Books healed me. Books restored me. Books sustained me in 2020.
I began 2020 with this reading challenge: to read 52 books by 52 Black women writers. I must say that first, despite my being a child raised by books and in the stacks of the Milwaukee public libraries, an English major turned literature and writing teacher, a literacy scholar and researcher, and co-founder of the Soulful Saturday Sistas book club and free library project, I have spent years reading very little for pleasure. I was always too busy doing this or doing that, that I let life get in the way of one of my most treasured and necessary self-care practices. I love to read (and to write) and I need stories to survive. In 2020, in what would become the year we won’t soon forget, I found my way back to this passion and what a healing journey this has been. It is the self-care and self-love I did not know that I needed.
So, on this last day of 2020, I celebrate this journey. I also share gratitude for all of you who have followed my goodreads reviews, who’ve DM’d me for my book recommendations, who lent an ear when I gushed with excitement “gurl, you gotta read this book!” And, I share gratitude for the Black women writers, across the diaspora, who are telling our diverse and complex and brilliant stories when the world would have us think that Black women and girls are not important. That our lives do not matter. We know that they do.
I read some amazing stories by and for Black women and girls this year, and I’ll highlight my top 10 with 2 bonus mentions. Let me start with my two bonus mentions. Jesmyn Ward. That’s all. Just Jesmyn Ward. I really dove into her work this year and Salvage the Bones is without question one of my favorite books of all times. Next, Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. Those of you who I talked to about this book (we read it for book club too), you know that the final conversation between the two sisters had me ready to throw my book across the room. One of the best dialogues ever!
And, here are my top 10 in no particular order, but with a thematic description of why and how they helped define my year of reading myself back to ME.
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory: I forgot how much I LOVED romance novels and Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding series was my reintroduction. The Proposal was my jam—good sex scenes and the food!
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert: Because we all should aspire to be Dani Brown. And Zaf. The heat between the love interests was contagious. And there were so many LOL moments. The perfect mix of witchery, purple hair, chest and abs…
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: One of my most complex reads of the year. The experience reading this book reminded me of the need for patience and persistence. Brilliant interconnecting and cross-generational storytelling of Black women’s lives.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: This was the read that I can’t wait to see on screen. Who will they cast as Early? The drama and secrets—I could not put the book down.
You Should See Me in A Crown by Leah Johnson: I teach YA literature and admittingly I had not read a YA book in a long while! This was my first of the year and I am just so excited about how YA literature has evolved.
Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown: This book stretched me the most, especially in terms of my understandings of sexuality, pleasure, and desire.
You Belong: A Call to Connection by Sebene Selassie: I explored Buddhist spirituality this year and really wanted to connect with Black Buddhists. This book by Selassie inspired me deeply. And, I especially loved the writing.
His Only Wife by peace adzo medie: My favorite debut novel this year. This was a page turner!!
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi: This book standouts for the narration and point of view. It’s a suspense that deals with the realities of death, loss, acceptance, and denial.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw: This collection of short stories is a masterpiece and it should have won the National Book Award. As a COGIC kid, I was intrigued by the title. I was mesmerized by each story and more and more in love with Black women, our beauty, our complexity, and our genius.
All in all, I had a ball (RIP Ecstacy).
Now, what should I read next?