The Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2021

Fall 2021 Books

As the weather begins to cool this fall, the inclination to curl up with a book increase. Thankfully, there are tons of great new books this fall to spend all day reading. We’ve highlighted a few below – be sure to get your holds in for these! Don't forget to check out our Popular Page to see what else everyone is reading, and be sure to sign up for Book Chat's All the Feels program to learn what our librarians are loving.

Matrix

'Matrix,' by Lauren Goff

One of our best American writers, Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies.

Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.

At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie's vision be bulwark enough?

Equally alive to the sacred and the profane, Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Lauren Groff's new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.

Harlem Shuffle

'Harlem Shuffle,' by Colson Whitehead

From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s.

"Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked..." To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver's Row don't approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it's still home. 

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time. 

Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn't ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn't ask questions, either. 

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa--the "Waldorf of Harlem"--and volunteers Ray's services as the fence. The heist doesn't go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes. 

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs? 

Harlem Shuffle' s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. It's a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

Palmares

'Palmares,' by Gayl Jones

The epic rendering of a Black woman's journey through slavery and liberation, set in 17th-century colonial Brazil; the return of a major voice in American literature.

First discovered and edited by Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones has been described as one of the great literary writers of the 20th century. Now, for the first time in over 20 years, Jones is ready to publish again. Palmares is the first of five new works by Gayl Jones to be published in the next two years, rewarding longtime fans and bringing her talent to a new generation of readers.

Intricate and compelling, Palmares recounts the journey of Almeyda, a Black slave girl who comes of age on Portuguese plantations and escapes to a fugitive slave settlement called Palmares. Following its destruction, Almeyda embarks on a journey across colonial Brazil to find her husband, lost in battle.

Her story brings to life a world impacted by greed, conquest, and colonial desire. She encounters a mad lexicographer, desperate to avoid military service; a village that praises a god living in a nearby cave; and a medicine woman who offers great magic, at a greater price.

Combining the author's mastery of language and voice with her unique brand of mythology and magical realism, Jones reimagines the historical novel. The result is a sweeping saga spanning a quarter century, with vibrant settings and unforgettable characters, steeped in the rich oral tradition of its world. Of Gayl Jones, the New Yorker noted, "[Her] great achievement is to reckon with both history and interiority, and to collapse the boundary between them." Like nothing else before it, Palmares embodies this gift.

Bewilderment

'Bewilderment,' by Richard Powers

The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He's also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin's emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother's brain...With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing vision of life beyond, and its account of a father and son's ferocious love, Bewilderment marks Richard Powers's most intimate and moving novel. At its heart lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperiled planet?

Cloud Cuckoo Land

'Cloud Cuckoo Land,' by Anthony Doerr

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See, perhaps the most bestselling and beloved literary fiction of our time, comes the highly anticipated Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Anthony Doerr's gorgeous third novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope--and a book. In Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr has created a magnificent tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness--with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us, and with those who will be here after we're gone.

Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna's will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon's story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.

Like Marie-Laure and Werner in All the Light We Cannot See, Anna, Omeir, Seymour, Zeno, and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of gravest danger. Their lives are gloriously intertwined. Doerr's dazzling imagination transports us to worlds so dramatic and immersive that we forget, for a time, our own. Dedicated to "the librarians then, now, and in the years to come," Cloud Cuckoo Land is a beautiful and redemptive novel about stewardship--of the book, of the Earth, of the human heart.

Reprieve

'Reprive,' by James Han Mattson

A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room--a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment. 

On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, "reprieve," they'll win a substantial cash prize--a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house's long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants.

Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who's been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character's journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.

An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.

The Lincoln Highway

'The Lincoln Highway,' by Amor Towles

The bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction returns with a stylish and propulsive novel set in 1950s America

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett's intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother, Billy, and head to California where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden's car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett's future, one that will take them all on a fateful journey in the opposite direction--to the City of New York.

Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles's third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.

