“Afropessimism” by Frank B. Wilderson III — A stunning and consequential work straddling critical theory/memoir/manifesto. Wilderson unpacks Afropressimism through the lens of his disparate experiences; clear eyed as it is furiously impassioned, in which White and non-White folks are rendered Humans and Black non-Human, conduits for jouissance — gratuitous pleasure for Humans (non-Blacks) to desecrate, degrade and destroy in service of life itself. An especially essential companion to Thomas Chatterton Williams’ “Self-Portrait in Black and White”, as the spectrum couldn’t be wider (or narrower?).
“Music for Exile” by Nehassaiu deGannes — This rigorous roving debut book of poetry is both anchor and sail — excavating and settling in with deep pain, history and double-edged beauty, all the while hoisting toward effervescent light and abandon, often within the same poem. These poems soliciting presence of mind and spirit; to carry through woods, near rivers, without rushing, for quiet internal baptisms.
“The Joke” by Milan Kundera — The myth of progress leads toward fascism — doesn’t matter which “side” you’re on — and fiction has repeatedly been the signpost. Akin to the revival Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” had a few years ago, Kundera’s first novel is a savvy, deeply felt, impressively rendered, heartbreaking, clever political satire that speaks to the current “felt” moment of “cancel culture.”
“The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto” by Pico Iyer- A wistful dreamscape romance featuring a slew of annoying ex-patriots and two-dimensional Japanese women; full of Iyer’s infuriating but involving, gorgeous prose and observations that brighten and warm the literati’s wanderlust heart. The street-level visions of Kyoto are especially apt and heart-blossoming.
“Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin” by Megan Rosenbloom — A breezy, light but engrossing, if not a bit pandering and sophomoric, dive into the history of anthropodermic books (binding books in human skin). The most fascinating sections deal with consent and the body as canvas.
“Guardians of the Trees” by Kinari Webb -The founder of the non-profit I work with (Health In Harmony) has written a memoir about her journey toward planetary health to solve the climate crisis.
“The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom — A rapturous memoir of architecture, a poetics of space, of self as home, family as framing, of the travels that locate us in halls and behind doors that have long disappeared. Captures an intimate history of New Orleans, and as any history that does so, the story of this country, through the sprawling memories of a family and shared space (New Orleans, New York, Texas, Burundi). Broom’s prose is so achingly exquisite that I gnashed my teeth throughout.
“What Happens at Night” by Peter Cameron — A minor masterpiece of literary tension and release. Brooding and beguiling, this suspenseful dark comedy written in the key of Winter is evocatively executed toward a lean end. Often hilarious and quietly shocking, this book kept me such good company that I was sad to let it end. Also, the cover! (damn!)
“Deacon King Kong” by James McBride — McBride is an entertainer par excellence and spins a big yarn set in a fictional neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1969, at the turnover of a generation, sketching the growing pains, rifts and resolves between the Black and Italian community. Finishing the book felt like having spent an entire youthful day at the cinema ingesting nothing but licorice and cola — the added saccharine strings in the storytelling don’t help the teeth either.
“The WEIRDEST People in the World” by Joseph Henrich — A very fun theory-of-everything book with lots of graphs (I can’t). Causal analysis to the point of ridiculous. However, anytime a cultural anthropologist makes a case against the institution of marriage and monogamy, rightfully placing responsibility on the Western Christian Church for 2,000 years of countless atrocities against the soul and body of all living things: well, as the kids say, I’m here for it.
“The Woman Who Fell from the Sky” by Joy Harjo — lisa nevada gifted me this very special book of poems which gently requests that you draw and return breath with each line. I understand the concept of a “bible” after reading a poem a day from this brilliant, beautiful book.
“Drug Use for Grown-Ups” by Dr. Carl Hart- A vital read on the myths & misconceptions of popular drug use perpetuated by science and the media, and cruelly enforced by governments around the world. Hart details his personal experiences as a researcher, teacher, father, and casual user of heroin. Flipped my mind radically toward truth, shedding a startling light on my biases.
“Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech — On the first day of the new year I reread this book from childhood, a book that I read over and over again between the ages of 9 and 11. Twenty-five years later, what a blessing to return to this open-hearted story of wisdom, grace and humor.
