In between my work as an Instructional Designer, making art and managing my small business, I read. A lot. In 2018, I read 202 books (67,857 pages!) I’ve narrowed it down to my top 10, because what would be the point of reading all these books if I didn’t tell you which ones you need to read. So, here you go.
10. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi* is a dark novel about what it’s like to experience multiple personalities from the inside. Part African folktale, part modern story, Emezi’s novel explores what it’s like to be a woman and immigrant suffering from mental illness. It’s raw and tragic and you won’t forget it for a long time after putting it down.
9. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung* made me rethink everything I’ve ever known and believed about adoption, and I would strongly urge anyone considering adoption to read it. Chung’s incredibly personal story about her white adoptive family, her search for her Korean birth parents, and her reconnection to her sister (and her children) is incredibly moving. Chung doesn’t give any prescriptive answers about adoption, but her work does ask us to think more about what it means to displace a child from her birth family and culture.
8. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich is part true crime, part memoir, and completely unlike anything I’ve ever read. I started reading this because I knew it took place in Louisiana, and I’m always interested in good books about the South. I didn’t realize how much it would wrench its way inside my soul and never leave. Marzano-Lesnevich takes us with her as she investigates the murder of a child, which leads us to an investigation of her own difficult childhood, and in doing so, asks us to grapple with our own stories and those of others.
7. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller is one of the wildest memoirs I’ve ever read. Fuller grew up in Rhodesia (back when it existed), and her father fought on the side of the white government during the Civil War. It’s fascinating to see Fuller’s evolution from girl to woman as she learns to become her own person and confront her own biases—and her family’s issues. If this were fiction, it would seem too outlandish to believe. But it’s true.
6. When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele* is a powerful and important memoir about what it’s like to be Black in America, and especially what it’s like to be a Black, queer woman in America. It is heartbreakingly open and honest, and asks us all to be as honest with ourselves when examining our own roles in creating a society that treats Black people as less than human.
5. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister* reminds us that anger is a powerful force for justice, and the right response to so much of what is happening in the world, and especially for what happens to women. I don't think I've ever needed a book more in my life: It is spectacular. It is liberating. It is validating. It is important. It is among those very few books about which I will say, "Everyone needs to read this. Now." So please, please, please: if you are a woman, or a human who loves women, or a person who cares about this world, read this book.
4. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie will break your heart and force you to think about things you’ve never considered—like what you would do if your father was killed in a war and your only brother became a terrorist. Shamsie’s novel asks us to see all people as human, even as family, even (and especially) in the midst of violent conflict. And she asks us to consider what’s important—even what’s worth dying for.
3. Educated by Tara Westover* stuck with me long after I finished it, in part because I work in education, but mostly because it’s an incredibly haunting story about the capacity of girls and women to overcome the impossible in order to survive. If you’ve ever said that someone is too old or too prejudiced to change, this book will ask you to reexamine the power of education, and its capacity to change lives.
2. Heavy by Kiese Laymon* reads more like poetry than any other memoir I’ve ever read. It’s a heartbreakingly honest recollection of what it’s like to grow up Black in Mississippi, to leave it behind, but to carry it with you, too. It’s about both physical and psychological weight, and whether we can ever really escape it. It’s beautiful and tragic and important and you should stop whatever you’re doing right now and buy this book.
1. Florida by Lauren Groff* beautifully weaves character and place together in this book of short stories. I found the imagery of the stories haunting me long after I finished them. It reminded me of what it means to love a place fully—not the people in it, necessarily, but the place itself. And to also sometimes hate that place—what it does to the people there, and what the people do to it.
*books published in 2018