I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness

'I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness,' by Claire Vaye Watkins

A darkly funny, soul-rending novel of love in an epoch of collapse--one woman's furious revisiting of family, marriage, work, sex, and motherhood.

Since my baby was born, I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things. a) As much as I ever did. b) Not quite as much now. c) Not so much now. d) Not at all. Leaving behind her husband and their baby daughter, a writer gets on a flight for a speaking engagement in Reno, not carrying much besides a breast pump and a spiraling case of postpartum depression. Her temporary escape from domestic duties and an opportunity to reconnect with old friends mutates into an extended romp away from the confines of marriage and motherhood, and a seemingly bottomless descent into the past. Deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up, she meets her ghosts at every turn: the first love whose self-destruction still haunts her; her father, a member of the most famous cult in American history; her mother, whose native spark gutters with every passing year. She can't go back in time to make any of it right, but what exactly is her way forward? Alone in the wilderness, at last she begins to make herself at home in the world.

Bold, tender, and often hilarious, I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness reaffirms Watkins as one of the signal writers of our time.

 

The Boys

'The Boys,' by Clint and Ron Howard

Happy Days, The Andy Griffith Show, Gentle Ben--these shows captivated millions of TV viewers in the '60s and '70s. Join award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard and audience-favorite actor Clint Howard as they frankly and fondly share their unusual family story of navigating and surviving life as sibling child actors.

"What was it like to grow up on TV?" Ron Howard has been asked this question throughout his adult life. in The Boys, he and his younger brother, Clint, examine their childhoods in detail for the first time. For Ron, playing Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham on Happy Days offered fame, joy, and opportunity--but also invited stress and bullying. For Clint, a fast start on such programs as Gentle Ben and Star Trek petered out in adolescence, with some tough consequences and lessons.

With the perspective of time and success--Ron as a filmmaker, producer, and Hollywood A-lister, Clint as a busy character actor--the Howard brothers delve deep into an upbringing that seemed normal to them yet was anything but. Their Midwestern parents, Rance and Jean, moved to California to pursue their own showbiz dreams. But it was their young sons who found steady employment as actors. Rance put aside his ego and ambition to become Ron and Clint's teacher, sage, and moral compass. Jean became their loving protector--sometimes over-protector--from the snares and traps of Hollywood.

By turns confessional, nostalgic, heartwarming, and harrowing, THE BOYS is a dual narrative that lifts the lid on the Howard brothers' closely held lives. It's the journey of a tight four-person family unit that held fast in an unforgiving business and of two brothers who survived "child-actor syndrome" to become fulfilled adults.

 

Orwell's Roses

'Orwell's Roses,' by Rebecca Solnit

A lush exploration of roses, pleasure, and politics, and a fresh take on George Orwell as an avid gardener whose political writing was grounded in his passion for the natural world

"In the year 1936 a writer planted roses." So begins Rebecca Solnit's new book, a reflection on George Orwell's passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, and the natural world illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power.
 
Sparked by her unexpected encounter with the surviving roses he planted in 1936, Solnit's account of this understudied aspect of Orwell's life explores  his writing and his actions--from going deep into the coal mines of England, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, critiquing Stalin when much of the international left still supported him (and then critiquing that left), to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism. Through Solnit's celebrated ability to draw unexpected connections, readers encounter the photographer Tina Modotti's roses and her Stalinism, Stalin's obsession with forcing lemons to grow in impossibly cold conditions, Orwell's slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica, Jamaica Kincaid's critique of colonialism and imperialism in the flower garden, and the brutal rose industry in Colombia that supplies the American market. The book draws to a close with a rereading of Nineteen Eighty-Four that completes her portrait of a more hopeful Orwell, as well as a reflection on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance.

Tacky

'Tacky,' by Rax King

From James Beard Award-nominated writer of the Catapult column "Store-Bought Is Fine," an irreverent and charming debut essay collection about the joys of low culture and bad taste, exploring coming of age in the 2000s in the age of Hot Topic, Creed, and frosted lip gloss.

