Our 10 Top Picks of 2021

It’s been another wild year! As we wrap up 2021, here’s a quick recap of some of Half Price Books’ top bestsellers this year.

Dune by Frank Herbert
No surprises here! With the release of Dune (2021 film), the first part of a planned two-part adaption of the 1965 novel by Frank Herbert, came the rise in popularity of the book. Described as the world’s best-selling science fiction novel, Dune is set in the distant future. It tells the story of a prescient young man whose family comes to control the planet Arrakis. This desert planet produces the only source of mélange or “spice” which extends life and is crucial for space navigation. Without revealing too much, this story is a sweeping epic incorporating multilayered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology and human emotion. It’s absolutely worth the read!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
This late 2020 book couldn’t help but be a hit for all of 2021. It’s an incredible novel about the choices that go into a life well-lived, and the chance to try again. This enchanting novel describes a library beyond the edge of the universe that contains an infinite number of books, each with the story of your life if you had made different choices along the way. The novel’s protagonist, Nora Seed, is faced with changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups and realizing her dream of becoming a glaciologist. She must determine as she travels through the Midnight Library what makes life worth living in the first place. An absolute feel-good book that is worth the read! 

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This is the beautiful telling of the tragic story of Achilles and Patroclus. Madeline Miller does an excellent job of incorporating the Ancient Greek and Roman cultures in this book. She uses the blood and brutality of the era as a backdrop to the gentle affection of the two main characters as she provides a more human telling of the Trojan War. The Song of Achilles helps to view The Iliad in a new way. This ancient story is handled with grace and care, and is sure to be a fantastic addition to your shelves.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book burst onto the scene in true Hollywood glamor. It is the telling of a vivacious, elderly Hollywood starlet and her various marriages, but it’s so much more than that. Told from two different timelines and two different points of view, this book incorporates heartbreak, desire, sexism, race, sexuality and conforming to societal norms. Evelyn Hugo may be the titular character, but she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write about her glamorous and scandalous life. Why did she choose her? Why is she choosing now to tell her story? Taylor Jenkins Reid really hits it out of the park with this lyrical, can’t-put-down read!

1984 by George Orwell
Written in 1949, this book has made a resurgence of popularity in recent years. It is a dystopian science fiction novel and cautionary tale about the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance and the repressive regimentation of people and behaviors within a society. This was the final book by George Orwell, and he modeled the totalitarian regime in the book after Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. More broadly, this novel examines the role of truth and facts within politics and the ways in which they are manipulated, which might explain it’s broad appeal during these uncertain years.  There’s a reason it’s often assigned in high school courses for evaluation, and it is one of the best depictions of the ruin of a society by a totalitarian government.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
This superb work of fiction is set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho and on an interstellar ship decades from now. This inventive and imaginative novel is about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds of peril, who find resilience, hope and a book. These different times and places weave together to reflect the vast experience of human connection to the past, present and future. The story of dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope amidst grave danger will give you hope during difficult times.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
There’s a reason why this book was chosen by Oprah Quarterly and The Washington Post as the Best Book of the Year. This masterful, absorbing work of fiction is set in 1950s America. It’s a story of hope and companionship in a time of despair. Newly released from a work camp, Emmet wants to take his little brother and head to Texas where he plants to use his carpentry skills. Billy, however, wants to go to California where he believes their mother is living. Both of these plans are knocked sideways by the surprise appearance of two men who had escaped the same work-camp Emmett returned from and they’ve hatched a plan that will take them all on a fateful journey to New York City.

Gilded by Marissa Meyer
This masterful retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin folk tale is worth the read. Incorporating the dark roots of a Grimm fairy tale, Meyer flips tradition with a simple question: What if Rumpelstiltskin is the hero rather than the villain? The story’s main character, eighteen-year-old Serilda is a known storyteller, despite being a village outcast. Her stories unfortunately make her the target of the Erlking who forces her to spin straw into golden chairs. She must call upon the help of a boy with no memory and use her stories to stay one step ahead of the Erlking. 

Will by Will Smith
Will Smith is a household name. He’s one of the most dynamic and globally recognized actors of our time. But this book is when he truly opens up about his life. He traces his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness and human connection are aligned. 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. Few of us know the pressures of being in the world’s spotlight, but we can all understand the desire to constantly learn and improve ourselves.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
The two main characters of this novel were destined for friendship, despite being such polar opposites. Poppy is vivid, energetic and an adventurer while Alex is bookish, calm and controlling. Despite wanting such different things from life, they end up as best friends after a road trip connected them to one another. They begin going on annual vacations together until something happened on their last trip and they stop speaking… Now, Poppy realizes the last time she was truly happy was when she was with Alex on that last trip. She wants one more trip to fix their relationship. Will it happen? This book is a refreshing take on the friends to lovers trope, and a definite feel-good book for these long, cold winter nights!

What was your favorite book of 2021? Tell us in the comments below!

This post has 5 Comments.

  • How can you put together a list of favorites of 2021 and not include Paul McCartney’s ‘The Lyrics’ ? It’s supposed to be the closest Paul will ever come to ever releasing an autobiography. From his pre-Beatle days, through his years with the fab four, Wings and his solo years are all here.

  • A quick note: 1984 was written in 1948, not 1949 as your above review states. The book was published in 1949, but it’s widely believed that Orwell transposed the last two numerals of the year he wrote the book, 1948, to form the title, 1984. It’s amazing how much of what he wrote about in the novel seems to be coming true today, especially the role of the media in controlling the masses. Please keep up the good work at HPB. I love your stores.