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What new books did we value the most this year? Which ones would we recommend to dear friends and family as we settle into the year-end holiday break? We’ll have lots of time to read in the coming weeks, and happily there are a lot of great books out there. What should you read right now among the best new books of the year 2021 including fiction, poetry, essays, memoirs and other non-fiction? Our correspondent Abbie Greenbaum has curated our highly subjective and personal list of the 10 best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021. 

what are the 10 best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021?

2021 left a lot to be desired, but there is one way in which it delivered: new books. For the last twelve months, we’ve enjoyed exciting releases across every genre – and it’s a good thing, too.

Our list of the 10 best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021.

With the world looking the way that it does right now, we’re grateful to have some top-shelf titles to take our minds off everything, at least for a little while.


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But if you had trouble keeping track of the surplus of new content, you’re not alone. With so much to read, watch, and listen to all the time, it can be difficult to separate the worthwhile from the… less worthwhile.

Our picks for the 10 best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021.

And so we bring you our Top Ten Favorite Books of 2021 – these are works that have all been widely-praised and awarded, that we ourselves also happen to love. We hope you enjoy.


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10 best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021

1. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton.


best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021

There is much to be said about The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, a book whose innovative structure shines as brightly as its page-turning content. Told as an oral history – from a fictional magazine editor with a personal connection to the main players – Walton’s genius debut tells the tale of a doomed rock duo from the 1970’s.

The book reads like the world’s best and most impossible-to-put-down celebrity profile, while also speaking to the racism of the early 70’s music scene. It’s a gut-punch of a first novel, and you’re going to wish it went on forever.

BUY NOW: $18.26.

2. Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge.


best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021The eponymous heroine of Libertie is Libertie Sampson, a young Black woman coming of age in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn. Though at first she intends to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a doctor, a rift between them leads her to instead accept a marriage proposal that takes her to Haiti – where life does not turn out the way she expected it would.

It’s difficult to find a book whose protagonist feels as fully realized and alive as Greenidge’s Libertie, and her story is one that will stay with you long after you reach the final page.

BUY NOW: $14.99.

3. Intimacies by Katie Kitamura.


In Intimacies, the reader follows the unnamed narrator as she leaves New York and settles into her new position – that of a court translator, responsible for elucidating the stories of war criminals.

At the same time, she is also trying to find a life for herself in her new home. The relationship between translation and, yes, intimacy, has never been as poignantly examined as it is here, and it will have you thinking about the world in new ways.

BUY NOW: $22.99.


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4. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders.


best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021

Though it may seem strange that we – and many others, as well – would recommend a book about writing to non-writers, trust on us on this one. This is the kind of craft book that transcends its purpose, and instead becomes a magical key for understanding why and how stories move us.

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain reads almost like a game, with Saunders presenting short stories and then supplying sections of analysis. By the end, you’ll find yourself wanting to take his class – even if you’re not a writer.

BUY NOW: $24.99.

5. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.


best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021

If a book about a robot does not seem like it would be on your 2021 to-be-read list, maybe the name Ishiguro – recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature – will change your mind.

Set in an unknown future time, Klara and the Sun tells the story of an “extraordinary” AI named Klara, and the unusual friendship she forms with a fragile young girl. Ishiguro’s work always captivates, while also urging us to look critically at the world around us.

BUY NOW: $16.09.

6. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead.


best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021

Ray Carney, the protagonist of Harlem Shuffle, lives a good life. He’s a respected furniture salesman, and he and his wife are expecting their second child. But when a jewel heist threatens to put all of that at stake, he will have to fight to keep his criminal acts a secret – while also fighting to stay alive.


Set in Harlem in the 1960’s, Whitehead’s latest release defies genre, reminding the reader that he’s one of the greatest novelists of our time.

BUY NOW: $17.75.

7. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters.


best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021

In the novel Detransition, Baby, when Ames’s girlfriend discovers she is pregnant, she isn’t sure she wants to be a mother. But Ames has a solution: he wants to ask Reese – his ex-girlfriend, from before his de-transition – to join their family, and to help them raise their child.

Peters’ novel dives headfirst into the complexities of its premise, artfully laying out nuances of gender and motherhood, for both trans and cis women. It’s one of the stand-out novels of the year, and forcing readers to reflect on their own pre-conceived notions of what constitutes a family.

BUY NOW: $13.88.


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8. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner.


best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021

You may know Michelle Zauner best as the lead vocalist in beloved indie rock group Japanese Breakfast. Well, this year she proved she is as accomplished a writer of prose as she is of song lyrics – her memoir, Crying in H Mart, is one of the best works of nonfiction of the year.

Much of the book revolves around Zauner’s loss of her mother, and will resonate with anyone who is wading through the strange waters of grief.

BUY NOW: $15.95.

9. Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu.


best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021

Another memoir that makes our list of the best books of the year is Aftershocks. Nadia Owusu had a unique upbringing – before she was even eighteen, she had lived all over the world. Here she tries to make sense of this confusing childhood – the sense of displacement, and the horrific loss of her father at thirteen.

The narrative spins through time, reaching for larger, global stories of the places she’s called home, as well as her own complicated history.

BUY NOW: $14.99.

10. Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia.


Of Women and Salt is a book about mothers and daughters in which trauma bleeds through a family’s generations. After her neighbor is detained by ICE, Jeanette makes the impulsive decision to take in her neighbor’s teenage daughter.

Meanwhile, she faces battles of her own – like addiction, and her relationship with her own mother, Carmen. Searching for answers to some long-held questions, she travels to Cuba to see her grandmother, hoping to understand her family’s history at last. The book looks at injustices both past and present, weaving them together to create one unforgettable story.

BUY NOW: $13.49.

best new novels and non-fiction books of 2021

That’s our take on the 10 best books of 2021. What’s on your list, dear reader?

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Abbie Martin Greenbaum grew up in New York City and currently lives in Brooklyn, where she drinks a lot of coffee and matches roommates together for a living. At Oberlin College, she studied English and Cinema, which are still two of her favorite things, along with dessert and musical theater. She believes in magic.

Abbie Martin Greenbaum

Abbie Martin Greenbaum is a writer, reader, and pop culture connoisseur, who loves storytelling, coffee, and dessert. Her work has also appeared in Playbill.