Fiction I read in 2020

I believe that fiction, and art more generally, is never frivolous. Abolition, to give one potent example, relies heavily on the power of imagination because we must be able to imagine a world beyond cages, beyond borders, beyond policing of all kinds as we begin to build that new world. This work requires us to strengthen our imaginations, and part of the work of abolition is also recuperating imagination from capitalism, which is relentlessly working to kill and co-opt our ability to imagine things for ourselves. Capital (and capitalists) wants to show us things as it sees them, as it wants things to be; it wants to shape the world and sell it back to us. It does not thrive when we are able to imagine, shape, and reshape the world for ourselves. Human beings have powerful imaginations, but only when we cultivate them.

Fiction is critical just when things seem to be at their most serious, and, in that spirit, I share some food for your imagination.

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I strongly encourage anyone purchasing books to avoid Amazon in particular and other large chains in general (the library is also always an option). If you don’t have a particular independent bookstore or even if you do, you can order any of these books easily online at Bookshop and support independent bookstores.

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  • The Plague – Albert Camus – Very cliché read, and yet I cannot say enough how many passages leapt off the page as if they had come out of the Washington Post. I thought this would be depressing and yet it was validating (and infuriating). The excitement in the air about the vaccine feels so much like the end of the book.
  • Loop – Brenda Lozano – A very apt book for right now. A book about waiting, and about nothing and everything.
  • The Death of Vivek Oji – Akwaeke Emezi — Powerful, affirming, sad book about nonbinary gender, but not as sad as I thought it would be.
  • Signs Preceding the End of the World – Yuri Herrera – A beautiful allegorical tale about the borderlands between the US and Mexico, recommended by many readers of Mexican literature as an alternative to Jeanine Cummins book (please don’t read that book)
  • The Deep – Rivers Solomon – Aching, haunting, powerful but not devastating. Perhaps one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.
  • The Shadow King – Maaza Mengiste – An intersectional tour de force on colonialism, class, gender, caste, and race, and maybe one of the most difficult books I’ve read for me personally, possibly because of the combination of the subject matter, format, and unfamiliarity with the history and region. A difficult read that was worth it.
  • Storm of Locusts — Rebecca Roanhorse – the sequel to Trail of Lightning which I loved last year. It did not disappoint!
  • Mildred Taylor’s Logan Family series  – This is highly recommended YA by the woman who wrote Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. It turns out Taylor wrote a whole series of books around multiple generations of the family in that book, beginning with The Land. In August I disconnected from all electronic communication and hung out in my house to detox. During that period, I read five books, and in the end, The Land was the one I ended up recommending to everyone.
  • American Marriage – Tayari Jones – A really compelling and engrossing book about the effect of large social forces on one family.
  • Brooklyn Brujas series — Zoraida Córdova – YA about Chicana teenage witches. Do I need to tell you more, really?
  • The Distance between Us – Renato Cisneros – Part family memoir and part reflection on individual roles and responsibility? ignorance? innocence? in the midst of governmental terror, this is the true/fictional account of the son of a Peruvian general in the 1970s and 1980s, given to me by a close friend who lived through the same period and recently translated into English by the wonderful Charco Press.
  • The City We Became – NK Jemisin — If you are not yet reading everything by NK Jemisin, you may want to start. I am, so I will continue to recommend it.
  • Unpregnant – Jenni Hendricks and Ted Caplan – A very funny book about a serious subject (restrictive abortion laws). I recommend that this become a genre.

Especially good non-fiction:

  • Who Killed Berta Cáceres? – Nina Lakhani – A powerful investigative account of how the murder of Berta Cáceres was arranged and how the crime is embedded in larger forces of extractivism, corruption, and especially counterinsurgency tactics linked directly to the US. Some of the clearest writing I’ve read describing how counterinsurgency actually works inside communities.
  • Indigenous People’s History of the United States – Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz – Should be required reading for every white and/or settler person in the United States. I had picked and chose chapters to read previously, but Dunbar-Ortiz’s thesis grows slowly over the course of the book and I appreciated the ideas much more deeply when I read the whole thing straight through.
  • Dead Girls – Selva Almada – Imaginative, powerful, and intimate book about femicide and machismo exploring the unresolved murders of 3 girls in the interior of Argentina in the 1980s and their ghosts. Just short enough and just the right tone to be read without quite breaking my heart completely.
an image relevant to the COVID era from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince

Saturday Rec: Fiction I Read in 2018

To celebrate the end of the year I’m recommending a whole slew of things to read! This is a non-exhaustive list of the novels I read this past year that I loved and would love for you to read. Why read fiction, you ask? Please watch the fabulous (and dearly departed) Ursula K LeGuin at the National Book Awards in 2014 explain that it is in part because we “need writers who can remember freedom” (transcript here).

  • LaRose – Louise Erdrich
    • I’ve read several of Erdrich’s books and I plan on eventually reading all of her work – but slowly, so I don’t run out of it.
  • The Killing Moon and the Shadowed Sun (The Dreamblood Duology) – NK Jemisin
  • She Would Be King – Wayétu Moore
    • A magical realist tale of the founding of Liberia. I actually recommend not reading any more summary than that.
  • Troubling Love – Elena Ferrante
    • A painful but beautiful novel about the sudden disappearance and loss of the narrator’s mother in Ferrante’s signature style. I think I have now finished Ferrante’s catalog and I feel a bit lost.
  • Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
    • A book about four generations of a Korean family from before the two Koreas and their migration to Japan. A great transnational novel on race, identity, and migration.
  • Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver
    • I’ve read and loved all of Kingsolver’s work and this is her newest.
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy
    • A very beautiful and surprising novel about nonbinary genders and the militant struggle in Kashmir.

If Ursula K Le Guin did not convince you, my favorite academic advice columnist has also recommended reading fiction among many other wonderful suggestions for those experiencing “outrage fatigue.” Here’s to imagining (and building) a different world in 2019.

leguinbookawards

Ursula K Le Guin at the National Book Awards in 2014.