The 24 most popular books of 2021 so far, according to Goodreads members

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Collage of Goodreads top books, including Between Two Kingdoms, The Sum Of Us, and One Last Stop, on green background 4x3
Goodreads members added books like “The Four Winds,” “Crying in H Mart,” and “The Push” to their “Want to Read” lists.

  • Goodreads is a platform where users rate and review books.
  • Every July, Goodreads releases a list of the most popular books of the year so far.
  • This list includes the 24 most popular fiction and nonfiction books of the first half of 2021.

Goodreads is the world’s largest platform for readers to rate and review books. You can track the books you want to read, participate in challenges, and get personalized recommendations. Goodreads hosts its “Readers Choice Awards” annually, but halfway through the year, the platform also announces the most popular new books among its 125 million members.

The books on this list are both fiction and nonfiction, chosen for how often they’ve been added to readers’ “Want to Read” shelves. Goodreads eliminated any book below a 3.5-star rating, and each one had to be published in 2021 to be considered.

Whether you’re looking for a new release from an adored author or a timely nonfiction read, these books were the 24 most popular amongst Goodreads members in the first half of 2021.

The 24 most popular books of 2021 so far, according to Goodreads members:

Fiction

Nonfiction

Fiction

“The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah

The cover of The Four Winds: A Novel by Kristin Hannah

“The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.49

Kristin Hannah is known for her heartbreaking and exciting historical fiction novels. “The Four Winds” takes place in Texas in 1934 during the Great Depression and an insufferable drought. Elsa must make a choice to stay and fight for the success of her land, her home, and her community or take a chance and head to California in the hopes of a better life. This is a story of the search for the American Dream, one of a painful and shocking journey that is likely to pull tears from many readers. 

“The Lost Apothecary” by Sarah Penner

The cover of The Lost Apothecary: A Novel by Sarah Penner

“The Lost Apothecary” by Sarah Penner, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $16.19

This is a historical fiction read that mixes fantasy and mystery to bring a female apothecary in 1700s London to life. The old apothecary dispenses poisons to help free women from those who have wronged them. In 1791, a young girl seeks the help of the apothecary women, spurring an intense string of events that reveals the secrets of many women the apothecary has helped. When a present-day woman discovers an old vial near the river, she begins to uncover the “apothecary murders,” twisting the fates and stories of women across centuries. 

“The Push” by Ashley Audrain

The cover of The Push: A Novel by Ashley Audrain

“The Push” by Ashley Audrain, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $11.36

“The Push” is a thriller that demands to be read in a single sitting. Blythe was determined to be the mother she never had — but struggles when her daughter starts to behave differently, possessing a vaguely sinister quality that no one else notices except Blythe. When Blythe’s son is born, she has the blissful motherly connection for which she always hoped, until the life she imagined changes in an instant. 

“Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro

The cover of Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

“Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $16.80

In 2017, Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature — this is his first novel since the award. Set in the near future, “Klara and the Sun” explores the human condition through Klara,  an Artificial Friend. Klara is AI, keenly observational and eerily understanding the depth of human emotion as she watches out the store window and waits for a customer to one day choose her. This book is sweet, gripping, and subtly beautiful, exploring connection, loss, and love in this speculative science fiction read. 

“The Paris Library” by Janet Skeslien Charles

The cover of The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

“The Paris Library” by Janet Skeslien Charles, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $17.56

This historical fiction novel is based on the little-known but true story of World War II librarians at the American Library in Paris. It begins in 1939, where young librarian Odile faces the fear of losing her library as the Nazis invade her city. In 1983, Lily is a teenager in Montana whose school project leads her to interview her French neighbor, uncovering her mysterious past and the secret that may connect them. This is not a war novel, but a descriptive and deeply intriguing piece of historical fiction that will pull on the heartstrings of all book lovers. 

“Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The cover of Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $16.80

Taylor Jenkins Reid novels are known for being absolute page-turners, and “Malibu Rising” is no different. This book bounces between an epic, life-changing party over 24 hours and the family history of four famous siblings. Together, they’re a fascination to the world, children of the legendary rockstar Mick Riva. They’re all looking forward to their annual party for different reasons except Nina, recently abandoned by her husband and resentful of the spotlight. By morning, the house will be up in flames, but before that the party will become completely out of control and the secrets of the family will rise to the surface. 

“The Rose Code” by Kate Quinn

The cover of The Rose Code: A Novel by Kate Quinn

“The Rose Code” by Kate Quinn, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $13.49

In 1940, three very different women come together during the war to help break German military codes, creating deep bonds that are broken by the pressure of secrecy and the pain of loss through the war. Seven years later, the women are reunited at a royal wedding by a mysterious letter and must revisit a past of betrayal and heartbreak in order to crack one final code and stop an elusive enemy. This is a brilliant and riveting read, a bestseller with perfectly plotted narratives that has quickly become an undeniable 2021 favorite. 

