If you’re looking to plan your reading in 2021, here are recommendations from independent bookstore staff across a wide range of genres, from young adult to biography to sci-fi and beyond, popular and newer authors. Via email, I asked each staff member at the bookstore to share their most anticipated 2021 book and why they think readers will enjoy it. Book titles refer to the bookstore, if applicable, or the bookseller’s site, and the books are listed in chronological order.
Concrete rose by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray, January 12)
Blair Boles, co-owner and bookseller, Beausoleil Books, Lafayette, Louisiana: “Angie Thomas has already blown readers away with The hate you give and To come up. His stories are complex, layered, relevant and enlightening. At Beausoleil Books, our store’s goal is inclusiveness. We want everyone to feel heard, appreciated and safe when entering. This book, like its others, gives voice to people who have so often been marginalized by society. We admire this and strive to do the same with the books we carry in our store. We want people to feel seen. Angie Thomas has done an amazing job doing just that for the people who need it most. I can’t wait to see what this next book has in store for us.
Without reading it, I don’t know the particular stuff that will make readers like it. I know, however, that his previous stories are rich and appeal to any audience member who reads them from the first page. Readers who like to be attached to the characters talk about his work months, if not years, after reading it. Thomas’ characters stay with you and the themes of his stories haunt you.
Ida B. The Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells by Michelle Duster (Atria / One Signal Publishers, January 26)
Jeannine A. Cook, shopkeeper, The Harriett Bookstore, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: “Because 89 years after Ida B. Wells’ death, she recently received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for her courageous anti-lynching and human rights activism, not only in this country but in the whole world. I think as we look at the work that needs to be done to tackle today’s social ills, it makes sense to go back to the great women of the past who laid out the blueprint for how to bring about radical change. in the face of immediate danger.
First of all, the book is visually stunning, combining bold graphics with primary source materials. But also, I think people will appreciate the passionate writing of author Michelle Duster, who is also Ida B. Wells’ great-granddaughter. Finally, I believe that readers who are looking for bold and original approaches to social change will undoubtedly be inspired by Ida B. The Queen. “
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press, March 2)
Jennifer Caspar, owner, Village Well Books & Coffee, Culver City, CA: “My reading group loved Nguyen’s debut novel, The sympathizer, which was a bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner, and The Committed promises to deliver more meaty action worthy of conversation, humor and existential desperation. In The sympathizer, the anonymous narrator told (to Hollywood filmmakers) his stories about being a North Vietnamese communist mole in the South Vietnamese army. In the new book, it’s 1981 and he’s in Paris, his father’s homeland, where he and his best friend Bon make their way into the city’s criminal belly. Nguyen’s eccentric intellectualism addresses weighty and relevant issues that are even more critical today: race, immigration, identity, irreconcilable worldviews, and addiction and PTSD that lurk in its wake. of the great isms (community, capitalist and Catholic) which dominated the 20th century.
Life after death by Sister Souljah (Atria / Emily Bestler Books, March 2)
DeShanta Hairston, Owner / Bookseller, Books and nooks, Martinsville, Virginia: “Life after death is the long awaited sequel to Sister Souljah’s Coldest winter ever, originally published in April 1999. Coldest winter ever served as a coming-of-age story for every young black girl I know. Many of us could either relate to Winter, knew someone like Winter, or wanted to be Winter. Sister Souljah has done an amazing job pointing out the ups and downs that come with being fast paced and what it means to grow up faster than you should. Considering that the group most affected by the original book are all now adults, it will be a real fandom moment to see how Winter came of age as well and how her choices had a lasting impact on her life.
Women and other monsters: building a new mythology by Jess Zimmerman (Beacon Press, March 9)
Christina Ciampa, owner / founder, Everything she wrote books, Somerville, Massachusetts: “What made me choose this book at first was the fact that it told ancient stories of female monsters from Greek mythology, such as Medusa, the Sphinx, Chimera, Charybdis, Scylla. Any chance to read a tale of ancient mythologies with a feminist twist, that’s what I’m here for! What makes this book not just another tale is because author Jess Zimmerman takes us on a feminist journey through mythology, providing a roadmap on how we can shape the world. that surrounds us by adopting “unwanted” traits like hunger, anger and ugliness. With his intimate and fierce writing, Zimmerman harnesses the images we know from literature and art (i.e. the head of Medusa with snakes) and turns them into emblems to teach us a new kind of female hero: one who looks like a monster, but with all the agency and the power to match. For those who liked Circe by Madeline Miller and Bad feminist by Roxane Gay, this book is a must read for 2021.
