I am not sure if I read less fiction than usual this year or if I made some bad picks and as a consequence I have fewer books to recommend. I certainly read more books than usual that I don’t want to recommend, and even a few that I actively want to dissuade anyone from reading (seriously, don’t read the Overstory). But despite the few bad experiences, I continue to find joy, rest, and thrilling new ideas in fiction.
Reading the same books as other people also creates a connection and a shared experience that I have loved since childhood. I love discussing the plot, the reactions, the details of how it feels to be enveloped in the author’s world and that motivates me to share my faves with my network every year too, hoping to share those connections.
Grievers -adrienne maree brown – a beautifully written book about Detroit, grief, pandemic, and social movement
Black Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse – I’ve raved about Roanhorse’s work before, so I was of course excited to read this as soon as it came out. It did not disappoint, and the powerful ways that Roanhorse draws on the ideas of earlier Indigenous peoples in the Americas has stayed with me all year.
Las Aventuras de China Iron (the Adventures of China Iron) – Gabriela Cabezón Cámara – The first book I started in 2021 and the last one I wanted to finish! This is a feminist take on the “classic” Argentine epic gaucho poem Martín Fierro.
Things We Lost in the Fire – Mariana Enriquez – Short stories that are scary, but only as scary as reality. The past, and maybe other things, haunt present-day Buenos Aires.
Factory Witches of Lowell – C.S. Malerich – Queer, witchy, labor organizing. It’s perfect.
Testimony – Peter Lazare and Sarah Lazare – this political thriller is a must read for folks in social movements who will instantly recognize the dilemmas and scenarios here. It also brought the early 2000s back to life for me, and showed so clearly how they continue to shape the current political landscape.
The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune – Jy Yang – Yang has built a compelling and interesting gender non-binary world, inside of exciting plots
Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance – Tomi Adeyemi – at times devastating books also full of adventure
Binti the complete series – Nnedi Okorafor – You should be reading Okorafor’s books!
Lying Life of Adults – Elena Ferrante – I love Ferrante’s work so I loved this: beautiful prose, powerful insight into gender politics, and psychic drama from the perspective of an adolescent.
A Burning – Megha Majumdar – beautifully written multi-narrator novel
The Salt Roads – Nalo Hopkinson – I’ve read several of Hopkinson’s novels and they never disappoint.
Two nonfiction books this year I have been reading in groups with friends and giving as gifts:
Beyond Survival – edited by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha – This is the book I have been needing in my hands since I was a young adult in community spaces and house parties. Full of concrete tips and discussions in short essays about how to create justice outside of and beyond the harmful and violent police industrial complex (and the dilemmas and pitfalls).
We Do This Till We Free Us – Mariame Kaba – A series of essays about the work of abolition in its many forms, and why it is important, and the many issues to consider. Kaba has been part of numerous abolitionist and transformative justice projects over the last 20 years in the US, especially those focused around gender-based violence and youth, and is one of the key abolitionist thinkers of our time.
essential all-the-time listening:
I always leave these podcasts feeling wiser and, most importantly, more hopeful.
How to Survive the End of the World – https://www.endoftheworldshow.org/
Movement Memos – https://truthout.org/series/movement-memos/
2 thoughts on “Fiction I read in 2021”
Thanks for sharing this list!
Have you read or considered reading Torrey Peters’s Detransition, Baby? It was one of my favorite reads of 2021, and I thought you might enjoy it—Peters explores the nature of motherhood, transness, misogyny, and self-image in a breathtakingly observant voice.
Also, I want to say hello! I’m a student at UWS. I was signed up to take Sociology 101 with you in 2018, and I’ve been glad to sit with your writing on this blog since.
Take care, Eliza
Thank you so much for reaching out — this comment really made my day! I haven’t read Detransition, Baby, but I’ve been thinking about it. I’ll put it on my to-read list for 2022 now for sure. I’ll have to let you know what I think! I’m sorry we never got to be in a classroom together but glad that our paths may continue to cross.
with love and solidarity,