2021 has come and gone already. Although the year was nowhere near as hectic as 2020, it was still a challenge. The ever-varying pandemic, politics, inflation, and a supply chain crisis that impacted many sectors, dampened our hopes of a better year. Let’s also not forget to mention that some people still had to spend time isolated in quarantine from a new strain of COVID-19. Many cultural pursuits like live entertainment, movies, and sports were still struggling to reopen while the pandemic continued, so reading remained an engaging alternative.
Books provided solace – as they often do – and the phenomenon of “pandemic reading” continued. People were now reading more, and reading for comfort. Book sales were high, library circulation stayed strong, and the popularity of audiobooks soared.

What We Read

Fiction

Top Novels

The top novels read nationwide and checked out at the Gwinnett County Public Library in 2021 came from the usual suspects: The Judge’s List by John Grisham, Game On by Janet Evanovich, and the ever-ubiquitous James Patterson with too many titles to mention them all. Let’s also not ’t forget Michael Connelly, JD Robb, and Lee Child who also had some of the top novels of 2021.

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2021 also saw two politicians releasing their fictional novels that would take readers by storm. The Clintons hit the bestseller lists, this time with thrillers and some special co-authors: The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, and State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny.

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Critical Favorites

2021’s critical favorites kicked off with The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honorée Fanonne, which was picked for Oprah’s Book Club. The list continues with The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles and  Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Underground Railroad. The list concludes with Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, author of All The Light We Cannot See, the 2014 novel which won him a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

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Non-Fiction

Two political novels that took grasp of readers’ attention in 2021 were Betrayal by Journalist Jonathan Karl and Peril by Journalist Bob Woodward. Both books focus on the Trump administration, which showed to still be a persistent topic on bookshelves all 2021.

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Prominent Books

Three other prominent books sold well all year: American Marxism, Michael Savage’s view of social activism, Crying in H Mart, author Michele Zauner’s journey as a Korean American, and The 1619 Project, a powerful exploration of the beginning of slavery in the United States.

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Autobiographies

Readers in 2021 saw many diverse autobiographies being published – from journalist Katie Couric to former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters drummer, David Grohl. It doesn’t stop there, Actresses Hayley Mills and Cicely Tyson also published their autobiographies in 2021. The sibling duo of Ron Howard and Clint Howard also released their autobiography. One of the most notable autobiographies published in 2021 was that of actor, rapper, and film producer Will Smith.
All of these released publications were received enthusiastically by readers. And for pure fun and escape, there was Stanley Tucci’s Taste – good writing about good food.

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Chart Toppers

A few books from 2020 continued to dominate the charts in 2021: Matt Haig’s time travel fantasy The Midnight Library, Mathew McConaughey’s Greenlights, featuring 40 years of the actor’s journals and diaries, and Glennon Doyle’s inspirational memoir Untamed (85 weeks on the bestseller list and counting!)

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In Memoriam

We lost some giants of literature this year, including Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, Anne Rice, known for her series of novels The Vampire Chronicles, Joan Didion, author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and Eric Jerome Dickey, known for his novel Cheaters.

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We also mourned several writers who have enchanted younger readers for generations: Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar), Beverly Cleary (Ramona Quimby series), Gary Paulsen (Hatchet), and Bell Hooks (Happy to Be Nappy).

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Literary Trends

Book clubs once again had to choose between virtual and in-person meetings if they wanted to stay active in 2021. Here at GCPL, a variety of options for its book clubs were offered, with some meeting in person, some solely online, and others offering customers the ability to choose which way they preferred to join in on the discussion.
Book awards were still bestowed, though virtually: Louise Erdrich, a popular chronicler of Native American lives, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Night Watchman, and Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Page to Screen

A variety of stories were adapted to the big screen or, more likely, to your favorite streaming service. Most highly anticipated – and generally well-regarded – was the new adaptation of Dune, Frank Herbert’s immortal epic of adventure and mysticism. Other notable adaptations included: Nella Larsen’s classic 1929 African American novel Passing; Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers, which streamed on Hulu, Bridgerton, based on Julia Quinn’s popular romance series, and The Power of the Dog – based on a previously little-known 1967 novel by Thomas Savage – now a major Oscar contender.

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We hope the Gwinnett County Public library helped you through 2021. We presented thoughtful informational sessions on COVID-19 science, rent payment relief, and a slew of virtual programming addressing important community issues. Or maybe you just took “pandemic reading” literally and checked out The Hot Zone or The Stand!
Let us know what you read in 2021 in the comments section below. And here’s to even more reading in 2022!

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Submitted by: Mark Woodard

Copyedited by: Gabriela Tinoco-Arreola