I read far fewer books this year than I did last because I had a ton going on in my life, but still came out with some clear favorites. If you weren't around for last year's list, I make a concerted effort to read books written by and about marginalized people. The books below are in no particular order.
If you're looking for good books to take with you on winter vacation or to give for the holidays, I'd recommend these ones.
1. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin [speculative fiction, fantasy]
“Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Tell them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at these contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.”
I read this on recommendation from a friend. Fantasy isn't usually my thing, but I feel this falls more squarely into the general speculative fiction category. I'm looking forward to reading more of her stuff.
2. Strikers [Strikers #1] by Ann Christy [YA fiction, dystopian science fiction]
“Life is entirely too short for fear to be a factor in how we live it.”
I've read a lot of YA over the past few years and like that many aren't nearly as graphic as their adult counterparts. This one was different than the Hunger Games-y niche that all dystopian YA seems to fall in these days. The author is working on book 2 in the series.
3. The Internet of Garbage by Sarah Jeong [technology/internet, culture, feminism]
“When we seek to build truly equal platforms and marketplaces of ideas fit for the 21st century, we are trying to create things that have never existed and cannot be constructed by mindlessly applying principles of the past.”
Sarah Jeong is brilliant, funny, and her work is always insightful. This short book (literally took me ~2hrs to read) centers around the garbage that is created and builds up on the internet and why, culturally, we allow it to happen. Good read for people trying to understand the issues around harassment and abuse online and why no one is doing anything about it.
4. The Leaving of Things by Jay Antani [YA fiction, general fiction]
“We steadily endure our lives and ultimately we are alone in our endurance. In this aloneness, we find our strength.”
The book centers on the life of a teenage Indian American boy whose family decides to leave their home of many years in Madison, WI to move back to India. I read this when I, too,was moving away from Madison so it had interesting parallels. Vikram's voice around loneliness, isolation, and unlearning American-centrism/exceptionalism is profound.
5. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable [history, biography]
""Victims of racism are created in the image of the racists," Malcolm argued. "When the victims struggle vigoroulsy to protect themselves from the violence of others, they are made to appear in the image of criminals, as the criminal image is projected onto the victim." Liberation, he implied, was not simply political but cultural."
I tend to read at least one biography a year and like to choose figures I only know surface facts about. This is a long book, but well worth the read. It covers Malcolm's early life, through his Nation of Islam days, and beyond. Being able to see all of the moving pieces around his life (his family, the NoI, his politics and work) as well as to read his speeches is important to see the whole man - his power, his intelligence, his determination, as well as his issues.
6. The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S Tepper [science fiction, fantasy, dystopian feminism?]
“(ghost of)ACHILLES: How can I force obedience on this? In other times I've used the fear of death to make a woman bow herself to me. If not the fear of her own death, then fear for someone else, a husband or a child. How can I bend this woman to my will?
(ghost of)POLYXENA: I think I will not bend.
IPHIGENIA: You see, it's as we've tried to tell you, Great Achilles. Women are no good to you dead.”
The story centers around a matriarchal society and the world they maintain. Some of the story's themes are told through a recitation of a retelling of The Trojan Woman (like the quote above).
7. Split by Swati Avasthi [YA, fiction, abuse]
“But I’m not the one digging her grave; I didn’t open her hole in the earth when I drove away that night or when I couldn’t make her come with us. My dad dug it years ago; he forced her to lie down in it and kept her there by fear and beatings. And when she tried to get out, he stomped her back in. She has been lying there for twenty-five years. Her muscles have atrophied, her joints have stiffened, and she can’t see anything except him and the tight little space she calls home. I don’t know how she’ll get out; I can tug and pull and yank, but it won’t make any difference. She was right: she’s gotta solve it her own way.”
This is the book I cried the most for in 2015. The story centers around a teenager escaping his abusive father, choosing to move in with his estranged brother. TW for abuse, stalking, harassment.
8. Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia Butler [dystopian science fiction, post-apocalyptic]
"Every time I understand a little more, I wonder why it’s taken me so long—why there was ever a time when I didn’t understand a thing so obvious and real and true."
I'm so sad that it took me so long to finally read this book. I couldn't put it down! I loved the way religion was treated in the story - it's rare to see fiction that shows the community and solace that faith can create. The book follows a young woman whose life is torn apart as she crosses the country, trying to create the community and home she's always wanted.
9. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More by Janet Mock [autobiography]
"The crux of our conflict lay in the fact that we each couldn't be who we wanted the other to be."
I was lucky to have seen Janet Mock speak last year where she read an excerpt of her book. Her story is heartbreaking and heroic.
10. Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant [non-fiction]
"To truly confront this type of violence would require us to admit that we permit some violence against women to be committed in order to protect the social and sexual value of other women."
This year I wanted to learn more about the politics around sex work and I got tons of recommendations for this book. The book is an easy read - lots of history of sex work and anti-sex work legislation, understanding the rhetoric around sex trafficking, as well as the social justice movement to recognize sex work as work and the workers as people.
11. The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (The Myths) by Margaret Atwood [mythology, fantasy, feminism]
“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
The Penelopiad is a re-telling of The Odyssey from the viewpoint of Penelope, wife of Odysseus. Penelope and her murdered maids tell the story of how they survived during Odysseus' journey and how he punished them for their survival upon his return.
12. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates [memoir]
“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”
Coates writing is haunting and poetic and powerful. It's written as a letter to his teenage son about the world they live in and how best they can actually live in that world. You feel Coates pain and anger and hope for the future of his son in every paragraph.