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The Best Books of 2021 So Far

The Best Books of 2021 So Far

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About the list

This book list was made for you by Friendspire on 6 May 2021 based on a list by BBC Culture.

Ever wonder what makes reading so special? Maybe it's the smell of an old novel or the weight of its pages. Whatever it is, reading has the power to take us somewhere else entirely. Whether it's through historical novels or fantasy, there's nothing better than getting lost in a book. Of course, you can always watch the movie version,
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A Swim in a Pond in the Rain

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2021 | George Saunders

Rated by 5 people

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the Booker Prize–winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth of December comes a literary master class on what makes great stories work and what they can tell us about ourselves—and our world today. “One of the most accurate and beautiful depictions of what it is like to be inside the mind of a writer that I’ve ever read.”—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times For the last twenty years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these turbulent times. In his introduction, Saunders writes, “We’re going to enter seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn’t fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art—namely, to ask the big questions, questions like, How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?” He approaches the stories technically yet accessibly, and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; and the bedrock virtues a writer must foster. The process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is a technical craft, but also a way of training oneself to see the world with new openness and curiosity. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible.

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Luster

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2020 | Raven Leilani

Rated by 4 people

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: NPR, O Magazine, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times, Glamour, Shondaland, The New York Times Book Review, Boston Globe, Buzzfeed, Kirkus, Time, Good Housekeeping, InStyle, The Guardian, Literary Hub, Electric Literature, Self, The New York Public Library, Town & Country, Wired, Boston.com, Happy Mag, New Statesman, Vox, Shelf Awareness, Chatelaine, The Undefeated, Apartment Therapy, Brooklyn Based, The End of the World Review, Exile in Bookville, Lit Reactor, BookPage, i-D A FAVORITE BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker, Barack Obama A BEST BOOK FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS: AV Club, Chicago Tribune, New York Magazine/The Strategist, The Rumpus WINNER of the NBCC John Leonard Prize, the Kirkus Prize, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER NATIONAL INDIE BESTSELLER * LOS ANGELES TIMES BESTSELLER * WASHINGTON POST BESTSELLER "So delicious that it feels illicit . . . Raven Leilani’s first novel reads like summer: sentences like ice that crackle or melt into a languorous drip; plot suddenly, wildly flying forward like a bike down a hill." —Jazmine Hughes, The New York Times Book Review “An irreverent intergenerational tale of race and class that’s blisteringly smart and fan-yourself sexy.” —Michelle Hart, O: The Oprah Magazine No one wants what no one wants. And how do we even know what we want? How do we know we’re ready to take it? Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and invited into Eric’s home—though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only Black woman young Akila knows. Irresistibly unruly and strikingly beautiful, razor-sharp and slyly comic, sexually charged and utterly absorbing, Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life—her hunger, her anger—in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent, and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.

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Aftershocks

2021 | Nadia Owusu

In the tradition of The Glass Castle, a deeply felt memoir from Whiting Award–winner Nadia Owusu about the push and pull of belonging, the seismic emotional toll of family secrets, and the heart it takes to pull through. A Most-Anticipated Selection by * The New York Times * Entertainment Weekly * O, The Oprah Magazine * New York magazine * Vogue * Time * Elle * Minneapolis Star Tribune * Electric Literature * Goodreads * The Millions *Refinery29 * HelloGiggles * Young Nadia Owusu followed her father, a United Nations official, from Europe to Africa and back again. Just as she and her family settled into a new home, her father would tell them it was time to say their goodbyes. The instability wrought by Nadia’s nomadic childhood was deepened by family secrets and fractures, both lived and inherited. Her Armenian American mother, who abandoned Nadia when she was two, would periodically reappear, only to vanish again. Her father, a Ghanaian, the great hero of her life, died when she was thirteen. After his passing, Nadia’s stepmother weighed her down with a revelation that was either a bombshell secret or a lie, rife with shaming innuendo. With these and other ruptures, Nadia arrived in New York as a young woman feeling stateless, motherless, and uncertain about her future, yet eager to find her own identity. What followed, however, were periods of depression in which she struggled to hold herself and her siblings together. Aftershocks is the way she hauled herself from the wreckage of her life’s perpetual quaking, the means by which she has finally come to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one written into existence by her own hand. Heralding a dazzling new writer, Aftershocks joins the likes of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and William Styron’s Darkness Visible, and does for race identity what Maggie Nelson does for gender identity in The Argonauts.

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Detransition, Baby

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2021 | Torrey Peters

Rated by 2 people

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS' CHOICE - "An unforgettable portrait of three women, trans and cis, who wrestle with questions of motherhood and family making . . . Detransition, Baby might destroy your book club, but in a good way."--Andrea Lawlor, author of Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl "A tale of love, loss, and self-discovery as singular as it is universal, and all the sweeter for it."--Entertainment Weekly Roxane Gay's Audacious Book Club Pick - A Marie Claire Book Club Pick - Named One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year by O: The Oprah Magazine - Vulture - Marie Claire - Cosmo - Refinery29 - Bustle - BuzzFeed - Esquire - The Millions - Electric Lit - Autostraddle - Time - CNN - Daily Kos - Hello Giggles - SheReads - Hey Alma - Ms. Magazine - LitHub - The A.V. Club Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn't hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Now Reese is caught in a self-destructive pattern: avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men. Ames isn't happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese--and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames's boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she's pregnant with his baby--and that she's not sure whether she wants to keep it--Ames wonders if this is the chance he's been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family--and raise the baby together? This provocative debut is about what happens at the emotional, messy, vulnerable corners of womanhood that platitudes and good intentions can't reach. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.

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The Prophets

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2021 | Robert Jones Jr.

Rated by 4 people

A novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence. Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony. With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr. fiercely summons the voices of slaver and the enslaved alike to tell the story of these two men; from Amos the preacher to the calculating slave-master himself to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminate in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.

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No One Is Talking about This

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2021 | Patricia Lockwood

Rated by 1 people

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2021 BOOKER PRIZE FINALIST FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE LONGLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE "A book that reads like a prose poem, at once sublime, profane, intimate, philosophical, witty and, eventually, deeply moving." --New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice "Wow. I can't remember the last time I laughed so much reading a book. What an inventive and startling writer...I'm so glad I read this. I really think this book is remarkable." --David Sedaris From "a formidably gifted writer" (The New York Times Book Review), a book that asks: Is there life after the internet? As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms "the portal," where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats--from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness--begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal's void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. "Are we in hell?" the people of the portal ask themselves. "Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?" Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: "Something has gone wrong," and "How soon can you get here?" As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary. Fragmentary and omniscient, incisive and sincere, No One Is Talking About This is at once a love letter to the endless scroll and a profound, modern meditation on love, language, and human connection from a singular voice in American literature.

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