With the dawn of a new year came the dawn of yet another lockdown, which means most of us probably won't be able to travel any time soon. Reading provides a great means of escape, and now more than ever many of us are turning to books as a way to cope with being stuck in one place.
So if you're feeling a serious case of the wanderlust blues, check out these 12 must-read books—one for each month of the year—and take a journey around the world without ever having to leave your armchair!
1. January: Out by Natsuo Kirino (Japan)
This gritty (and riveting) crime novel tells the story of four seemingly ordinary women who embark down the dark path to murder. Both a commentary on how Japanese society views women, and the gruesome underworld that exists beneath the glittering facade of 'proper' society, Out will keep you thinking long after you've finished reading.
2. February: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (Mexico)
Signs Preceding the End of the World is one of the most prominent works of literature to come out of Latin America in recent years. This novel deals with the concept of borders, both literal and figurative, as we follow a young woman's journey through Mexico and across the U.S. border. Herrera's book masterfully grapples with several human truths; not in the least the idea of geographical luck assigned according to where you happen to be born.
3. March: The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh (India)
Amitav Ghosh's novel The Shadow Lines was one of my favorite reads of 2020, which is why I'm recommending it for your 2021 reading list! This book tells the story of two families, one English and one Bengali, and how their lives are intertwined through memories and experiences viewed through different cultural lenses. The Shadow Lines deals with similar themes as our February pick: borders outlined in our minds vs. in the real world.
4. April: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (Paris and London)
George Orwell's part-fictional, part-autobiographical memoir is a must-read for anyone who's a fan of his other work. In Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell narrates with straight-forward simplicity the lives of the people who made up the fabric of society of 1900s Paris and London. You'll come to sympathize with the resilience of the penniless, and form a different worldview of their plights and stories. Trust me, you'll never look at hotel and restaurant kitchens in the same way after reading this.
5. May: Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan)
Moth Smoke will transport you to Lahore in the 1990s, where corruption and connections guarantees success, and hard work gets you nowhere. We get glimpses of elite society through the eyes of a jaded and unemployed young man named Daru. Told partially through the events of a trial and paralleling ancient Mughal history, Hamid weaves together passion and politics in a way that keeps you captivated until the very last page.
6. June: Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman (Italy)
If you like the idea of lazy summers that never seem to end, Call Me by Your Name should be on your 2021 summer reading list! Aciman's novel deposits the reader smack in the middle of the balmy Italian Riviera to watch a powerful romance unfold between a teenage boy and a guest summering at his parents' house. This one is for anyone who's experienced the kind of short-lived passion that burns fast and bright, and wanes only with summer's end.
7. July: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (Czech Republic)
The best word to describe Kundera's classic novel is probably profound. The Unbearable Lightness of Being touches heavily on the idea of random chance. Who or where would you be if the sequence of your life was only just slightly altered? Set during the Soviet occupation of Prague in the 1960s, this beautiful novel details the trajectory of a relationship, and parallels love's ups and downs alongside the political rise and fall of a nation. This one stays with you, and warrants re-reading next year too!
8. August: Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer (Cuba)
Pico Iyer is probably most well-known for his travel books, which could be why he manages to capture so well the elusive, wild, and melancholic nature of life in Cuba under Fidel Castro. I would argue that Cuba and the Night is the perfect bookish journey to take during quarantine. You'll be able to better understand the sense of isolation and longing the Cuban characters in Iyer's book experience for the world outside their island. Aren't we all a bit trapped on our individual islands these days?
9. September: The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson (Puerto Rico)
Reading any Hunter S. Thompson book can be an absolutely wild experience, and The Rum Diary is no exception. Set in Puerto Rico during the 1950s, it follows a young journalist who arrives on the island to work for a local newspaper. Soon he finds himself intertwined in a tale of corruption, jealousy, and lust all the while spending most of his time drunk. While humorous at times, Thompson's novel also showcases the negative impact expat culture can have in developing countries.
10. October: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (England)
Your 2021 reading list won't be complete without at least one good old-fashioned classic. Wuthering Heights is not your typical, run-of-the-mill romance. Emily Brontë focuses less on the gooey, mushy aspect of relationships and more on how hurtful people can be, even when they love each other (and often because they love each other). The cold and cruel Yorkshire moor provides a gothic backdrop to Heathcliff's and Catherine's harrowing love story, and often mirrors the natures of Brontë's main characters. It's the perfect book to cozy up with on a chill and windy October eve.
11. November: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (United States)
The Other Black Girl is one of my most anticipated 2021 reads, but sadly we'll all have to wait a while as it doesn't release until June 1st. I will say I'm intrigued by the premise of a young Black woman's experiences in the Manhattan publishing world. Couple that with the comparisons to Get Out and The Devil Wears Prada, and I can't wait to jump into this one later this year. What about you?
12. December: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Around the world)
Okay, okay, I get it, Moby-Dick isn't for everyone. But if you'd like an all encompassing trip around the world by sea, you can't go wrong with Melville's adventurous magnum opus. While some parts of this novel can be tough to get through, there's no denying that Melville's prose is stunning, and he expertly pulls the reader into life on a whaling ship while sailing the high seas.
What's on your 2021 reading list?
Share what you're most excited to read this year!