Favorite Books of 2019

Book Cover: The Library Book by Susan OrleanThe Library Book by Susan Orlean

non-fiction · history

“In total, four hundred thousand books in Central Library were destroyed in the fire. An additional seven hundred thousand were badly damaged by either smoke or water or, in many cases, both. The number of books destroyed or spoiled was equal to the entirety of fifteen typical branch libraries. It was the greatest loss to any public library in the history of the United States.”

Primarily about a major fire in the Los Angeles Central Library, this book reads more like fiction. Did you know that libraries are engineered differently than other buildings specifically because of the risk of fire? I learned a lot about the loss of libraries throughout history (and not just the Library of Alexandria), our cultural connections to libraries, and exactly how difficult it can be put out a fire when water is a greater concern than flames.

 

Book Cover: Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York by Stacy HornDamnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York by Stacy Horn

non-fiction · history · poverty · mental illness · prisons

“The dark shadow of crime spreads right and left, from the Penitentiary and the Workhouse, over all the institutions, the Asylum, the Alms-House and Charity Hospital; so that, in the minds of the people at large, all suffer alike from an evil repute.” Being poor had become a character trait that needed “correction,” like the impulse to steal or cheat. The Christian impulse to help the needy had been tamped down and replaced with an inclination to punish them.”

This is a horrifying book. There is no way around it. There's corruption, basically torture, ill-treatment of literally everyone in the state's care, disease, and the list goes on. If you're interested in the evolution of prisons in the US, the care of people with mental and physical disabilities, and/or state institutions, I think you'll learn a lot from this book.

 

Book Cover: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand GiridharadasWinners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

non-fiction · economics

"In an age defined by a chasm between those who have power and those who don’t, elites have spread the idea that people must be helped, but only in market-friendly ways that do not upset fundamental power equations. The society should be changed in ways that do not change the underlying economic system that has allowed the winners to win and fostered many of the problems they seek to solve. The broad fidelity to this law helps make sense of what we observe all around: the powerful fighting to “change the world” in ways that essentially keep it the same, and “giving back” in ways that sustain an indefensible distribution of influence, resources, and tools.”

This book tackles the ethics of rich philanthropists, shining a light on the fact that many derived their wealth via questionable, immoral, or outright illegal means. Giridharadas connects the Gilded Age robber barons to the tech billionaires of today, pointing out how they continue to do harm, avoid paying their fair share of taxes, and while washing their reputation via foundations they control outside the democratic process. A week or two after I finished this book, the author was interviewed on Hasan Minhaj's Patriot Act, which is worth a watch.

 

Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases by Paul A. OffitVaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases by Paul A. Offit

non-fiction · history · medicine

"He noted that only three types of hemagglutinins had ever caused pandemic disease in humans: H1, H2, and H3. Hilleman believed that the future of influenza pandemics could be predicted from past pandemics: H2 virus caused the pandemic of 1889. H3 virus caused the pandemic of 1900. H1 virus caused the pandemic of 1918. H2 virus caused the pandemic of 1957. H3 virus caused the pandemic of 1968. H1 virus caused the mini-pandemic of 1986. Hilleman saw two patterns in these outbreaks. First, the types of hemagglutinins occurred in order: H2, H3, H1, H2, H3, H1. Second, the intervals between pandemics of the same type were always sixty-eight years—not approximately sixty-eight years, but exactly sixty-eight years. For example, an H3 pandemic occurred in 1900 and 1968, and an H2 pandemic occurred in 1889 and 1957. Sixty-eight years was just enough time for an entire generation of people to be born, grow up, and die. “This is the length of the contemporary human life span,” said Hilleman. “A sixty-eight-year recurrence restriction, if real, would suggest that there may need to be a sufficient subsidence of host immunity before a past virus can regain access and become established as a new human influenza virus in the population.”

This book is a great history of vaccinations and a primer on how they work. I was amazed to learn that the majority of vaccines we currently use were developed by one man. It also covers the dark history of vaccinations - how many were tested on people (especially children) with disabilities without their knowledge or consent. It also covers the famous "vaccines cause autism" white paper, so it's good suggested reading for friends and family members who are either anti-vax or on the fence.

 

Book Cover: We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha IrbyWe are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

non-fiction · essays · memoir · humor

“What have you not found but would like to have in a relationship? Someone who will leave me the hell alone for extended periods of time without getting all weird about it. I have a lot of audiobooks to listen to on the toilet.”

