We asked what we could do for you, and you asked for book recs. And we were like, for sure. So this is list of the best/most important/beautifully well-crafted books we read in 2015 – and a couple we’re looking forward to getting to this year.
PRELUDE TO BRUISE, Saeed Jones
These poems go down with spikes lathered in honey. You’ll hear their words as faint echos for the rest of your life. You will be better for their sound.
MY HEART IN ASPIC, Sonya Vatomsky
This is all of the pretty in all of the not pretty. It’s the heart as a literal heart. It’s biting and it knows what it’s doing and it’s not going to compromise. It’s going to make you heart it. Spooky and gross in the best way.
JULIET II, Sarah Xerta
This book will fucking pull your teeth from their roots and make your skin feel like it’s on fire and you’ll fall into every page and need help getting out, but Xerta’s got you, and they’ve got you every step of the way. This is a writer who knows how to make you feel the way you need to feel without just ruining your life and abandoning you as soon as you run out of pages. Plus, you can download it (and Juliet I) for free.
OTHER PEOPLE’S COMFORT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT, Morgan Parker
This is one of those books that I read slowly over time and kept taking screenshots of to send to my friends. Morgan Parker is one of my favorite poets/writers/writing role models, so I’m biased as hell. But this is a work that does work. Point blank. Read it.
HOME, Clementine Von Radics
If you’re looking for poetry that is both heartbreaking and oddly comforting, then you’re welcome. It’s a tiny book full of longing and pain, perfect for reminiscing on old times and bracing yourself for the new year.
I LOVE A BROAD MARGIN TO MY LIFE, Maxine Hong Kingston
Ethical and lyrical and world-minded. If you’re getting a little burnt-out, social justice wise, try this. She imbues her work with a sense and a depiction of spiritual social justice community, even while acknowledging the frustration and exhaustion of participating when change can feel slow or non-existent.
THE GOLDFINCH, Donna Tartt
Besides winning the Pulitzer, this book is absolutely stunning and probably one of my favorite fiction novels. This book is a rollercoaster of loss and obsession, and it’s filled with writing so mesmerizing that you won’t be able to look away.
WE THE ANIMALS, Justin Torres
If this novel weren’t so deeply drenched in stunning lyricism and imagery, it would be a difficult read. There is violence and hurt in a thick coat on every page or word or letter. But there is also so much beauty, and the freedom to decide what all of it means. Class and sexuality and race and ethnicity are all examined, here, but through the gaze of a child becoming. Being made.
SALT FISH GIRL, Larissa Lai
Queer girls, cyborgs/robots/clones, a questioning of capitalism and what it means to be real and exist and to come from something, Salt Fish Girl is beautifully lyric in its language without losing accessibility.
LONG DIVISION, Kiese Laymon
Funny. Smart. Unafraid. Sci-fi with diverse cast of characters who are not just not tokens, but feel so intimately and accurately depicted and more real than the humans around you, you half-wonder that this book is sci-fi and not realistic fiction. But then there’s time-travel.
NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED, Hannah Moskowitz
Quality YA fiction. Funny and memorable narrative voice, tackles issues of monosexism/heterosexism, bullying, race, eating disorders and their intersection with performance arts, class, religion. Dope, because the author never acts like one more issue will push you over the edge, or like any of these things are too adult for high-schoolers to deal with. Protagonist is black and bisexual and anorexic and a dancer and trying to learn how to be a better friend.
A PLACE OF GREATER SAFETY, Hilary Mantel
If you love dense, detailed, and impeccably researched historical fiction, but are tired of everyone being straight, this novel following the rise and fall of three of the leaders of the French Revolution from Hilary Mantel is perfect. Camille Desmoulins is an appealing and complicated lead character who is portrayed as being unashamedly bisexual, even in the face of monosexist/heterosexist backlash.
PICKING BONES FROM ASH, Marie Mutsuki Mockett
A stunning, haunting debut, Mockett’s Picking Bones from Ash presents readers first with the story of young Japanese girl Satomi, then unravels the tale of three generations of women while highlighting not only the differences between Western and Eastern culture and immersing readers through both the method of storytelling and the style of writing, but also unabashedly providing validation to the often ridiculed mysticism of cultural beliefs and traditions. Beyond being a beautiful work with cultural significance, Picking Bones from Ash also offers lessons in surviving and living as a woman.
BUTTERFLY BOY, Rigoberto González
If you’ve ever wondered what it means to leave and come back again, if pain and beauty have merged, if you need a moment to gaze away from the violence and take note of the landscape and your family history instead, this one’s for you. This is what solid nonfiction feels like.
BLUETS, Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson has been all over the place, especially this year, and especially with regard to The Argonauts. For a read that’s a little softer, a little less academic, and a little more poetic, but still uniquely Nelson in both tone and craft, read Bluets.
EXCLUDED, Julia Serano
If you’ve ever wondered what people mean when they talk about feminism being exclusive on the basis of gender, allow Serano the opportunity to scorch everything you ever thought about gender-based oppression.
BAD FEMINIST, Roxane Gay
This is a great intro to feminism and intersectionality because of its reliance on narrative as a means of introducing concepts like racism, sexism, and what it means to not be a straight, white male, especially in academia.
HOW TO SLOWLY KILL YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN AMERICA, Kiese Laymon
Relevant, beautiful, and well-crafted. A look both in and beyond the self.
WHAT’S NEXT ON OUR LIST FOR 2016
MANIC DEPRESSIVE DREAM GIRL, Naadeyah Haseeb
A newer title from Maudlin House Press, this promises to push the trope of the manic pixie dream girl and talk mental illness, race, and gender. How could this not be on our list?
BLACK DEUTSCHLAND: A NOVEL, Darryl Pinckney
What drew me to this book? Young, black, gay, personal, political. Also, loaded with history + place. I have faith that Pinckney is going to do good by us with this book.
MISSED CONNECTION., Meggie Royer
Already a devoted fan of Meggie Royer, who writes frequently of mental illness, gender, sexuality, and abuse, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she’d independently released a new book of poems, described as “the lessons your mother never told you,” as “about how to fight back,” and as about “loving yourself” – three important topics of advice that I believe will become crucial as the year goes on, and as life goes on. I anticipate that Royer will, once again, provide comfort and empowerment through her work.
I’M ALIVE / IT HURTS / I LOVE IT, joshua jennifer espinoza
Ever since I learned of this title it’s been spinning in my head and pushing itself closer and closer to the top of my “to read” list. Finally, I’m listening to myself. Top of to read in 2016. According to boost house: her writing engages with subjects such as coming out as a trans woman, “surviving and thriving w/mental illness, and attempting to reconcile [her] anger/sadness at the state of things w/ [her] love for all the beauty that exists.” Like, yes.
LIFESONGS: A GENDERQUEER MEMOIR, Audrey MC
I came across this book while doing research for my graduate English class about what it means to be non-binary and a writer when so much of writing is gendered by readers, and by literary magazines and journals. I wanted to look into the issues that arise when we call someone, for example, a “woman writer,” without asking if they are a woman, and without the space for them to shift in their gender. I’m excited to read this because it’s one of few that I came across that were non-academic and offering a look into the life of a genderqueer writer.