Alright guys, the moment is upon us. A moment of silence please. Deep breaths. The inauguration of the human Cheeto puff looms nearer every day and we will soon wave a tear-filled goodbye to Barack Hussein and Michelle Lavaughn Robinson Obama. The future is dauntingly unclear. We are fearful.
Now more than ever, it feels imperative and essential to do more. We should do something, say something and do so quickly and fiercely. What to do though? And when? How? Is it enough to live my daily life as a kind, empathetic, and socially conscious person? Without a grandiose plan for activism or sweeping plot to ignite a revolution, am I taking a strong enough stance against oppression, against ignorance, against hate?
I don't have those answers. I have, however, the conviction that positive impact isn’t exclusively realized by big, loud, grandiloquent actions. It is also attained through small, quiet movements made with purpose, intention and heart. With this spirit in mind, I set out to create a little ripple of change from my humble corner of the world. I chose to do so by giving due consideration to the sheer, potent and undeniable power of the written word and by supporting the *radical* notion that representation matters.
I read 52 books, averaging one per week, and read works predominantly written by women and people of color. It was my quiet revolution, my statement of support for lives that matter and disgust for the forces that counter important truths.
The result was one of the most rewarding years of reading I’ve had in some time. Sharp wit and cramp-causing humor made me laugh out loud in public like a crazy person. I got lost in thought pondering everything from white privilege and systemic racism to the complex construct of modern religion. I marveled at historical truths stranger than fiction and fawned over prowess in storytelling. I gasped at the plot twist in a good whodunit and was shaken and brought to tears by harrowing tales of loss and pain.
Perhaps most importantly, I gleaned inspiration from the hope that these writers’ voices give me for the future – the future of art, of creativity, of activism, of the pursuit of justice and inclusivity. That hope is something I want to share with you and anyone who will listen, so I’m asking you now to challenge yourself. Pick one or more books from this list; pick others from these and other great authors from marginalized groups. Let the words on the page bring you the beautiful color and light that they brought to me, then share your experiences in turn. Join me in my quiet revolution, one page at a time.
First, my top twelve. Why twelve? Because. Shut up and read).
1. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
So, I love me some Shonda despite the fact that for the last several years, she has been launching a full scale no-fucks-are-given attack on my tear ducts and brain capacity with her Thursday night savagery. I still haven’t quite forgiven her for Derek. Ugh!
My love for her show writing aside, I didn’t actually know a lot about her personally prior to reading her memoir. Her story blew me away. Shonda is spazzy and weird and awkward in the best possible way. I loved her candid voice, her expression of vulnerability and her unapologetic girl-powerness. I related on another level to the challenge she took on to say yes more often to life.
Bonus: I went back and listened to it on audio later, which she narrates, and loved that version even more. Look up her keynote speeches sometime on YouTube. Solid gold.
2. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Fay
This is a retelling of Jane Eyre built around the premise that Jane is a serial killer. Do I really need to say any more?
This is such a great read – even more so if you love the original Jane Eyre in all her bookish feminism as much as I do. She’s a killer in this version alright, but not in a who-in-the-actual-fuck-told-you-that-was-a-good-idea way ala Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It has a little bit of heroic vengeance/Lisbeth Salander twist to it, but not as heavy or dark.
3. Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal #1) by Zen Cho
This book was sent to me in one of Book Riot’s Book Mail boxes, which I can’t recommend enough. These boxes are carefully curated bundles of books and bookish gifts but without a subscription – the themes for the boxes are announced via email and social media, then you buy them when you want, if you want. I treated myself to a box in October for my birthday as soon as I realized the theme for that box was magic (shocker, I know). This book was one of the two selections therein.
Set in a magical London, the story follows Zacharias Wythe, a sorcerer of formidable skill and a freed slave who holds the office of Sorcerer Royal. Despite holding the highest position in the esteemed Unnatural Philosophers organization, he is undermined and plotted against at every turn for his black skin color - sound familiar? He goes on a mission to determine why Britain’s magic is mysteriously being drained and is joined along the way by a woman with enormous powers of her own. This complicates things as women are considered too inferior to practice magic, but that’s all about to change… It’s political and feminist and is rife with social commentary. LOVE.
4. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
By now, many of you are as big of fans of Issa as I am thanks to the huge success of her HBO series, Insecure. Laaaaawd, this woman is craaaazy talented! I read this book early last year after falling in love with her web series of the same name where I first discovered how (awkwardly) hilarious and witty she is. She had me laughing like a fool at Starbucks when she discussed trying to be cool in high school when you can’t dance but everyone expects you to have some sick rhythm because you’re black.
This is another book that I went back and listed to on audio - stoooooppp itttt. I laugh-cried.
5. Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Cordova
I had the pleasure of meeting Zoraida this November at Book Riot Live in New York City, an amazing book convention put together by my beloved Book Riot. Zoraida was part of a panel about finding your voice as a writer, and I was beyond stoked to see a Latina writing in the YA fantasy genre. She signed one of my books for me and was a joy to interact with, so I naturally had to pick up some of her work.
This book is set in Brooklyn and is a sort of coming-of-age tale centered around a young bruja named Alex. She is reluctant to accept her magic and devises a plan to be rid of it, but the spell she concocts to do so backfires horribly and may have cost her the lives of her mother and sisters. She embarks on a dangerous journey to try and save them and ventures into a world described in such color and vivid detail. I absolutely loved that the magic in this book has a Latin American bent, pulling from Day of the Dead traditions and Latin American folklore. I can’t think of too many works in this genre where I feel Latinas are represented, so this gets ALL of the gold stars. It also has an LGBTQ element, so tack another hundred stars on top of that.
6. The Clancy’s of Queens by Tara Clancy
I half read this book and half listened to it on Audio – the book is amazing on its own but is even better when told in Tara’s distinctive Queens accent.
In this memoir, Clancy, who is half Italian and half Irish, describes for her readers the three extraordinary environments in which she was raised– a boat shed in a working class Queens neighborhood, a community of elderly Brooklyn-born Italians and an lavish estate in the Hamptons. I laughed when she talked of her saucy grandmother’s constant Italian curses, smiled when she talked about coming out to her parents, laughed again when she regaled readers with tales from her young troublemaker ways. I’d explain more, but Tara really does it so much better. Fangool! (read it).
7. You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
I love me some Phoebe Robinson, good gawd! She is half of comedy duo from one of my favorite podcasts, 2 Dope Queens, and has all sort of other bad-ass credits to her name (her blog Black Daria, writing for Broad City and MTV’s Girl Code, contributing regularly to Glamour).
This book is an insightful and socially conscious commentary with the added bonus of endless super-spot-on pop-culture references – it is fucking hilarious from beginning to end. There are too many great passages to list, but one that got me was this one summarizing the plot of How to Get Away with Murder. Enjoy.
“… Anna was hooking up with a superhot black cop who would show up to her job and go down on her, aka the man was a true American hero and every time he showed up on screen, I pledged allegiance to him like he was the damn United States flag. These side relationships were going swimmingly until Sam knocked up his jump off and then, under suspicious circumstances, she was killed.”
8. Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein
Peggy is my hero: her work in gender studies is educational, important and ridiculously entertaining. She’d written for years and years on the subject of girls and how to raise them without gender normative confines when she found herself pregnant with one and panicked. She wrote Cinderella Ate my Daughter when she discovered a sobering reality: the little girl she had tried so hard to raise progressively and without an attachment to all things traditionally feminine ditched her Thomas the Tank Engine toys and pin-striped overalls in a fresh 60 seconds when a boy in her preschool yelled that girls don’t like trains. She takes a deep dive into the princess culture that seemingly swallowed her daughter whole. What you’ll learn about the Disney Princesses campaign alone makes this a worthy read, but the whole thing is just so eye-opening.
9. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
Lindy West is a self-proclaimed fat feminist and writer who's contributed to The Guardian, This American Life and Jezebel as well as an array of other online publications. Her work is centered on body-positivity, feminism and social justice with a healthy injection of humor. This memoir is at once hilarious and at other times so difficult to read; her experience with rampant internet misogyny and rape culture makes me cringe even now.