I. Loved. This. Book. I identified so much with Sam, laughing out loud in places and crying in others. I'm excited that they're coming out with a new book next year!

 

Book Cover: Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese LaymonHeavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

non-fiction · memoir

"There were so many things we needed in those classrooms, in our city, in our state, in our country that our teachers could have provided if they would have gone home and really done their homework. They never once said the words: “economic inequality,” “housing discrimination,” “sexual violence,” “mass incarceration,” “homophobia,” “empire,” “mass eviction,” “post traumatic stress disorder,” “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” “neo-confederacy,” “mental health,” or “parental abuse,” yet every student and teacher at that school lived in a world shaped by those words.”

I've been a fan of Kiese's since I found his blog a thousand years ago, and this may be my favorite of his writing yet. It's deeply personal, heartbreaking, eye opening, and, well, heavy. I recommend the audiobook, which is read by Kiese himself.

 

Book Cover: Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma WallisTwo Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis

fiction · folklore · native american (athabascan) author

"Now, because we have spent so many years convincing the younger people that we are helpless, they believe that we are no longer of use to this world.”

I don't remember who originally recommended this book to me, but I loved it. Two old women are left behind by their community because they can no longer keep up during a harsh winter when food is scarce. It's expected that the women won't make it and the story follows them as they try to survive on their own.

 

Book Cover: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan BraithwaiteMy Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

fiction · thriller · nigerian author

“He looked like a man who could survive a couple of flesh wounds, but then so had Achilles and Caesar.”

One of the first books I read in the new year and then immediately made my sister read, lol. As the title implies, it's about a woman who is a serial killer and her sister who is forced to clean up after her lest she get caught. While there is murder, it isn't super graphic.

 

Book Cover: The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn JoukhadarThe Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar

historical fiction · fantasy · syria

“Don't forget,' he says, and Abu Sayeed looks up while he translates, holding the words back a little, 'stories ease the pain of living, not dying. People always think dying is going to hurt. But it does not. It's living that hurts us.”

This novel bounces back and forth between Syria in ~1200 and 2011 as the civil war breaks out. I fell in love with the determination of both main characters to survive and persevere in incredibly difficult situations. The writing is beautiful.

 

Book Cover: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-GarciaGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

historical fiction · fantasy · mexican author

“Words are seeds, Casiopea. With words you embroider narratives, and the narratives breed myths, and there's power in the myth. Yes, the things you name have power.”

It's 1927 and a young woman in southern Mexico, tired of the poor treatment her family has subjected her to, decides she's going to run away. She's heard the trunk in her grandfather's room contains some kind of riches, but upon opening it is greeted by the Mayan god of death. 

 

Book Cover: The Night Tiger by Yangsze ChooThe Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

historical fiction · fantasy · malaysian author

“We were a chocolate-box family, I thought. Brightly wrapped on the outside and oozing sticky darkness within.”

A young woman and her brother get pulled into a complicated web of superstition after she finds a mummified finger.

 

Book Cover: Exhalation by Ted ChiangExhalation by Ted Chiang

science fiction · fantasy · short stories

"My message to you is this: Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

I can't sing this book's praises enough. I love Ted Chiang's writing and his way of seeing the world and the stories here are some of the best examples of that. My personal favorite is The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, a layered time travel story meets One Thousand and One Nights. The Lifecycle of Software Objects is an interesting examination of what happens when a company stops supporting proprietary software where that software has evolved into life. This collection includes quite a few stories that I had read in other places, so if you're a Chiang fan they may seem familiar.

 

Book Cover: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WilsonAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

science fiction · fantasy · cyberpunk?

“They will wake up one morning and realize their civilization has been pulled out from under them, inch by inch, dollar by dollar, just as ours was. They will know what it is to have been asleep for the most important century of their history.”

A hacker is trying to protect his clients, himself, and also stick it to the security state he's living in. But when the state comes after him, he ends up getting help from a jinn. I loved this book and was so pleased to see that the jinn makes a repeat appearance in Wilson's new book, The Bird King, which I also recommend.

 

Book Cover: The Far Field by Madhuri VijayThe Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

fiction · indian author · kashmir

“There were no images of screaming, angry crowds; no shots of policemen and soldiers advancing slowly shoulder go shoulder; no bodies sprawled in the street; no blazing houses. It was as if it weren't happening at all.”

When I asked for non-fiction and fiction books to learn more about Kashmir earlier this year, a few people suggested this one. I struggled with whether to put this one on my list, only because of the ending. In all, it's a great book and I highly recommend it to people who aren't as familiar with the history of Kashmir. 

