2019 Bestsellers & Collective Picks

This year sometimes felt like an unwanted gift that just kept on giving – a constant barrage of right-wing gains, escalating crises, and exhausting political theatrics that taught us to approach every new week with a sense of trepidation. The gift that we gave ourselves in 2019 was a year of bold books that helped us find our resilience in the face of heartache and imagine a future for a world made whole with love and solidarity.

This was a year of turning away from books written about us and towards books written by and for us. “Own voices” titles asserted the tremendous value of our own experiences, and many of us saw ourselves as the heroes in the kinds of stories that we never felt reflected in before. In a year when feeling good felt like an act of defiance, books invited us to embrace joy and community care as tools of resistance. As we sought to understand how to survive the present, books gave us a glimpse into what could come next. Let us take a page from these books and approach 2020 not with dread, but with the conviction of possibility.

Showing 1 - 12 of 12 items

A People's Future of the United States is not a simple read, nor a comfortable one. It begins from the premise that our current precarious situation will almost certainly get much worse. But within all of the futures contained here, there remain people, people whose marginalizations, whose existence on the edges of what some ideologies would think of as America, have given them profound depths of resilience. These futures are not easy. But they show us how we too might find ways to live, and live well, no matter what is coming.
—Arkady Martine, author of A Memory Called Empire

What do you do after you have written Stamped From the Beginning, an award-winning history of racist ideas?… If you’re Ibram X. Kendi, you craft another stunner of a book… What emerges from these insights is the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind, a confessional of self-examination that may, in fact, be our best chance to free ourselves from our national nightmare.
—Jeffrey C. Stewert, author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke

Historian Elizabeth Catte’s What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia offered a more nuanced take [on Appalachia], addressing the way white men, outsiders and tourist journalists have all got it wrong. While urban liberals wring their hands and conservatives complain about lazy welfare recipients, [What You Are Getting Wrong] represents a much wider range of voices, motivations and experiences exist than are usually portrayed in the media. In Left Elsewhere, Catte continues to develop her complex picture of rural America while looking for possible futures for its political left.
—Justin Cober-Lake, Spectrum Culture

With LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia, Jeff Mann and Julia Watts have assembled a first-of-its-kind collection of works by queer Appalachians. Fans of the poetry of that most famous Appalachian writer, bell hooks, will find that the region is fertile territory for writers of all stripes, from the somewhat experimental feminist poetry of Doris Diosa Davenport to the heartrending teenage queerdom represented in Jonathan Corcoran’s The Rope Swing.
—Carling Mars, author of Feeling Things in Public Places

Magic for Liars is a perfect, spare, delectable novel that features a masterful narrative structure, terribly human characters occupying realistically magical settings, and more. The prose is spot-on and paints an intimate, flawed portrait of how a world like Gamble’s would function, from the moment she tells the disbelieving bartender magic exists to the moment she walks out on her sister. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
—Brit Mandelo, author of Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction

This newly published Sylvia Plath story “is stirring, in sneaky, unexpected ways… It’s unabashedly Freudian (and Plath herself seemed ambivalent about its merits), but look carefully and there’s a new angle here… It is not the familiar story about a heroine and her solitary triumph but a story about aid—the aid women can provide each other; and aid that is possible only from other generations, from those who know something of the journey.
—Parul Sehgal, New York Times

[The] hidden or 'occult' legacy of revolutionary politics is now largely forgotten, disregarded by a radical culture that identifies itself as militantly atheist and rationalist. Yet its mark remains, and not always for the best… Lagalisse’s work calls anarchists to task for the self-limiting mentalities and behaviors that have narrowed the appeal and impact of our ideas by centering them in an intellectual tradition that still looks a lot like the world we are trying to change… Not many books are truly 'essential reading,' but if you think of yourself as an anarchist you cannot afford to miss this.
—Christopher Scott Thompson, author of Pagan Anarchism

The structural hallmarks of Vuong’s poetry—his skill with elision, juxtaposition, and sequencing—shape the novel and they work on overlapping scales: passages are organized by recurring phrases, as are the chapters, which build momentum as a poetry collection does, line by line… On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is both an immigrant novel and a work of autofiction; it is also an epistolary novel, written, loosely, as a letter to the narrator’s mother, which she will never read.
—Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion

Investigating an impressively broad range of queer sexual encounters spanning multiple sexual communities. The result is an adamantly pro-queer, pro-sex novel. It’s not just the frank depictions of sex that mark the novel as rooted in the 90s… [the protagonist] is an historical creature, made in and of the 90s, where he hops between queer cultures from Iowa City to Boystown Chicago to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival, from Provincetown to San Francisco, with ACT UP-era New York beating strong in the background. If Andrea has written a historical novel, it’s history made present-tense, 90s queer politics refracted through the lens of contemporary queer and trans discourse.
—Megan Milks, author of The Feels

This collection offers up a multitude of tactics for which to embody pleasure, claim it as a central and essential liberatory practice, and a sustainable one for the long-term road trip of justice work… [W]e often talk about what sucks, what we don’t want, and what needs to be torn down. In order to build a better world, to move towards the goals of decolonization, abolition, and liberation, Pleasure Activism tells us, we need to 'practice for the world we want'… We don’t have to just give our blood, sweat, and tears to this project, but share our pleasure, too. We can—we must—bring all of all of us.
—Bani Amor, Autostraddle

Samaran steps into academic and colloquial language seamlessly in a way that makes complex theoretical ideas digestible for a wider audience outside of the academic spaces these theories initially originated in… Ultimately, Turn This World Inside Out is an imperative text for our modern times. Samaran deftly demonstrates the need for this type of book throughout her essays and dialogues. This slender tome will be sure to draw readers in for providing answers to the questions people in positions of privilege have.
—Dena Rod, author of My Shadow is My Skin (Spring 2020)

Justice is not possible unless we make space for the stories of the margins. What more powerful elucidation can there be than to cast light on the margins of the mind? We've Been Too Patient shreds stigma and replaces it with dignity, autonomy, and power. This anthology heralds the necessity of our messy radical neurodivergent brains, so that we might call forth a world where we are never again forced to be ‘too patient.’
—Sonya Renee Taylor, author of The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love