Some of the NPR staff’s favorite books of 2021 from Books We Love: NPR

Catie Dull / NPR
Catie Dull / NPR

In what has become an annual tradition, NPR staff and regular book critics bring you a powerful year-end guide with Books we love. In 2021, you can find more than 360 recommendations ranging from cookbooks to realistic fiction and from graphic novels to short stories.

Here are a handful of some of the most interesting employee choices – you may even find some choices that surprise you! – like The secret history of home economics and Fat Chance, Charlie Vega.

We hope you enjoy our full list of selections – and take the time to browse!

Build your house around my body by Violet Kupersmith

Build your house around my body begins with the disappearance of a young woman named Winnie, and works her way back through time, telling a story of unfinished business and long-delayed revenge. Some of its scenery is known from Hollywood horror movies and the Brothers Grimm fairy tales – there is an exorcism and a haunted forest. But because this book takes place in Vietnam, the forest is an overgrown rubber tree plantation, and exorcism has no crucifixes or holy water. It is an extensive novel that tells a ghost story that spans generations and that draws the reader into its supernatural world. “ Ari Shapiro, host, all things considered

Coloring: A hundred years of black film in a white world by Wil Haygood

“Picture as ‘One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World’, this fascinating, exhaustively researched and beautifully written tome dives deep into the background of everything from DW Griffith’s monstrous silence. Birth of a nation, for teenager Darnella Frazier’s video of the murder of George Floyd. If you’ve ever wondered why you can not see Sidney Poitier / Dorothy Dandridge Porgy and Bess, or why Spike Lee had to borrow money to fly to Cannes to win Best Young Director for She must have it, or why … nah, I should stop. So many treasures to dig out, you want to do it yourself. ” Bob Mondello, film reviewer, Culture Desk

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

“Michelle Zauner’s debut memoir eloquently explains the complexity and lingering grief of losing a parent in their 20s, just as your own life is about to begin. Zauner, who leads indie band Japanese Breakfast, writes about how she turned to Korean food. as a way to process her grief when her mother, her only attachment to Korean culture, died of cancer.The book, which was first extracted as viral New Yorker essay in 2018, reflects on how cooking and eating the food that her mother once cooked gives her a way to connect to her identity. As someone who also lost a parent in my 20s, it’s hard to convey the loss of identity and confusion I faced, so I’m so grateful that this book exists. ” Alyssa Jeong Perry, manufacturer, Code Switch

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

“I’m glad there’s a wave of YA books with fat protagonists, but the characters often possess a level of self-confidence that is too good to be true. Crystal Maldonado has created a much-needed credible protagonist with teens and adults. readers Charlie Vega is a bold, spectacle-bearing, biracial Puerto Rican with a diet-pushing mother and a beautiful, athletic best friend.When her classmate Brian pursues a romantic relationship, Charlie is plagued by doubts about himself.The book is driven by both conflicts. inner and outer. I’m glad that this book is not body-positive escapism, but rather a well-observed story of fat teenage life. “ Jessica Reedy, producer / editor, Pop Culture Happy Hour

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke

“Kristen Radtke looks at the science of loneliness and its presence in American society – and intertwines it with gripping stories from her own life. She dives into its evolutionary purpose as she returns to the surprising places where loneliness emerges: in TV laughter tracks, in highly honored lonely cowboys in American pop culture, all the while she shares her own brushes with isolation – mourns the end of a TV series, scrolls through her phone in bed, witnesses her grandmother’s death. a deeply engaging, masterful work of science and the heart and incredibly timely as the pandemic continues. “ Malaka Gharib, Deputy Editor, Goats and Soda, author of I was their American dream

Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994-2007) by Dan Ozzi

“Let’s breathe new dawn – this art is dead / No sense of original thought in the mainstream” reads a lyric in the opening track of Against Me!’S first major-label album – one I (wrongly) thought sucked before I had ever heard that, simply because it was on a larger label. IN Betray, Dan Ozzi examines this cross between bands trying to make a name for themselves in the world, music companies hoping to make money on them, and fans feeling betrayed by their idols. Even if you never spent time on punknews.org arguing about the taxonomy of “folk punk”, it’s a question that exists in every art form: How much is it worth getting paid? Andrew Limbong, reporter, Culture Desk

