21 books to look forward to in 2021

December 26, 2020, 12:00 PM UTC

As editors feverishly put to bed any remaining “Best of 2020” lists, work is well underway to review all the new books arriving in 2021. (Yes, 2020 is, mercifully, almost over.)

Here is a sampling of nonfiction and fiction titles to consider reading as they will be published in the first half of 2021.

“World Travel”; “Black Buck”; “Crying in H Mart”; “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”; “Are You Enjoying?”; “Speak, Okinawa”
Courtesy of Ecco; Houghton Mifflin; Knopf

White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck

Available Jan. 5

Journalist Koa Beck—a veteran of Jezebel, Vogue, and Marie Claire—examines, with clear-eyed scrutiny and in meticulous detail, the history of feminism, from the true mission of the suffragettes to the rise of corporate feminism. Throughout these pages, she documents how elitism and racial prejudice have driven the narrative of feminist discourse. She blends pop culture, primary historical research, and firsthand storytelling to show how women of color have been sidelined from the wider movement and what white women must do to course-correct for a new generation.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Available Jan. 5

In this propulsive, satirical novel, Mateo Askaripour recounts the rise and fall of a young Black salesman at an all-white NYC tech startup. It’s the story of how one man battles racism and microaggression to get to the top of a cult-like company. And when it becomes clear he’s the token Black guy, he hatches a plan to help people of color infiltrate America’s sales teams, setting off a chain of events that forever changes the game. This razor-sharp tale skewers America’s workforce, explores ambition and race, and makes way for a necessary new vision of the American dream.

Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car by Alex Davies

Available Jan. 5

Perhaps Hollywood is to blame for raising our expectations, but a few years ago, it seemed as if self-driving cars were going to be here sooner rather than later. In Driven (Simon & Schuster), Business Insider senior editor Alex Davies tells the dramatic, colorful story of the quest to develop driverless cars—and the fierce competition among Google, Uber, and other tech and auto giants in the race to revolutionize our lives.

The Power of Ethics: How to Make Good Choices in a Complicated World by Susan Liautaud

Available Jan. 5

Drawing upon two decades as an ethics adviser guiding corporations and leaders, academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, and students in her Stanford University ethics courses, Susan Liautaud provides clarity to blurry ethical questions, walking you through a straightforward, four-step process for ethical decision-making you can use every day. As founder and managing director of Susan Liautaud & Associates, which advises clients such as global corporations and NGOs on matters of ethical complexity, Liautaud outlines six forces driving virtually every ethical choice we face, positioning the book as an essential guide to ethical decision-making in the 21st century.

Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age by Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Available Jan. 5

With the world upside down indefinitely, it can be hard to stick to what used to be normal routines or even to stay focused these days. Although researched and written well before the current global dilemma, Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s latest work strives to serve as a manual toward maintaining and improving cognitive health, from debunking common myths about aging to prescribing which social interactions and games are actually beneficial.

Kamala’s Way: An American Life by Dan Morain

Available Jan. 12

Though the Vice President–elect was well known among Californians, the country learned much more about Kamala Harris when President-elect Joe Biden named her to the Democratic ticket in August 2020. In Kamala’s Way (Simon & Schuster), journalist Dan Morain—who has covered California policy, politics, and justice-related issues for more than four decades at the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee—offers a revelatory biography of the first Black woman Vice President, charting how the daughter of two immigrants in segregated California became one of this country’s most effective power players.

How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide to Surviving the Chaos by David Pogue

Available Jan. 26

This vital guide from New York Times contributor David Pogue covers such topics as where to move to avoid the worst natural disasters (based on cool temperatures, good hospitals, and resilient infrastructure); how to fortify your home against extreme weather; and what insurance to buy in a chaotic era. You’ll also learn what to grow in your garden; how to invest as the world decarbonizes; as well as how to talk to your kids about climate change and manage your own health in its wake.

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs

Available Feb. 2

Scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs celebrates Black motherhood by telling the story of the three women who raised and shaped some of America’s most pivotal heroes: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. These deeply researched portraits of the lives of Alberta King, Louise Little, and Berdis Baldwin offer a new understanding of a century of American history.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

Available Feb. 16

In this urgent book, Microsoft cofounder and philanthropist Bill Gates sets out a wide-ranging, practical—and accessible—plan for how the world can get to zero greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid a climate catastrophe. Drawing on his understanding of innovation and what it takes to get new ideas into the market, the tech industry titan describes the areas in which technology is already helping reduce emissions; where and how the current technology can be made to function more effectively; where breakthrough technologies are needed; and who is working on these essential innovations.

Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir by Elizabeth Miki Brina

Available Feb. 23

Elizabeth Miki Brina’s mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and power imbalance that defined their early relationship followed them to the predominantly white, upstate New York suburb where they moved to raise their only daughter. Decades later, the author comes to recognize the shame and self-loathing that haunt both her and her mother, and she attempts a form of reconciliation, not only to come to terms with the embattled dynamics of her family but also to reckon with the injustices that reverberate throughout the history of Okinawa and its people.

