EW's guide to the biggest and buzziest books of 2021
With a few weeks left in the year, there's still plenty of time to catch up on 2021's must-read titles. From gut-busting memoirs to epic adventure stories and everything in between, here are all the books we think you need to know about.
The 10 best books of the year
Check out the list below, and click here to find out why we made our selections.
10. Empire of Pain, by Patrick Radden Keefe
9. No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood
8. Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters
7. Intimacies, by Katie Kitamura
6. Milk Fed, by Melissa Broder
5. Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr
4. The Prophets, by Robert Jones, Jr.
3. Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
2. Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead
1. Infinite Country, by Patricia Engel
The worst book moments of the year
Most botched background check
Philip Roth: The Biography, by Blake Bailey
The author of W.W. Norton's marquee nonfiction title was hit with multiple sexual assault allegations, which he denied. The publisher then removed the book from print, prompting backlash from free-speech groups. Which leads us to ask: It's 2021, isn't someone in charge of checking the skeletons in the closet?
Least successful straddling of the partisan divide
The Tyranny of Big Tech, by Josh Hawley
Simon & Schuster has long had a mission to publish authors across the political spectrum; sometimes that agnostic attitude puts you in bed with an insurrectionist. (After social media outrage, S&S canceled the contract, and Tyranny was released through conservative publisher Regnery.)
Most blundered book award
At Love's Command, by Karen Witemeyer
To launch the (supposedly) more inclusive Vivian Awards, the Romance Writers of America honored (then rescinded) this romance novel that casts a perpetrator of the Wounded Knee massacre as its hero. What's the opposite of swoon?
Three authors whose work we can't stop thinking about.
Taylor Jenkins Reid, Malibu Rising
Having conquered Hollywood's Golden Age and the '70s rock scene, Reid surfed her way into a literal beach read with this Malibu-set tale of family intrigue, wave riders, wildfire, and '80s excess. Addictively engrossing, Malibu Rising affirmed that the author can hang (10) in any decade. —Maureen Lee Lenker
Jason Mott, Hell of a Book
After writing three novels — on such topics as miracles, faith, and the end of the world — Mott delivered his best work yet with this dazzling, devastating tale about an author on a book tour and a young victim of police violence. His voice is satirical, yet as serious as his subject matter. —Seija Rankin
Gabrielle Union, You Got Anything Stronger?
The actress' follow-up to 2017's heart-wrenching essay collection We're Going to Need More Wine was a conversation-starter, but not because of any celebrity gossip. Union opened up about her journey to surrogacy and experience as a stepmother, encouraging vulnerability in all who read. —S.R.
Trendspotting: Office darlings
A crop of favorite titles used the workplace as the setting for juicy — and often harrowing — plot twists.
Black Buck, by Mateo Askaripour
A barista is promoted from a ground-floor Starbucks to a high-stakes (and high-floor) sales team in this dark comedy.
Who Is Maud Dixon?, by Alexandra Andrews
A famous author's assistant will stop at nothing — quite literally — for a taste of her boss' literary success.
The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Something really is in the water at Wagner Books, where workplace privilege and microaggressions are only the beginning of the story.
Assembly, by Natasha Brown
A London investment bank serves as a stand-in for the unnamed narrator's dissatisfaction with modern society and life itself.
While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams
Avery Keene, just a law clerk trying to get by, learns that her boss has slipped into a coma — and left her clues to a deadly conspiracy.
Imposter Syndrome, by Kathy Wang
A low-level Silicon Valley staffer discovers a security blip that hints at her COO's link to Russian intelligence.
Edge Case, by YZ Chin
The only thing scarier than being the sole female employee of a tech startup is coming home to the news that your husband has left you.
The Scapegoat, by Sara Davis
At a prestigious university, a lonely professor slowly spirals — and alienates his colleagues — over the death of his estranged father.
There oughta be an award for…
Biggest LOLs: The Wreckage of My Presence, by Casey Wilson
Juiciest dinner party scene: Filthy Animals, by Brandon Taylor
Best book you can read in a day: Open Water, by Caleb Azumah Nelson, and Immediate Family, by Ashley Nelson Levy
Best use of New York City as a character Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead
Hottest sex scenes in a nunnery Matrix, by Lauren Groff
Most arresting first chapter I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness, by Claire Vaye Watkins