The best books of 2021, according to global trendsetters

(CNN) – The literary landscape has never been as abundant or as reflective of our present moment as the books of this year.

  • See more of the 2021 recap

Compassionate depictions of the current refugee crisis led to Zanzibari-British novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah winning the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature, while American writer Jason Mott took home the National Book Award for his novel on racism, police brutality and the experience of being black in America.

To help readers navigate the endless list of books released this year, we asked influential trendsetters – such as writers, actors, photographers, and creative directors – to share their favorite readings from 2021.

Whether hard-hitting reflections on the state of public health or a visual anthology of contemporary African artists, these are the books that today’s cultural heavyweights had on their bedside tables.

Judd Apatow, producer, screenwriter and comedian

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Apatow – whose filmography includes comedy milestones such as Superbad (2007), Bridesmaids (2011) and The King of Staten Island (2020) – recommends the memoirs of another industry legend, Mel Brooks. Your book All About Me reveals behind-the-scenes anecdotes of what life was like in show business during the golden age.

“At last, the Mel Brooks autobiography that all comedy fans have dreamed of for so long,” Apatow told CNN Style. “As the world stumbles into madness, we should all take a moment to read this book and appreciate the brilliant comedy and scathing satire of our greatest American filmmaker. Surely most people think drama is harsher and more elegant. … but is not!”.

Glenn Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

The best books of 2021

(Credit: Simon & Schuster)

Lowry, an art historian and director of MoMA since 1995, recommends Better to Have Gone: Love, Death and the Quest for Utopia in AurovilleAkash Kapur’s personal memoirs recounting the life of his in-laws, who met in a utopian community in South India in the 1960s.

“Written with insight and compassion, Better to Have Gone takes us on the journey of the author and his wife as they try to piece together the events that brought them together as children and then shaped their adult lives, “said Lowry.” At the same time, the book also explores the rivalries and tensions that defined Auroville’s early years and what it means to try to create a utopian environment. “

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner, activist and student

The best books of 2021

(Credit: Hachette Australia)

“One of my favorite books this year is Aftershocksby Nadia Owusu, “Yousafzai told CNN Style.” These beautiful memoirs tell the story of a girl who was abandoned by her mother at age 2 and orphaned at 13 when her beloved father died. The story follows Nadia’s life from growing up in Tanzania, Italy, Ethiopia, England, Ghana, and Uganda until she landed in Brooklyn as a young adult trying to create her own steadfast path after a troubled childhood. “

Malala first spoke out against the Taliban regime in 2008, when she delivered a speech denouncing the ban on women’s education. He became a target and fled Pakistan in 2012.

“The book resonated with me as someone who shares the specific struggle of rebuilding his life in an unknown country. But reading Aftershocks With my Literati reading club, I discovered that many women in our group could relate to Nadia’s struggle to define her identity and her sense of home. “

Kaia Gerber, model and actress

The best books of 2021

Credit: Penguin Random House

Kaia Gerber, 2018 Model of the Year and Book Club Buff, Recommends the Memoir best-seller from The New York Times Crying in H Mart, from the Grammy nominated musician Michelle Zaumer.

“It’s a beautiful memoir about what it’s like to grow up as a Korean-American, find identity, and cope with pain,” Gerber said. “Michelle recounts the last days she spent with her mother through a food diary. This book is filled with a lot of emotion and raw honesty. A true exploration of the complexities of grief and how we find connection in little girls things sometimes unexpected. Heartbreaking and beautiful, this book has stayed with me every day since I read it. “

The book will be a feature film after Orion Pictures bought the rights this summer.

Spencer Tunick, photographer

The best books of 2021

(Credit: Andreas B. Krueger / Chose Commune)

“The book I’ve spent the most time with is a little art book from 2021,” Tunick, known mostly for his extensive nude sessions involving hundreds of people, told CNN Style.

“It is not a narrative book, but a compact pocket art book that I keep next to my bed to lose myself in my thoughts and help me sleep. The book is about photographs, illustrations and hand paintings. small art books, which take the place of the iPhone or Instagram. The book is a talisman. The book as an object. “

Tunick’s most recent work was done at Israel’s Dead Sea.

Ai Weiwei, artist and activist

The best books of 2021

(Credit: Macmillan)

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei recommends Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injusticeby Rupa Marya and Raj Patel. The work is an interdisciplinary investigation on how structural inequality has a negative physiological impact on our health.

“The book is powerful and dynamic,” said Ai, who has exhibited his controversial work at the Tate Modern in London, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Louvre in Paris.

