10 Upcoming Nonfiction Titles In 2021

Before I start on my 2020 favorites, I’d rather take a quick look ahead first. We’re all hoping for a better 2021 — eventually, at least — so let’s start there instead.

Here are some upcoming nonfiction titles scheduled for early 2021 that I’ve got my eye on. Any of these on your list too?

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Café Europa Revisited: How to Survive Post-Communism, by Slavenka Drakulic (January 5, Penguin) — One of my favorites this year was The Age of Skin, an essay collection by a Croatian writer analyzing the state of Europe today, including aftereffects of Communism. Drakulic’s focus sounds similar, but homes in more on Eastern Europe, “looking closely at artefacts and day to day life, from the health insurance cards to national monuments, and popular films to cultural habits, alongside pieces of growing nationalism and Brexit, these pieces of political reportage dive into the reality of a Europe still deeply divided.” I should try to read her first collection, 1997’s Cafe Europa: Life After Communism first, but I’m thrilled for this one. According to Wikipedia Drakulic lives in Croatia and Sweden now, but she lived for many years in Vienna, a perspective which adds to the appeal. (Not sold yet: just see cover. I would hang that on my wall.)

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Unsolaced: Along the Way to All That Is, by Gretel Ehrlich (January 5, Pantheon) — Ehrlich is forever a personal favorite thanks to The Solace of Open Spaces, one of those introspective, meditative, resonant books I found exactly when I needed it. This is her newest in quite awhile, described as a “collection of memories, observations, and narratives” that meditate “on how water, light, wind, mountain, bird, and horse have shaped her life and her understanding of a world besieged by a climate crisis.” Ehrlich’s prose is always lovely and evocative and she’s an exceptional nature writer, who makes everything feel so connected and personal and richly meaningful.

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Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness, by Roy Richard Grinker (January 19, W.W. Norton) — An anthropologist “chronicles the progress and setbacks in the struggle against mental-illness stigma—from the eighteenth century, through America’s major wars, and into today’s high-tech economy.” My impression is that it’s only recently that we’re starting to creepingly inch away from overwhelming stigma around mental illness, so I’m curious about the history here. Drawing “on cutting-edge science, historical archives, and cross-cultural research in Africa and Asia, Grinker takes readers on an international journey to discover the origins of, and variances in, our cultural response to neurodiversity.”

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Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal, by Mark Bittman (February 2, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) — I’d love to get back into reading food writing next year, and since I struck out big time on foodoirs in 2020, a history seems a good place to start instead. Prolific food writer Bittman’s latest is a history of Homo Sapiens through food, which is a compelling lens to use on this topic. Interested in how the “suicidal” part of the subtitle plays out. I guess because we’re killing ourselves by eating garbagey stuff?

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The Border: A Journey Around Russia Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, and the Northeast Passage, by Erika Fatland, translated by Kari Dickson (February 2) — Long subtitle aside, I love the idea of looking at something through what it’s not — through it borders and connections and influences instead of the thing itself. And my last read on borders in Eastern Europe was simply incredible. This is Fatland’s second book to be translated into English, after last year’s Sovietistan: Travels in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, another uncommon travel narrative of lands with Russian connection.

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The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed, by Wendy Lower (February 16, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) — Holocaust scholar Lower embarks on “forensic and archival detective work” around a rare photograph depicting the murder of a family by German officials and Ukrainian collaborators alongside a ravine in Ukraine. She’s eventually unable to uncover “the identities of mother and children, of the killers—and, remarkably, of the Slovakian photographer who openly took the image, as a secret act of resistance,” along with illuminating more about this dark corner of an already dark part of history. Although such stories are grim and can be tough to read, Lower is a renowned Holocaust scholar (author of Hitler’s Furies) and I think if she took on this story there’s something very worthwhile to say.

