I have always loved reading. As a little girl I looked forward to visiting my local library every three weeks to borrow new books. Reading was my escape. My love for reading has followed me throughout my life. I earned a degree in English because it gave me the opportunity to do what I loved to do- read.
When I became pregnant with my oldest son, I knew I wanted to pass down my love of reading. I immediately started building his library. I added all of my favorite childhood reads. When my son was born, I read books to him every night. As our family grew I hoped that our nightly reading ritual would create lifelong readers.
For years until my kids were able to read on their own, I immersed myself in picture books and children’s novels like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. While I focused on my kids’ reading habits, I seemed to have lost mine. Every now and then on our weekly library visits I would pick up a book for myself to read. I hardly finished any of the books I checked out with six kids and all of my other responsibilities.
COVID-19 came through like a wrecking ball in March and everything changed. My family and I had just transitioned from homeschooling full time to public school and I went back to work after a 10 year hiatus. Suddenly, our family was thrusted back together (which I loved) and the free time I had imagined I would have, disappeared. With all of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the lockdowns, and the toilet paper shortages I needed to find a way to carve out time for myself. Reading was going to be my outlet.
I had a plan, but that plan was thwarted when our local library closed before I could secure a library card in our new city. I needed books but, I had read all of the books we currently owned. Other than Oprah’s Book Club, I had no recommendations on what books to read. Naturally I did what anyone else would do in the age of social media. I turned to Bookstagram. There is literally no community you can’t find on Instagram and I found my fellow readers. The book suggestions were massive! I took my time fielding reading suggestions and book reviews. I even updated my GoodReads profile after years of neglect.
In our nine months of quarantine, I have read over thirty books. My book choices were a combination of Bookstagram book recommendations, trips to the book section in Target, and online book stores. I have engrossed myself in some of the best novels, short stories, and memoirs I have ever read.
I have made reading a priority dedicating at least 30 minutes a night to read before bed. If I have time during a lunch break, I read. On weekends I love to curl up to books and on some weekends I can get through two novels. I missed losing track of time in a good book. I’ve read books that left me wanting more, left me stunned, and left me with more questions than the book answered.
I have compiled a list of some of my favorite reads so far this year. Coming up with a favorites list was hard. I won’t assign a particular order to the books because I loved each of them for different reasons. Some of these books kept me up at night, made me cry, and had me in awe of the author and their genius with words. Without further ado:
This is Tayari Jones’ fourth novel and this novel follows Roy and Celestial Hamilton. The Hamiltons are a newly wed couple living in Atlanta. Roy is an executive and Celestial is an artist. A visit to Roy’s family’s home in Louisiana changes the course of their marriage when Roy is accused of a rape he didn’t commit. This novel is a story of how incarceration not only weighs heavily of those incarcerated but also their family members. Just as Roy’s life is turned upside down by having to serve time for a crime he didn’t commit, Celestial has to decide if she should remain loyal to Roy or move on with her life. I couldn’t imagine the internal struggles Celestial was facing knowing that her husband was wrongfully convicted of a crime. The choices she made in the novel were gutting to read and I still have a lot of what i ifs when it comes to their story.
I first got wind of Caste through Oprah’s Book Club. I ordered the book but was in no way ready for the sheer volume of it. In her book, Wilkerson lays out the correlation between the caste system and race. The word racism is rarely used throughout the book, instead using the word caste to make the same arguments about how dehumanizing one group of people to uplift another can be interchangeable. This book is well written and well researched. It took me nearly a month to get through this book and during that time I was able to read two other novels. This is one of the best non fiction books I have read. It deserves every accolade it is receiving.
This novel tells the story of Cora and Ceasar, two slaves on a Georgia plantation that make a bid for freedom through the underground railroad. Caesar enlists Cora to run away with him based on the premise that she is lucky. As the two use the combination of actual railroads and secret tunnels they are hunted by a slave catcher named Ridgeway. Ridgeway signs on to capture the two mainly for retribution from Cora’s mother Mabel. This book was a page turner. The imagery in the book was like watching a movie. I loved, loved, loved this book. It was an amazing reading experience for me.
Queenie Jenkins just can’t catch a break. In an attempt to reconcile her break up with her boyfriend Tom, Queenie makes bad choice after bad choice. Queenie interprets the split as more of a break than what it really is- a break up. She experiences passive racism from Tom’s family and several acquaintances which are glossed over a bit in the story. Queenie seeks help from a therapist to get her life back on track and with the help of her family and friends there is light at the end of the tunnel. As a mother, I wanted to shake Queenie so many times and tell her she was worth so much more. I wanted her to make better decisions and stop the self hate she was experiencing based on the choices she was making.
Memorial Drive gives a glimpse into Trethewey’s mother’s life and their relationship before she is tragically killed by her ex husband. This book traces Gwen’s story growing up in segregated Mississippi, her first marriage (an interracial one) to Trethewey’s father and the eventual end to that union. Domestic violence is prevalent in this book. This memoir has domestic violence triggers. If you know anyone or you are in a relationship where there is domestic violence, please get help. I wanted so badly for this story to end differently. I can’t imagine the pain and heartache that resurfaced as Trethewey wrote this book. It was heartbreaking reading her mother’s account of the abuse she suffered and reading transcripts of her ex husband threatening her in telephone call logs.
This book is a collection powerful essays touching on a number of subjects including family, race, violence, music and coming of age in America. This book was my first experience with essays and I finished wanted to read any and everything Kiese Laymon creates. I love the essays with Kiese and his mother. His relationship with his grandmother is beautiful. I won’t give too much away but the honesty in Laymon’s writing was a gift.
Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel and it was a winner. The story chronicles the lives of Effia and Esi two half sisters, daughters of Maame, separated by the effects of slavery. Effia marries James Collins a British governor in charge of the slave holding castle while her half sister Esi is in the slave dungeon below. The book follows their children through the generations. This books was slow to start, but did pick and it flew. I love the story telling of each woman’s child and their children after them. The way the novel ends is just brilliant.
If you are as much of a fan of short stories as I am then, you need to read this book. This book contains six short stories and one novella. In Boys go to Jupiter, Claire, a white college student attempts to reinvent her story when she is labelled racist when a picture of her in a confederate flag bikini goes viral. Every step she makes ends up making her situation worse by ignoring the outrage by her black dorm mate. The unfolding of Claire’s story is nothing short of smart writing. I will say Evans saved the best story for last with the novella, the books titled story. Each story was better than the last and I devoured this book. It was a quick and easy read and I enjoyed every minute reading it.
Honestly I don’t even know where to begin with this book. The writing in itself was a masterpiece. Luster tells the story of Edie a twenty something young woman trying to find her way in life. She meets Eric, an archivist and the story takes off from there. Edie is sad, and lonely and she tries throughout the entire boo to find where she might belong. Her living arrangement is gross and when she loses her job, she finds herself in the weirdest of circumstances. This book was stressful. It was uncomfortable. It was a trainwreck that you couldn’t stop watching. This is definitely a one sitting book read.
Black Futures is an anthology of Black art, essays, tweets, poetry, and other creative contributions. The cover alone is a beautiful piece of art. This book is 544 pages of joy, power, diversity, creativity, and the struggle of being Black in America. The art included in this book is amazing. This book is on my list of favorites because being Black and Blackness is a cause of celebration.