A Running List of the Best Books of 2021

Published on April 20, 2023

As we traversed through the vast landscape of 2021, literature offered a haven of compelling stories and ideas. It was an exciting year in publishing, filled with a rich tapestry of narratives, insights, and fresh voices. Readers were drawn into enchanting worlds of fantasy, gripped by thrilling mysteries, broadened their perspectives with thought-provoking non-fiction, and moved by poignant, personal memoirs—this dynamic year in books catered to every taste. We took the pleasure of curating a running list of the best books of 2021.

This guide reflects the standouts in a year abundant with literary treasures, and we’re confident you found your captivating read within these selections. So let’s look back, prepare your bookmarks, and delve into the literary delights of 2021.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

This satirical take on the American Dream takes you inside the startup world to follow the story of a young Black man named Darren that begins working for a new company that suddenly takes him out of the ground-floor Starbucks and up to the 36th-floor of a shiny midtown office building in Manhattan. Darren is soon sucked into the addictive world of success in the startup industry, but at what cost? Anyone that has ever worked in the startup world will likely find this one to be a poignant, thrilling take on work culture in the United States in 2021. The cover art for this one is eye-catching, which—let’s be honest—is one of the biggest factors in whether or not I pick up a new title.

Outlawed by Anna North

A teenage girl named Ada discovers that she cannot bear children with her husband in the late 1800s. When her town tries to brand her as a witch—or the victim of a curse—she decides to run away with a band of queer outlaws called the Hole In The Wall Gang. It’s a feminist take on old Wild West tales and has an incredible cover on top of all of that. The book touches on themes of femininity, womanhood, and the promise of the New Frontier as Ada navigates a world full of new opportunities—as long as she demands it.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas returns with Concrete Rose to explore the nuances of Black childhood and early adulthood through the eyes of a Black man in Garden Heights, the fictional neighborhood from The Hate U Give. The novel centers around Maverick Carter, a young man that faces the realities of having to care for his mom while his dad is in prison by working several jobs at a young age.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Based on Jane Eyre, The Wife Upstairs offers a fresh take on the feminist story that is already getting rave reviews within days of being published. The story follows Jane, a dog walker new to the Birmingham area that finds herself able to get away with a lot by working in a neighborhood full of wealthy men and women.

The Other Black Girl by Zakia Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl tells the story of a young woman named Nella working in a publishing company that is tired of being the only Black woman in the office. But when the company hires another Black woman to work alongside her, the story quickly shifts into a thriller.

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler

Fake Accounts follows the story of a woman that snoops through her boyfriend’s phone on the night before Donald Trump’s Inauguration. What she discovers—that he’s a popular but anonymous conspiracy theorist spreading misinformation online—shocks her in ways she didn’t expect.

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

Mary H.K. Choi’s last release, Permanent Record, was one of my favorite reads in 2020, so finding out that her next release is just around the corner got me excited. Her books are filled with clever and relevant jokes about popular culture and paint a diverse and colorful picture of life in New York City.

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Aftershocks is a combination between a memoir and a cultural history and tells the story of Owusu’s experience as a young girl living in Italy on the day she found out about an earthquake in Armenia, where she and her family had sought refuge from. On that same day, Owusu’s mother also appears, wanting to take Nadia out for a day of fun before disappearing again.

Future Feeling by Joss Lake

In the creatively subversive “Future Feeling,” Penfield R. Henderson, a trans man, inadvertently curses a young man while aiming to hex a more successful trans influencer, Aiden Chase. This sets Pen and Aiden on a surreal quest to retrieve him from the emotional Shadowlands, leading to valuable insights on trans existence in a future where technology can’t replace human connection.

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

“Milk Fed,” by the acclaimed author of “The Pisces,” is a compelling novel exploring the life of calorie-counting Rachel, who embarks on a communication detox from her mother. She meets Miriam, an Orthodox Jewish woman, who stirs her long-repressed appetite for food, love, and spirituality. Through an intimate blend of humor and emotional acuity, Broder masterfully examines human desires and our relationship with what feeds us.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion

“Let Me Tell You What I Mean,” a collection of essays by the eminent writer Joan Didion, provides insightful glimpses into her evolution and the subjects that fascinated her, from media trust to her own self-doubt. Featuring essays penned from 1968 to 2000, the compilation showcases Didion’s keen observations, empathetic reporting, and the enduring relevance of her work in capturing “the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time.”

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Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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