I read a bunch this year, and it was a good time. I always try to read broadly–fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young adult, books with dragons, books without dragons, you know how it is. I’ve done a couple of book lists over the years, and I am always flattered and amazed that people read my recommendations (…am I an influencer??), so here’s another round up. Not sure these would be my top 10 of the year, but I liked them all and they’re the ones I wanted to write about. Happy reading ❤
- The First Sister by Linden Lewis
When I was a teenager, I could read forever. I could spend a whole day reading, eight or more hours, rotating from my parents’ sunlit patio to my darkened bedroom and back again. I would read on my stomach, propped up on my elbows, a position that now minorly agitates my left shoulder. For books like Harry Potter, I could push through and read them in nearly one sitting, taking breaks only to use the bathroom and to snack. In all of those memories, my phone is never present.
Reading that way is harder to do now. I get distracted. My mind wanders. I have to cook food and take out the trash and go to work, small matters of existence that never plagued me as a teenager. I’ll absentmindedly check my phone while I read, already knowing that nothing of interest is waiting in the pixels. I am always hunting for a book that will take me away from the mundaneness of adulthood, that will make me stay up until 2 AM and be tired at work the next morning, that will make me skip dinner and instead eat a Clif bar because I can’t force myself to stop reading, that will make me forget about my phone and the blankness on the other end.
This was one of those books. I was so into it. It was fun. Who’s going to die? When’s the fight going to break out? Which characters do I want to helplessly fall in love? In terms of style and content, I got some Gideon the Ninth vibes (an incredible read), and also like Gideon, I felt the sequel left something to be desired.
- Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
This was my first Carmen Maria Machado read and goddamn. Gothic, queer, feminist, I think Mary Shelley would be a fan. In writing classes, I remember some professors harping on believability. Are you, the reader, convinced? Of their actions? Of the plot? Of the sneaky secondary character being the one who committed all the murders? As an older, more critical reader now, I love it when authors completely fuck believability. The unbelievable happens and it’s weird and you never see it coming and then you accept it and read on. You either accept that souls can be sewn into prom dresses or you read something else. The green ribbon story and the prom dress ones were my favorites.
- All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Keeble Wilkinson
This book is a collection of essays and poetry all about the climate crisis. It’s all women contributors and the essayists come from a variety of backgrounds, from high fashion models to nonprofit advocates to policy lawmakers. As someone who works in outdoor education and has spent years on the periphery of environmentalism, none of the essays were particularly radicalizing or illuminating, but to someone who is seeking a little more substance in the field, I think this would be a really comprehensive read.
My favorite essay was “Under the Weather” by Ash Sanders. The essay is about climate grief and anxiety, something I feel very deeply. How do we exist in a world where, yes, there is hope, but also a constant murmuring recognition that so much is already irretrievably lost, and how do we orient our lives with both activism and enjoyment because sometimes it feels impossible to hold both closely.
4. Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
A seminal work for so many reasons. I was introduced to this in graduate school and finally got around to reading the entire text. This was the most academic book I read this year, and it was rigorous yet accessible. Immediate good vibes when someone says they’ve read this book. Also, I was going on a lot of Hinge dates around the time I was reading this, and when people asked me “so what are you reading these days” and I dropped this book, their response really told me all I needed to know about them (Dear men: please consider asking follow up questions. Semi fondly, Channing).
This book is about education and liberation and how do we help oppressed/marginalized groups without unknowingly becoming oppressors ourselves. Dialogue is the essence of revolutionary action, Freire writes. [Leaders] cannot sloganize the people, but must enter into dialogue with them, so that the people’s empirical knowledge of reality, nourished by the leaders’ critical knowledge, gradually becomes transformed into knowledge of the causes of reality (134). I continue to be angry at and disillusioned by many facets of life (honestly, kinda thought I’d grow out of it, tbh), and this book gave me both theory and actionable steps to engage with.
5. A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib
I bought this book when I first moved to California. I was feeling overwhelmed and weird about my cross country move and I wandered into a Barnes & Noble and saw this book and bought it and felt better about everything, felt like I’d found a little piece of myself in this world that felt strange and ill-fitting. Hanif is one of my favorite poets and essayists. I taught several of his poems in my high school classes and attempted to teach “On Seatbelts and Sunsets” but all the kids hated it because it was too hard. Regardless, I adore that essay and this poetry collection and pretty much everything he writes.
6. Normal People by Sally Rooney
In case you were under a different impression, I am exactly like every other girl out there. There is nothing mysterious about me or what I enjoy. I went into this book with high expectations and expecting the hype to be a little out of proportion, but I am a total sucker for angsty love stories where it seems like people are destined to be together and then due to their inability to adequately express their feelings, keep being torn apart. Rooney has a really cool writing style too. Succinct, sharp, little adornment. James Joyce could never.
7. The Idiot and Either/Or by Elif Batuman
These books fill a niche I never knew existed within myself—overthinking, academic, young female protagonist. I read a lot of angsty, women-in-their-20s books this year, and these two are ones I really enjoyed. They center around Selin, an undergraduate at Harvard, who overthinks absolutely everything and goes on these wild mental tangents and references a lot of very specific Russian novels and short stories. The books are funny and mildly absurd but also so so relatable. I could pick out this prose in a sea of others, which is something I could say about very few books/authors. Also, both Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus love these books, which really says a lot about the target audience. (Again, I am like every other woman.)
8. The Renunciations: Poems by Donika Kelly
I bought this collection in an exquisitely curated bookshop in Port Townsend, WA. Poetry books are my favorite to find in the wild, generally because they are so poorly stocked. You can find the classics, sure—an anthology of Whitman or Rumi or Mary Oliver—and any of the pop poetry a la Rupi Kaur, but poetry collections exist in their own sphere simply because the majority of people don’t read them. It makes their discovery in bookstores all the more exciting.
I bought this collection because of the tide pool references. Because of the ocean and the sea stars and the constant questioning. The tide pool crumples like a woman, she writes, into the smallest version of herself, / bleeding onto whatever touches her.
9. Just by Looking at Him by Ryan O’Connell
I am baffled that this book is not a viral sensation. It is So Good. It is funny and clever and for being a book mainly about gay sex, it is also very insightful. It addresses the intersection of sex and disability, which is honestly a theme I’m not sure I’ve ever read in a novel. I read the majority of this book under an oak tree in San Francisco. On this entire list, this is probably the only book I audibly laughed at while reading.
10. Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
This book reminded me of myself. In it’s tone. In the character’s speech. In the unfolding themes. I only read this book because my sister and I share a Kindle library and she bought it and it looked pretty good, and then I read the whole thing in a tent up in Washington. I was so enamored with it that I recommended it to a friend, and, because I have superior friends, he read it and told me It definitely reminds me of you. Yes yes yes. The validation felt great. Although, honestly, the main character does suck a good bit, so I tread lightly in the comparison. Anyway, like Just by Looking at Him, I am also surprised that this one is not a viral sensation because it is so funny and interesting and good.
Other books that I liked a whole lot but simply didn’t feel like writing about:
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army by Jeremy Scahill
Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Writers & Lovers by Lily King