As the picture above suggests, this was a hard year. A coffee spill in October washed away the bottom portion of my analog record keeping and there was a two-ish month period in the summer when this notebook just got lost in the chaos that was year two of global pandemic. You’ll notice an asterisk for this year’s books – this post tallies the books I could account for with a system that wasn’t designed for the foibles of personal exhaustion or caffeinated catastrophe. In short, my reading and my record keeping of it were erratic. Here’s the closest to my annual rundown (here are my posts on books read in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009):
Books read in 2021: 136*
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 13
Books of poetry included in reading total: 12
Books reread included in reading total: 3
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 16
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 4
Untitled new research project: 19
My favorite book of the year was Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America. Every essay in this book was a delight and I cannot recommend it enough.
Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun and Natasha Brown’s Assembly were the two (very different) literary fiction books that stayed with me for months after finishing them. I keep thinking about Klara and the Sun as a book about futility and climate change. Assembly is a single-sitting novella that feels piercing and precise and deeply unsettling.
I read a lot of really great poetry this year. Muriel Leung’s Imagine Us, The Swarm and Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities were two of my favorites. I also have been dipping into several collections I still haven’t finished, like the massive complete collection of Jim Harrison’s poetry and the latest collection from Tracy Smith – both are wonderful.
The academic book that blew my thinking open this year was Decolonial Feminist Research: Haunting, Rememory and Mothers by Jeong-eun Rhee. The book is dense and personal and centers “rememory” from Toni Morrisson’s Beloved as method.
An accessible and loving text, Alexis Pauline Gumb’s Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals embodies the kind of radical imagination that gave me a little optimism in a pretty dreary year. I would continually bring this book up in as many conversations as possible. It took a nudge from a colleague to pick this up and I offer this same favor to you as well – you will not read another book like this one.
Over the summer, I got into an argument about abolition with the gentleman giving me a tattoo. It was because I was holding Mariame Kaba’s We Do This ‘Til We Free Us and he asked me what the book was about. Maybe’s that an endorsement?
There’s a new research project I’m not ready to talk about yet but the reading for that project has gone in a ton of wild directions. Harsha Walia’s Border & Rule and Emily Ratajkowski’s My Body are both part of this work and (in very different ways) books I appreciated sitting with.
Music wise … Okay so, I’ve been writing/making books for my kids about the lives of notable women of color. Some are family members/people in their lives but some are about people like Ellen Ochoa and Aurora Castillo. Making these books–the writing, the gluing, the engineering sometimes–has been one of the more playful forms of writing I got to do this year. The most recent book is about Filipina singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo. Her album, Sour, was one of the most played in our house this year.
Aside from Rodrigo, my favorite albums of the year were Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee, Indigo de Souza’s Any Shape You Take, Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales, and Bleachers’ Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night. The title of this post comes from the opening track of the Bleachers album (which I am still agog over the fact that Zadie Smith co-wrote).
I have been spending a lot of the winter listening to this Eris Drew record and to a whole bunch of stuff from DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ (aka the greatest artist’s name I spent time consistently listening to this year).
Over the summer I read this messy (auto?)biography of Fela Kuti and have been slowly working my way through all of his discography. His unapologetic push for the future has been shaping much of my speculative thinking.
I don’t really follow jazz very much these days, but I can say I end up consuming (and loving) most of what International Anthem puts out. Honestly, take your pick of their 2021 releases. The recent Jeff Parker solo guitar album is ace. This ambient thing from Angel Bat Dawid is great. The Jaimie Branch record is wonderful. More Black Monuments Ensemble and Irreversible Entanglements albums forever, please. Honestly, you can’t really go wrong.
The two songs I listened to the most were Fiona Apple’s cover of “The Whole of the Moon”:
And Bleachers’ “Stop Making this Hurt”
Shout-y choruses that include “Two, three, four, five, Oh God we barely survived” hit different amidst the pandemic, and I look forward to a 2022 that doesn’t require such poppy catharsis.