“Red Pill” by Hari Kunzru — An author facing a mid-life and identity crises has a psychotic breakdown brought upon the relentless gaslighting of history and colonialism. A thoroughly entertaining read.
“The Miracle of the Rose” by Jean Genet — An achingly rendered, tender queer prison narrative of longing; a circuitous ecclesiastical dream being made up on the spot with operatic lavishness, terror and glee.
“Sharks Death Surfers” by Melissa McCarthy — In a W.G. Sebald fashion, McCarthy draws upon a disparate archive of text, memory, and vision, gliding the ADD-riddled wave of associative narrative and thought, from obituaries to book covers to the diary of Captain James Cook to physics.
“On Immunity: An Inoculation” by Eula Biss — Biss ultimately weaves a masterful, solid personal/universal claim for vaccinations. I underlined the fuck out of this book.
“Girl Woman Other” by Bernardine Evaristo — I couldn’t finish this novel. The unfortunate end of identity politics is played out here: two-dimensional characters whose attributes are their slogans, politics, and brands, without irony or postmodern gestures. A dehumanizing experience; these characters, these women and others — their potential — deserved so much more.
“Funeral Diva” by Pamela Sneed — A secular saint, Sneed’s poetry is frank, compassionate, and rejuvenating. In the year of a pandemic, Sneed’s macro/micro view on grief, community, (be)longing, loss, and history is bittersweet and welcome medicine. I recommend everyone grab a copy.
“Eartheater” by Delores Reyes — Reyes’ prose is sparse and elegant in this mysterious, suspenseful and delicate story of a young woman who receives visions of murdered and missing people through ingestion of dirt. I didn’t want my time with this book to ever end.
“The Dead are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X” by Les Payne & Tamara Payne — A solid, involving biography, especially stellar in documenting Malcolm’s childhood and the context surrounding his indoctrination into the Nation of Islam.
“Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment & Capitalist Form” by Sianne Ngai — There isn’t enough space to even start with this one, so: Oh boy, am I a sucker for super intense literary theory that I barely understand and this was an absolute gas; an amusement park for the brain full of trick mirrors, tilt-a-whirls, and roller coasters.
“Luster” by Raven Leilani — A breathless portrait of social, racial and sexual mores played out between a young Black aspiring painter and a middle-class suburban couple. Tantalizing, shimmering, hilarious, provocative, frank, and naïve — a novel that actively works for adjectives and succeeds.
“The True History of the First Mrs. Meredith and Other Less Lives “by Diane Johnson — A witty, dispassionate, and haltingly rendered fragementary biography of Mary Ellen Meredith, daughter and wife to respectively famed individuals. Mostly engrossing, until it isn’t, and certainly innovative, until it doesn’t matter.
“The Hour of the Star” by Clarice Lispector– A fitting companion to Johnson. A slim but taxing experience on the value of a single life, albeit pathethic, worthy of space and recognition; an equalling frustrating and alluring experience.
“American Utopia” by David Byrne & Maira Kalman — They are milking this for all it’s worth! I’m OK with that!
“Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own” by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr — Potent & charged literary medicine. Baldwin’s words and life serve as a lens to explicate the enduring lie of the United State, the lie of race, of difference. Glaude’s confident and bold prose serves as the framework to consider and reconsider and ceaselessly re-reconsider Baldwin and the legacy of racism: “…to do your first works over” and over again.
“Sula” by Toni Morrison — A sensuous, jarring, rich, slim novel that contains deep human truths, distilled to their utmost potency: undiluted literary schnapps that wallops as a force of nature (raging hurricanes, vicious tornados) and industry (steam-powered trains, monumental dams). I found myself turned upside down, ass in the air, at the inertia and vibrancy of Morrison’s storytelling. In particular, the rendering of love and violence as forever intertwined lovers is masterful, heart wrenching, and captivates all the senses. A bittersweet tonic to absorb Morrison’s painful joy and mournful wisdom.
“The Book of Unconformities: Speculations on Lost Time” by Hugh Raffles — Geological personal memoir in the style of John McPhee and Rebecca Solnit. Compelling, sometimes profound, but often misses the mark by being overstuffed and leaning a little heavily on the coincidental. Always a pleasure though to consider deep time through rocks, stones, histories forgotten, and loved ones long passed.
