After a New Page-Turner? Here Are 15 of the Best Books From 2021

After a New Page-Turner? Here Are 15 of the Best Books From 2021
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The holiday season is approaching, which means people are keen to get their hands on a list of books to devour over their annual break. And as we chatted about in this recent piece on BookTok, there are loads of titles to be excited about right now.

For that reason, we thought we’d pull together a list of the best books to enter into the literary scene in 2021 (or at least to get a positive wrap in 2021), and take a look into why they’re worth your time.

Here’s what we’ve landed on.

The best books of 2021

best books 2021
Here are the best books of 2021. Prepare your Christmas lists. Image credit: Ecco Press, Harper Perennial, Faber and Faber

All synopses from publishers.

Amnesia Road: Landscape, violence and memory, by Luke Stegemann

Mark and Evette Moran Literary Award winner.

Winner of the 2021 Queensland Literary Award for Non-Fiction.

Amnesia Road is a compelling literary examination of historic violence in rural areas of Australia and Spain. It is also an unashamed celebration of the beautiful landscapes where this violence has been carried out. Travelling and writing across two locations – the seldom-visited mulga plains of south-west Queensland and the backroads of rural Andalusia – award-winning Australian Hispanist Luke Stegemann uncovers neglected history and its many neglected victims, and asks what place such forgotten people have in contemporary debates around history, nationality, guilt and identity.

The Bass Rock, by Evie Wyld

The lives of three women weave together across four centuries in the dazzling book from Evie Wyld, winner of the Miles Franklin Award and the Stella Prize.

The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich

2021 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction.

Based on the extraordinary life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C., this powerful novel explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity and unfolds with the elegant prose, sly humor (sic), and depth of feeling of a master craftsman.

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, by Marcia Chatelain

2021 Pulitzer Prize winner for history.

From civil rights to Ferguson, Franchise reveals the untold history of how fast food became one of the greatest generators of Black wealth in America.

The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, by the late Les Payne and Tamara Payne

2021 Pulitzer Prize winner for biography.

Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X–all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world. His goal was ambitious: to transform what would become over a hundred hours of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction.

The result is this historic biography that conjures a never-before-seen world of its protagonist, a work whose title is inspired by a phrase Malcolm X used when he saw his Hartford followers stir with purpose, as if the dead were truly arising, to overcome the obstacles of racism. Setting Malcolm’s life not only within the Nation of Islam but against the larger backdrop of American history, the book traces the life of one of the twentieth century’s most politically relevant figures “from street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary.”

Postcolonial Love Poem, by Natalie Diaz

2021 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry.

Natalie Diaz’s highly anticipated follow-up to When My Brother Was an Aztec, winner of an American Book Award.

Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, by David Zucchino

2021 Pulitzer Prize winner for general nonfiction.

From Pulitzer Prize-winner David Zucchino comes a searing account of the Wilmington riot and coup of 1898, an extraordinary event unknown to most Americans.

Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney

A New York Times (NYT) pick for the best books of 2021.

The new novel from the author of Normal People.

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a distribution warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young-but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

Afterparties: Stories, by Anthony Veasna So

Another NYT favourite.

A vibrant story collection about Cambodian-American life–immersive and comic, yet unsparing–that offers profound insight into the intimacy of queer and immigrant communities

Appleseed by Matt Bell

Appleseed was also called out by the NYT in its list of best books for 2021.

A work of incandescent imagination (Karen Russell) from Young Lions Fiction Award-finalist Matt Bell, a breakout book that explores climate change, manifest destiny, humanity’s unchecked exploitation of natural resources, and the small but powerful magic contained within every single apple.

Bewilderment, by Richard Powers

Yet another NYT top choice.

Theo Byrne is a promising young astrobiologist who has found a way to search for life on other planets dozens of light years away. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine-year-old. His son Robin is funny, loving, and filled with plans. He thinks and feels deeply, adores animals, and can spend hours painting elaborate pictures. He is also on the verge of being expelled from third grade, for smashing his friend’s face with a metal thermos.

What can a father do, when the only solution offered to his rare and troubled boy is to put him on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy comes to him wanting an explanation for a world that is clearly in love with its own destruction? The only thing for it is to take the boy to other planets, while all the while fostering his son’s desperate campaign to help save this one.

Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters

One more NYT best books of 2021 selection for the road.

Reese nearly had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York, a job she didn’t hate. She’d scraped together a life previous generations of trans women could only dream of; the only thing missing was a child. Then everything fell apart and three years on Reese is still in self-destruct mode, avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.

Somebody’s Land, by Adam Goodes, Ellie Laing and David Hardy

Sure, this is a children’s book. But one that has a lot of significance to Aussies of all ages.

Somebody’s Land is an invitation to connect with First Nations culture, to acknowledge the hurt of the past, and to join together as one community with a precious shared history as old as time.

Adam Goodes and Ellie Laing’s powerful words and David Hardy’s pictures, full of life, invite children and their families to imagine themselves into Australia’s past – to feel the richness of our First Nations’ history, to acknowledge that our country was never terra nullius, and to understand what ‘welcome to our country’ really means.

Wild Abandon, by Emily Bitto

In the fall of 2011, a heartbroken young man flees Australia for the USA. Landing in the excessive, uncanny-familiar glamour and plenitude of New York City, Will makes a vow to say yes to everything that comes his way. By fate or random chance, Will’s journey takes him deep into the American heartland where he meets Wayne Gage, a fast-living, troubled Vietnam veteran, would-be spirit guide and collector of exotic animals. These two men in crisis form an unlikely friendship, but Will has no idea just how close to the edge Wayne truly is.

How We Love: Notes on a life, by Clementine Ford

A deeply personal exploration of love in all its forms from a feminist icon and bestselling author of Fight Like a Girl and Boys Will Be Boys.

It’s worth noting that if you’re concerned about ordering one of these books by the end of the year – with all the postage delays going on – you can find digital versions of most titles on Kindle or Apple Books.

Oh, and if you’d like to continue with the book talk – you should check out ABC’s new series with Claudia Karvan titled Books That Made Us. It’s available to watch on iview and ABC TV now.

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