The story that my parents always told me is that I’ve been reading since I was a year and a half old, enrolled in a neighborhood preschool because I was too precocious to stay at home. From the very beginning, I tore through everything I possibly could, literally banned for reading too much as a kid and used books as an escape during my adolescence. So it goes, you can’t be a writer without being a reader and well, I am irrevocably both those things. I want to be remembered and I’m good with words and the English language so I guess that’s what I’m going to do, write and write and write more, most of all when I’m heartbroken and can’t imagine writing another word.
This is my list of the 5 most memorable books I read this year. They range from an Australian new adult novel, to a memoir really about motherhood, to something I can’t even quantify but loved all the same. There is something about being a reader and a writer where I feel the need to have everything written down for future reference. I don’t trust memory when it’s not mine and other people lie and hide and shade the truth in a way that suits themselves. That being said though, I find reading accounts of other people’s lives to be extremely valuable in understanding humanity as it is and how it could be, which I guess is why there are two memoirs on this list.
- Summer Skin by Kathy Egan
I’m starting this list with this book which I read once but feel like it lives in my skin like no other I read this year because of how it wrote about sex in particular but also how it talked about love. It’s an Australian new adult romance but there’s something so deeply humanistic and lovely about it and I’m not just talking about in a sexual way. Early on, there’s an exchange where the main guy goes ” I don’t do girlfriends” and Jess, the protagonist responds “Your own or other people’s?” and my jaw dropped open because well, that’s precisely how I would respond. The characterization is much stronger than I expected it to be, it’s staunchly feminist in its understanding and description of sex and love and well, for me anyway, I can’t really differentiate between the two, at least not beyond a certain point.
- Hunger: A Memoir of my Body by Roxane Gay
As for Hunger as a book, it was awful for me to read because I couldn’t shake my revulsion and my anger at Gay and at society itself. At some points I wanted to shake her because she was knowingly behaving in self-destructive ways, whether it was through eating too much or having sex with people that didn’t love or value her or whatever else she detailed. I guess I can’t be talking though because although my history of violence against myself is different than Roxane Gay’s, it is no less insidious. I was never a creature of excess but was rather one of restraint. I saw it as an accomplishment to punish myself, a deeper sign of my self-control and my future of self-care. And of course, I saw how badly the world treated fat people so I was deathly afraid of receiving the same treatment. As I have said before, I wanted the privileges of being thin and I saw it as an achievement that I was able to stop eating to the point I was severely underweight. For the record, no adult looks good at 85 pounds.
My favorite quote is the one that follows:
“This is what most girls are taught—that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.”
And isn’t that the most real thing? We can’t disappear I refuse to let it happen to me or to anybody I love. In any case, this book is an essential read for anybody who wants to broaden their empathy because honestly, it really piqued my limits of empathy for the reasons I previously articulated. And I hope that you can muster the strength to read this book as well.
- The Conqueror’s Saga by Kierstien White
These two books were the most violent books I read this year but also one of the best. They are a reimagining of the story of Vlad the Impaler if he was a girl named Lada and god, she is one of my favorite characters this year. Lada is feral, to say the least, physically and emotionally unreal in how violent she is but also unreal in how she loves, and love she does.The general plot is simple, Lada and her brother Radu are wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised by the Ottoman courts. Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright while Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. But then they met Mehmet and they both fall in love with him despite the fact he’s the heir to the kingdom Lada despises. Her brother Radu is first of all, soft in every way that Lada is hard, entirely transforming the expectations of gender set forth by them but is also gay, completely in love with the sultan Mehmed, who is unfortunately in love with Lada who loves him back albeit in her own way that just causes pain for all involved. It’s a love triangle unlike any other because all three parties deeply love each other and are aware of their love for each other and at the same time, have no idea the scope of each other’s affection and respect for the other.
I couldn’t help but love this series and I absolutely tore through it but that being said, major trigger warnings for violence because while the sex is almost pure and downright romantic, the violence is nothing but extreme in comparison, think beheadings and stabbings and betrayal galore.
- Problems by Jade Sharma
Easily my favorite book of the year, Jade Sharma, in Maya, wrote the book that speaks to the worst parts of my character. I finished it on the morning I had my first date with the guy who would become my boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) who absolutely broke my heart and I can’t help but feel that I should have known. Maya rages against men, against white people, and I fully get it. The thing about Problems is that it’s “darkly humorous” in the best and worst ways possible. I laughed but felt bad in doing so because Maya is so FUCKED UP. She’s selfish and blatantly wrong in everything she does, she’s a downright terrible person who takes advantage of everybody else’s good will but at the same time, there’s something deeply relatable about her. There was a passage that I will remember for the rest of time and I’ll quote it here
“It’s not fair how you could be this white girl with a busted face and still be picked last in the gym class of life before all the pretty brown girls. It didn’t matter how smart and cool you were. All these chill liberal guys who were all PC but only wanted to put their cock in white girls. They could be unfair with their love and there wasn’t a damn thing you could do about it.
The whole world wants young white girls.
You have to play dumb. Guys like being smart and funny. If you want to compete with white girls, the least you can do is learn to laugh at jokes, not make them up. To ask lots of questions and not tell stories.”
I mean GOD. I just feel a deep association with Maya and by extension Jade Sharma at this time because she says what I’ve been scared to because well, some of my best friends are white women. I deeply love them but I sometimes think they don’t get what it’s like to be a woman of color in a world that as Maya says, loves young white girls.
- The Rules do not Apply by Ariel Levy
I don’t know how I felt about this book. I mean, I read the whole thing which is more than I can say for many others I attempted this year but at the same time I didn’t entirely enjoy it. There were parts of it and quotes from it that I really enjoyed but on the whole, I did not get the hype about it. An early quote that I earmarked (or rather highlighted in my Ebook) was “Nothing really bad could happen to me in my movie, because I was the protagonist.” I think that in general was Levy’s manner of thinking about the world which is a lot more unattractive in her than it is in myself if I’m being honest if not entirely fair. I don’t have it in me to critique Ariel Levy though because I think she is as self-aware as I am so she knows exactly what I’m going to say. She knows herself at her very best and her very worst so I think that I will refrain from adding to that in a way that is inappropriate at best if not downright heinous. I described this book to my father as a “lesbian motherhood memoir” and if that turns you off from reading it, I would entirely recommend that you pick it up. I’m glad I did in any case.