Tacky is about the power of pop culture--like any art--to imprint itself on our lives and shape our experiences, no matter one's commitment to "good" taste. These fourteen essays are a nostalgia-soaked antidote to the millennial generation's obsession with irony, putting the aesthetics we hate to love--snakeskin pants, Sex and the City, Cheesecake Factory's gargantuan menu--into kinder and sharper perspective.
 
Each essay revolves around a different maligned (and yet, Rax would argue, vital) cultural artifact, providing thoughtful, even romantic meditations on desire, love, and the power of nostalgia. An essay about the gym-tan-laundry exuberance of Jersey Shore morphs into an excavation of grief over the death of her father; in "You Wanna Be On Top," Rax writes about friendship and early aughts girlhood; in another, Guy Fieri helps her heal from an abusive relationship.
 
The result is a collection that captures the personal and generational experience of finding joy in caring just a little too much with clarity, heartfelt honesty, and Rax King's trademark humor.

All Her Little Secrets

'All Her Little Secrets,' by Wanda M. Morris

In this fast-paced thriller, Wanda M. Morris crafts a twisty mystery about a black lawyer who gets in over her head after the sudden death of her boss. A debut perfect for fans of Attica Locke, Alyssa Cole, Harlan Coben, and Celeste Ng, with shades of How to Get Away with Murder and John Grisham's The Firm.

Everyone has something to hide...

Ellice Littlejohn seemingly has it all: an Ivy League law degree, a well-paying job as a corporate attorney in midtown Atlanta, great friends, and a "for fun" relationship with a rich, charming executive--her white boss, Michael.

But everything changes one cold January morning when Ellice goes to meet Michael... and finds him dead with a gunshot to his head.

And then she walks away like nothing has happened. Why? Ellice has been keeping a cache of dark secrets, including a small-town past and a kid brother who's spent time on the other side of the law. She can't be thrust into the spotlight--again.

But instead of grieving this tragedy, people are gossiping, the police are getting suspicious, and Ellice, the company's lone black attorney, is promoted to replace Michael. While the opportunity is a dream-come-true, Ellice just can't shake the feeling that something is off.

When she uncovers shady dealings inside the company, Ellice is trapped in an impossible ethical and moral dilemma. Suddenly, Ellice's past and present lives collide as she launches into a pulse-pounding race to protect the brother she tried to save years ago and stop a conspiracy far more sinister than she could have ever imagined...

1000 years of joys and sorrows

'1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows,' by Ai Weiwei

In his widely anticipated memoir, "one of the most important artists working in the world today" (Financial Times) tells a century-long epic tale of China through the story of his own extraordinary life and the legacy of his father, the nation's most celebrated poet.

Hailed as "an eloquent and seemingly unsilenceable voice of freedom" by The New York Times, Ai Weiwei has written a sweeping memoir that presents a remarkable history of China over the last hundred years while also illuminating his artistic process.

Once an intimate of Mao Zedong and the nation's most celebrated poet, Ai Weiwei's father, Ai Qing, was branded a rightist during the Cultural Revolution, and he and his family were banished to a desolate place known as "Little Siberia," where Ai Qing was sentenced to hard labor cleaning public toilets. Ai Weiwei recounts his childhood in exile, and his difficult decision to leave his family to study art in America, where he befriended Allen Ginsberg and was inspired by Andy Warhol. With candor and wit, he details his return to China and his rise from artistic unknown to art world superstar and international human rights activist--and how his work has been shaped by living under a totalitarian regime.

Ai Weiwei's sculptures and installations have been viewed by millions around the globe, and his architectural achievements include helping to design the iconic Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing. His political activism has long made him a target of the Chinese authorities, which culminated in months of secret detention without charge in 2011. Here, for the first time, Ai Weiwei explores the origins of his exceptional creativity and passionate political beliefs through his life story and that of his father, whose creativity was stifled.

At once ambitious and intimate, 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows offers a deep understanding of the myriad forces that have shaped modern China, and serves as a timely reminder of the urgent need to protect freedom of expression.

