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Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us - 2018

Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us – 2018

This year I set out to read only books by womxn and focused on #OwnVoices books by BIPOC, TGNC, LGBTQ, and international writers.  

I’m on track to read 50 titles and have really enjoyed most of them. I even read a few by men (still #OwnVoices) that I would recommend (you can read those reviews here, here, and here).

In this post, I want to share with you my favorites, by womxn, just in time for gift-giving season! All of these would be great ideas to give to your friend or family member who enjoys reading #OwnVoices.

First, my favorite book of the year:

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us - 2018

One of the first books I read this year, Freshwater blew my expectations away and set a high bar for my reading during the rest of 2018. Complex and unique, this coming of age story is set against a backdrop of Nigerian spirituality and tradition. With strong themes of gender, sex, relationships, identity, health, violence, and more, Akwaeke Emezi shares their journey and I am here for it.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Friends who enjoy literary fiction, creative memoirs, or symbolic and layered stories; queer or TGNC friends; those who like reading African writers and just magnificent writing.

And to round out the Top 5:

Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us - 2018A Little in Love with Everyone by Genevieve Hudson

I adore this little book! I’ve read it three times already; it is my book girlfriend. It just really resonated with my own experiences in many ways and I dig Genevieve Hudson’s writing style. The book is genre-defying in that it is part history lesson, part memoir, part biography, part book review, part manifesta, and all homage to Alison Bechdel.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Writers, readers who enjoy memoir, creative friends, lesbian friends, fans of Alison Bechdel’s work.

 

Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Kapri

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

I didn’t write reviews of these books (yet?) but LOVED them. I am skeptical that I could write reviews that could do them justice. I was so ready for the (often very different) tones of these books. Juxtaposing them makes sense to me; I feel both – sometimes in the same day.

Gift Black Queer Hoe to readers who like poetry, readers who don’t like poetry, fans of spoken word, queer friends, your best girl friend from waaay back who is apologetically strong and takes no shit. Also consider pairing this with José Olivàrez’s Citizen Illegal, which is equally amazing.

Gift Heart Berries to friends who enjoy creative memoir, poetic writing, and deep or emotional books; those looking to hear Indigenous womxn’s voices; those who don’t mind books that make them cry.

 

Best Reads (and Book Gifts) for the Rest of Us - 2018Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

This is a beautifully written book; Ingrid Rojas Contreras is just a fantastic storyteller. Her characters are fully and meticulously developed and I felt invested in them, their lives, and their survival. It inspired me to learn more about Colombia, its past and present, especially regarding womxn’s roles and rights.  An amazing debut based on the life the author.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Friends who enjoy historical fiction, creative memoirs, rich character and plot development, coming of age stories. Those looking for Latina/x voices and great writing will not be disappointed.

 

And the remainder of the Top 10:

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

I read this book very early in the year and was excited by its brave girl lead characters. This alone is reason enough to read the book but I knew it was important to push myself past the initial awe at this story of strength and resiliency. When I did, I experienced an even deeper story of multidimensional characters navigating their lives and attempting to balance tradition with self-realization.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Those who like international stories, stories of resilience and friendship; friends with girl children; those who appreciate rich characters and holistic plots.

 

Suicide Club by Rachel Heng

Despite the premise of the book, I found this one fun! One of the strengths of Heng’s writing – and there are many – is her commitment to detail. Her ability to describe this near-future world is rivaled only by her presentation of it; while she is descriptive in her storytelling, Heng also trusts her reader to put the various pieces together.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Those who enjoy dystopian and speculative fiction and books that make you wonder what you would do in that situation; those who like family dramas, strong character development, and unique plots.

 

Unpologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers

I haven’t reviewed this one (yet?) but it is an amazing resource. Accessible and pragmatic, the book explains the Black Queer Feminist (BQF) framework and provides examples of it at work.

Gift to: Your activist friends and your academic friends;  your friend who runs a local non-profit org doing imperative, yet largely invisible, work for amazing, yet largely invisible, people in the community;  you funder friends (with a card stuck inside the cover of your friend who runs the non-profit).

 

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

This is another one that I loved and didn’t review. Another one that I honestly got stuck trying to figure out how to do it justice. This book was not written for me and I am sure some of the nuances were lost. But it was one of the most important reads of the year for me. It deserves a second and third reading.

Gift to: Busy readers who dig powerful, witty short stories with meaning; those who enjoy really good writing; readers who like literary fiction with sharp corners.

 

Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists by Naomi Klein

While Naomi Klein’s book explores only one facet of the effects of Maria on Puerto Rico – disaster capitalists setting their sights on Puerto Rico in its vulnerable post-Maria state – it is an imperative issue to address. Only a brief (although necessary) introduction, the book offers a firm foundation to understanding disaster capitalism, the shock doctrine phenomenon, and how Puerto Rico was susceptible to more than just hurricane damage when Maria struck.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Anyone interested in Puerto Rico, the effects of colonialism, capitalism, and/or natural disasters, or the empowerment of local people to lead the efforts of rebuilding how they see fit.