Dec
02
2019
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Favorite Books of 2018

Book Cover of Monsoon MansionMonsoon Mansion: A Memoir by Cinelle Barnes

memoir · abuse

I did not have wings, so I made myself shrink.

I was absolutely enraptured from the beginning to the end of this horrifying, fantastical memoir about a girl doing whatever she can to survive when her whole life crumbles around her.

 

Book Cover: Inside the Dream PalaceInside the Dream Palace by Sherill Tippins

non-fiction · biography

The result was a strange collective abdication of moral responsibility, a belief that Americans could do whatever they liked—invade nations, discriminate against others, fill their homes with useless goods—without consequences.

I knew very little about the Hotel Chelsea before reading this. It's bizarre to think that so many different minds lived under one roof over decades. I especially liked the curmudgeony bits with Arthur Miller.

 

Book Cover: CirceCirce by Madeline Miller

fiction · myth re-telling

You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.

Following behind Margaret Atwood's retelling of the Odyssey from the point of view of Penelope in Penelopiad, here is the same retold from the perspective of Circe. A strong woman forced into a solitary life, always held apart from her family and the world. If you like this, you'll also like her other two books, Song of Achilles and Galatea

 

Book Cover: Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral EconomicsMisbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard Thaler

non-fiction · economics · human behavior

What makes the bias particularly pernicious is that we all recognize this bias in others but not in ourselves.

I learned so much about behavioral economics from this book that it sent me down a rabbit hole reading other ones. I love that it is written as if a friend is telling you stories to explain complex behaviors.

 

Book Cover: Children of the New WorldChildren of the New World by Alexander Weinstein

science fiction · short story collection

The city overwhelmed me. Every day I’d walk by hundreds of strangers, compete for space in crowded coffee shops, and stand shoulder to shoulder on packed subway cars. I’d scan profiles, learning that the woman waiting for the N enjoyed thrash-hop, and the barista at my local coffee shop loved salted caramel. I’d had a couple fleeting relationships, but mostly I’d spend weekends going to bars and sleeping with people who knew little more than my username. It all made me want to turn off my layers, go back to the old days, and stay disconnected. But you do that and you become another old guy buried in an e-reader, complaining about how no one sends emails anymore.

I don't have enough good things to say about this science fiction short story collection. As someone who prefers social sci-fi to hard sci-fi, this was a perfect anthology. I particularly enjoyed how the author humanizes our relationship to technology - how it becomes a part of our emotional well-being.

 

Book Cover: Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought ThemGet Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright

non-fiction · epidemiology · history

When we are electing government officials, it is not stupid to ask yourself, “If a plague broke out, do I think this person could navigate the country through those times, on a spiritual level, but also on a pragmatic one? Would they be able to calmly solve one problem, and then another one, and then the next one? Or would bodies pile up in the streets?

Honestly there is very little that is more in my wheelhouse than a book about historical epidemics written by a funny woman.

 

Book Cover: Salt to SeaSalt to Sea by Ruta Sepetys

historical fiction

She held her breath in one hand and her suitcase in the other.

Last year I went through a WWII phase where I read a ton of history and fiction set specifically in/following characters other than those from UK, France, or Germany. This book follows a Lithuanian girl fleeing the Soviets into Germany at the end of the war. The characters are individually so compelling that I'd love to read books following each of them separately. This year I also read Between Shades of Gray, which is also amazing.

 

Book Cover: All Systems Red: The Murderbot DiariesAll Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

science fiction

So, I’m awkward with actual humans. It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me. I know I’m a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes both of us nervous, which makes me even more nervous. Also, if I’m not in the armor then it’s because I’m wounded and one of my organic parts may fall off and plop on the floor at any moment and no one wants to see that.

This is the first book in a 4 book series. I've read the first two and I'm eager to read the next two. The story is told from the point of view of a SecUnit - a human/robot construct created as hired security - who calls itself Murderbot. Murderbot is bored of humans and just wants to be left alone to watch its favorite shows on the internet.

 

Book Cover: I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerI'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

non-fiction · true crime

I’m envious, for example, of people obsessed with the Civil War, which brims with details but is contained. In my case, the monsters recede but never vanish. They are long dead and being born as I write.

I picked this up thanks in large part to the podcast My Favorite Murder, who broke the news of the capture of the Golden State Killer earlier this year. As a survivor of violence, I am very particular about the true crime that I read, listen to, and watch. This is written humanely toward the victims with the intent on identifying and capturing a man who raped and murdered far too many people.