Will

'Will,' by Will Smith

One of the most dynamic and globally recognized entertainment forces of our time opens up fully about his life, in a brave and inspiring book that traces his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness, and human connection are aligned. Along the way, Will tells the story in full of one of the most amazing rides through the worlds of music and film that anyone has ever had.

Will Smith's transformation from a fearful child in a tense West Philadelphia home to one of the biggest rap stars of his era and then one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history, with a string of box office successes that will likely never be broken, is an epic tale of inner transformation and outer triumph, and Will tells it astonishingly well. But it's only half the story. 
 
Will Smith thought, with good reason, that he had won at life: not only was his own success unparalleled, his whole family was at the pinnacle of the entertainment world. Only they didn't see it that way: they felt more like star performers in his circus, a seven-days-a-week job they hadn't signed up for. It turned out Will Smith's education wasn't nearly over. 
 
This memoir is the product of a profound journey of self-knowledge, a reckoning with all that your will can get you and all that it can leave behind. Written with the help of Mark Manson, author of the multi-million-copy bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ckWill is the story of how one person mastered his own emotions, written in a way that can help everyone else do the same. Few of us will know the pressure of performing on the world's biggest stages for the highest of stakes, but we can all understand that the fuel that works for one stage of our journey might have to be changed if we want to make it all the way home. The combination of genuine wisdom of universal value and a life story that is preposterously entertaining, even astonishing, puts Will the book, like its author, in a category by itself.

The 1619 Project

'The 1619 Project,' by Nikole Hannah-Jones

A dramatic expansion of a groundbreaking work of journalism, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story offers a profoundly revealing vision of the American past and present.

In late August 1619, a ship arrived in the British colony of Virginia bearing a cargo of twenty to thirty enslaved people from Africa. Their arrival led to the barbaric and unprecedented system of American chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. This is sometimes referred to as the country's original sin, but it is more than that: It is the source of so much that still defines the United States.

The New York Times Magazine's award-winning "1619 Project" issue reframed our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work, weaving together eighteen essays that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America with thirty-six poems and works of fiction that illuminate key moments of oppression, struggle, and resistance. The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself.

This is a book that speaks directly to our current moment, contextualizing the systems of race and caste within which we operate today. It reveals long-glossed-over truths around our nation's founding and construction--and the way that the legacy of slavery did not end with emancipation, but continues to shape contemporary American life.

These Precious Days

'These Precious Days,' by Ann Patchett

"Any story that starts will also end." As a writer, Ann Patchett knows what the outcome of her fiction will be. Life, however, often takes turns we do not see coming. Patchett ponders this truth in these wise essays that afford a fresh and intimate look into her mind and heart. 

At the center of These Precious Days is the title essay, a suprising and moving meditation on an unexpected friendship that explores "what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self." When Patchett chose an early galley of actor and producer Tom Hanks' short story collection to read one night before bed, she had no idea that this single choice would be life changing. It would introduce her to a remarkable woman--Tom's brilliant assistant Sooki--with whom she would form a profound bond that held monumental consequences for them both. 

A literary alchemist, Patchett plumbs the depths of her experiences to create gold: engaging and moving pieces that are both self-portrait and landscape, each vibrant with emotion and rich in insight. Turning her writer's eye on her own experiences, she transforms the private into the universal, providing us all a way to look at our own worlds anew, and reminds how fleeting and enigmatic life can be. 

From the enchantments of Kate di Camilo's children's books to youthful memories of Paris; the cherished life gifts given by her three fathers to the unexpected influence of Charles Schultz's Snoopy; the expansive vision of Eudora Welty to the importance of knitting, Patchett connects life and art as she illuminates what matters most. Infused with the author's grace, wit, and warmth, the pieces in These Precious Days resonate deep in the soul, leaving an indelible mark--and demonstrate why Ann Patchett is one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

Published on August 30, 2021
Last Modified December 08, 2021