75 Books To Add To Your 2021 TBR List

A Chicago crime cover-up; a metaphysical mystery; new releases from Colson Whitehead, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Melissa Broder; and so much more.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Jan. 5)

Mateo Askaripour’s blazing debut follows Darren Vender, aka Buck, a young Black native of Brooklyn who goes from shift supervisor at Starbucks to sales wunderkind at Sumwun, a tech startup. The CEO takes Buck under his wing but conveniently looks the other way as Buck, Sumwun’s lone Black sales agent, is targeted with racist attacks from his coworkers, running the gamut from microaggressions to outright violence disguised as hazing. Still, Buck is great at sales and skyrockets to success. The only problem is he loses himself — and his connections to his home and community — in the process. —Arianna Rebolini

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Outlawed by Anna North (Bloomsbury; Jan. 5)

In an alternate version of late-1800s America, women who are unable to have children are ostracized by society, and babies are a hot commodity after a flu wiped out much of the population. Ada, a young newlywed, hasn’t gotten pregnant yet, so her only choice is to become an outlaw. She joins up with the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, a group of misfits who refuse to conform to gender or societal norms. But their dream of creating a utopia for outcasts comes with a dangerous plan — one that Ada isn’t sure she can live with. —A.R.

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W-3 by Bette Howland (A Public Space; Jan. 12)

The resurgence of the late writer Bette Howland — thanks to A Public Space’s 2019 release of her short story collection, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage — has been one of the most exciting literary developments in recent years. This new edition of her 1974 memoir, including a poignant introduction by Yiyun Li, is a stunner. Written during and about her stay at a Chicago hospital psychiatric ward, it’s an illuminating account of mental illness, the pitfalls of psychiatric treatment, and the ad hoc communities formed within it. —A.R.

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Murder in Canaryville: The True Story Behind a Cold Case and a Chicago Cover-Up by Jeff Coen (Chicago Review Press; Jan. 12)

I love a cold case true crime story, and this one, from Chicago Tribune crime and justice editor Jeff Coen, sounds riveting: In 1976 Chicago, 17-year-old John Hughes was killed in a drive-by shooting while at a park with friends. Forty years later, James Sherlock, a Chicago police detective, tried to research the unsolved murder but found the case file nearly empty, so he set off to investigate what seemed to be deep corruption. —A.R.

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Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (One World; Jan. 12)

When Reese’s long-term girlfriend, Amy, decides to detransition and become Ames, it sends Reese into a self-destructive spiral. But Ames, who quickly discovers that life as a man isn’t as easy as he’d hoped, learns that his boss is pregnant with his baby. He wonders if this might be the key to creating a new family — and if Reese might want to come along. —A.R.

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The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata by Gina Apostol (Soho Press; Jan. 12)

Gina Apostol won her second Philippine National Book Award for The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata when it originally published in 2009; now (following her 2018 novel, Insurrecto, one of our favorites of that year), Soho Press is releasing the first US edition. It’s another genre-bending historical novel that blurs the line between fact and fiction, presented as the memoir of Raymundo Mata, a 19th-century revolutionary who crosses paths with famed Filipino writer and national hero José Rizal, complete with feuding annotations from a nationalist editor, a psychoanalyst, and a translator. —A.R.

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Art Is Everything by Yxta Maya Murray (TriQuarterly Books; Jan. 15)

Murray’s innovative short story collection, The World Doesn’t Work That Way, But It Could, was one of my surprise favorites last year. In her latest novel, Murray explores the intersection of art, identity, and purpose through Amanda Ruiz, a queer Mexican American performance artist whose life turns upside down when she is sexually assaulted, her father dies, and her girlfriend starts questioning their future. As she did in The World Doesn’t Work That Way, Murray experiments with form, telling Amanda’s story through social media posts, online reviews, and various streams of consciousness. —A.R.

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The Conjure-Man Dies: A Harlem Mystery by Rudolph Fisher (Collins Crime Club; Jan. 19)

Originally published in 1932, The Conjure-Man Dies is the first known detective mystery written by a Black American author. Set in 1930s New York, it follows Perry Dart, one of Harlem’s 10 Black police detectives, as he investigates the suspicious death of a local “conjure-man,” N’Gana Frimbo, with the help of a neighboring physician and some local characters looking to clear their own names. —A.R.

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The Hare by Melanie Finn (Two Dollar Radio; Jan. 26)

In 1980s New York, art college student Rosie falls under the spell of Bennett, a charming, worldly man 20 years her senior who offers her entry into the most rarefied circles of New England society. She moves in with him at his Connecticut estate and they have a baby, but she learns Bennett is a con artist whose scamming catches up with him. Soon Rosie finds herself alone with their daughter, abandoned in a remote cabin, left to fend for herself. —A.R.

