I'm going to preface this post with the fact that I had written this back in December to go live first week of January and it was gone. Thanks a lot WP. Anywho, I redid it and here goes. Gotta keep with tradition.
I think last year was stronger for books than previous years for me. I’ve been trying to spread out more in terms of reading more nonfiction and poetry, not just a handful but a significant amount to combat the amount of fiction I read. One can dare to dream for a job where this is your soul day-to-day. Alas, perhaps that is in my near future.
So here’s a breakdown of the books that totally tugged at my heart strings after I placed it back on my bookshelf.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (2012): This was a “hype book.” You know what I mean. Every year there are books I’ve read because of the hype, mainly word of mouth. And this was one of them. No matter who I spoke to about this book they loved it. End of the year I was brought down by a cold and happened to get a copy while visiting one of my favorite indies before it closed. So, I guess I should say “Thanks germs for sidelining me for several days” because I got to read Aristotle & Dante in one swoop. It was glorious and as lyrical, beautiful, romantic as everyone told me. The strength and loyalty of Ari and Dante’s relationship was one I envied in a way. The hype is real with this book, people!
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy (2015): I had heard about this book and this author before the year began so it was on my radar. When I was part of a reading with Angela I made a point to get a copy signed. And when I did my makeshift residency in October this was the book I sat with that gave me inspiration as I re-engaged with my own collection about an African American family. The control and focus of this novel and the intricacy of how each character is painted is a great lesson in novel writing and debuts. Turner House received many accolades last year, deservedly so.
Digest by Greg Pardlo (2014): This was a Pulitzer winner for poetry in 2015. I heard Greg read a few of his poems at a bookend event for Brooklyn Book Festival then went on to buy it on the spot. It’s political, personal, dynamic. Definitely deserved the Pulitzer. If you have a chance to hear Greg read it in person do so.
Endangered by Lamar Giles (2015): I read both of Lamar’s books this year. What I enjoy most about Lamar’s work is the narrative voice. He knows his characters and they have some attitude, rightfully so. In Endangered Panda seeks to get revenge on those who’ve hurt the less fortunate in her high school, but does that make her a Robin Hood of sorts or just as much of a bully as those she goes after?
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (2009): I wish I’d read this book when it first came out. I wish many people would read this book in general. It’s depressing as hell to know the statistics, yet it’s one of those truths you should know as an American citizen. Biases are real as is the fact that racism is alive and well in this country. When reading Jim Crow take a moment to breathe deep, sit with the facts and narratives that Alexander presents, and consider the deeper issues of society and how you can help make a change.
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu (2013): A longlist for the National Book Award in 2014, this was another book I’d heard raved about for the realistic depictions of an autistic protagonist, not as someone who needed to be fixed but who was a hero. It was refreshing and the slight twist and horrors kept me flipping each page. Anne Ursu was very careful and determined in the story she wanted to write. I and many others see she did so successfully.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (2013): Another “hype book”! This one I connected with especially because it took place in Queens, NY. In parts of Jamaica I am quite familiar with thanks very much. What struck me about Piddy’s journey was it wasn’t about fighting a bully but finding yourself and how the changes going on around her would dictate the decisions she went on to make in a new school without the friends she’d grown up with. Piddy has to get comfortable with herself and sometimes the way you fight battles isn’t with your fists.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae (2015): I adored the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl web series and truly wish it’d make a comeback. Alas, I must settle for a humorous memoir-type book. So be it. Issa’s voice translates to the written page, not just the TV script, and some of the best parts are her break down of the types of people one deals with, in particular the co-workers. I shared that with my own because it was too true to life.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (2012): This was one of my first reads of 2015 and didn’t disappoint! I’d had it on my shelf for a while and sped through it thanks to the structure of the story told through text messages, emails, faxes, flashbacks, and so on in the search for Bernadette’s corporeal form and also the artist she’d left behind.
Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Tretheway (2006): Powerful about sums it up. This is another Pulitzer winner from years back. Natasha touches upon history in this account of how American society was built on the backs of so many others. This is one to savor if you really want to take in the light and dark of our history, Black history, African history, slave history.
Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due (2015): I was honored to interview Tananarive as the anniversary guest on my podcast. I received a copy of her book to read beforehand much to my delight. Ghost Stories isn’t just speculative/fantasy. It’s a lot of amazing personal, literary, transition stories with speculative elements. I think that’s Tananarive’s power in her prose is always touching on the human spirit and mind when moments that seem unreal come to play.