 

Book Cover: The ExpatriatesThe Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee

fiction

You go through the motions of life until, slowly, they start to resemble a life.

This novel follows an expat family living in Hong Kong after the abduction of their child and how their community and those that are trapped in their world are affected. I enjoyed learning more about Hong Kong's history and continue to be mortified by white people.

 

Book Cover: Her Body and Other PartiesHer Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

fiction

There are true things in this world observed only by a single set of eyes.

This may be my favorite book of the year. The stories are so varied and unique - they're funny, heart-wrenching, thought provoking, and just plain bizarre.

 

Book Cover: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) BodyHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

memoir

As a woman, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to take up space. And yet, as a feminist, I am encouraged to believe I can take up space. I live in a contradictory space where I should try to take up space but not too much of it, and not in the wrong way, where the wrong way is any way where my body is concerned.

Over the past few years, I've become more more accepting and loving toward my fat body. Roxane Gay puts to words so many struggles and triumphs I've had as a fat woman, as a fat feminist.

 

Book Cover: Erotic Stories for Punjabi WidowsErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

fiction

People are sympathetic at first but when the illness drags on, they start avoiding you, like your bad luck is contagious.

This novel follows a young woman living in London who inadvertantly ends up teaching an erotic writing class to a group of older women at a Sikh gurdwara. It's funny and sweet, erotic and anger-making.

 

Book Cover: Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

fiction

Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there was something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.

I couldn't put this book down. Reading it was like watching a movie that I couldn't predict the ending of.

 

Dec
02
2018
0

Favorite Books of 2017

I've read more books this year than any of the previous years where I've tracked them, so this list is also longer than previous lists. There's a little of everything - comedy, romance, history, trauma, literary fiction - which is a pretty accurate portrait of the breadth and depth of books from this year.

Here they are, in no particular order: 

 

Book Cover of Pavilion of WomenPavilion of Women: A Novel of Life in the Women's Quarters by Pearl S. Buck

fiction

Andre had been telling her an ancient legend of the fall of man into evil. It came about, he said, by the hand of a woman, Eve, who gave man forbidden fruit.
"And how was this woman to know that the fruit was forbidden?" Madame Wu had inquired.
"An evil spirit, in the shape of a serpent, whispered it to her," Andre had said.
"Why to her instead of to the man?" she had inquired.
"Because he knew that her mind and her heart were fixed not upon the man, but upon the pursuance of life," he had replied. "The man's mind and heart were fixed upon himself. He was happy enough, dreaming that he possessed the woman and the garden. Why should he be tempted further? He had all.

This is the first of Buck's books I've read and I couldn't put it down. I loved the complex characters and the dance they had to do around each other in their everyday lives.

 

Book Cover: Coming CleanComing Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller

memoir · mental illness

Maybe if I endure all my pain now, I could be happy when I am older.

I struggled with whether to put this on the list, even though it's one of the better things I've read this year. The memoir illustrates the life of a child whose parents are hoarders and all of the complications that come along with it - shame, mental illness, loneliness, anger, frustration. It feels grossly voyeuristic (much like those shows about hoarders), but also helps you understand the psychology of hoarding while empathizing with everyone involved.

 

Book Cover: It's okay to laugh (crying is cool, too)It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort

memoir trigger warning: death/dying, illness, depression

I'm not stronger than anybody. I mean, physically, I can do three pull-ups, so I'm stronger than some people, but emotionally, I'm the same as anyone else. This strength isn't superhuman. It's the most human thing of all, a muscle we're all born with but need to exercise rarely at best. And lucky for us, it's a tenacious little thing that bounces back from atrophy as soon as you need to flex it.

As someone who is a huge fan of Nora's Terrible, Thanks for Asking ("You know how every day someone asks 'how are you?' and even if you’re totally dying inside, you just say 'fine,' so everyone can go about their day? This show is the opposite of that."), it was only a matter of time before I picked up her book. Because I love her narrative style, I opted for the audiobook read by the author, which I highly recommend. Even having known much of the story thanks to the podcast, I still found myself crying, cringing, and cheering for Nora and her family as if it were the first time. 

 

Book Cover: No One Can Pronounce My NameNo One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

fiction

Nothing envisioned a future more inaccurately than naivete.