“Three Month Fever: The Andrew Cunanan Story” by Gary Indiana — An absolutely engrossing piece of masterful trash — speculative to the point of stupid, literary bait, a lure for the obsession with the obsessed, a fantasia for the murderous. All too much, as intended.
“The Dream and the Underworld” by James Hillman — I am a sucker for any psychology on the collective unconscious in the vein of Freud and Jung. Hillman carves a path of his own in a nearly unreadable dive into rabbit holes of dream images and themes relating to the mythology of death and the underworld.
“Crooked Hallelujah” by Kelli Jo Ford — A rich tapestry of storytelling, weaving four generations of Native women — grandmother, mothers, daughters, aunties, cousins — crisscrossing the Texas/Oklahoma border. Ford’s prose gently requests that you slow down to absorb these complex women who try, generation after generation, to escape the tragedy of heteronormativity and Christian colonization that has slaughtered the body, mind, and spirit of Indigenous people in the North Americas.
“The World of Yesterday” by Stefan Zweig –A rushing, potent memoir/history of 1881–1941 Europe: the turn of the 19th century, the hope of progress, the revolution of the body politic, and the dark turn toward fascism, world war, famines, pandemics, and the loss of innocence. It is also Zweig’s suicide letter. Overwritten but purposefully so. This is a narrative we need to steel ourselves to in this moment of felt tumult: we are not unique, we are not in unprecedented times — context is everything, a vigilant and often rereading of history is necessary.
“The Tragedy of Heterosexuality” by Jane Ward — The perfect companion piece to Ford’s novel. Equally entertaining and intellectually satisfying query into the sadness of heteronormativity and straight folks underlying hatred of each other. Ward offers a path of what radical love of and for women could mean for straight men.
“The Madness of Crowd: Gender, Race, and Identity” by Douglas Murray- Murray’s self-identification as a gay, neo-conservative, atheist, cultural Christian drew me in. Murray is an iconoclast who, although I often disagree with his route, arrives at some powerful and potent considerations in a culture addled by distraction and social media. Spending a few days in this book was incredibly valuable — to expertly understand his points, to disagree, but to sit with the trouble, absorb the dissonance, and not overheat.
“Lolly Willowes” by Sylvia Townsend Warner -An absolutely delightful witching tale. I appreciated the embrace of witchcraft as mundane, commonplace.
“The Memory Police” by Yoko Ogawa– A lovely, full-hearted dystopic fable in the vein of The Giver and Fahrenheit 451.
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson — A sobering and clear-eyed portrait of caste, looking particularly at Nazi Germany and the caste systems in India and the United States. The praise it is receiving is duly warranted. Read this book and pass it on.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou — I had gotten through nearly 35 years of life without reading this rapturous book. I began reading the evening my father had a stroke in mid-September. Angelou (a secular saint) spirited me through one of the hardest weeks I’ve had this year (that’s saying something) and I am so damned grateful; the saving grace of her wisdom and double-edged joy will remain soulfully seared and tethered.
“Big Brother” by Lionel Shriver — What an absolute riot and surprise! Shriver accomplishes feats in fiction that few would have the bravery to attempt; a brutal, shocking and knee-slapping satire that lands, in finality, with a wallop to the domestic body politic.
“Amnesiascope” by Steve Erickson — A discomfortingly hopeful, lurid libido-stuffed Lynchian dystopian-noir lust letter to a fetishized Los Angeles in flames, seething with absurd toxic masculinity; explores the “inability to transcend memory” and morality as malaprop. Revulsion has its own values.
“The White Card” by Claudia Rankine — A critical lens on the art market, philanthropy, & race. Not so much a functional drama as it is a sharply social discourse.
“The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)” by Katie Mack — Mack has a gift of expressly communicating big ideas but befalls the trap of pop science by pandering to and distrusting the reader’s intelligence.
“Summer” by Ali Smith — The ravishing Seasonal Quartet ends with an effortful thud. Some beautiful passages but simultaneously over-stuffed & malnourished.