 

Honorable mentions:

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

I hadn’t planned to read this one but when I received a copy from the publisher at a conference, I couldn’t help but race through this short but powerful work that feels like having a meaningful and candid conversation with a girlfriend.

Gift to: Queer or TGNC friends, accomplices who appreciate reading #OwnVoices books, friends who like reading memoirs, friends who want to understand more of the nuances of gender identity and non-comformity to established binary norms.

 

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

This was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I knew it was going to be good but as one who doesn’t read reviews before I pick up a book, I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected turns, the complex lead characters, and the surprising plot twists.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Those who enjoy historical fiction, engaging or epic plots, full character development, and underdog stories; science-y, adventurous, or fantastical friends.

 

And last, but certainly not least: 

When a Bulbul Sings by Hawaa Ayoub

I wouldn’t have known about this book if it wasn’t for the author herself reaching out to me and I am so glad she did! This is a case of self-publishing that succeeds. Based on Hawaa Ayoub’s own life experiences, this book is a brave retelling of a girl’s coming of age against a backdrop of forced child marriage in Yemen.

Read my review here!

Gift to: Friends who like creative memoirs, stories from international authors, tales of resilience and family drama; those who are passionate about gender equality and interested in understanding (or resisting) traditional gender roles; those who appreciate detailed character and setting development.

 

Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts?

What were your favorite reads of 2018?

 

This post contains affiliate links; I write what I like.

Women in Puerto Rico - Organizations

Women in Puerto Rico in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria – A Resource Guide

I am a subscriber to the Haymarket Book Club and I was really excited last month to receive The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists by Naomi Klein.

Like many of you, I have been following the stories of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico with despair. Don't people realize that these are American citizens? Why isn't our government doing more than tossing paper towels at people? What can be done? Klein's book and the work of Jessica Pabón-Colón both inspired me to reflect on what I could to do help.

Well one thing that we can all do is keep up with the situation in Puerto Rico and continuing to pressure our representatives to do something. Beyond that, I believe each of us has something, some special knowledge or talent, that we can offer people in need.

For what it's worth, I can locate and curate (what I hope will be) valuable information for people who are concerned about particular topics. So I create resource guides and bibliographies at work and here, on my own website.

This guide is focused on the tragedy that has befallen Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria, with a focus on women and girls.

There isn't a lot that has been written on the effects of the hurricane on women in particular but I will continue to collect what resources I find and to add to these pages. Click the links below for access to lists of books, articles, and organizations focused on this topic.

If you have suggestions of resources to include, please contact me.

On a side note, please consider purchasing and reading The Battle for Paradise; it is so important to the understanding of the unjust and lasting legacy of colonialism in Puerto Rico. Catastrophes like Maria bring out disaster capitalists whose profit-seeking ultimately destroy the positive recovery efforts of the Puerto Rican people. All royalties from the sale of the book in English and Spanish go directly to JunteGente, a gathering of Puerto Rican organizations resisting disaster capitalism and advancing a fair and healthy recovery for their island.

Literary Websites

Literary Websites

Looking for a few good books by womxn, international authors, trans/gender nonconforming writers, or other historically underrpresented populations? Take a look through some of my favorite websites for the latest in literary news, author info, and reviews.

African American Literature Book Club https://aalbc.com/

AALBC is the largest and most popular website dedicated to African American and Black Literature from around the world. We celebrate Black culture, through books, for readers of all backgrounds to enjoy.

Arab Lit https://arablit.org/

A site dedicated to Arabic literature and translation.

BookRiot https://bookriot.com/

Book Riot is dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are.

Electric Lit https://electricliterature.com/

Electric Literature is a nonprofit dedicated to making literature more exciting, relevant, and accessible. They are committed to publishing work that is intelligent and unpretentious, to elevating new voices, and to examining how literature and storytelling can help illuminate social justice issues.

Emily Books https://www.emilybooks.com/

Emily Books is a project that publishes, publicizes, and celebrates the best work of transgressive writers of the past, present and future.

The Free Black Women’s Library https://thefreeblackwomanslibrary.tumblr.com/

The virtual site for The Free Black Women’s Library, a mobile trading library and interactive biblio installation that features a collection of 900 books written by Black women. The library creatively uses books to build community and explore the intersections of race, class, culture and gender while creating space to center and celebrate the voices of Black women in art, film literature. This mobile library pops up monthly and mainly in unique and radical spaces throughout Brooklyn, NYC.

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/

Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Launched in January 2007, the Goodreads mission is to help people find and share books they love.

Haymarket Books https://www.haymarketbooks.org/

Haymarket Books is a radical, independent, nonprofit book publisher based in Chicago, a project of the Center for Economic Research and Social Change.

IndieBound https://www.indiebound.org/

In Tori Lex: Judging Books Beyond the Cover http://www.intorilex.com/

Among other genres, Tori offers insightful reviews of YA, sci-fi, dystopian, and thrillers on her blog.

Johannesburg Review of Books (JRB) https://johannesburgreviewofbooks.com/

The Johannesburg Review of Books publishes reviews, essays, poetry, photographs and short fiction from South Africa, Africa and beyond.