“People We Meet on Vacation” by Emily Henry

The cover of People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

“People We Meet on Vacation” by Emily Henry, available at Amazon and Bookshop, $9.98

From the author of the 2020 hit “Beach Read” comes another summer favorite of two unlikely friends that vacation together every summer. Alex and Poppy couldn’t be more opposite: Alex, a quiet boy with hometown charm, and Poppy, a wanderlust-fueled wild child. After sharing a ride home in college, the two form a friendship, sharing a vacation together every summer for a decade, until two years ago when they ruined everything. Now, Poppy and Alex come together for one more trip to see if they can mend their friendship or if there’s really something more between them. 

“Concrete Rose” by Angie Thomas

The cover of Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

“Concrete Rose” by Angie Thomas, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $12

“Concrete Rose” is the prequel to the super popular YA novel “The Hate U Give”. In this book, readers meet Maverick Carter: a 17-year-old high school student who deals with the gang his father once ruled. When Maverick learns he’s a father, he decides to “go straight” by no longer dealing drugs, working a part-time job, finishing high school, and being there for his son. Torn between loyalty and responsibility, this book is Maverick’s coming-of-age journey as he decides what it means to him to be a father and a man. 

“One Last Stop” by Casey McQuiston

The cover of One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

“One Last Stop” by Casey McQuiston, available at Amazon and Bookshop, $10.25

August believes the best way to move through life is alone. That is, until she meets Jane on the subway who offers her a simple solution to her bad day. August can’t stop thinking about Jane and luckily sees her every day — strangely on the exact same train, in the exact same car. Jane is from the 1970s, caught in a magical timeslip with little memory of her past. Determined to help, August sets out to rescue Jane from the subway to which she appears to be tethered. This book is a magical young adult queer romance featuring diverse characters, tons of romantic scenes, and a charming plotline that keeps readers yearning for more. 

“Outlawed” by Anna North

The cover of Outlawed by Anna North

“Outlawed” by Anna North, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $17.95

This book is a fast-paced and dangerous story that’s piqued readers’ interest by breaking the mold of traditional Westerns with a queer, feminist Western girl gang. In 1984, Ana is a respected midwife who hasn’t been able to get pregnant after a year of marriage. With the fear of being hanged as a witch, Ana joins the Hole in the Wall Gang, a group determined to create a safe haven for outlawed women. When the gang devises a risky plan, Ana must decide if she’s willing to risk her life for the chance of a new future for them all. 

“This Close To Okay” by Leesa Cross-Smith

The cover of This Close To Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith

“This Close To Okay” by Leesa Cross-Smith, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $16.99

This story takes place over a single weekend after Tallie convinces a man named Emmett to step back from the edge of a bridge and join her for coffee. As a therapist, Tallie aims to create a safe space for Emmett though hesitant to admit it’s also her job. As Emmett begins to confide in Tallie, she releases her own heavy truths and challenges. This book is touching, the tale of two strangers meeting under wild circumstances and finding solace in each other. 

Nonfiction

“Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” by Adam Grant

The cover of Think Again by Adam Grant

“Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” by Adam Grant, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $16.75

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist who studies how people find motivation and meaning. In this book, Grant encourages people to not only learn from being wrong, but explore how it makes us feel. He examines why we’re uncomfortable “thinking again,” how we can develop greater introspection, and how we can teach others to think again in a way that is often more productive than getting everything right the first time. This book encourages readers to overcome overconfidence and embrace not knowing everything.

“How To Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need” by Bill Gates

The cover of How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need

“How To Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need” by Bill Gates, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.99

Backed by ten years of research, Bill Gates uses this book to explain why and how we must work towards a goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions. Split into three main parts, Gates describes the environmental fate we currently face, the ways in which technology can function to help us reduce or eliminate our greenhouse gas emissions, and an accessible, well-defined plan by which all individuals, corporations, and governments can abide to reach this goal. This read is urgent and practical, an ambitious plan but one that is optimistic about the future of our environment. 

“Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted” by Suleika Jaquad

The cover of Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaquad

“Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted” by Suleika Jaquad, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $18.24

In a transformative story that grips readers from the first pages, we meet Suleika Jaquad in the summer after graduating from college with a world of opportunities ahead of her. After a swarm of strange itches, inescapable exhaustion, and a flurry of tests, Suleika is diagnosed with leukemia just before her 23rd birthday. After four years in a hospital bed, Suleika finally beats cancer to find a new set of challenges ahead of her: How to live rather than survive. Full of emotional truths, this is a story of heartbreak and triumph from a survivor with a chance to begin again. 