She has faced some true and unabashed ugliness - like the time some internet trolls decided to create a fake Twitter account for her dead father with a stolen family photo as a profile pic and a bio reading "Embarrassed Father of an Idiot," all because she challenged the propriety of jokes about rape. There was the time she went on FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell to discuss rape culture and was pummeled with such vitriolic tweets as "no need for you to worry about rape uggo" and "holes like this make me want to commit rape out of anger. I don't even find her attractive, at all, she's a fat idiot, I just want to rape her with a traffic cone." I cried, and then kept reading and fist-pumped in solidarity. Read this now!
10. Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
As a freshman at USC, I took a class about the Holocaust. I expected to spend a semester studying “the” Holocaust: Hitler, the Third Reich, the gross and unspeakable treatment of Jews. I did eventually study those precise things; on the first day of class though, I was asked along with my classmates to raise my hand if I’d ever heard of the Armenian genocide. Most of us had not. At age 17, I confess that I didn’t so much know what Armenians were, let alone about their attempted eradication. It turns out a lot of people don't know much about the latter either, especially since the Turkish state denied and continues to deny that it ever happened.
This book explores the genocide from a fictional perspective and is written by an Armenian woman as a bonus. It is a beautifully tragic and triumphantly hopeful tale. The main character Orhan is a young man in Turkey who inherits his grandfather’s rug business after he is found dead in a vat of dye outside his home. His formidable estate, however, is left to an elderly Armenian woman living in a Los Angeles retirement home, a concession that no one saw coming nor understands. Orhan travels to L.A. to find out more about this mysterious woman and slowly realizes how little he actually knows about his family and native country’s past. Flashing back and forth between the 1990s and the last years of the Ottoman Empire, this story will give you all of the feelings and probably teach you a lot of things you didn’t know.
11. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Let me just say that you think you know Cleopatra’s deal, but you so don’t. This complex, shrewd, and yes, often conniving artist in the game of self-preservation is so often chalked up to being nothing more than a skilled seductress, but to do so simplifies her unjustly and reduces her to much less than what she truly was. The infamous last Queen of Ptolemaic Egypt wielded her womanly wiles like a weapon; she was also strategic and savvy and an expert negotiator. Her story reads like fiction: incest, exile, assassination and deception all run rampant. It was so juicy than I often forgot I was reading a history book. Well done, Stacy Schiff, well done.
12. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I dreaded writing up this blurb because a) I don’t think my fumbling fanaticism I can do it justice and b) all the praise I have has already been sung before. This book, called “required reading” by the great Toni Morrison, made serious waves and won all of the awards this year for good reason. A powerful literary look at race in American history told as a letter to his young son, Coates’ work is important, eloquent, and impassioned. I read with more than a mild discomfort and boundless appreciation. Read this and be open.
If you've stuck around this long, thank you! Gold star for you! Now it's your turn to tell me about something you read and loved. Leave me a note on Twitter, Facebook, the Gram, or in the comments below. Next week I'll be hitting you all with the goals for my 2017 reading challenge. Until then, happy reading!
13. The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
14. Yes, My Accent is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You by Kunal Nayyar
15. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
16. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
17. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
18. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
19. The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales
20. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
21. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
22. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
23. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
24. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
25. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
26. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
27. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
28. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
29. Where Am I Now? By Mara Wilson
30. Angelmaker by Nick Karkaway
31. Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich
32. Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
33. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany
34. The Women in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
35. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
36. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
37. The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen – This was the *one* book out of 52 that I just couldn’t get into- I thought it would ring my Agatha Christie cozy mystery bells... don’t waste your time.
38. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
39. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
40. 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
41. The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
42. Do No Harm Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh
43. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
44. I Know What I’m Doing – and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches from a Life Under Construction by Jen Kirkman
45. Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children #2) by Ransom Riggs
46. Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children #3) by Ransom Riggs
47. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
48. Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
49. People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges by Jen Mann
50. The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination by Barry S. Strauss
51. Black Coffee by Agatha Christie
52. After You (Me Before You #2) by Jojo Moyes