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

Truth More Cruel Than Fiction

The main character of my novel-in-progress, Songbird, is a trans woman. She struggles to find acceptance in a world that doesn’t always understand her. Along the way, she makes friends and enemies, and finds herself getting into and out of trouble trying to live her life. But how closely does her story reflect reality?

According to a report by the US-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, trans people in America are 4 times as likely to live in poverty as the general population, and 4 times as likely to be houseless. 41% attempt suicide in their life, compared to 1.6% of the general population. 78% experience persistent bullying and harassment in K-12 schools, and 90% report harassment and discrimination at work. 47% have been fired, not hired, or passed over for promotion due to their trans identity.

Adding race and the effects of racism bring the numbers even higher. 34% of Black trans folks have been houseless, compared to 19% of trans folks overall. 21% of Latino/a trans people left K-12 education, compared with 15% of all trans people; a further 9% were expelled from school as a result of bias. 24% of Asian American respondents engaged in sex work or drug dealing to survive, compared to 16% of all trans people. 34% of Native American trans folks reported being denied medical care, compared to 19% of trans folks in general.

Pretty bleak numbers. Across the board, trans people — but especially trans people of colour — are more likely to suffer discrimination and harassment. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation reports that anti-LGBTQ2 murders rose by 11% just from 2009 to 2011. Of victims, 87% were people of colour; 45% were trans women.

Every year, November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Folks gather to reflect and mourn those who have been lost in the past year. Recently, there has been a movement to change the focus to emphasise the strength and resilience of trans people, and I think that’s a great idea. If anyone has honoured you with the knowledge of their trans identity, take some time to let them know you support and love them. Make your work environment a safer space. Take a moment or two today to honour the memories of hate crime victims, but also hold in your thoughts the survivors of hate crimes.