I imagine the world ending all the time. I’m not sure whether to blame the latest season of American Horror Story, the president, or my old book club who forced me to read all YA dystopian fiction. Either way, because I think about the world ending so often, I also think about what the last book I read would be. One thing lead to another, and I thought…if the world ended today, what would be my top ten books of the year? What can I say, I’m a total book nerd and yes, I am pretty sure that’s what would be on my mind even if the world exploded.
So, instead of me spending twenty years getting to the point, here are my top ten books of the year…if the apocalypse stopped me from reading until December.
1.) Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
How did this novel not get more buzz?! When I read, I want my life altered. I’ve never been the brightest bulb, but I do want to learn. Boy, did this book teach me. Without getting into spoilers, this book really explores identity and gender in a way that I had never thought of before. It reminded me of why it’s so important to know about other cultures. This is a beautifully written novel, and I couldn’t put it down. The story is amazing, such great characters. Thank goodness is Emezi got a 5 under 35 honor for this stunning work because she needs all the awards. I’d compare this book to something, except I found it so original.
2.) Florida by Lauren Groff
Let’s be real. If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you’ll know that I am 100% biased in my love for Lauren Groff. I picked up Fates and Furies the day it came out, because I’d seen the cover on Goodreads and knew I had to have it. My good friend and local bookstore owner told me she grabbed it, too, and we both dove in. I read the book right before I got married and it was such perfect timing! Anyway, on to the book this is really about haha! I love short stories (I used to hate them until I understood the form) and Lauren Groff writes so beautifully, no matter the subject. My favorite stories also just happened to be in The New Yorker, but that might just be because they’re even better when read a second time. But yeah, great stories, great characters, great writing, and I’m entirely biased so sue me.
3.) There There by Tommy Orange
What a beautiful, devastating read. I read this for a podcast discussion earlier this year and it really brought a lot of things to attention for me. One-We don’t have enough Native American voices in fiction. The few we do have do not get nearly enough exposure and it is a HUGE problem. This also made me realize that we sometimes have this problem where we read one book by a minority and say, “done! Back to reading about middle class white people!” when, really, the best part about reading is learning about others and developing a more empathetic mind and heart. Plus, it’s books like this that help us learn more about why the things we think and say may be ignorant or come across the wrong way. These books can act as a safety net, to catch us, teach us, before we say or do something unnecessary.
4.) Heads Of The Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
You guys…I wrote a review about this last week, but it has still been on my mind. Wow. Every single story had my attention from beginning to end. The writing was sharp and insightful while still being easily accessible to all readers. That’s not an easy feat. Maya Angelou…maybe quoting from someone else, I can’t remember, said, “Easy reading is hard writing.” Well, Thompson-Spires must’ve had one of the hardest jobs this year because it really is that easy to fly through it. Plus, this collection exposes you to a lot of the different voices that are still missing in fiction. It was a beautiful thing to see. 10 out of 10 do recommend.
5.) The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Okay, so I’m not sure if I’d consider it one of the best books out this year, but it was one that really made me look at the way I was living my life and what I was looking for to make me happy. It’s about a woman who goes through a breakup and falls in love with a merman…except it’s about so much more than that. This has very graphic depictions of sex and it’s definitely not for all readers. But I saw so many of my flaws in this character, and I saw the ways in which she handled things sometimes mimic my own. It made me self reflect and for a book to make you realize your own toxic self destruction and have you change for the better…that’s a power not a lot of books have.
6.) My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
This book has been so polarizing. People either love it or they hate it, and I love a book like that. I wrote the reasons I loved this in my review a few weeks ago, but basically here was my favorite takeaway. This book shows us that personal tragedy can make us shut down, but somtimes, widespread tragedy can open our eyes and give a jolt to the system. Think about the state of our country and how many people who’ve spent so long being complacent are becoming active and speaking their truths because they know it’s the time to do it. That’s a powerful thing to explore and it’s done so beautifully here.
7.) Educated by Tara Westover
I have a love/hate relationship with memoir. I love a well written, honest account of a person’s life. They don’t have to have gone through anything crazy for me to appreciate their story, as long as they’ve provided insight and the writing is decent. Well, thankfully Tara Westover didn’t disappoint. Educated—honest or not—never rings untrue. The way she tells her story reminds me of most people who’ve spent their lives going through hardships…they look at it as normal. It’s not until you’re out of your house and about in the world that you ever realize how fully different your life is from another person’s. Westover writes her chapters in isolation, almost like short stories, and it works well in that form. It makes for easy reading and she has taken enough time analyzing her life that you know she really has learned from the experiences.
8.) The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara
I’ll go ahead and get my one qualm with this book out of the way. The voices were too similar and I felt that giving more distinction to their voices would’ve made me appreciate this novel more as a whole. But, having said that, this was a beautiful novel that had me laughing and sobbing the whole way through it. Reading this, it reminded me of how uncomfortable I was with femininity as a child. People always called me fag, boy/girl, he/she, etc. Anything to make it clear that my more flamboyant and feminine traits were a bad thing. Because of that, I spent a long period of time training myself to find these things in men to be repulsive. This book shows the reason it’s so important to find your tribe, to have people who say, “you’re great the way you are.” These people loved themselves a little more, a little easier, because they had people who loved them back in their natural state of being. Of course there were still the self hating actions they took at different points, because that’s what you do when you’ve been trained to hate yourself. But their love for each other overpowered so much of that, and it was lovely to see.
9.) The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
I loved this book. It was so compelling, well written, thoughtful and respectful. I’ve said this before, but I absolutely hate most AIDS books. It’s not the subject matter itself, but the way people choose to handle it. I even spoke about this before when reviewing The Immortalists. That book spoiler alert killed off the one gay character end in the most stereotypical way possible and didn’t do any favors in changing the perception of gay men to a general audience. That’s what was so great about The Great Believers. Makkai took so much care in her creation of this world and these people. It explored these characters and I didn’t see a single cookie-cutter gay man, which was a lovely thing.
10.) A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Y’all. This book was so beautiful. A Place For Us reminded me of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, in how they both explore faith in a literary sense. It never feels like a Hallmark special, but real people who happen to live lives where faith takes up a major part of their lives. This book is life changing, and it also shows people who are so underrepresented. This was a necessary book, a powerful and important book, but it was also a really wonderful and compelling read. Also, that last paragraph…I was sobbing.
Anyway, those are my current top ten, given this fictional apocalypse. I’d love to know your thoughts and what your top ten would be. Hope you enjoyed this and stay tuned for my review of A Lucky Man, coming later this week!