“Broken (in the best possible way)” by Jenny Lawson

The cover of Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

“Broken (in the best possible way)” by Jenny Lawson, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.83

Jenny Lawson is a popular blogger known for her sarcasm and unique outlook on life. She’s been open about her struggles with depression and her mental health journey and, with this book, encourages readers to humanize and destigmatize mental health in her own notoriously hilarious ways. With a series of funny anecdotes, Jenny hopes readers feel less alone in their own experiences with depression and anxiety, especially in a time where more people are struggling with their mental health than ever before. 

“Crying in H Mart: A Memoir” by Michelle Zauner

The cover of Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

“Crying in H Mart: A Memoir” by Michelle Zauner, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $16.17

 Michelle Zauner explores growing up Korean American, feeling the high expectations of her mother, and bonding with her grandmother over late-night food in Seoul. As she grows into adulthood, she feels more and more distant from her Korean heritage — until her mother is diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Forced to reconnect with her identity, Zauner offers the truest look at her most difficult days, portraying every bit of grief and conflict mixed with stunning food descriptions. 

“Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019” edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

The cover of Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

“Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019” edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.20

This is a chronological account of 400 years of previously silenced Black history in America. Curated by two historians, this book begins with the arrival of 20 enslaved Ndongo people in 1619 and continues to tell stories of slavery, segregation, and oppression over 80 chapters. There are also celebrations of African art and music, a life-changing collection that concludes with an essay from Alicia Garza on the Black Lives Matter movement.

“A Swim in a Pond in the Rain” by George Saunders

The cover of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

“A Swim in a Pond in the Rain” by George Saunders, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.99

George Saunders teaches Russian short stories to MFA students at Syracuse University, focusing on what makes stories great, what fiction can tell us about ourselves, and the ways in which literature reflects our world today. This book is a version of his class, using Russian short stories across seven essays to demonstrate how relevant great writing still is. This book is highly accessible, abandoning complex literary concepts in the search for more straightforward answers, making it a perfect new publication for those who loved Stephen King’s “On Writing”. 

“The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos” by Judy Batalion

The cover of The Light of Days: The Untold Story by Judy Batalion

“The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos” by Judy Batalion, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $22.99

This is a nonfiction book that reads like a thrilling historical fiction novel, a previously forgotten story of Jewish women who became resistance fighters in World War II after watching the Nazi destruction of their communities and the murders of their family members. The author is the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors, transporting readers to 1939 where Jewish women bribed German soldiers, paid off guards, hid revolvers, and bombed train lines to fight for the freedom of their people.

“The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” by Heather McGhee

The cover of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee

“The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” by Heather McGhee, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $17.98

Heather McGhee is an economist who explains how racism and white supremacy have negative social and economic effects on white people, too. She uses the concept of “zero-sum” (the idea that progress for some comes at the expense of others) to introduce her own new concept: The Solidarity Dividend, an idea that progress is felt amongst all when people come together across race and achieve what cannot be done alone. Heather uses historical examples and individual stories to explain how racism against minorities has had negative consequences for everyone, and to offer real solutions for a better future. 

“Aftershocks: A Memoir” by Nadia Owusu

The cover of Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

“Aftershocks: A Memoir” by Nadia Owusu, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $16.89

“Aftershocks” is a memoir from a woman who was raised all around the world, struggling to understand all the pieces of herself. Nadia Owusu’s memoir is a beautifully written story about a complicated earthquake of a young life and understanding the aftershocks of trauma and vulnerability. When Owusu’s mother abandoned her at two years old and her father died when she was 13, she was raised by her stepmother, unable to shake the feelings of loneliness. Her story is a weave of memoir and generational history, a journey of understanding the compilation of experiences and cultures that comprise an identity. 

“You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism” by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

The cover of You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

“You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism” by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $18.08

Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar are sisters who collaborated to create a compilation of what seem like absurdly unreal stories of racism, yet are all true and sometimes regular experiences for Black people. Told with hilarious sibling banter, the sisters swap stories of people mistaking them for Harriet Tubman, putting their whole hand in their hair, and their interaction with a racist donut store owner. Amber and Lacey shed light on these ridiculous moments of racism with which Black people can commiserate and others can learn from.

“Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” by Elon Green

The cover of Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

“Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” by Elon Green, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $23.99

This is a true crime book about the Last Call Killer, a serial killer who targeted gay men in New York in the 1980s and ’90s. Because of the high murder rates, the AIDS epidemic, and the sexuality of the victims, the Last Call Killer had been mostly forgotten despite the graphic and horrifying nature of the murders. This book traces the decades-long search for the murderer while also sharing the stories of the victims and the resilience of the gay community. 

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