In light of the disaster that was 2020, many of us are looking towards 2021 with hope. Amongst the reasons to be excited about 2021 is a literary scene packed with talent. Some of the most celebrated names in the industry will be releasing new work, from Jhumpa Lahiri to Kazuo Ishiguro. These most anticipated fiction and nonfiction books of the year offer something for every reader: there is George Saunders’ advice on writing, Bill Gates’ guide to avoiding a climate disaster and Haruki Murakami’s mind-bending collection of short stories.
Like every industry in the last year, the publishing sector faced its own challenges with many 2020 releases delayed by months or years, causing ample concern for their authors. Nonetheless, with every year there is improvement when it comes to diversity in literature. Whilst unfortunately it still takes shocking events to trigger some kind of change or discussion, there is great progress heading our way with the 2021 releases.
The releases this year will see strong black characters taking the lead role, queer characters and their journeys, underrepresented identities and cultures being embraced, and much more. There is the continuing shift in perception of genres, including Murakami’s barrier-breaking work, with some excellent fiction offering a new take on genres altogether.
In all, the literature coming out to the public this year is exciting and refreshing. I have selected a total of 10 books being released this year and I hope that amongst them you find something to your liking which inspires you.
In the world of fiction this year, there are some highly anticipated books from the likes of world-renowned authors such as Kazuo Ishiguro to newcomers such as Robert Jones, Jr and his debut novel ‘The Prophets’. Here is my selection of 5 must-reads being released this year.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Klara and the Sun is Ishiguro’s first novel since winning the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature. He introduces readers to a technologically advanced future charged with dystopian elements. The narrative follows an “Artificial Friend” named Klara who makes observations about the world from her position inside a store, where she hopes she’ll soon be chosen by a prospective owner. Akin to his previous trailblazing fiction, Ishiguro’s new release tackles key questions about humanity through a unique and discerning lens.
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue
Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were, is set in the fictional African village of Kosawa. It tells of a people living in fear, amid environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. The author charts the damage of this degradation on community and land whilst exploring the interplay between greed and colonialism. The author depicts what happens when the ruthless pursuit of profit comes up against one community’s determination to hold on to their ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom.
First Person Singular: Stories by Haruki Murakami
The eight short stories in this collection are all told by an elusive narrator, one who may or may not be the author himself. Murakami writes of love, jazz, childhood nostalgia, baseball, and more. Translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel, First Person Singular is filled with Murakami’s classic use of magical realism and the stories are all told in his inimitable style. He blurs the lines between memoir and fiction throughout, which allows these stories to challenge the boundaries between our minds and the outside world.
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
Whereabouts is the new novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri; it was first written in Italian and then translated by the author herself. The novel brims with the impulse to cross barriers and tells the story of a woman as she navigates the complexities of work, love and life in a beautiful yet lonely Italian city. A day at the sea forces her to change the way she views them all. Lahiri’s novel asks what it means to be transformed.
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
This novel is Robert Jones Jr’s debut and follows the lives of two young, enslaved men at the Halifax plantation. The deeply evocative narrative explores the theme of forbidden love as the threat of betrayal threatens the existence of the young lovers. Jones succeeds in carving a radiant love story out of the bleakest of landscapes. Indeed, in the letter to the reader at the start of the novel, Jones writes that he was compelled to write the story after hearing voices insisting he ask the question, ‘Did black queer people exist in the distant past?’ and then share the answer: of course they did.
Equally, in the non-fiction world, there are several enlightening titles to delve into this year. From the disciplines of Geography, to History, to Literary Criticism, there is a real variety. Here is my selection of 5 must-reads being released this year.
Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera
In his informative and illuminating new book, Sathnam Sanghera demonstrates how so much of what we consider to be modern Britain is actually rooted in our imperial past, from the foundation of the NHS to the nature of our racism and the exceptionalism that was a core part of the campaign for Brexit. Empireland urges readers to look at the contradictions in a Britain that both celebrates empire and doesn’t want us to look at it too closely. At a time of great division, when we are arguing about what it means to be British, Sanghera’s book urges us to address this contradiction. It is only by stepping back and seeing where we really come from that we can begin to understand who we are, as well as what unites us.
How To Avoid A Climate Disaster by Bill Gates
In this book, Bill Gates sets out a comprehensive, practical plan for how the world can get to zero greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid a climate catastrophe. He uses his ten years of investigation into the climate crisis to explain the causes and effects of climate change and why we need to work towards a goal of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases. He outlines the route forward to change the course of the planet’s disastrous future.
A Swim in A Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
The Booker Prize-winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo invites us to consider what makes fiction work and why, through his dissection of Russian short stories. In seven essays, George Saunders examines works by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol to underline the power of successful narrative writing. Saunders’ writing advice is wide-ranging, constituting a literary masterclass on what stories can tell us about ourselves, the world we live in, and how the mind itself works while reading.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
The Anthropocene Reviewed is a touching and insightful collection of essays from the bestselling author John Green, adapted from his critically acclaimed podcast in which he reviews different facets of the Anthropocene (from the QWERTY keyboard to Staphylococcus aureus). The Anthropocene is the current geological age, in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
Clint Smith makes his non-fiction debut with How the Word Is Passed. In its simplest condensation, his book is the story of his visits to seven places that relate to the work and lives of enslaved people. Those places include Angola Prison in Louisiana; Blandford Cemetery in Virginia; Galveston, Texas, where the first Juneteenth was celebrated; and Wall Street. Smith brings readers to these sites as he explores the tortured histories each of these places holds. By doing so, the author asks us to reconsider what we think we know about American history and to take a closer look at the ways in which the legacy of slavery has impacted life today.
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