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Lolita in the Afterlife: On Beauty, Risk, and Reckoning with the Most Indelible and Shocking Novel of the Twentieth Century, edited by Jenny Minton Quigley (March 16) — “A vibrant collection of sharp and essential modern pieces on the perennially controversial Lolita, by a wide range of celebrated writers, edited by the daughter of Lolita’s original publisher.” Quigley commissioned original essays from Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, Erika Sánchez, Sloane Crosley, Andre Dubus III, Ian Frazier, Lauren Groff, Stacy Schiff, Emily Mortimer, Victor LaValle and others around the novel that “exemplifies many of the issues at the forefront of our current national discourse: art and politics, race and whiteness, gender and power, sexual trauma.” Lolita is one of my all-time favorite novels (I once read those!) and I’m very interested in how we consider it in those named contexts and what these writers have to say about it. Especially looking forward to pieces by Roxane Gay and Sloane Crosley.

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Festival Days, by Jo Ann Beard (March 16, Little, Brown) — I’ve already mentioned this one, having finally read and loved Beard’s Boys of My Youth, but it’s just so exciting that she’s finally releasing new nonfiction after more than two decades. These nine new autobiographical essays examine “life, love, death and all the complicated feelings that a person goes through during their most dire moments.” I found her abilities to swing between humor and nostalgia, pain and sheer joy so impressive in Boys, and she’s one of those writers who doesn’t waste a single sentence. One of my most anticipated for the year.

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Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over the Internet—and Why We’re Following, by Gabrielle Bluestone (April 6, Hanover Square Press) — A former Vice journalist and documentary filmmaker looks at the “con-artists, grifters, and snake-oils salesmen of the digital age – and why we can’t stop falling for them.” Like many I’m magnetically obsessed with scammyconartist-y stories, and curious about the digital-age angle, although I guess that’s been inherent in many of these recent stories. This one also takes more of an angle towards consumers — examining the infamous Fyre festival and Juicero startup — instead of individual stories, which is an intriguing twist.

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Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, by Gail Crowther (April 20, Gallery Books) — I’m not the biggest biography reader, I’ve realized — I prefer a broader history, but there’s a biography category on the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge and I think this might be my choice. For such a short life, Plath’s is a much-examined one (three other books on her by Crowther alone!), and I find it really interesting that she and Sexton had a connection. Sexton is one of my favorite poets but a complicated figure, and I’m intrigued by the dynamic between them, which began as a rivalry and ended in friendship. Soaked in booze, apparently!

What nonfiction are you most anticipating next year?

49 thoughts on “10 Upcoming Nonfiction Titles In 2021

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  1. What an interesting list! I have a book from Netgalley called The Natural Health Service by Isabel Hardman which looks at the mental and physical health benefits of being out in nature, coming out in Jan and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, that one would be good for you having the novel fresh in mind! and especially paired with The Real Lolita, which had a lot about the writing of the book and his process, I found it really interesting. And I’m curious to see all the cultural parsing of it, it evokes such strong reactions. We’ll have to discuss once we both read it ♥️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Adding, adding, adding….these all look amazing! I am so excited for 2021’s nonfiction offers because I have seen so many that I want to read. I am looking forward to The History of Sweets that comes out in March – you think candy is considered suicidal? Hah!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay I’m glad I could recommend some to you! I wasn’t really on the ball with keeping up with the new 2021 releases so I’m excited to see what you find. And I hadn’t heard about The History of Sweets, must look that one up! Although ugh, yes, that’s probably part of the food suicide problem I’m guessing…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a collection….they ALL look interesting.
    Jo Ann Beard and the book with Sexton-Plath dynamic
    Would be my first choices.
    I loved Lolita …as I read it I imagined James Mason …in the wonderful movie version.
    Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi is a gem as well.
    With all the excitement today…I haven’t had time to start my next book.
    USA – electoral college and Pfizer vaccines
    NL – we go into a hard lockdown at midnight until 19 January.
    Everything is closed except essential stores (grocery, pharmacy, dentist and day care for parents who are essential workers)
    So just as Germany is starting this week
    …we too are locked down during Xmas. No glühwein, Xmas markets/fairs…no nothing.
    No even snow…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really excited for those as well! I have a copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran and still haven’t read it yet. Maybe this will be the year. Yeah, it’s not shaping up to be a very nice Xmas but the end is in sight.

