opportunities on reservations. Nesteroff also deconstructs caricatures of Native Americans as stoic people, highlighting an irreverent and often hilarious chorus of voices aching to be heard.

No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood
Riverhead Books

Now 34% off

Never has the experience of being Extremely Online been more viscerally rendered than in No One Is Talking About This, Lockwood’s astonishing novel about a viral celebrity who travels the world on the back of her popular tweets. It takes a family tragedy to reawaken her to the world beyond her screen, where she’s reminded that the internet can’t contain the wonders and horrors of real life. Written in a style at once lyrical and fragmentary, brimming with memes and texts, this novel locates both the profane and the profound in how we live online. No One Is Talking About This will frighten you, implicate you, and scrape your guts out, in the best way possible.

Infinite Country, by Patricia Engel
Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster

Now 69% off

Beginning unforgettably with a young girl’s high-octane escape from a Catholic reform school, Engel’s sweeping novel gives voice to three generations of a Colombian family torn apart by man-made borders. When Elena and Mauro move their children to the United States, the cruelty of deportation sunders their family, but never their bonds. Gorgeously woven through with Andean myths and the bitter realities of undocumented life, Infinite Country tells a breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life.

What’s Mine and Yours, by Naima Coster
Grand Central Publishing

Now 48% off

Set in the foothills of North Carolina, Coster’s gripping sophomore novel centers on two mothers: Jade, a Black single mother striving to set her son up for success in a racist world, and Lacey May, a white woman who refuses to recognize the heritage of her three half-Latina daughters. Their small community is riven when the predominantly white high school begins accepting students from the largely Black side of town; meanwhile, when Jade’s son and Lacey May’s daughter grow close during a school play, the two families become bound forever. Coster’s remarkable characters, each one of them authentically flawed and gorgeously realized, propel this wise and loving story ever forward, making for a graceful meditation on family, inequality, and the ties that bind.

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Now 50% off

In Ishiguro’s first publication since winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017, we meet the humanoid robot Klara, an Artificial Friend designed to be a child’s companion. Sunning herself in the display window of a store, Klara ruminates on the world passing her by, hoping all the while to be chosen. When she is at long last adopted by a teenager named Josie, their growing bond is threatened by Josie’s terminal illness. Tender and suspenseful, the novel probes timeless questions about personhood, morality, and what makes a good life.

The Committed, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Grove Press

Now 50% off

In this blistering sequel to 2015’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer, Nguyen’s nameless North Vietnamese spy, last seen speeding across the sea to an uncertain future, washes up as a refugee in Paris, where he embeds himself in the French criminal underworld of the 1980s. To survive his harrowing life as an outsider, the Sympathizer deals drugs to the upper echelons of political and intellectual society, but he can’t shake traumatic memories of his past, nor plot a trouble-free future. Like The Sympathizer, The Committed rewards repeated reading, deepening with each read from a noirish literary thriller into an elegant treatise on colonialism and identity. You’ll want to sit with this one again and again for years to come. 

Mona, by Pola Oloixarac
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Now 44% off

On the morning that Mona, a young Peruvian-American writer, is set to fly to a Swedish convention where she’s been nominated for a prestigious literary prize, she wakes up covered in inexplicable bruises. At the convention, she longs to be subsumed by the familiar rhythms of the professionalized literary world, rife as it is with resentful and entitled men, but the haunting mystery of what’s happened hems in at the edges of her consciousness. At once a brutally observed satire of literary society and a tragic story of how identity can be commodified, Mona is a daring new work from one of Argentina’s most exciting novelists.

How Beautiful We Were, by Imbolo Mbue
Random House

Now 40% off

In the fictional African village of Kosawa, the locals live in fear of Pexton, a predatory American oil corporation, whose destructive practices pollute the water and the farmland. When children begin dying after ingesting toxic drinking water and the corrupt government turns a blind eye, the villagers mount a courageous uprising—one that comes at a steep personal cost. A generation of narrative voices, many of them children, shape this sweeping, elegiac story of capitalism, colonialism, and boundless greed, reminding us of the myriad ways we fail to make a better world for our children.

Libertie, by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Algonquin Books

Now 48% off

Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female physicians in the United States, this mesmerizing novel begins in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, where Libertie Sampson is expected to follow her mother’s path in the medical field, despite her musical calling. When a Haitian doctor proposes marriage, promising to live as her equal in Haiti, she elopes with him, only to discover that colorism and sexism reign supreme on the island. Freedom in all its forms comes under Greenidge’s powerful lens: freedom from oppression, freedom to choose one’s own path, freedom to love and forgive. What emerges from her careful study is a powerful, transporting story about self-determination in an oppressive world.

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, by Hanif Abdurraqib
Random House

Now 44% off

The celebrated author of Go Ahead in the Rain returns with a far-reaching collection of twenty essays, each one a remarkable synthesis of criticism, autobiography, and cultural study about Black performance in America. Abdurraqib meditates on performances past and present, spotlighting everything from Soul Train to Whitney Houston, Josephine Baker to the Wu-Tang Clan. He illuminates what’s personal and political about Black performance, weaving a jubilant love letter to the resilient entertainers who’ve graced stages both big and small.

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