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The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura (W.W. Norton & Company; Jan. 19)

In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the US to receive a medical degree; her younger sister, Emily, became the third in 1854. In The Doctors Blackwell, Janice P. Nimura explores their extraordinary lives, charting their achievements and setbacks throughout Europe and the US. —A.R.

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Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion (Knopf; Jan. 26)

This new collection gathers 12 essays from early in Joan Didion’s career, anthologized for the first time, including accounts of a Gamblers Anonymous meeting and a reunion of World War II veterans in Las Vegas, thoughts on Martha Stewart and Robert Mapplethorpe, and more. —A.R.

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Surviving the White Gaze by Rebecca Carroll (Simon & Schuster; Feb. 2)

Cultural critic Rebecca Carroll describes growing up in rural New Hampshire as the sole Black person — not only in her family (she was adopted by white parents at birth) but also in her small town. When she meets her birth mother, also a white woman, the vague tensions of her youth are pushed into light as she’s forced to reckon with her alienation as a child, her complicated relationship with her parents, and her understanding of her racial identity. —A.R.

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Annie and the Wolves by Andromeda Romano-Lax (Soho Press; Feb. 2)

In Andromeda Romano-Lax’s latest novel, historian Ruth McClintock has been studying Annie Oakley for almost a decade. McClintock’s inability to walk away from her obsession has cost her a book deal, a doctorate, and a fiancé. Then she finds what she suspects is one of Oakley’s journals, and she’s closer to solving the mystery of how Annie became the legendary sharpshooter — but then out-of-body experiences place Ruth in Oakley’s memories. —A.R.

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Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen (Mariner Books; Feb. 2)

Chen’s debut short story collection explores the vast and diverse experiences of Chinese people, both in China and its diaspora globally, blending history, sociopolitics, and touches of magical realism in stories about people just trying to survive, and maybe even thrive. —A.R.

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Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (Scribner; Feb. 2)

Anything by Melissa Broder is an immediate must-read for me; her 2018 novel, The Pisces, was one of my favorites of that year, managing to be both merman erotica and an astute, unflinching examination of depression. Her new novel — which follows 24-year-old Rachel, whose personal religion of calorie restriction is tested when she falls for a young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite froyo shop — has the same precise blend of desire, disgust, spirituality, and existential ache that makes Broder’s depiction of the human experience so canny —A.R.

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My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead; Feb. 2)

Chinese American entrepreneur Pong Lou sees something promising in Tiller, an otherwise underwhelming college student, and decides to bring him along on a life-changing journey across Asia. Over the course of that trip, Tiller’s entire sense of the world, and his place within it, shifts. Through his eye-opening experience, Chang-Rae Lee explores themes of capitalism, cultural assimilation, the mentor/protégé power dynamics, and more. —A.R.

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Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler (Catapult; Feb. 2)

When an unnamed narrator discovers her boyfriend is leading a secret life as an anonymous right-wing conspiracy theorist and fearmonger on the internet, she decides she’ll break up with him as soon as she’s back from the Women’s March in DC. But that plan is thwarted, and what follows is a chaotic spiral into a life of deception, manipulation, and disoriented identity. —A.R.

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God I Feel Modern Tonight: Poems From a Gal About Town by Catherine Cohen (Knopf; Feb. 2)

NYC comedian, cabaret star, and quarantine queen Catherine Cohen has been sharing her biting, unfiltered poems about sex, ego, art, millennial ennui, and longing on her Instagram for years. Now they’re gathered in one beautiful book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. —A.R.

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Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz (Grove Press; Feb. 2)

This debut short story collection, set in the cities and suburbs of Florida, explores trauma and recovery, good and evil. The anthology includes narratives about a teenager whose family accuses her of courting the devil, estranged siblings coming to terms with their father’s death, caterers at the mercy of their wealthy clients’ cravings, and more. —A.R.

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The Removed by Brandon Hobson (Ecco; Feb. 2)

National Book Award finalist Brandon Hobson’s latest novel draws on Cherokee folklore, tracing the long-lasting effects of a fatal police shooting within an Echota family. Fifteen years after her young son was killed by a cop, Maria hopes to bring her scattered family together for their annual bonfire. But as the reunion nears, each family member finds themselves in mysterious circumstances that blur the boundary between the physical and spirit worlds as they navigate their deep-seated grief and trauma. —A.R.

