Since I read some really great books this year, I’m not including re-reads in this list.
1) The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
The story of 16-year-old Starr, who sees her childhood friend(s) being killed by police officers. She lives in a predominantly Black neighborhood, and goes to a predominantly White school, and has a White boyfriend. Obviously, race relationship is the main theme of the book.
This one was obviously a big one in the book world this year, what with being in the NYT Bestseller List for about 43 weeks, and being made into a movie next year (which will only increase the popularity of the book).
Thankfully, I had no idea when I read it that it’d be this popular (or amazing). But from the first few pages I was hooked. It’s woke without being preachy, and Young Adult without being too Young Adult. I am so, so happy a character like Starr has been written- she’s brilliant. I’m sure I’d re-read this book in the very near future, and cannot wait to see the movie. Added Bonus: Angie Thomas is amazing on Twitter, and there’s a new book coming out very, very soon.
2) Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie
A re-telling of Antigone, by Sophocles, Home Fire has its flaws, but had me hooked from the first page. Aneeka is torn between her love for her twin brother Parvaiz, who joined the media arm of ISIS; and her sister Isma (who essentially brought her up) who she later learns ratted Parvaiz out to the police.
3) The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
I’ve already mentioned how much this creeped me out here, but since reading (and watching the show again within two months of reading it), I realized what a fantastic book it is. I do wish the second season doesn’t blotch up the entire experience.
4) Chemistry, by Weike Wang
This has been aptly called the anti- coming of age story. The protagonist starts of with being in grad school studying Chemistry, with a boyfriend (also in grad school) who wants to marry her, and a dog that they got together. But she wants to drop out of school (and does), and hasn’t said yes to the proposal yet. It starts with her having everything she wants and needs and on the verge of making it, to losing it all. The narrative grips you from the beginning like magic and takes you through the entire book. I thought it was grossly underrated.
5) All Grown Up, by Jami Attenberg
Another underrated book, this one has been marketed as a novel about a woman (Andrea Bern) who lives her life by her own terms. But I thought it was extremely melancholic, and made me sad beyond control- not for the situation she is in, but because of the way it’s been presented- unattached. Like she doesn’t even care, and yet she does, and yet she is unhappy. The structure of the book- it’s presented as short stories/vignettes from her life- is what made the book a fantastic read. Because you drip in and out of the people she’s met, people she’s befriended, and people she’s loved. You also get to know the different people she is – the college drop out, the art student, the single woman, the best friend, the aunt to a dying niece, the daughter, etc.
1) Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Aptly named Fun Home (short for Funeral Home), this one is about Bechdel’s relationship with her father. There is a lot of dislike, but at the same time she loves him, because he’s her father. There are lots of moments where you’d want to cry, and you’d get irritated with her father, but like Bechdel comes to terms with who he was (at least she understands theoretically). It’s a great introduction to Graphic Novels, if you’ve never read one.
2) Persepolis 1 and 2, by Marjane Satrapi
If you’ve never read a Marjane Satrapi, I suggest you pick this one right away. It’s fantastic. This one is about Satrapi growing up and coming of age in the middle of the Iranian revolution, and it explores what it’s like being a woman at that age, an immigrant, a refugee- and everything is done in a beautiful way.
3) We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijaewele, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adiche is such a strong, powerful voice that anything I say about these two books would be stupid on my part. She doesn’t cover groundbreaking stuff in either of these books, and yet gets her point across succinctly and therefore the two books are brilliant. One of my favourite parts is when she explains why she is okay with her surname (even though it belongs to her father’s side of the family, and doesn’t acknowledge her mother), but not taking her husband’s surname- she argues:
There are people who say, ‘Well, your name is also about patriarchy because it is your father’s name.’ Indeed. But the point is simply this: whether it came from my father or from the moon, it is the name that I have had since I was born, the name with which I travelled my life’s milestones, the name I have answered to since that first day I went to kindergarten in Nsukka on a hazy morning and my teacher said, ‘Answer “present” if you hear your name. Number one: Adichie!’
4) Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
I love a good (post) colonial narrative, and I had no idea going into this I’d ever find it in this book. (I knew who Trevor Noah was, of course but did not know much about his background. Started reading it because I had wanted something light. Of course it was anything but light).