Lambda Literary https://www.lambdaliterary.org/

The nation’s leading LGBTQ+ literary organization.

Lit CelebrAsian https://litcelebrasian.wordpress.com/

A group of bookworms and #DiverseBookBloggers dedicated to uplifting Asian voices in literature. Hosts of #AsianLitChat and #AsianLitBingo.

Literally Black http://www.literallyblack.com/

Literally Black is a review site dedicated to the exposure, and promotion of black literature–this includes but is not limited to books written by African-Americans.

Literary Everything https://literaryeverything.com/

Literary Everything is a blog that reviews books written by Nigerian authors.

Monlatable Book Reviews https://www.monlatablereviews.com/

Monica reviews an eclectic mix of fiction to spread her love of reading.

Office of the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian https://www.library.wisc.edu/gwslibrarian/

The Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian (GWSL) at the University of Wisconsin provides topical bibliographies and resource guides, lists of feminist and LGBTQ+ publishers and bookstores, as well as one-on-one research consultations to activists, scholars, and citizens around the world.

Shelf Awareness http://www.shelf-awareness.com/

Shelf Awareness is a free e-newsletter about books and the book industry.

Trans Book Reviews https://transbookreviews.wordpress.com/

Trans Book Reviews review books featuring transgender or non-binary main characters.

Well Read Black Girl https://wellreadblackgirl.com/

Glory Edim is the founder of Well-Read Black Girl, a Brooklyn-based book club and digital platform that celebrates the uniqueness of Black literature & sisterhood. Her book club has met with several award-winning authors including Margo Jefferson, Naomi Jackson, and Angela Flournoy. Well-Read Black Girl’s mission is to increase the visibility of Black women writers and initiate meaningful conversation with readers.

WOCreads https://wocreads.wordpress.com/

Bina reviews books by women writers of Color and non-binary people of Color as well as indigenous WoC/NB PoC, at all intersections.

Women’s Review of Books https://www.wcwonline.org/Women-s-Review-of-Books/womens-review-of-books

Since 1983 the Women’s Review of Books has provided a forum for serious, informed discussion of new writing by and about women.

Women Writers, Women’s Books http://booksbywomen.org/

An online literary magazine by and about contemporary women writers from around the world. Women Writers, Women’s Books was launched in 2011 to be another platform for contemporary women writers and authors around the world writing in English.

 

What are your favorite bookish sites or blogs that feature diverse authors and titles? 

Black Women Writers from South Africa

Black Women Authors from South Africa – A Resource List

I’ve been traveling to South Africa regularly since 2009, mostly to conduct research supporting my doctorate in Information Science, which I received from the University of Pretoria (South Africa) in 2016. As a result, I’ve grown a real appreciation for literature from this amazing and diverse country.
This list will provide you with names of Black women authors from South Africa. Come back often as I will continue to add to it as I learn of more!

Sweet Medicine by Panashe ChigumadziPanashe Chigumadzi – Chigumadzi was born in Zimbabwe but raised in South Africa. Her debut novel, Sweet Medicine, was released to great critical acclaim in 2015.

Ellen Kuzwayo – A women’s rights activist and politician, Kuzwayo wrote her autobiography,  Call Me Woman, in 1985.

Kopano Matlwa Mabaso – Matlwa emerged onto the writing scene at just 21 with her debut novel, Coconut, followed by Spilt Milk.

Sindiwe Magona – Heralded as a literary legend, Magona focuses on the hardships women experience in South Africa every day such as poverty, motherhood, and patriarchy. Her books include To My Children’s Children, Mother to Mother, and Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night.

Angela Makholwa – She’s been called the first Black crime writer in South Africa. Born in Johannesburg, Makholwa recently published her fourth book, The Blessed Girl.

To My Children's Children by Sindiwe Magona

Lasego Malepe – Malepe published her first novel, Matters of Life and Death, in 2005. Her second book, Reclaiming Home, is the diary of her travels across South Africa in 2004.

Lebo Mashile – Mashile is one of the most renowned poets in South Africa.

Love Child by Gcina MhlopheGcina Mhlophe – Mhlophe is a poet, playwright, activist, and actor. She’s written numerous children’s and other books, including Love Child and Have You Seen Zandile?

Lauretta Ngcobo – Best known for her novel And They Didn’t Diepublished in 1990, Ngcobo wrote about patriarchy and women’s oppression in South Africa.

Angelina Sithebe – Through her debut 2007 novel, Holy Hill, and her short story collection, Target Life, Sithebe tackles subjects such as child-rearing, religion, and crime.

Miriam Tlali – In 1975, Tlali was the first Black woman to publish a novel in South Africa. This book, Muriel at Metropolitan, and her second book, Amandla, were both banned by the apartheid government. Muriel at Metropolitan was later republished globally under the title, Between Two Worlds.

Zukiswa Wanner – Wanner has written several non-fiction books, as well as children’s books and novels. She has contributed articles to various journals. Her books include Refilwe, an African retelling of Rapunzel.

Have you read any of these authors? If you know of others to add to this list, please comment below!
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