The story is told across a cast of characters, all Indian immigrants to the US or part of the Indian diaspora, that slowly make their way toward one another. I struggled a bit in the beginning because I loathe stories of crude teenage boys, but I'm so glad I stuck with it. This is another book I picked up as an audiobook and I feel it made the experience so much richer.

 

Book Cover: Sofia Khan is Not ObligedSofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

fiction · romance · comedy

What a luxury anything organic is: to take your time; to have the lived experience. To hear what a person has to say about love and say, ‘Yes! I know that feeling. It shattered my soul and it was beautiful . . .

I tend not to consume a lot of media self-defined as "rom-com", so this was a bit outside of my comfort zone. I quickly fell in love with Sofia, with her group of girlfriends and her quirky family. This book would make an excellent and enjoyable sitcom/drama. I was sad to finish it, but happy to pick up the second book in the series immediately. I preferred the plot of the first much more to the second, but if this one leaves you wanting more, I'd recommend picking it up, too! 

 

Book Cover: One ChildOne Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment by Mei Fong

non-fiction trigger warning: child abuse, infanticide, kidnapping

China’s one-child policy was crafted by military scientists, who believed any regrettable side effects could be swiftly mitigated and women’s fertility rates easily adjusted. China’s economists, sociologists, and demographers, who might have injected more wisdom and balance, were largely left out of the decision making, as the Cultural Revolution had starved social scientists of resources and prestige. Only the nation’s defense scientists were untouched by the purges, and they proved not the best judges of human behavior.

China's one-child policy is something I knew very little about before picking this up. I didn't know, for instance, why they instituted a one-child policy (to be able to focus more resources into a single child, allowing for a more educated, well-fed, prosperous adult population), how they enforced it (mostly through fines, forced sterilizations, etc), or what happened to children born as a second/third/etc child (they're legal non-entities unable to legally get jobs, go to school, or have children of their own). It also shed light on the American-Chinese foreign adoption policies, which saw some children effectively kidnapped and sold to adoption agencies serving American "consumers". The book goes into depth on the public crises caused by a one-child policy (which is no longer law) - an aging population without enough carers, falling fertility rates, unequal sex distribution between cities and rural areas, and how areas deal with the tragedy of losing effectively an entire generation during natural or man-made disasters.

 

Book Cover: FlightFlight by Sherman Alexie

fiction trigger warning: violence, genocide, abuse

I learned how to stop crying.
I learned how to hide inside of myself.
I learned how to be somebody else.
I learned how to be cold and numb.

I'm slowly working my way through all of Sherman Alexie's work and this is one of my favorites so far. The story follows a young man who seemingly time travels to important (but often violent) points in Native American history without much warning. Will he carry out history or change it? Is history what we've been told?

 

Book Cover: Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid

fiction trigger warning: war

The end of the world can be cozy at times.

This story has everything I love - loneliness, companionship, passion, tragedy, heartache, and humanity in the face of horrific human deeds. I went into this book after forgetting the premise completely, so every page turn was a surprise seemingly unspoiled by my expectations.

 

Book Cover: Weapons of Math DestructionWeapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil

non-fiction trigger warning: systemic injustice

Big Data processes codify the past. They do not invent the future. Doing that requires moral imagination, and that’s something only humans can provide. We have to explicitly embed better values into our algorithms, creating Big Data models that follow our ethical lead. Sometimes that will mean putting fairness ahead of profit.

If you're interested in how algorithms and mathematical models replicate inequality, I highly recommend this book. O'Neil does a great job of illustrating the problems with the way we collect, understand, and use data - from recidivism rates to test scores.

 

Book Cover: KindredKindred by Octavia Butler

fiction trigger warning: racism, slavery, violence, rape, abuse

Better to stay alive," I said. "At least while there's a chance to get free." I thought of the sleeping pills in my bag and wondered just how great a hypocrite I was. It was so easy to advise other people to live with their pain.

The second time-travel-esque book (with an unintentional, unwilling time traveler) on my list. The story follows a woman thrust back into time and into chattel slavery, struggling to stay alive and sane in a horrific period of US history. It's heartwrenching, terrifying, and definitely gets your blood pumping.

 

Book Cover: Men We ReapedMen We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

memoir trigger warning: suicide, addiction, violence, racism

After I left New York, I found the adage about time healing all wounds to be false: grief doesn't fade. Grief scabs over like scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed. We are never free from self-loathing. We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess.

I'd heard nothing but good things about Men We Reaped and have a number of Ward's book on my to-read list. This is an excellent introduction to her work - a fresh take on memoir where her story is told through the love and loss of men in her life - to violence, suicide, sickness, etc. It's a deeply personal illustration of the multi-generational, cultural tragedy that shapes too many people's lives.

