As part of a tradition, NPR’s staff and book critics put together a huge list of the books they love at the end of each year. This year, there are more than 360 recommendations for everything from cookbooks to realistic fiction and graphic novels to tell-all stories. You can find them all in 2021!
Books We Love: 360+ great 2021 reads that NPR BOOKS thinks everyone should read.
We love these 360+ great books for 2021 that NPR thinks you’ll enjoy.
A few of the most interesting choices made by the staff. You might even find some that you didn’t expect!
We hope you enjoy our full list of choices. Take your time and look around for a while.
Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith
“It starts with the disappearance of a young woman named Winnie. Then it moves backwards in time, telling a story of unfinished business and long-delayed revenge. Some of its set pieces have been used in Hollywood horror movies and Brothers Grimm fairy tales. There is an exorcism and a haunted forest in the movie. There are no crucifixes or holy water in this book because it’s set in Vietnam. It’s a long book that tells a ghost story that goes back generations and draws the reader into its supernatural world.” As the host of All Things Considered, Ari Shapiro talks about a lot of different things.
Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World by Wil Haygood
“This book is called “One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World,” and it’s a lot of fun to read. It talks about everything from D.W. Griffith’s silent Birth of a Nation to Darnella Frazier’s video of the murder of George Floyd. Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge are two of the most popular movies of all time, but you can’t see them. Spike Lee borrowed money to fly to Cannes so he could win Best Young Director for She’s Gotta Have It, or… I’m going to stop now, sorry. A lot of treasures can be found in this area. You’ll want to do it on your own.” — Bob Mondello is a movie critic for the Culture Desk.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
“It is Michelle Zauner’s first memoir, and it is very well written. It shows how difficult it is to lose a parent in your 20s, just as your own life is about to start. Zauner, who heads the indie band Japanese Breakfast, writes about how she turned to Korean food as a way to process her grief when her mother, her only tie to Korean culture, died of cancer. There was a New Yorker essay about this topic that was very popular in 2018. In the book, she talks about how cooking and eating foods that her mom used in the past helps connect to the food she used to make herself. Thank you for this book, which helps people who have lost a parent in their 20s understand what it’s like to lose your sense of who you are and find yourself again.” In this case, Alyssa Jeong Perry, the producer of Code Switch, says this:
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado
“A lot of YA books with fat protagonists are coming out now, but the characters often have a level of self-confidence that’s too good to be true. Crystal Maldonado has written a book with a believable character for both teenagers and adults. Charlie Vega is a fat, glasses-wearing, biracial Puerto Rican who has a dieting mother and a beautiful, athletic best friend who is his best friend. When her classmate Brian starts a relationship, Charlie has a lot of self-doubt. The book is driven by both internal and external conflicts, which move it along. As a fat teen, I was glad this book was not a body-positive book, but a well-researched story about what it was like to be fat.” Jessi Reedy, a producer/editor for Pop Culture, says this: It’s Happy Hour.
Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke
“Kristen Radtke talks about the science of loneliness and how it affects people in the United States. She also tells stories from her own life to show how loneliness affects people in the U.S. When she looks at the places where loneliness shows up in TV laugh tracks and American pop culture, she talks about its evolutionary significance. All the while, she talks about how she’s had to deal with being alone: mourning the end of a TV show, scrolling through her phone in bed, and seeing her grandmother die. It’s a great mix of science and heart, and it’s very relevant as the pandemic goes on.” As a deputy editor for Goats and Soda, Malaka Gharib wrote I Was Their American Dream. She is also the author of the book.
Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994-2007) by Dan Ozzi
A line from Against Mefirst !’s major-label album reads: “Let the new dawn come / this art is dead. There is no sense of original thought in the mainstream.” I thought the album was bad before I even heard it because it was on a major label. This is a topic that Dan Ozzi talks about in Sellout. He talks about how bands want to make a mark in the world, music labels want to make money off them, and fans feel betrayed by their idols. Punknews.org isn’t the only place where this question comes up: How much is it worth to be paid? Andrew Limbong, a reporter for the Culture Desk.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
“Ashley Ford wrote a heartbreaking memoir about her father’s time in prison and how it affected her and her family. Race and family are two things that come up in her story. It also talks about how we make choices and have them made for us. Ford writes in a way that is both refreshing and captivating. As a fellow Hoosier, I found the book particularly compelling because it is not only a coming-of-age Midwestern tale with all the typical concerns about body image and mother-daughter tension, but also a sharp commentary on the harsh realities of growing up as a Black person in Indiana. Another thing Ford shows us is how prison changes the daughters who are left behind.” When Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for the Washington Desk, she writes about the White House.