Seven Books to Look Forward to in 2021

Serious, sad edition

After a year of COVID-related delays, cancellations and pivots, I’m relieved to have new books again, and there are so many exciting ones to look forward to in 2021. This winter and spring will see new works from Rachel Cusk, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kazuo Ishiguro, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Joan Didion and Georgia politician Stacey Abrams, as well as celeb memoirs from Julianna Margulies, Sharon Stone and Ethan Hawke. I’ve collected a few goodies to look forward to this winter—many that might not appear on a conventional list, but which are strange, delightful, and very worth your time.

These titles reveal my biases: I love a serious, sad book. Especially on an evening full of winter weather, there is nothing I enjoy more than a weirdo read about ghosts and life and death. It can be a painful and expensive drag to talk about the difficulties of my own life or that harm the people I love; reading, for me, is a much easier source of catharsis and growth. It challenges my own ideas and feelings. I felt challenged by Hades, Argentina’s look at the narrator’s personal guilt and responsibility in the midst of a political crisis, and Libertie’s reckoning with daughterhood and identity. And Crying in H Mart gave me my first good cry of the new year.

But don’t be discouraged; there is love and joy and fun in many of the books I’ve chosen. I have thought about the characters from To Love and To Loathe literally every day since I read the book earlier this month, and MilkFed is one of the wildest books I have ever read. They are two rare books that are as strongly written as they are sexy and funny.

Read about these seven new and upcoming books below, and share the ones you’re most excited for in the comments.

Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel (January 12, Riverhead Books)

Hades, Argentina combines my love of political fiction with my need for fantastical explorations of death and trauma, all in a compulsively readable package that slips down like gossip from your best friend. Daniel Loedel’s protagonist returns to Argentina after fleeing the Dirty War a decade before, and quite literally has to face the ghosts of his past. The result is a beautifully written, haunting examination of free will, fate, nihilism, and the narratives we tell ourselves to get through the day.

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (February 2, Scribner)

Books

Milk Fed’s cover is just a glorious, illustrated boob, that could also be an aerial view of an ice cream sundae with a cherry on top. Both would be appropriate for Melissa Broder’s newest novel which grapples with weight and body image, mother and daughterhood, queer relationships, God, and frozen yogurt with equal sincerity. The mind behind the So Sad Today Twitter account and the very horny novel The Pisces, Broder writes bodies as if they are a feast. Milk Fed is an absolutely luscious novel—though one that I cannot in good faith recommend without mentioning its oft mother-centric erotica.

No One’s Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (February 16, Riverhead Books)

I wanted to hate No One’s Talking About This, blurbed by Sally Rooney and Jia Tolentino in what felt like a very specific push for the attention of readers like me (read: millennial, young, female). Adding insult to injury, Patricia Lockwood writes in digestible little bites, almost tweets, itself a commentary on the modern attention span. But the first half, more of a meditation on being “extremely online” than concerned about plot, slipped by in what felt like a breath. By the time I looked up from my copy, the second half of Lockwood’s novel was upon me, and took me down a rabbit hole of the narrator’s loss and self-reflection. I’d recommend equally to anyone with an addiction or aversion to Twitter.

Elemental by Various Authors (March 9, Two Lines Press)

Two Lines Press is one of my favorite indie publishers, out of the Center for Art in Translation in San Francisco. Last year, they started putting out their Calico Series, dedicated to publishing anthologies of vanguard translated literature in stylish little collections, twice a year. Their first installment for 2021, the third so far, is Elemental, a collection of “Earth stories” translated from Japanese, Persian, Norwegian, German, French, Kurdish, Hebrew and Polish into English. They were all new authors for me; many had not previously had their work translated for an English-speaking audience before. It is, unsurprisingly, one of the brightest spots of my literary year so far. I encourage anyone with an interest to grab all three and devour them in furious succession.

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge (March 30, Algonquin Books)

Libertie is a sweeping historical fiction novel inspired by the life of Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the country’s third black woman physician and the first in the state of New York. Author Kaitlyn Greenidge imagines the legacy that such a powerful woman would leave behind and centers her novel on her daughter, Libertie, who tries to fill those shoes. The result is an absolutely gorgeous story, set in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn and Haiti, that really challenges readers’ ideas about identity, what freedom means as a black woman, and mother and daughterhood—though very differently than Milk Fed.

To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters (April 6, Atria Books)

If you, like me, watched Netflix’s Bridgerton over the holidays and now need a replacement Regency love story—without the Vitamin String Quartet covers of Taylor Swift songs—look no further than Martha Waters’ To Love and to Loathe. Echoing the show, Waters writes a regency romance about two wealthy, smart, beautiful people who enter into a friends-with-benefits, sex bet scenario. I’m picky about romance, and this author lives up to the task: tight, delightful writing; strong characters full of backstory and wit; enough mentions of the word “ton” for “town”; and zero gross anatomical metaphors. I read it in a day and longed for a sequel.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (April 20, Knopf)

Author Michelle Zauner is better known as indie musician Japanese Breakfast, whose 2017 album Soft Sounds from Another Planet is all-hits-no-skips for me. I can pick that record up in any mood, weather or situation, and take away something new. Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H Mart, is no different. The essay collection tackles food, grief, family and identity with incredible intimacy, and have parts I’ll return to forever. Zauner writes each piece like it’s a song, or more specifically, a sweeping ode to all that has made her. Dive into the titular essay, originally published in The New Yorker, here and just see if you can resist picking up the rest.

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Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a Philadelphia-based writer. Find her on Instagram @saddy_yankee for cat pics.

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