Women and salt by Gabriela Garcia (Flatiron Books, March 30)
Stéphanie Skees, Director of Operations, The Roman neighbor, Webster Groves, Missouri: “This is a masterfully written debut novel that explores a family’s matriarchal choices and the legacy that those choices create. A sweeping story stretching from 19th century cigar factories to contemporary detention centers, it will leave the reader both haunted and moved.
Early bird: a novel by Katherine Heiny (Knopf, April 13)
Drew Cohen, co-owner, The writer’s block, Las Vegas, Nevada: “Heiny’s previous novel, Standard deviation, is one of my most recommended books in recent years. Various authors are described (wrongly, in my opinion!) Early riser in the morning, like his latest novel, sneaks up on you. It declares itself as a romantic comedy in its first chapters (one with superb and precise writing), but evolves into a narrative with deep stakes and moral concerns, and all without losing its lightness and spirit. I would have read the back of a cereal box if it had been written by Katherine Heiny. It’s a real treat for 2021.
Hail Mary project by Andy Weir (Ballantine Books, May 4)
Jill Hendrix, owner, Addiction to fiction, Greenville, South Carolina: “We were the first fans of Andy Weir and his first novel, The Martian, which was a huge bestseller and went on to become a major movie starring Matt Damon. We like The Martian so much we thought about a “fall in confidence” campaign to get non-sci-fi readers to buy it on sight and try it out. I’m explaining all of this so you understand how huge it is that we love Andy’s third sci-fi novel even more than the first.
In Hail Mary project, another lonely astronaut must use science to survive, except that it is not only his survival, but that of the world. It’s tough science fiction with a heart, featuring sun-killer microbes, amnesia, and alien first contact.
No gods, no monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (Blackstone Publishing, September 7)
Keri Cooks, Owner, The uterus library, Wailua, Hawaii: “No gods, no monsters is a gripping story, set in a world similar to ours, which follows the events of the discovery that the creatures of myth and legend are real. He’s a page turner and my clients will love the storytelling weaving as the story follows multiple characters as they navigate their new world where monsters no longer hide but come out of the shadows to safety thanks to the visibility. My clients are of all origins, ethnicities, identities, etc. and like me, they like to see themselves reflected in the books they read; this book manages to reflect a bit of each of them. Plus, this book has everything my readers love: a compelling storyline, full characters, complex moral dilemmas, mystery, chaos, with a bit of romance. This sci-fi / fantasy story grabs your attention from the start. I love the way Turnbull changes the tale of hate and division that has been written so many times and makes us think about the question: Who are the real monsters?
Things that I have remembered by Kei Miller (US Grove Atlantic September 14 / UK Canongate, May 6)
Naledi Yaziyo, curator, Rofhiwa Book Café, Durham, North Carolina: “As a new bookstore that strives to capture, in its selection, the vastness of the black imagination across geographic areas. Jamaican poet, novelist and essayist, Kei Miller is the writer that immediately came to mind.
With Things that I have rememberedMiller promises a lyrical collection of essays in which he “examines the experience of discrimination through silence,” exploding the things we don’t say and testing the limits of what we can bear to hear. Drawing on his travels through the US, UK, Jamaica, and other places, Miller’s essays say something about how meaning, as well as our own position, can change when we travel the world and encounter systemic violence.
A letter to James Baldwin is the subject of a chapter that particularly fascinates me. Miller and Baldwin are known to be terribly concise and honest in their observations regarding race and racism. At a time when many of the issues facing this country face historic violence in the name of race, it is compelling to consider what Miller might have to share with Baldwin about our global situation. What could Miller say to Baldwin about all the lessons we haven’t learned despite his best efforts to teach them to us? “