 

Book Cover: If You Could Be MineIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

young adult · romance · LGBTQIA

The best person I know won’t be around anymore. And suddenly everything seemed like a huge mistake. You’re the one I should grow old with. And I can’t.

I want more Iranian lesbian YA. Give it all to me in its delicious, tear-jerking splendor.

 

Book Cover: Stamped from the beginningStamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

history trigger warning: racism, slavery, violence, rape

Criminals hardly ever acknowledge their crimes against humanity. And the shrewdest and most powerful anti-Black criminals have legalized their criminal activities, have managed to define their crimes of slave trading and enslaving and discriminating and killing outside of the criminal code. Likewise, the shrewdest and most powerful racist ideologues have managed to define their ideas outside of racism.

This is quite the tome, as you'd expect from a book claiming to be the definitive history of racist ideas in America. It took me 8 or 9 months to finish, but it was well worth it. I highlighted probably a good third of the book and learned so much about how racist ideas came into practice and what the motivation behind the various approaches was. I didn't know, for instance, that white Christian Europeans decided that there was no way white and Black people could be descended from the same two people, so they invented a whole other Adam & Eve to segregate Black people into their own family tree. The lengths to which white people have and do go to put themselves above Black people in every aspect of human life and history will likely astonish those that are intimately familiar with the racialization of Black people.

 

Book Cover: Interpreter of MaladiesInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

fiction trigger warning: war, violence, miscarriage/stillbirth

Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.

Love is complicated and no less so the lengths to which we go to spare the feelings of those we love. A couple has become slowly estranged through a tragedy and scheduled electricity blackouts in their city have given them an excuse to share long-buried secrets with one another. 

 

Book Cover: WaveWave by Sonali Deraniyagala

non-fiction trigger warning: death, natural disaster, depression, suicide

I steer clear of telling. I can't come out with it; the outlandish truth of me. How can I reveal this to someone innocent and unsuspecting? With those who know my story I talk freely about us...but with others I keep it hidden, the truth. I keep it under wraps because I don't want to shock or make anyone distressed...I try to keep a distance from those who are innocent of my reality. At best I am vague. I feel deceitful at times, but I can't just drop it on someone, I feel. It's too horrifying, too huge.

I had this book for a long time before I started reading it and was expecting it to be fiction. This story, however, is the horrifically true story of a woman (the author) who loses her husband, children, and parents all at once in a tsunami. You follow her through all of the various states of grief and her sorrow infests the dark parts of your heart during times when she returns home to the mausoleum that has become her house with her kids dirty shoes still sitting by the front door, or the frustration of failed suicide attempts, to the torture she puts the new inhabitants of her parents home through.

 

Book Cover: Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

fiction trigger warning: death, drowning, racism

You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.

I accidentally clumped a bunch of tragedy books together, but I hope it doesn't scare you off from Ng's amazing novel. A family loses a daughter/sister to tragedy, then attempts to rebuild their lives around the loss. 

Dec
16
2017
0

Huge Book Haul Sale!

I normally don't put together book sale lists, but I managed to get such a huge (digital) haul for so little today that I couldn't resist. 14 books for $53.70, so ~$3.84 each. I grabbed some stuff that has been on my wishlist for a while, too, which was nice ^_^

 

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar - $1.99 (regularly $14.99)

Fiction

From Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of The Space Between Us, comes The Weight of Heaven. In the rich tradition of the acclaimed works of Indian writers such as Rohinton Mistry, Akhil Sharma, Indra Sinha, and Jhumpa Lahiri, The Weight of Heaven is an emotionally charged story about unexpected death, unhealed wounds, and the price one father will pay to protect himself from pain and loss. Additionally, it offers unique perspectives, both Indian and American, on the fragmented nature of globalized India.


The Great Influenza by John M Barry - $6.99 (regularly $19)

Non-fiction · Epidemiology · History

At the height of WWI, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease. Magisterial in its breadth of perspective and depth of research and now revised to reflect the growing danger of the avian flu, The Great Influenza is ultimately a tale of triumph amid tragedy, which provides us with a precise and sobering model as we confront the epidemics looming on our own horizon. John M. Barry has written a new afterword for this edition that brings us up to speed on the terrible threat of the avian flu and suggest ways in which we might head off another flu pandemic.