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Prayer for the Living by Ben Okri (Akashic; Feb. 2)

Booker Prize–winning author Ben Okri's new collection is a wide-ranging exploration of reality and magic, featuring 24 stories set around the world, across time, and even in parallel universes. —A.R.

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Probable Impossibilities: Musings on Beginnings and Endings by Alan Lightman (Pantheon; Feb. 9)

Alan Lightman appeared on my radar last March, when the novelist, essayist, and theoretical physicist quietly launched Our Artful Cosmos, a fascinating blog about the intersections between science, art, and creativity. In this year’s Probable Impossibilities, a series of essays on creation, consciousness, and our place in the universe, Lightman turns his attention to some of our biggest questions about infinity and nothingness. —A.R.

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Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro, trans. Christina Macsweeney (Two Lines Press; Feb. 9)

Elvira Navarro (included in Granta magazine's roundup of best young Spanish-language novelists) marries surrealism, horror, and irony in this eerie collection, featuring stories that will leave you feeling unsettled, including about a scientist whose experiment on an uninhabited island goes awry, a man of nobility who encounters a long-extinct beast, and a woman who finds her late mother’s memories mysteriously posted on Facebook. —A.R.

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Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert (Crown; Feb. 9)

Elizabeth Kolbert’s groundbreaking book The Sixth Extinction (for which she won a Pulitzer Prize) was an explicit examination of the destructive effects of humanity on Earth. In Under a White Sky, she takes a critical look at the future we’ve created and analyzes our various methods of salvation. —A.R.

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Let's Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih (Algonquin; Feb. 16)

It’s 2015 in Zak Salih’s debut novel, and high school art history teacher Sebastian Mote is ready to settle down. Thanks to the recent Supreme Court decision to support marriage equality, he’s able to envision the future he wants. When he runs into an estranged friend, he’s hoping to rekindle their connection, but he’s surprised to find out that friend sees marriage for same-sex couples not as progress but as the death knell for queer culture, and an alarming step toward the LGBTQ community’s adoption of heteronormativity. Their reconnection incites questions of identity and progress, which are even more complicated when both befriend gay men of different generations. —A.R.

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No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (Riverhead; Feb. 16)

Dubbed by various news outlets as the poet laureate of the internet, Patricia Lockwood is a master of a kind of unhinged online humor in both her poetry and her hilarious 2017 memoir Priestdaddy, about growing up the daughter of a married, politically conservative Catholic priest. She makes her fiction debut with this novel about a social media star, not unlike Lockwood, who digests the last few years of internet detritus until her pregnant sister has a scary complication and reality kicks in. —Tomi Obaro

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The Upstairs House by Julia Fine (Harper; Feb. 23)

New mom Megan is emotionally and physically depleted in those early postpartum months. She’s mostly alone while her husband travels for work — until, apparent only to Megan, the ghost of children’s author Margaret Wise Brown “moves in” to the upstairs apartment with unfinished business. As Megan falls deeper into this ghostly drama, she becomes less and less connected to reality, endangering herself and her baby. —A.R.

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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel (Avid Reader Press; March 2)

When teenage sweethearts Elena and Mauro have their first daughter, the pair decide to leave an increasingly dangerous life in Bogota and head to Houston, Texas. But as their visa expiration nears — and their family grows — they face an impossible decision, moving again and again in an effort to avoid having their undocumented status discovered. —A.R.

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Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf; March 2)

In his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature (very well deserved, btw), Ishiguro returns to familiar territory, exploring the connections between loneliness and technology. Klara is an AI machine living in a supermarket, observing the human beings around her, and hoping to be chosen by a loving customer. —T.O.

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But You're Still So Young: How Thirtysomethings Are Redefining Adulthood by Kayleen Schaefer (Dutton Books; March 2)

I loved journalist Kayleen Schaefer’s Text Me When You Get Home, her insightful and accessible examination of friendship between women, and I can’t wait to read her investigation into what “being in your thirties” means today. Weaving together personal history, original reporting, and cultural analysis, Schaefer tackles five of the major milestones we’ve been told define adulthood — finishing school, leaving home, getting married, gaining financial independence, and having kids — and explores their modern significance. —A.R.

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Justine by Forsyth Harmon (Tin House; March 2)

Celebrated illustrator Forsyth Harmon makes her writing debut with Justine, a compact but powerful illustrated novel. In 1990s Long Island, teenager Ali is enchanted by Justine, the impossibly cool and beautiful cashier at her local Stop & Shop. Ali just can’t figure out if she wants Justine, or wants to be Justine — or maybe a little of both. —A.R.

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The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Atlantic; March 2)