Best 2021 Fiction Books to Consider for Holiday Gifts

This is part of the LA Times 2021 Giveaway Guide. If you buy books here, The Times may earn a commission from, whose fees support independent bookstores. See the full guide here.

When it comes to gifting books, it’s really the thought that counts. This year has brought a surplus of major fiction after the 2020 pandemic delays (although supply chain issues make advance orders essential). That means there’s something awesome for every reader on your list. Of these 10 choices, you’ll easily find a match, or three, that will elicit gasps of “How did you know?”


No spy enthusiast’s collection would be complete without John le Carré’s Swan Song, the last novel he completed before his death last December. His last gladiators are retirees from the cold, including a mysterious immigrant met in a bookstore. Still, it’s no cozy mystery; it’s a high-stakes game as scary as the rest.

$28 | 👉 Buy here

The death

The profile of a woman on the cover of "The death" by Natashia Deon

Any fan of contemporary fantasy will tell you that the impetus is for writers of color to reclaim the genre. For readers who can’t wait for the next entry in NK Jemisin’s “Great Cities” trilogy, Natashia Deón’s new novel, about a 1930s Los Angeles resident who discovers her immortal mission while working for (ahem) The Times, is definitely going to help them out over.

$26 | 👉 Buy here


The cover of "Trees," by Percival Everett

Colson Whitehead took a break this year from serious Southern tales (see below), but Percival Everett has picked up the slack, with satirical freebies to match. An epic racial revenge fantasy set in the Mississippi town where Emmett Till was killed might not seem like a fun present, but Everett’s verbal hijinks are funny as hell.

$16 | 👉 Buy here

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A man playing a guitar and a woman are sitting outside on the blanket of "Crossroads," by Jonathan Franzen.

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This one’s a no-brainer for the Jonathan Franzen fans on your list, but anyone looking for some old-school narrative immersion will find something in Franzen’s saga of a 1971 suburban Chicago family in moral crisis. . It will take some time to dive into – and for many it’s a feature, not a bug.

$30 | 👉 Buy here


The book cover of "Matrix," by Lauren Groff.

Has anyone in your life complained about all the dystopian novels coming out these days? Lauren Groff’s latest novel isn’t exactly utopian (she’s too smart for that), but her story of an ambitious and talented 12th-century nun who turns her abbey into a matriarchal center of power is the kind of fantasy that many readers might opt ​​out. now.

$28 | 👉 Buy here

The love songs of WEB Du Bois

An image of a face and a tree on the cover of "The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois," by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has written a great American novel – 800 pages of poetry, history and pain, plus the personal story of a woman raised with expectations of a “tenth talent” but determined to learn all about this powerfully cruel. Give it to any Nikole Hannah-Jones fan, and they’ll be blown away.

$28.99 | 👉 Buy here

Something new under the sun

A person on fire in a field in cover of "Something new under the sun," by Alexandra Kleeman.

anyone who really wants to know that LA would benefit from (and probably devour) Alexandra Kleeman’s hilarious and chilling new novel, the realistic dystopia we can’t escape. An author is enlisted to “consult” on a Hollywood adaptation of his novel, to contend with a spoiled starlet, a substance called WAT-R, a Ballardian landscape of fire-lined freeways, and a plot worthy of “Chinatown.”

$28 | 👉 Buy here

Beautiful world, where are you

The illustrated cover of "Beautiful world, where are you," by Sally Rooney

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Sally Rooney has become, obviously to her horror, a millennial brand – a dynamic that is key to her latest novel about Irish semi-intellectuals in hot relationships. For the left-leaning and bookish youth in your life, it hits all the pleasure centers — philosophical and carnal, old-fashioned and new.

$28 | 👉 Buy here

Our friends in the country

A drawing of a wine glass and a country road on the cover of "Our friends in the country," by Gary Shteyngart

It may not be the first novel about the pandemic, but it has to be the funniest. Gary Shteyngart’s modern update of “The Decameron” – that classic set of stories told by exiled Florentines riding the bubonic plague – has a multicultural cast and location in New York’s Hudson Valley. Comforting, neurotic, cosmopolitan and apocalyptic: what’s not to love?

$28 | 👉 Buy here

The Lincoln Highway

A black and white photograph of a vintage train and car on the cover of Amor Towles'

Everyone has that parent who can’t stop talking about their life’s mission to get to every rest stop on Route 66. Amor Towles, the master of literary historical fiction, wrote the book for them – a bittersweet road trip from the 1950s taken by tough kids on a mythical route whose access and exit ramps represent the promise of America and its limits.

$30 | 👉 Buy here

Afterparties: Stories

Two men smoke in the back of a truck on the cover of "Afterparties: Stories," by Anthony Veasna So

Fiction can transport us through time and space, but some of us read it for a level of immersion and understanding you won’t find on vacation. Anthony Veasna So died last year aged 28, his promise largely unfulfilled. But we have “Afterparties,” his collection of funny, profound and harrowing stories about Cambodian Americans making new lives in Stockton, California.

$28 | 👉 Buy here

Harlem mix

The red, yellow and green cover of "Harlem Shuffle," by Colson Whitehead.

Colson Whitehead is so good at switching genres and tones that his fans don’t always follow him with every book; zombie satire readers may not like Oprah’s anointed slavery fantasies – and vice versa. “Harlem Shuffle” has something for everyone, though – a tough wit, deep historical nuance, as well as the ingredients for a new fan base for crackling heist thrillers.

$28.95 | 👉 Buy here

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