Tessara’s 2016 Top Ten Recommended Reads

I like books. If you follow this blog, you know that. (Also, if you follow me on Tumblr or Instagram, or if you spend any amount of time with me in person.) Since the holidays are coming up, I wanted to share a list of 10 books (okay, 11) I read this year that I recommend. Many of them are poetry books, but there’s memoir, fiction, and history in here, too.

Do yourself a favor and pick these up. If you’ll be travelling to visit folks, these would make great plane, bus, or train reading. Is there a reader in your life that you’re shopping for? These would also make great gifts. I’m just saying you should buy, beg, or borrow these books. You won’t regret it.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program, and I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

 

1. March Book 1 & Book 2 by John Lewis

These are scary, comforting, thrilling, painful, and so much. John Lewis’s graphic memoir trilogy is a love letter to the Civil Rights Movement, a reflection on the youth of a lifelong activist and advocate. Though I haven’t read the 3rd one yet, I am fully confident that it would also belong on this list. Recommended for organizers, graphic art fans, students of history, memoir lovers, and people who need a little strength in their lives today. Get them at Amazon: March: Book One & March: Book Two

2. The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat

This novel in stories circles around the titular character, each chapter told by a different character in his community. This book encompasses the terror of Haiti under Papa Doc Duvalier and the uncertainty of a New York Haitian neighborhood. The threads of shared experience bind the characters together: 1960s Haiti echoes in their lives, even (perhaps especially) those who seek to escape it the most. A brilliant read. Recommended for immigrants, the children of immigrants, diasporan people, and anyone looking for a deep read. Buy the book here: The Dew Breaker

3. After by Fatimah Asghar

My GoodReads Review: Asghar plays with space and form in ways that challenge the reader. Some pieces are physically difficult to decipher, structure lending itself to complex meanings and resisting the simple. Many of the poems are hard to read in content rather than form, and the combination of pieces works well. The occasional levity, such as that created by “Medusa Apologizes” rounds out this thoughtful, lovingly produced collection. Definitely recommended! Recommended for survivors, victims, heartbroken lovers, and resilient women.

4. to love as aswang by Barbara Jane Reyes

This collection of poems is beautiful and painful. Drawing on community experiences, cultural history, and myths, Reyes examines and affirms the lives of Filipina Americans, refusing to shy away from the painful even as she embraces the beautiful. Though the foundations are sometimes horrifying, the concept one takes away is resistance, a history of struggle and strength embodied every day. Recommended for Pinay, feminists, new Americans, survivors, and defiantly monstrous women.

5. The Gunnywolf by Megan Snyder-Camp

I reviewed this, along with Snyder-Camp’s other 2016 release, Wintering, for Mom Egg Review—click here to read that review. The Gunnywolf uses the mythical figure of the gunnywolf to reflect on race in the United States, and the author’s own place in racial justice movements of today. Recommended for poets, fans of folk tales, white allies, and anyone feeling out a new existence in a post-Ferguson world. Snag a copy: The Gunnywolf

6. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire

Beyonce loves Warsan Shire, and you should too. This is an amazing and heartfelt collection of poems, definitely among the best I’ve read this year. Recommended for poets, immigrants, the children of immigrants, and lovers of beautiful difficult things. Buy a copy here: Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Mouthmark)

7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This was a hard read, but a very important one. HeLa cells have been at the heart of much scientific progress, but this book tells the little-known story of the woman behind the cells. The author takes us through the struggles of a family and the medical community that has so often failed them, managing nevertheless to highlight the humanity of both. Recommended for scientists, activists, fans of memoir and history, and anyone willing to look unflinchingly at the legacy of scientific racism. Get a copy: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

8. My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain by Aaron Dixon

This was a really interesting read. I met Aaron Dixon in 2013 when he came to speak at my university about his time organizing with the Panthers. He was a really calm presence, and a sweet and humble guy. His memoir is a great read, and really gives insight to the history of the Party. Recommended for revolutionaries, memoir fans, BPP fans, and readers interested in US organizing history. Pick up a copy here: My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain

9. [insert] boy by Danez Smith

My GoodReads Review: Dang. DANG. Recommended for Black folks, poets, poetry fans, QTPOC. Get it at Amazon: [insert] boy (Kate Tufts Discovery Award)

10. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

I’m actually still reading this one, but it’s been great so far. I’m about 2/3 of the way through it. It’s fun and funny, while also being very informative—I’m not really a scholar of European history, and reading this has actually filled in some gaps for me regarding French history. Recommended for the lay historian, Francophiles, literature nerds, and anyone who loves adventure stories. Pick it up here: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

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Camp NaNoWriMo July 2014!

If you follow me on other social media, you may be aware that I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month, with the aim to produce roughly 40,000 words of poetry and memoir.

I started out planning to just put  together a volume of poetry and essays, but one of the essays spiralled and expanded, and now I appear to be writing a memoir, which is a big departure from my previous writing. I’ve done some research and talked to other writers, and I have sort of mapped my course, based on their advice: I’m going to write down everything I remember—the piece will cover my feelings about my father from two years before he died to about a decade later.

A lot of this is stuff I’ve probably needed to write about for a long time. I’ve been trying to sit in my feelings when they come up, all the nostalgia and tears, and allow myself to feel them and remember. I don’t like crying (as a result of how much I did for years after he passed), so this has been a challenge, but it’s one worth taking on, if only for the potential closure.

Once I’ve gotten all my thoughts and recollections out, I’m going to read through all of my poetry and journal entries from that time, and then I’m going to interview my mother, other family members, and family friends who were adults when I was a child to see where my account differs from theirs, and either confirm or disprove some of my thoughts. Again, these are conversation I’ve probably been needing to have for a long time, and I’m making the opportunity to do it now.

Hopefully, I’ll come out of the month with at least 40,000 words written, and the beginnings of a publishable piece on childhood grief and its effects on adulthood, as experienced by me. If you’re interested in daily word count updates, you can follow those on my Twitter, and I’ll be sharing some resources and interesting info on my Tumblr. Comment if you’re participating—I’d love to hear what others are working on!