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Find more Notable Books
The Notable Books Council, ALA Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), presents its annual best-of list of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry titles published in the U.S., 25 books selected for their significant contribution to the expansion of knowledge or for the pleasure they provide. This list has been compiled for use by general readers and for librarians who work with adults. All titles were published in 2021.
Afterparties. By Anthony Veasna So. Ecco, $27.99 (9780063049901).
A rich collection of unique, vivid, and expertly written short stories featuring characters from the Cambodian diaspora in America.
Cloud Cuckoo Land. By Anthony Doerr. Scribner, $30 ( 9781982168438).
A celebration of the power of the written word echoing through time, space, and lived experiences.
Gordo. By Jaime Cortez Black Cat, $16 (9780802158086).
Linked stories told by a chubby, queer Mexican American boy in a 1970s migrant-workers’ camp open doors to a world of heartache and humor.
Hell of a Book. By Jason Mott. Dutton, $27 (9780593330968).
The metafictional musings of a Black writer (the Writer) on racial justice, fear, and grief in America relayed through a humorous cross-country publicity tour.
Klara and the Sun. By Kazuo Ishiguro. Knopf, $27.95 (9780593318171).
The lives of a family in the near future are examined through the eyes of an artificial friend.
Matrix. By Lauren Groff. Riverhead, $28 (9781594634499).
The transportive story of a woman cast out by medieval society claiming leadership inside the walls of a convent.
Painting Time. By Maylis de Kerangal. Tr. by Jessica Moore. Farrar, $26 (9780374211929).
In this captivating, heady, warmly translated novel, a decorative artist in Brussels develops her creative identity through trompe l’oeil.
The Five Wounds. By Kirstin Valdez Quade. Norton, $26.95 (9780393242836).
Five generations of a New Mexico family grapple with many questions, including “what is redemption?”
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois. By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Harper, $28.99 (9780062942937).
The recovered history of one woman’s family exposes a legacy of stolen land, abuse, and personal ties in the American South.
The Wrong End of the Telescope. By Rabih Alameddine. Grove/Atlantic, $26 (9780802157805).
Daily life and mortality in a refugee camp in Lesbos prompts a trans woman physician to revisit memories of her childhood in Lebanon.
When We Cease to Understand the World. By Benjamín Labatut. Tr. by Adrian Nathan West. NYRB, $17.95 (9781681375663).
A feverish exploration of the moral consequences of scientific discovery, told through an inventive blend of fact and fiction.
A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds. By Scott Weidensaul. Norton, $32 (9780393608908).
Despite the increasing dangers that flocks encounter during their arduous journeys, their innate adaptability and conservation interventions offer hope for survival.
Beyond: The Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey into Space. By Stephen Walker. Harper, $29.99 (9780062978158).
New research recreates the drama of the race into orbit between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South. By Winfred Rembert and Erin I. Kelly. Bloomsbury, $30 (9781635576597).
In words and painted leatherwork, a Black man shares his story of trauma, survival, and claiming agency through creative expression.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty. By Patrick Radden Keefe. Doubleday, $32.50 (9780385545686).
An investigation of the mega-rich family behind Purdue Pharma (the producer of OxyContin), and their denial of responsibility for the opioid epidemic.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019. Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. One World, $32 (9780593134047).
Ninety different Black authors lift their voices in this expansive anthology, using a variety of forms to speak to centuries of heritage.
The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town. By Brian Alexander. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (9781250237354).
One community medical center serves as a microcosm for national problems, fighting to prioritize patient care in a corporate landscape.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery across America. By Clint Smith. Little, Brown, $29 (9780316492935).
With thoughtfulness and nuance, a poet interrogates places tied to the transatlantic slave trade and calls upon us to engage with our shared responsibility for the past.
A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance. By Hanif Abdurraqib. Random, $27 (9781984801197).
Covering performers from Josephine Baker to Beyoncé, this vibrant fusion of essays, memoir, and poetry is a deeply personal dive into Black artists’ vital contribution to modern culture.
Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey. By James Rebanks. Custom, $28.99 (9780063073272).
An elegy for what has been lost from the English agricultural landscape, and what can be regained, as seen through the lens of one family’s experience.
People Love Dead Jews: Reports From a Haunted Present. By Dara Horn. Norton, $25.95 (9780393531565).
Blistering fury and intense love create fireworks in this collection of provocative essays that challenges the way the world sees Jewish people.
Poet Warrior. By Joy Harjo. Norton, $25 (9780393248524).
In a generous act of verse and prose, poet Harjo offers a spiritually layered and fearless memoir of her Muscogee (Creek) heritage, family, and grief.
Playlist for the Apocalypse. By Rita Dove. Norton, $26.95 (9780393867770).
Creating a rich range of voices, the poet orchestrates themes of mortality and politics in an examination of American humanity across time.
The Renunciations. By Donika Kelly. Graywolf, $16 (9781644450536).
Kelly writes of family trauma, its aftermath, and the process of burning it all down to start anew.
Winter Recipes from the Collective. By Louise Glück. Farrar, $25 (9780374604103).
Cool and spare, these poems contain an undercurrent of despair while germinating seeds of hope. Could this be a message for our (post?) pandemic world?
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