In 2019, I read 66 books, but a lot were poetry chapbooks or graphic novels. You can see most of the list on my GoodReads page if you want.
Heres some of my personal highlights:
Probably because of everything in the world right now, I read a lot of books about escaping into strange dreamlike worlds. I sped through the Annihilation trilogy by Jeff Vandeermeer and Roadsise Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, both of which share a common DNA. They feel less like science fiction and more like moving into a weird world where the rules are never clear.
The book I’d most like to recommened is nominally science fiction but wears those elements lightly. Kindred by Octavia Butler is a furious novel about a modern black woman transported back to the south at the height of slavery. It should be essential reading for everyone as it highlights how injust and obscene slavery was in a visceral, emotional way.
The main nonfiction book I loved was Maria Popova’s Figuring. Popova runs the enormously interesting blog Brain Pickings and this book feels like a digestion and development of that blog. Focusing on a few gifted scientists and artists, mostly queer, mostly women, it asks why they have been unfairly excluded from history. Through its beautiful, elegant prose it also shows the connections between these figures. We often view history a single story, so it was enlightening to see the connections between everyone. It was also fascinating to read about the people who were supremely gifted but we have forgotten about, because of prejudice. Its a long book, but it zips along and is really worth your time.
Liz Berry’s Black Country was a highlight. With some poems written in black country dialect, it is unique in its use of language and imagery.
Ada Límon’s The Carrying is a book by a poet at the height of their powers. Dealing with climate change and having
children, it feels universal and specific in the best way.
To Sweeten Bitter by Raymond Antrobus is incredible but you don’t need me to tell you that.
I also really enjoyed Ross McCleary’s Endorse Me, You Cowards!** , which is both hillarious and then deeply troubling in the way nightmares are. He really nails an uneasiness about modern office work. He also helps run the podcast* Lies, dreaming*, and the episode on Hump Day was really… something else.
Also Stuart Buck’s Become Something Frail, which is full of incredible imagery. Stuart has a unique way with language and the whole collection shines.
So yeah, I got really into reading poetry last year.
I finally got all the way through Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, which is sadly getting more and more relevant each passing year. Only the idea of the media having strong power to fight injustice feels dated, but the politics and the characters are oddly prophetic considering it was written at the turn of the millenium.
On the other end of the spectrum, Joff Winterhart’s Driving Short Distances was perfectly observed. Nothing really happens but it feels so tragic. Its a book about masculinty and depression which is funny and heartbreaking without ever being didactic or preachy.
Phew, that was more than I thought. Anyway, this year I want to read more widely, especially more books by women to expand my perspective. I might start doing little reviews on this blog as I go, I might not. We shall see.