Someone’s daughter by Ashley C. Ford

“Ashley Ford’s captivating memoirs are an honest, heartbreaking story about her father’s imprisonment and the resulting family trauma. Her story is about race and family and how the choices we make, plus those imposed on us, can complicate the course of our lives. Ford writes with a refreshing and captivating openness. As a friend of Hoosier, I found the book particularly compelling because it is not only a growing Midwestern tale with all the typical concerns about body image and mother-daughter tensions, but also a sharp commentary on the harsh realities of growing up as a black person in Indiana. Ford also gives us an important insight into how prison shapes the bereaved daughters. “ Asma Khalid |, White House correspondent, Washington Desk

The principle of the heart by Helen Hoang

“Anna Sun is a talented violinist in the Bay Area, whose disappointing boyfriend gives her a courtship: an open relationship. While she processes her boyfriend’s request and fights a creative block, Anna meets Quan and wonders if he might be the right item. “I love this book because it deals with topics that feel really relevant today, such as creative burnout, bad girlfriends, and neurodivergence, which Helen Hoang explores through these deeply rich and heartfelt characters.” Candice Lim, production assistant, Pop Culture Happy Hour

The Most Fun Thing: Dispatches from a Skateboard Life by Kyle Beachy

The year 2021 is the year for skateboarding. The “Rebel” practice was transformed into an Olympic sport. Thrasher the magazine, the skateboard’s bible, turned 40. And many have downloaded skateboards for the first time. So The funniest could not have come at a better time. Kyle Beachy is a longtime skater and writing professor. His memoirs, compiled from essays spanning a decade, consider the importance of skateboarding. “What percentage of skateboarding I wonder talks about skateboarding?” he writes. “Half, probably. There is so much joy to be found in these debates without effort.” Although they “slowly go nowhere.” Milton guevara, Production Assistant, Morning Edition

The Secret History of the Home Economy: How Pioneering Women Harnessed the Power of the Home and Changed the Way We Live by Danielle Dreilinger

“The secret is out! Before I read this book, home economics was just a class I took in middle school with the appropriately named Mrs. Housekeeper. But when I read this book, I discovered that the subject in the early 20th century provided jobs for women in science, business and government.And despite a flirtation with the eugenics movement, it was an area where black women could, and did, make significant contributions.Danielle Dreilinger also makes cooking and managing a budget are invaluable lessons for all children and should still be part of the school curriculum. Emiko Tamagawa, senior producer, Her & Nu

The secret behind superhuman strength by Alison Bechdel

“I’m among the weirdos who responded to the pandemic by increasing my training, which made Alison Bechdel’s latest graphic novel feel unexpectedly topical. A lifelong fitness freak who has embraced everything from martial arts to mountaineering, Bechdel applies the same rigor to his analysis. “of her search for a connection between mind and body, which contains the kind of psychoanalytic layers, self-ironic charm and ambitious complexities that her fans have come to expect.” Neda Ulaby, correspondent, Kulturdesk

Want Me: A Sex Writer’s Journey Into the Heart of Desire by Tracy Clark-Flory

“As a woman, dating men is a bit exhausting – especially when you think of all the ways in which women’s understanding of our own sexuality is shaped by the male gaze. In her new memoir, Want Me: A Sex Writer’s Journey Into The Heart Of Desire, Jesabel author Tracy Clark-Flory packs the various ways women are taught to be passive objects of desire, rather than active participants in sex. Through a combination of personal stories, past reporting and feminist theory, Clark-Flory decodes the messy but massively rewarding journey of taking action over her pleasure, with or without a partner. ” Isabella Gomez Sarmiento, assistant producer, Weekend Edition

To read more recommendations from staff members, you can explore The “Staff Picks” section of the 2021 Books We Love website.

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