Unbound: A Woman’s Guide to Power by Kasia Urbaniak

Available March 9

How can so many women feel good and mad yet still reluctant to speak up in a meeting or difficult conversation? Why do women often feel like they’re too much—and, at the same time, not enough? What causes us, at the most critical moments in our lives, to freeze? In Unbound (TarcherPerigee), Kasia Urbaniak teaches power to women—and her answers to these questions may surprise you. Based on insights from her experiences as a dominatrix, her training to become a Taoist nun, and the countless women she has taught to expand their influence, this book offers precise, practical instruction in how to stand in your power, find your voice, and use it well.

The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town by Brian Alexander

Available March 9

By following the struggle for survival of one small-town hospital, and the patients who walk, or are carried, through its doors, The Hospital (St. Martin’s Press) takes readers into the world of the American medical industry in a way no book has done before. Americans are dying sooner and living in poorer health. Brian Alexander argues that no plan will solve America’s health crisis until the deeper causes of that crisis are addressed. Culminating in COVID-19, this book details how we’ve created the dilemma we’re in.

Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation by Kevin Roose

Available March 9

A.I. and automation have certainly garnered a lot of attention and headlines in the tech press over the past decade, especially as the technology has improved exponentially in recent years. But with the current economic crisis unfolding, business leaders across all industries are going to be rethinking which jobs can be automated. In Futureproof (Random House)—originally scheduled to be released in 2020 but one of the many books pushed to 2021—New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose suggests these machines aren’t actually threatening jobs, and with the right planning and organization, “futureproofing” your company for technological change could set up better protections for jobs down the road.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

Available April 6

Already touted by critics as one of the most anticipated debuts of 2021, Gabriela Garcia’s novel spans five generations and four countries—from 19th-century Cuba to present-day Miami and Mexico. Of Women and Salt primarily follows the daughter of a Cuban immigrant who is determined to learn more about her family history from her reticent mother while making the snap decision to take in the daughter of a neighbor detained by ICE.

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer

Available April 6

Author of Annihilation Jeff VanderMeer’s latest is a thriller haunted by conspiracy, endangered species, and perhaps the death of the planet. A security consultant receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit containing a taxidermic hummingbird. By removing the hummingbird from the unit, the protagonist sparks a series of events that spiral out of control, endangering herself and her family. (Suffice to say, it probably won’t be long before a Hollywood studio picks up the rights.)

First Person Singular: Stories by Haruki Murakami

Available April 6

The eight masterly stories in this new collection from beloved Japanese author Haruki Murakami are all told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator. From nostalgic memories of youth, meditations on music, and an ardent love of baseball to dreamlike scenarios and invented jazz albums, together these stories challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world. Occasionally, a narrator who may or may not be Murakami himself is present. Is it memoir or fiction? Let the reader decide.

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner

Available April 20

Raised by a Korean immigrant in the Pacific Northwest, Michelle Zauner never forgot what her mother ate. Despite a tumultuous adolescence arguing over clothes and ambition and career choice, it is no wonder, then, that their best moments were spent over heaping plates of Korean food: perfectly sour kimchi, Tupperware containers full of homemade banchan, piping hot soups. And the very best: the two of them, shoulder to shoulder in front of the fridge in Zauner’s grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, snacking on sweet braised black soybeans, crisp yellow sprouts, and warm lavender kong bap while they battled jet lag. Sharing food was its own kind of love. As one of the few Asian-American kids in her Oregon town, however, this part of Zauner’s identity—her Koreanness—was not something she had always readily embraced.

Are You Enjoying? by Mira Sethi

Available April 20

An abashed look at sexuality and desire, power and social mobility—and the humor and heartache in what it means to transgress in a Muslim society today—this debut short story collection from Pakistani writer and actor Mira Sethi offers a disarmingly comic perspective on everyday life in Pakistan.

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever

Available April 20

There will never be anyone quite like Anthony Bourdain. But World Travel (Ecco) offers readers the potential to travel the world as he did. A life of experience is transformed into an entertaining, practical, fun, and frank travel guide with introductions, in his own words, to some of his favorite places. Featuring essential advice on how to get there, what to eat, where to stay, and, in some cases, what to avoid, World Travel provides context that will help readers further appreciate why Bourdain found a place memorable and enchanting. Supplementing Bourdain’s words are a handful of essays by friends, colleagues, and family that tell even deeper stories about a place, including sardonic accounts of traveling with Bourdain.

Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture by Annelise Heinz

Available May 11

Mahjong takes a deep dive into the history of a game that crossed the Pacific and fostered distinct social cultures—from Chinese-Americans in the 1930s to incarcerated Japanese-Americans during the Second World War to Jewish-American suburban mothers and Air Force officers’ wives in the postwar era. Historian Annelise Heinz’s examination of the game provides unexpected insights into race, gender, class, and leisure in modern America with particular relevance to Chinese-American heritage and Jewish-American women’s culture.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Available June 1

In what could be the big fiction hit of the summer, Zakiya Dalila Harris takes a hard look at racism and racial disparities in the book publishing industry. Described as a cross between The Devil Wears Prada and Get Out, this debut novel features a protagonist who’s frustrated as her company’s only Black employee—simultaneously overlooked as well as subject to incessant microaggressions. While the plot takes a darker turn into thriller territory, this read is ideal for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or dismissed in the workplace.

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