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  4. I must admit this year has put me off nonfiction reading as when I have time to read at all I’m more likely to delve into an immersive novel. So I’m mostly eyeing a large pile of backlist nonfiction and increasingly overdue library books.

    I’ve been reading about trauma and history and culture, with the occasional memoir. Thus Nobody’s Normal and Hype are the most interesting to me from this list. I will be curious on your thoughts about Bittman’s although the subtitle instantly made me think of fish and fruits that have allegedly delicious bits next to poisonous parts. Hopefully 2021 will be a better reading year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad I could introduce you to those two! It’s been strange in terms of what people have turned to for reading this year, I was surprised my own tendencies! I hope you can tackle your nonfiction backlist this year and that it’s a much better year in reading and otherwise! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great list! Lolita is really a one-of-a-kind read and has stuck with me ever since I read it, so I’m very intrigued to see its impact being followed up now with essays from a great list of writers. I’ll definitely want to check that out!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I read Hitler’s Furies in the last year or so. I found it very illuminating – women can be just as murderous as men, for sure. So I put The Ravine on my list. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a wonderful collection of books. Want to read Hype, as I am indeed magnetically obsessed (am stealing that turn of phrase from you for further use) with con artist stories. Also Nobody’s Normal as I do think we all have strange kinks and many of the most original and creative people are atypical – think David Byrne of Talking Heads is Asperger’s for example.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Magnetically obsessed is the best way to describe it, truly! I can’t even hear about one without wanting to know EVERYTHING. Have you heard of the podcast Chameleon? You might like it, I binge-listened to it as fast as possible, it’s such a crazy story. I’m really curious about Nobody’s Normal too, and I find it really helpful to hear about others’ kinks and quirks. I didn’t know that about the guy from Talking Heads!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m kind of behind on all things blogging as we get settled in after our move, so I’m not familiar with any of these yet, but I’ll definitely be adding some of my to-read list. Nobody’s Normal does sound fascinating. A while ago, I read an article about how quickly words that are created to describe mental health issues are repurposed as slurs, which was pretty depressing, but did get me more interested in how we talk about mental health. There are a lot of big names on the Lolita book that I’d love to hear from – Roxane Gay, Victor LaValle, Stacy Schiff, etc. And Hype sounds fascinating too. I love a book that explains what makes people tick 🙂

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  9. If you’re interested in foodoirs (a great term), then Michael Pollan’s In Defence of Food would be the first place to start. Would be great to hear your thoughts on it.
    Like the idea of Hype very much – would be interesting to see examples of differences between “reality” and what is shown to us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read a lot *about* Michael Pollan’s books but haven’t read them and not sure if I want to…I’m just not sure I agree with his stuff, it kind of feels oversimplified…but that’s interesting if it’s more of a foodoir, I thought that book was his research and theories. Good to know!

      I’m really excited for Hype too, it sounds so good!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Very exciting list! Animal, Vegetable, Junk and The Border both sound excellent and not something I would have found on my own, so I am thankful here!
    Lolita in the Afterlife has an impressive list of contributors, so I will have to check it out (I was really impressed by Lolita as a novel when I read it). I am especially interested in Schiff’s essay here because I read and adored her biography of Vera Nabokov.
    As always, my non-fiction reading skews more towards memoir so I am particularly happy when you bring other books onto my radar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read Schiff’s biography of Vera but I’d love to! Great to know that you liked it so much.

      And very glad I could introduce you to a few you wouldn’t have found on your own! Hope next year brings you lots of wonderful reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read Schiff’s biography of Cleopatra which was incredibly well-done and then decided I needed more of her stuff – and Vera Nabokov interested me most of the people she wrote about.
        I also hope your reading year will be great!

        Liked by 1 person

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