“Because the book provides so much information, including the results of new research and historical materials, it makes readers eager to know more and to fully understand what the writer is really trying to say. It is very rich, a little like an encyclopedia on contemporary society, the environment and medical language. It’s very interesting. “

Bolu Babalola, author, screenwriter and journalist

The best books of 2021

(Credit: Grove Atlantic)

Babalola received in 2020 an advance copy of Open water, by Caleb Azumah Nelson, a poetic ode to black love that follows a young photographer and dancer in modern-day London.

“I found myself constantly coming back to him this year,” the British-Nigerian writer told CNN Style. “Not only is it beautifully written, with an overwhelming lyricism that drives the storytelling, but it is such a moving exploration of love, discovery, learning, and embracing.”

“(Open water) is a love letter to South London, and to blackness, not as a rigid phenomenon, but as something that is molded around our individuality, our humanity, our nuanced beauty. Although it often strays into darkness, it never strays too far from light, from hope: it is a message that I carry with me about life itself, especially in the midst of global turmoil. Very grateful for this book. “

Babalola’s first novel, Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold, quickly became a best-seller from the Sunday Times.

Olivier Rousteing, Creative Director and Fashion Designer

The best books of 2021

Credit: Penguin Random House

Rousteing, creative director of luxury fashion house Balmain, recommends a colorful new edition of the keynote text The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklasby Gertrude Stein.

Originally published in 1933, the book is considered the definitive account of an American in Paris, chronicling the avant-garde lives of Stein and Toklas when they rubbed shoulders with Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Henri Matisse.

“This colorful reissue of the Gertrude Stein classic, packed with dozens of fantastic illustrations by Maira Kalman, offered me the perfect escape from the anxiety we all felt during the worst months of the pandemic, as Paris suffered from curfews and lockdowns.”

To celebrate a decade at the helm of Balmain, Rousteing published his own graphic novel.

Alok Vaid-Menon, author, performance artist, and designer

The best books of 2021

(Credit: Bold Type Books)

Vaid-Menon, a creative person who identifies with gender nonconformity, recommends “The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism,” an intersectional non-fiction by Kyla Schuller.

“I am a firm believer that we have to learn history to inform our future,” Vaid-Menon said. “(This book) is rigorous historical research that could not be more timely. It is meticulously researched and phenomenally written in a close and even charismatic style. Each chapter compares a historical figure of white feminism, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with a fellow feminist. intersectional of his time, like Frances Harper.

“Rather than simply criticizing the limitations of white feminism, Dr. Schuller highlights the broad intersectional feminisms that have always existed alongside it. In this way, it is a hopeful and refreshing read that invites us to dream bigger and imagine more. for feminism “.

In 2020, Vaid-Menon wrote an opinion piece advocating a new, more inclusive beauty paradigm.

Sir David Adjaye, architect

The best books of 2021

Credit: Phaidon

Sir Adjaye, the British-Ghanaian architect who has designed notable buildings such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the city of Washington, recommends African Artists: From 1882 to Now, a visual anthology that collects the cultural contributions of the continent through more than 300 artists.

“(This book) presents the brilliant legacies of more than one hundred years of critical, cultural, socio-political and expressive engagement from and for Africa,” Adjaye told CNN Style.

“This text examines the meaning of art on the continent and demonstrates how the expression itself is a deep entanglement not only with time, ranging from the recognition of modernism to the post-independence electrical age, but also the entanglement that we, as Africans, have with our landscape. Our expression is our ability to take advantage of the imaginative possibility of art, the radical possibility of dreaming of ourselves, our lands and our identity in another way “.

Lisa Ling, journalist

The best books of 2021

(Credit: Hachette Books)

TV host and executive producer of CNN’s original series “This Is Life with Lisa Ling,” Ling recommends “In the Weeds” from fellow host Tom Vitale.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Tom on our HBOMax show ‘Take Out,’ which will premiere early next year alongside Helen Cho,” Ling told CNN Style. “Tom is bright, friendly and quite introspective. He recently wrote a deeply personal and passionate book about his world travel with the great Anthony Bourdain, titled In the Weeds. Tom traveled to over 100 countries with Tony as his director and producer.

“His book details the sheer frenzy and chaos of the shootings, but also of his relationship with an incredibly complex yet extraordinary man. The writing is really sensational and visceral: I feel like I’ve been there. And now I need a drink, or two. “.

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The best books of 2021, according to global trendsetters