Isles of the Blind by Robert Rosenberg - $4.95

Fiction · Historical Fiction

Off the coast of Istanbul, the Jewish billionaire Yusuf Elmas, who once challenged the State's denial of the Armenian Genocide, has been killed in a harrowing boating accident. Five years later, his estranged brother, Avram, returns to the city to search out the truth behind his brother's suspicious death. Living in his brother's crumbling island mansion, befriending his enigmatic staff, Avram steadily unearths deeper layers of the tragedy. Yet the more his actions echo his brother's fraught experience, the more dangerous the exercise of digging up another person's history becomes. Through the lens of Avram's discoveries, Isles of the Blind explores the overlapping heritage of Jews and Armenians in a rapidly changing Muslim society. How should a man define himself, and towards what personal, religious and national obligations should our loyalties bend?


The Good Lord Bird by James McBride - $4.99 (regularly $16)

Fiction · Historical Fiction

Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.

Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.

An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

Non-fiction · History · Activism

As Americans take to the streets in record numbers to resist the presidency of Donald Trump, L.A. Kauffman’s timely, trenchant history of protest offers unique insights into how past movements have won victories in times of crisis and backlash and how they can be most effective today.
 
This deeply researched account, twenty-five years in the making, traces the evolution of disruptive protest since the Sixties to tell a larger story about the reshaping of the American left. Kauffman, a longtime grassroots organizer, examines how movements from ACT UP to Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter have used disruptive tactics to catalyze change despite long odds.
 
Kauffman's lively and elegant history is propelled by hundreds of candid interviews conducted over a span of decades. Direct Action showcases the voices of key players in an array of movements – environmentalist, anti-nuclear, anti-apartheid, feminist, LGBTQ, anti-globalization, racial-justice, anti-war, and more – across an era when American politics shifted to the right, and a constellation of decentralized issue- and identity-based movements supplanted the older ideal of a single, unified left.
 
Now, as protest movements again take on a central and urgent political role, Kauffman’s history offers both striking lessons for the current moment and an unparalleled overview of the landscape of recent activism. Written with nuance and humor, Direct Action is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the protest movements of our time.


The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob - $5.99 (regularly $17)

Fiction

With depth, heart, and agility, debut novelist Mira Jacob takes us on a deftly plotted journey that ranges from 1970s India to suburban 1980s New Mexico to Seattle during the dot.com boom. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is an epic, irreverent testimony to the bonds of love, the pull of hope, and the power of making peace with life’s uncertainties.
 
Celebrated brain surgeon Thomas Eapen has been sitting on his porch, talking to dead relatives. At least that is the story his wife, Kamala, prone to exaggeration, tells their daughter, Amina, a photographer living in Seattle.
 
Reluctantly Amina returns home and finds a situation that is far more complicated than her mother let on, with roots in a trip the family, including Amina’s rebellious brother Akhil, took to India twenty years earlier. Confronted by Thomas’s unwillingness to explain himself, strange looks from the hospital staff, and a series of puzzling items buried in her mother’s garden, Amina soon realizes that the only way she can help her father is by coming to terms with her family’s painful past. In doing so, she must reckon with the ghosts that haunt all of the Eapens.


A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam - $1.99 (regularly $6.49)

Fiction · Historical Fiction

Rehana Haque, a young widow, blissfully prepares for the party she will host for her son and daughter. But this is 1971 in East Pakistan, and change is in the air.

Set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh War of Independence, A Golden Age is a story of passion and revolution; of hope, faith, and unexpected heroism in the midst of chaos—and of one woman's heartbreaking struggle to keep her family safe.


Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang - $1.99 (regularly $7.99)

Fiction · Historical Fiction · Young Adult

Moving, honest, and deeply personal, Red Scarf Girl is the incredible true story of one girl’s courage and determination during one of the most terrifying eras of the twentieth century.

It's 1966, and twelve-year-old Ji-li Jiang has everything a girl could want: brains, popularity, and a bright future in Communist China. But it's also the year that China's leader, Mao Ze-dong, launches the Cultural Revolution—and Ji-li's world begins to fall apart. Over the next few years, people who were once her friends and neighbors turn on her and her family, forcing them to live in constant terror of arrest. And when Ji-li's father is finally imprisoned, she faces the most difficult dilemma of her life.


Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur - $6.49 (regularly $7)

Autobiography · Civil Rights · Black Liberation · History

In 2013 Assata Shakur, founding member of the Black Liberation Army, former Black Panther and godmother of Tupac Shakur, became the first ever woman to make the FBI's most wanted terrorist list.