“The Discomfort of Evening” by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld — I labored through 115 pages and gave up. I did not finish. It’s okay to not finish a book. It’s okay to not like a prize-winning book. Don’t finish every book. Leave more books unfinished. Really, no one is expecting any one to read anything. It’s okay.
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong — Yes, yes, yes, yes. It is as gorgeous and sumptuous and heartbreaking as you’ve been told. I kept repeating in my head, and even wrote on a napkin, “This is not precious. This is not precious.” It is almost precious, but let me repeat: it is not at all precious. I spent nearly the whole month slowly soaking my way through it.
“Life on Mars” by Tracy K. Smith — Vuong cracked me open and emptied me out, Smith finished the job by absorbing my organs and sucking the marrow.
“Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism” by Anne Applebaum — By making the political personal, Applebaum expertly dishes on her colleagues and reveals with a startlingly lucid eye, the lure of authoritarianism. It is as much the left as the right that is careening toward this lure. This changed my point of view of the current moment irrevocably and pushed me to announce, over beers with my father, “How did I become a moderate!?”
“Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation” by Silvia Federici — A vital scholarly reckoning with the transition from feudalism to capitalism and the ultimate exploitation and destruction of women within this system. Such a captivating and necessary read BUT! This scholarly erudition needs a rewrite/revision to include trans women, because a history of women and capitalism and the body is otherwise incomplete.
“Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town” by Barbara Demick — I loved spending time in these pages, and I learned about Tibet, Buddhism, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and so much more. Demick weaves an effortless historical narrative and disappears, as the best journalists do, to tell deeply personal stories.
“Tokyo Ueno Station” by Yu Miri — Isn’t this cover incredible? Oh boy, I wanted to love this book so much but was BORED. TO. TEARS.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Ian Reid — Trash. One of the worst experiences I’ve had reading anything ever.
“The Lightness” by Emily Temple — Literary sour patch kids (organic though). Bingeable, clever, and surprisingly profound. I finished in a single sitting.
“Hurricane Season” by Fernanda Melchor — The Witch has been murdered. This event sets the stage for a brutal, horrific, complex, unflinching dive into the most explicit and profound depravities of human existence, namely, femicide. Not for the faint of heart, but it is a bold literary feat with charged and ravishing prose; I highly recommend.
“Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race” by Thomas Chatterton Williams — An intimate, probing, intellectual treatise on “race”. A valuable read for those who are ready for a challenging next step in anti-racism.
“The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism” by Katherine Stewart — A stomach-turning, no-nonsense exposé on the origins and machinations of Christian Nationalism. Terrifying, infuriating. Worth a read.
“Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture” by Ytasha L. Womack — My love for Sun Ra led me to this concise and brief dive into Afrofuturism. Excited to dive further, soon.
“The Plague” by Albert Camus — An essential text for living in proximity to other humans. A surpisingly stalwart and soothing companion for a global pandemic.
“The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power Privilege, and Environmental Protection” by Dorceta E. Taylor — Rather dry and textbook-y, though a valuable scholarly effort especially in reckoning with race and gender, providing insight into womxn, Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian contributions to the movement.
“The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping” by Samantha Harvey — I read in a single breath, seemingly held taught for the duration of this masterful weaving of a meditation.
“A Brief History of Fascist Lies” by Federico Finchelstein — Oofda! What doozy! Name things what they are. I am anti-facisct; you should be too! Ps: Trump is a fascist!
“Theft is Property! Dispossession and Critical Theory” by Robert Nichols — The recursive logic of dispossession at the intersection of Indigenous, Afro-pessimism, Feminist and Marxist theory.
“Another Country” by James Baldwin — Hadn’t read this since high school. Brutal, sensuous, violent, gorgeous, and necessary reading.
“Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family” by Robert Kolker — A gripping, thoroughly readable non-fiction narrative on one family, the medical science community and the history of schizoprenia in the U.S. Addictive.
“The Fallen” by Carlos Manuel Álvarez — Spellbinding and sumptuous read about a contemporary family in Cuba. Looking forward to more from this author.
“A Silent Fury: The El Bordo Mine Fire” by Yuri Herrera — A sobering document; history requires retelling and recovery.