Our Book Recommendations of 2021: Titles That Shaped the Year That Was

Our Book Recommendations of 2021: Titles That Shaped the Year That Was

As we prepare our reading challenges for the year, we offer a list of book recommendations from 2021



We all hungered for hope (and risqué entertainment) in 2021. Amid a global reckoning, we held on to anything that assured us of tomorrow, even if it was as simple as an exhilarating, hard-to-put-down book, found mostly through book recommendations of reliable friends. Though we were no longer holed up in our homes, with the occasional trip to the neighborhood bookstore and coffee shop, we immersed ourselves in familiar, heart-expanding stories of survival and empathy. 


The year that was may have offered uncertainty, but it gave us reminders of better days ahead. Through our faithful literary companions, we were reminded of possibilities beyond the now. 


As we prepare for our 2022 reading challenges, we offer a definitive list of the best books that shaped the year that was—from Emily Ratajkowski’s exploration of feminism and sexuality to Amanda Montell’s powerful investigation on cult influence and language. The full list ahead.


Book Recommendations:

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell


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Mass suicide, sex trafficking, forced labor and child abductionthese are just some of the hard-to-stomach acts carried out by some of the worst cults in history. More than just intriguing, controversial profiles of Heaven's Gate and Peoples Temple-like apocalyptic cults, Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, highlights the undeniable power of language and how just the “right” verbiage and thought-terminating clichés can lure people—needing a sense of belonging and community—into their imminent destruction.


RELATED: The Undeniable Allure of Cults and Some of the Worst in History 


Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner 


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Korean American singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner (lead vocalist of the indie rock group Japanese Breakfast) pens a powerful, heart-expanding memoir. Crying in H Mart is an intimate portrait of a mother and daughter, which centers around loss and grief. With her unapologetic humor and heart-wrenching vulnerability, Michelle gives life to their complicated yet familiar relationship, highlighting anecdotes about their shared love of food. 


Zauner has a way of illuminating how different dishes, ingredients, and dining experiences situate themselves in mundane and critical life moments. As nourishment, comfort, invitations to a culture one might feel estranged from, and reifications of our ability to take care of ourselves and each other,” writes Jam Pascual on Zauner’s debut.


Read the full review of the New York Times Bestseller (and part, too, of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021) here.


My Body by Emily Ratajkowski


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In September of 2020, Emily Ratajkowski published an essay for The Cut entitled Buying Myself Back: When does a model own her own image?, an exposé of the harrowing inner workings of the modeling and entertainment industry. In 2021, she published a collection of essays, My Body, an intimate exploration of feminism and sexuality, where she continues to reclaim her narrative. 


Her debut essay collection is a deeply honest, poignant investigation of what it means to be a woman and a commodity, with years as a multi-hyphenate celebrity and global social media phenomenon. Here, she chronicles pivotal moments of her life and examines the gray area between consent and abuse.


Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing


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The poignant collection of essays by British writer and cultural critic, Olivia Laing, may have been published in 2020the year we were all desperate for hopebut it made its way to our to-read piles (and hearts) in 2021. The Lonely City author explores and addresses the pivotal role art plays in difficult times, like a global pandemic where we were introduced to one worst-case scenario after another. In Funny Weather, Laing takes inspiration from artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Georgia O’Keeffe, Hilary Mantel, Ali Smith and more, to explore the role of art in a crisis. 


RELATED: #IsolationCreation: The Importance of Creativity Amid Difficult Times


Concepcion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes by Albert Samaha 


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Familiar stories of immigrants have dominated our reading lists in 2021 as we put the spotlight on more Asian American voices, with titles like Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and activist, Jose Antonio Vargas. 


In Concepcion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes, investigative journalist and BuzzFeed News Editor, Albert Samaha, documents a powerful account of the forces steering the fate of his Filipino American family, reframing how we comprehend the immigrant experience. He traces his family’s history and fits their arc into the wider story of global migration in the vast diaspora, where they live with contradiction and hope. 


Infinite Country by Patricia Engel


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Award-winning and internationally acclaimed author, Patricia Engel, a dual citizen and daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to a Colombian family fractured by deportation. Mauro and Elena face a life of difficulty as they set their sights on the United States. As their family expands, they move again and again, ignoring their exit dates, which plunges the young family into the precariousness of undocumented status. The literary piece offers an intimate, familiar portrait of what many families continue to endure as they pursue the American Dream.  


RELATED: Reading List Update: Books to Add to Your Shelf This Year


Don't forget to drop your own book recommendations in the comments below! And in case you need discounted books for the new (reading) year ahead, here's a PSA: Big Bad Wolf Books is now on Lazada.



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