Assata Shakur's trial and conviction for the murder of a white state trooper in the spring of 1973 divided America. Her case quickly became emblematic of race relations and police brutality in the USA. While Assata's detractors continue to label her a ruthless killer, her defenders cite her as the victim of a systematic, racist campaign to criminalize and suppress black nationalist organizations.
 
This intensely personal and political autobiography reveals a sensitive and gifted woman. With wit and candour Assata recounts the formative experiences that led her to embrace a life of activism. With pained awareness she portrays the strengths, weaknesses and eventual demise of black and white revolutionary groups at the hands of the state. A major contribution to the history of black liberation, destined to take its place alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the works of Maya Angelou.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson - $2.99 (regularly $10.99)

Fiction · Historical Fiction

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.


The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley - $2.99 (regularly $15.99)

Non-fiction · Feminism

The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays by double Hugo Award-winning essayist and science fiction and fantasy novelist Kameron Hurley.

The book collects dozens of Hurley's essays on feminism, geek culture, and her experiences and insights as a genre writer, including "We Have Always Fought," which won the 2014 Hugo for Best Related Work. The Geek Feminist Revolution will also feature several entirely new essays written specifically for this volume.


Jasmine Falling by Shereen Malherbe - $4.99 (regularly $8.99)

Fiction

When Jasmine’s mother dies inside their English mansion, hope comes in the form of her multi-million pound inheritance. But with her inheritance threatened, Jasmine is left to contemplate a future she does not know how to live. 

Jasmine has only ten days to uncover the circumstances of her father’s decade long disappearance before her fortune is lost forever. Forced to return to his homeland in Palestine, she follows his footsteps through stories long ingrained in the local’s minds. She is helped on her journey by a mysterious stranger who guides her through the trails of the Holy Land, from the heart of Jerusalem to the scattered broken villages, each harbouring its own secrets.

Under the watchful eyes of the ever-encroaching Occupation, Jasmine must piece together her history in the broken land, before it destroys her future.


Sofia Khan is Not Obliged & The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik - $2.14 & $3.21

Fiction · Romantic Comedy

Sofia Khan is single once more, after her sort-of-boyfriend proves just a little too close to his parents. And she'd be happy that way too, if her boss hadn't asked her to write a book about the weird and wonderful world of Muslim dating. Of course, even though she definitely isn't looking for love, to write the book she does need to do a little research . . .

----

Her living situation is in dire straits, her husband Conall is distant, and his annoyingly attractive colleague is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.

When her mother forces them into a belated wedding ceremony (elopement: you can run, but you can't hide), Sofia wonders if it might be a chance to bring them together. But when it forces Conall to confess his darkest secret, it might just tear them apart.

Jul
11
2017
0
General FictionHistorical FictionHistory

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Trigger warning: suicide, transmisogyny, assault

This book was a bit of a runaway hit in my reading circles this year and when I picked it up I hadn't even read the description yet. As a weird bonus for me, it takes place around where I went to high school, where I was struggling with feeling like the only queer kid in my class.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

If I Was Your Girl is about Amanda, a teenaged trans girl who moves in with her estranged father to escape bullying and assault, and to start over after a suicide attempt and then transitioning. The story jumps back and forth between a few different time lines, slowly revealing the corners of Amanda's life.

Amanda begins school, unsure of what to expect. She's happy that she quickly gets adopted by a group of girls: an arty queer girl, a Born Again Baptist with a party side, a fashionista, and a secretly bisexual girl. At lunch, a boy approaches her on behalf of his friend asking for her number, which begins a sweet, nerdy romantic relationship.

I thought about how every person could hold two truths inside of them, how impossible it felt sometimes to have your insides and outsides aligned.

Through the regular torture that is high school, Amanda finds herself truly happy for the first time in her life. Her relationship with her new boyfriend is going well, but she's having anxiety feeling like she needs to disclose her past to him. Her father is always in the background - a little overprotective and trying to come to terms with his own ignorance on behalf of his daughter. As always, Amanda's mom and Virginia, her trans mentor, are there for her, even far away in Atlanta.

If I Was Your Girl is marked as a YA novel, but honestly it's written so sweetly that it'd be perfect for anyone at a middle-grade reading level or higher. I couldn't put it down and was bawling happy tears mid-way through. There are a few tropes used, but the author is a trans woman herself, so I trust her judgement.

 
Dec
21
2016
5
Young Adult

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