The Best Books of the Year 2021

Every year, we’re all so fortunate to read so many fantastic new books — and every year there are always a few that stand out from the rest. If 2020 was the year to read more, 2021 is the year of the ever-growing TBR pile. With long-awaited releases from Colson Whitehead, Anthony Doerr, Louise Penny and Amanda Gorman, a powerful debut from Michelle Zauner, groundbreaking journalism from Nikole Hannah-Jones, and even a guide for those of us who have no idea what we’re doing in the kitchen. What qualifies a book as the best of the year, you may ask? The best books are the stories that stay with us long after we read, the ones we re-read again and again and the ones we pass on to friends. Drumroll, please, for our best books of 2021!


Call Us What We Carry
Amanda Gorman

By now you’ve read Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s poem from the 2021 Inauguration. Which then means you’ve been looking for MORE of Gorman’s words. The wait is over. If the light and beauty and understanding washed over you as you read “The Hill We Climb,” then you are ready for full immersion. We are going to say this right out: The world is a better place for the work of Amanda Gorman.

The 1619 Project
Nikole Hannah-Jones (Editor), The New York Times Magazine (Editor)

This riveting conversation among journalists, historians, poets, novelists, essayists and photographers lends a Technicolor depth to our American story, opening a kaleidoscopic historical vista that leaves us to ponder voices and stories only now heard. An exhilarating read, The 1619 Project responds to W.E.B DuBois’ once asked question: “Nations reel and stagger on their way; they make hideous mistakes; they commit frightful wrongs; they do great and beautiful things. And shall we not best guide humanity by telling the truth about all this, so far as the truth is ascertainable?”

Crying in H Mart
Michelle Zauner

If you’re not familiar with the name Michelle Zauner, you may recognize her band, Japanese Breakfast. Zauner is an amazing songwriter and her writing chops are on full display in this often wistful memoir describing life as a rebellious youth trying to reconcile her Asian heritage in a very white Eugene, Oregon. “I read Crying in H Mart with my heart in my throat. In this beautifully written memoir, Michelle Zauner has created a gripping, sensuous portrait of an indelible mother-daughter bond that hits all the notes: love, friction, loyalty, grief. All mothers and daughters will recognize themselves—and each other—in these pages.” —Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

R. J. Palacio

An instant classic, Pony is the poignant tale of a young boy on a journey to find his beloved father on the 19th-century American frontier. Accompanied by a mysterious pony and a ghost only he can see, Silas faces his fears to embark on an epic quest fueled by the indomitable power of love. This richly imagined adventure story is undoubtedly worthy of a spot on every young reader’s bookshelf.

Cloud Cuckoo Land
Anthony Doerr

From beloved, prize-winning author Anthony Doerr comes his first new novel in over six years: Cloud Cuckoo Land. A welcome read that is a celebration of both resilience and hope told from the perspective of children set worlds (and times) apart. An unforgettable epic from a master storyteller at the top of his craft. “The prose in this book are gorgeous and clearly show Doerr’s love of language. There is a strong sense of wonder and awe you feel as you progress through this novel and the ending fits snuggly as the last puzzle piece in this tale. Cloud Cuckoo Land displays how important books and stories are to us. It shows us how we lean on stories to help us get through all types of challenges we experience.” —Mollye M, Bookseller

Harlem Shuffle
Colson Whitehead

Following up his back-to-back Pulitzer Prize winning novels, Colson Whitehead returns with a vivid, wildly entertaining heist novel that makes you feel as if you’re walking down a bustling 125th Street in 1960s Harlem. A veritable page-turner from start to finish.

The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present (Two-Volume Set)
Paul McCartney

A landmark publishing event featuring two volumes of Paul McCartney’s lyrics from his time before The Beatles, with The Beatles, Wings and his solo career — 154 songs in all. Included in the book is McCartney’s commentary, never-before-seen photos, handwritten notes, art and ephemera, all of which are part of his personal collection and viewed by the public for the first time. This two-volume set is a masterpiece inside and out with an attractive case and McCartney’s face on the spine. It is the gift item of the year and an essential addition to any fan’s library.

Under the Whispering Door (B&N Exclusive Edition)
TJ Klune

We adore TJ Klune and his charming, big-hearted books like The House in the Cerulean Sea. We’ve been waiting (a little impatiently, what can we say) for TJ’s latest, another kind, compassionate and fun story ? because really only TJ could write a delightful book about life with Death as a character and a ghost who doesn’t want to cross over to whatever’s next. A little comfort and a lot of hope goes a long way in a novel by TJ Klune. (Our Exclusive Edition includes the bonus feature, “A Reaper’s Guide.”)

Burnt Toast & Other Disasters
Cal Peternell

As we all know, mistakes happen in the kitchen. Our author understands this and is here to rectify a few of ours. Rather than throwing away burnstuff (and then, crying) and overcooked stuff (and then, crying), we can repurpose these sad foodstuffs to give them a glorious new life. What’s better than that? After spending 20+ years as chef at Chez Panisse, Cal Peternell decided to help readers learn from his mistakes with a cookbook featuring great ideas and hacks to rescue food that’s burnt, mushy or overcooked. His writing style is often humorous, but his ideas are perfect for all.

The Sentence
Louise Erdrich

The inimitable and award-winning voice of Louise Erdrich is back, and this time she is taking on a tumultuous year with the help of a lovable, quirky cast of characters. An unexpected ghost story that is both a timely novel with laugh-out-loud moments as well as a beautiful commentary on identity. Erdrich cements herself as one of America’s greatest living authors.

You Will Get Through This Night
Daniel Howell

Daniel Howell is best known for two bestsellers (with his friend, Phil Lester): The Amazing Book Is Not on Fire: The World of Dan and Phil and Dan and Phil Go Outside. He has amassed a huge social media following and understands the importance of the platform; he has been touched by those who are having a hard time … both emotionally and psychologically. So with the help of a psychologist, he has created this book to guide people through tough times by having them focus on three key stages: getting through tonight, getting through tomorrow and the days after. With his trademark humor, he shares his deeply reflective personal journey to lend power to his words.

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