“Love is a Verb.” – bell hooks.
I remember reading that line in “All About Love” and my entire worldview shifting. Love as a verb had never occurred to me. The basic premise is that real love is transformative. It seeks to push you to your highest self and supports you on that journey. After reading and accepting "love is verb," I’ve measured all
relationships, books and people alike, against this definition.
I have said before, that my longest and most pure relationship have been with books. Books have been a faithful companion – loving me as fiercely as I love them. When I measure the greatness of a book, I think about who I was before page one and who emerged at the end.
For more reasons than I have time to explain, my reading list in 2020 has more meaning than any I can remember in recent history. There is a part of me that is sadder than I was on January 1, 2020 and you know what, I am ok with that. I’ve sat with some of the most human stories and feel more alive, more clear and more resolved than I was at the beginning of the year.
This year’s reading confirms why intersectional feminist spaces must exist in our full complexity and splendor. I am reminded why we must continue to fight to ensure womxn stories from every corner of the world must be told and for booksellers like myself, to serve as a platform to elevate those stories.
Here is Part I of the books that broke me wide open and once again, introduced me to new parts of myself and the world.
1. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi. This is a sweeping historical novel beginning with precolonial, pre-Atlantic slave trade of Africa up to almost present day. Having traveled to Ghana in 2014, walking through the slave dungeons and then, through “The Door of No Return” to face a raging Atlantic Ocean, I shuddered reading her spot on description just as I did when I touched the walls of the underground cells. This book will take you places; deep and dark places. If you're paying attention, you will emerge with a new sense of intimacy with yourself and hopefully, with the world around you.
I love this book not only for it’s profound storytelling which it is. I love it because ambitious womxn, who take on the impossible and despite imperfections, slay, hold a special place in my heart.
2. Lobizona, Romina Garber. Let’s just start with this: “Why settle for being a son of the system, when you can mother a movement?” Need, I say anymore?
Listen, as a person who has spent all her outside the academy life in the throes of Black Feminist literature, heavily leaning toward non-fiction, I had no idea fantasy existed. And, that I would LOVE it.
This book is about so many things; almost all social issues relating to identity are addressed.
And while some folx may feel it is heavy handed, to me, it felt intersectional in every way. Audre Lorde said "there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives." We are many identities at once. Finding myself immersed in a book that used this fantastical world to illuminate the unique realities of what it means to live an intersectional life besieged by a racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic society: living in a world within a world, straddling between being hyper visible while being completely invisible, finding ones tribe and voice while redefining what it means to be “undocumented,” and watching as entire systems are built to eradicate your kind – in this case, a female werewolf, was just as satisfying and educational as reading bell hooks.
3. Hunger, Roxane Gay. Initial Reactions: Piercing. Sad. Enraging. Unsettling.
There is only one other book that left me feeling as unsettled as “Hunger.” This book is honest and raw. It’s devastating. It is embarrassing; representing some of the worse of our society who believe so strongly their opinions matter that they actually let them escape the confines of their inner world. Sit down and shut up.
Roxane Gay lays bear her story, her soul and her truth around her relationship with food, her body and ultimately, herself. It’s hard to be in that story and not feel completely uncomfortable. And at 5'2 and 135lbs, I constantly questioned why I felt so unsettled and if I had the right to feel so close to her words. Even as I write this, I continue to be moved by the indignities that fat Black womxn live through on a daily basis, how oblivious we all are to their humanity and the bounds of our audacity. Fat phobia feels like the last frontier of permissible explicit insults.
This push toward a deeper connection to myself, to the fat womxn who I love and respect, to my role in society in disrupting sexualized violence and fat phobia is why this book is in the top five.
4. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng. With a Hulu show, I may not need to say much about this book except, why didn’t it hit the anti-racism book list this summer?
Don’t get me wrong, we needed some basic bottom line books such as “So You Want to Talk About Race” and “White Rage.” However, there is something that novels can do that theoretical books simply cannot. And, this book, with its savvy and unadorned writing, pulled the curtains on the dangers of white liberalism. In what felt like such a calm and almost pedestrian restrain, Ng builds a seemingly well-intentioned white world. A world we can almost get too comfortable with and lose vigilance. No real hoopla which is the point and the thing about racism. On the most ordinary days, it’s the racial micro-aggressions that lays us out and fact check us. Like…"Sis, we ain’t where we think we are so let’s not be confused."
And just when I’m riled up, Ng invites me to sit with the humanity of a character that I was just rolling my eyes about. I found myself wrestling with the ways white supremacy robs white folx of their own sense of self and goodness. A powerful book on race and racism, class and self-serving white liberal politics.
5. Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata. Curious about why I love this book, listen here.
I hope you made it all the way to the end. Stay tuned to Part II + our look into 2021!