Every year I make a list of my favorite albums, but I realized I never share the books that I read. In 2018, I read 80 books, and I figured it would help my own memory if I took the time to note the ones that made an impact on me. Perhaps you’ll find something you like or want to discuss with me. I’d love to connect through our shared shelves.
Books I Love That I Reread
- Another Country by James Baldwin
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
- Native Son by Richard Wright
- Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
Books That Made Me Laugh (And Feel!)
- 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl
- Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
- Night Moves by Jessica Hopper
- Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood
- The First Bad Man by Miranda July
Books on Music, Religion, and/or Politics that Shaped/Reshaped My Thinking
- Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil by Emilie Townes
- Soul Thieves: The Appropriation and Representation of African American Popular Culture edited by Baruti N. Kopano
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- What’s Faith Got to Do With It?: Black Bodies/Christian Souls by Kelly Brown Douglas
- Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks
- Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop by Imani Perry
- Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove AND Creative Quest by Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson
Classics I Had Never Read that Were Not Overrated
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
Books I Would Recommend to Book Clubs
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli
- Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult
- 300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso
Favorite Books I Read This Year
15. Vanishing Twins: A Marriage by Leah Dieterich
I love a book that challenges my dearly held worldview, and this memoir, on a marriage that tries an open relationship, pushed me to understand how marriages come in many forms and all face the same trials in various guises.
14. Humanism: Essays on Race, Religion and Popular Culture by Anthony B. Pinn
It’s not often that I recommend academic books to people, but this slim volume is a fascinating look into humanism as religious practice and how hip hop plays a role in shaping such orientations to life.
13. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
The master of horror is getting her proper due in 2018 with the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House (based on her novel). I read her collection of short stories, each of which held my attention rapt at the little horrors held within the ordinary day.
12. The Tunnel at the End of the Light by Jim Shepard
I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about movies and how they shape our perceptions. It was nice to learn that Jim Shepard does the same, implicating everything from GoodFellas to the Bush presidency in his piercing, thoughtful meditations on film and politics.
11. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Every year I add two or three Baldwin books to my reading list. I had the pleasure of reading this ode to love and loss in Paris, where Baldwin wrote it.
10. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker
I found myself reading Morgan Parker’s book of poems as fast as I could for the sole purpose of being able to restart it immediately. The first, second, and third readings have yet to become less captivating.
9. If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Another Baldwin read to add to my list. I believe this novel to be Baldwin’s response to Richard Wright’s Native Son, which the young Baldwin criticized for its protagonist accepting a “theology that denied him life.” In Beale Street, the characters cling to life and to each other to form a much more hopeful picture in the face of incarceration.
8. Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag
I read this book in one sitting but have been thinking about it for months. How do we consume the pain of other people, and what does that say about us?
7. The White Album by Joan Didion
Joan Didion became one of my favorite writers this year because of this book. The title essay alone knocked me off my feet.
6. The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
No one writes about music like critic Jessica Hopper. Her sentences pack punches and her insights are unmatched.
5. The Street by Ann Petry
When we talk about 20th Century Black literature, Baldwin, Hurston, Wright, Ellison, Morrison, and Walker all take center stage, but I argue we are making a grave error in forgetting Ann Petry. The Street is one of the greatest novels of any time period, and it deserves to be canonized by every serious reader.
4. Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
I don’t know if I’ve read a more gripping collection of poetry than Danez Smith’s. When I talk about Smith’s poetry to others, I am so speechless all I can do is read Smith’s words to the person until they get it. It never takes long.
3. They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib
When I read Hanif Abdurraqib’s work, I feel seen. I never knew someone else took music so seriously or believed in its power so deeply until I “met” Abdurraqib through They Can’t Kill Us. I found myself reading his book slowly, stopping to listen to old songs or albums that made me feel the way he was describing something.
2. Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle
This year I grew increasingly interested in reading and watching lectures, especially by people whose insights were tempered by a keen humility about what they didn’t know. Ruefle experiments with the lecture form in refreshing ways throughout Madness, and I found myself recopying most of the book when I took notes on it.
1. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Easily my new favorite novel and my new favorite writer.