9 Books to Read This Season
Last year I fell just short of my goal to read 40 books, still finishing with a strong 32. And while the pause that 2020 pressed on my life created more time to dive into all those pages, I’m hoping to keep up the momentum even as normalcy (whatever that means) begins to resume. While we round out winter and move slowly towards spring, I wanted to share books that dig deep, with themes of race, companionship, perseverance, and the complexities of family. Below is a selection of nine tomes that have left lasting impressions, from nonfiction works about love to historical fiction about Nigeria, Ghana, and the African-American experience.
Up next for me on my never-ending reading list, I’m excited to start Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Seattle author Ijeoma Oluo, Luster by Raven Leilani, and to entertain my obsession with myth and surrealism with Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. I hope you enjoy the books below as I have. For more reading suggestions, check out my list from last year.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Perhaps my favorite book of the last year, Homegoing is an epic tale that takes you through three-hundred years of a split family tree leading from centuries of war in Ghana to the plantations of the American South, the jazz clubs of Harlem in the ’20s, up to the present day. It is a work of fiction, but with palpable history that offers a greater understanding of how ancestral events can shape one’s future. Each character and their world is vividly described, making the process of reading this book more like diving into a film or a lucid dream. I cannot recommend it enough. Be sure to reference the family tree at the opening of the book to keep up with who’s who.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
I’m a little over halfway through reading this beautiful story about fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion, a demure girl from the Dominican countryside who marries the much older Juan Ruiz and leaves her home country for New York City in the mid 1960s. They live in a stark Washington Heights apartment where Ana is often left alone, trapped and limited by her language, her finances, and her husband. As someone who loves New York, the descriptions of the city in this era are very moving. And as someone fascinated by the immigrant experience in America, I’ve been enraptured reading of the trials and achievements of Ana’s story.
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
If you’re looking for a book to validate your convictions about shopping small and supporting small businesses (among many other socioeconomic issues), this is the one. Nomadland is the story of America’s little-known labor pool, a force of tens of thousands or workers—mostly transient adults—who make due in RVs and modified vans, roaming the country in search of some form of employment to get by. They piece together physically exhausting, minimum-wage gigs in Amazon warehouses and beet fields. In many cases, they’ve reached the end of the road with few options for survival. At its heart, Nomadland is a story of resilience while exposing many failures of our economy. It’s also a film starring Frances McDormand, out February 19.
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
Considering the recent chill in the air across the country, this memoir is an apt read for our time—but in this case, a wintering is more than an annual season. Wintering, as author Katherine May describes, is “...the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can.” The book reads less like a self-help piece and more like a guide based on May’s own experience. For me, it was a poignant permission to let myself embrace grief as I do happiness and know that summer will still arrive someday.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I inhaled this novel a few years ago and have recommended it countless times since. An American Marriage follows newlyweds Celestial and Roy, a Black couple on the brink of living their American Dream in Atlanta when Roy is accused and convicted of a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. He is sentenced to twelve years in prison, leaving his new wife to start their life on her own while trying to maintain a relationship via letters and prison visits. Their heartbreaking story and pursuit to overcome incredible, unfair obstacles is too familiar in our own world. I can’t say this book feels comforting, but it does feel real.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
If you’re the type of person who pans through Zillow listings of turn-of-the-century Tudors and quaint craftsmans, this book is for you. The Dutch House follows brother and sister Danny and Maeve Conroy who grow up in a historic mansion outside of Philadelphia. After the death of their father, they are exiled from their home by a wicked stepmother and must face the world with nothing to their names. The novel spans five decades, highlighting the bond between siblings and the connections we have to our past that both hold us back and propel us towards our destiny.
home body by Rupi Kaur
Like her previous publications, Rupi Kaur’s latest book of poetry is so beautifully vulnerable and honest, offering raw moments of connection and encouragement that pull you into each piece. It is described as a work that visits “the past, the present and the potential of the self,” in the compact, digestible style that Kaur is known for. You’ll want this book for yourself just as much as you’ll want to give it to the important women in your life. Take your time with it.
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
My book club chose this piece at the end of last year, and I’m still slowly digesting it. All About Love focuses on exactly what its title offers, exploring the modern concept of love with personal anecdotes from hooks alongside philosophical and psychological evidence. She focuses on how our cultural training as men and women affects each aspect of love and how we might love better by examining our relationship with love itself. Expect some punches in the gut, a lot of tears, and a deeper understanding of how to open your heart to give and receive the love we innately deserve.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A work of historical fiction, Half of a Yellow Sun chronicles the region of Biafra’s fight to become an independent republic in Nigeria in a brutal civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970. It follows the stories of estranged twin sisters, a houseboy from a small village, a visiting Englishman, and an intellectual professor as they navigate a world in turmoil and explore the complications of love, class, and allegiance. I found the book to be brilliantly written and powerful, with strong, complex female characters. Most importantly, it taught me an important part of African history and the consequences of war through the eyes of ordinary people whose lives are wholly upended in its wake.