What I love about the book is that it starts with a great story, and then tells you why colonialism sucks. For example, one of the stories go:
Trevor had some success DJ-ing, while one of his friends was a dancer. They were invited to perform at a Jewish school by one of Trevor’s friend’s mothers who runs diversity programs. The dancer friend is called Hitler (his real name). Then in goes:
“All right! Give it up and make some noise for HIIIIIITTTTLLLLEERRRRRRRRRR!!!”
Hitler jumped out to the middle of the circle and started killing it. The guys around him were all chanting, “Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler!” They had their arms out in front of them, bouncing to the rhythm. “Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler!” And I was right there on the mic leading them along. “Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler!”
The whole room stopped. No one was dancing. The teachers, the chaperones, the parents, the hundreds of Jewish kids in their yarmulkes—they froze and stared aghast at us up on the stage. I was oblivious. So was Hitler. We kept going. For a good thirty seconds the only sound in the room was the beat of the music and me on the mic yelling, “Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Put your hands in the air for Hitler, yo!”
A teacher ran up behind me and yanked the plug for my system out of the wall. The hall went dead silent, and she turned on me and she was livid. “How dare you?! This is disgusting! You horrible, disgusting vile creature! How dare you?!”
They think that the reason the teacher is angry is because the dance form is sexual, and they are being discouraged from being themselves (as black kids in front of a Jewish and hence White crowd).
“I’ll have you know that my people stopped people like you before, and we can stop you again.”
She was talking, of course, about stopping the Nazis in World War II, but that’s not what I was hearing. Jews in South Africa are just white people. All I was hearing was some white lady shouting about how white people beat us before and they’ll beat us again.
Hitler, although an unusual name, is not unheard-of in South Africa. Part of it has to do with the way a lot of black people pick names. Black people choose their traditional names with great care; those are the names that have deeply personal meanings. But from colonial times through the days of apartheid, black people in South Africa were required to have an English or European name as well—a name that white people could pronounce, basically. So you had your English name, your traditional name, and your last name: Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. Nine times out of ten, your European name was chosen at random, plucked from the Bible or taken from a Hollywood celebrity or a famous politician in the news. I know guys named after Mussolini and Napoleon. And, of course, Hitler.
Westerners are shocked and confused by that, but really it’s a case of the West reaping what it has sown. The colonial powers carved up Africa, put the black man to work, and did not properly educate him. White people don’t talk to black people. So why would black people know what’s going on in the white man’s world? Because of that, many black people in South Africa don’t really know who Hitler was. My own grandfather thought “a hitler” was a kind of army tank that was helping the Germans win the war. Because that’s what he took from what he heard on the news. For many black South Africans, the story of the war was that there was someone called Hitler and he was the reason the Allies were losing the war. This Hitler was so powerful that at some point black people had to go help white people fight against him—and if the white man has to stoop to ask the black man for help fighting someone, that someone must be the toughest guy of all time. So if you want your dog to be tough, you name your dog Hitler. If you want your kid to be tough, you name your kid Hitler. There’s a good chance you’ve got an uncle named Hitler. It’s just a thing….
[Cringemax] Doesn’t that put Scott’s Tots (The US Office, Season 6, Episode 12) into perspective?
5) The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis
This is the story of Psych- legends Amos Tversky and Daniel Kanheman, and how they changed the way we look at judgement, decision making, and the like. They’ve been people I’ve admired for years now). Even though it’s a tad bit over-dramatic (I’m not complaining), I loved this book to no end. I love telling the story of this to anyone and everyone I meet (ok not really, but I did try to tell it to other nerdy friends) and therefore, I think it’s my right to call Kanheman and Tversky Amos and Danny. (Someone slap me. But also warped sense of heirarchy, much?).
I ended up crying at the end, you guys.
(Been writing this for a couple of days, so- Happy New Year).
Special Mentions: Hamilton, a Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Jeremy McCarter- because I’ve been obsessed with everything Hamilton; Arranged Marriage Stories, by Chitra Banarjee Devakaruni for some great stories that sound like grandma’s home made food; and Elmet, by Fiona Mozley, for keeping me on my toes from the very beginning.