Looking back at the books that ruled our world this year, we see a hunger for understanding, going beyond quick and easy answers. Though the pace of social and political disruption stole our breath, robbing us of whatever security we felt was ours, books offered us a space to slow down and dig deep, uncovering the roots of our present condition. For many of our readers, this included a reevaluation of identity politics, complicating and sharpening our collective analysis of who we are as individuals and a society.
Hurricanes, fires, deportations, assassinations, ascendant nationalism... It doesn't come as a surprise that readers were looking for new resources to grieve and care for one another. Healing—both personal, as in bell hook's All About Love, and collective, as in AK Press' Rebellious Mourning anthology—emerged as a strong theme for our literary year. Here's to turning tides in 2019, with love and rage!
(See also, our 2017 Best Sellers & Collective Picks.)
“'Survival is damn hard,' Sonya Renee Taylor says in the introduction to her marvelous new book, The Body Is Not an Apology. A writer, poet, educator, and performer, Taylor brings the message that self-sacrifice and self-flagellation keep us from our highest good. Her manifesto on radical self-love is life altering – required reading for anyone who struggles with body image.” —Forward Reviews
Can We All Be Feminists?: New Writing from Brit Bennett, Nicole Dennis-benn, and 15 Others on Intersectionality, Identity, and the Way Forward for Feminism by June Eric-Udorie
“The collection contains fifteen essays, all of them offering thoughtful and incisive analyses written in masterfully beautiful prose… At a time when feminism is, paradoxically, both more widely accepted than ever before yet also more intensely contested than ever before, this collection offers a vital intervention in the fraught discussion and a beautifully written source of inspiration as well.” —PopMatters.com
A Field Guide to Mushrooms of the Carolinas by Alan Bessette, Arleen Bessette, and Michael Hopping
“Invaluable and long overdue, this guide to Carolina mushrooms features stunning photographs and informative descriptions of hundreds of diverse mushroom species. A giant leap forward in documenting the diversity of macrofungi in the Carolinas.” —Rytas Vilgalys, Duke University
Southern Folk Medicine: Healing Traditions from the Appalachian Fields and Forests by Phyllis D. Light
“Southern Folk Medicine captures a part of our herbal traditions that is little known, practiced by fewer yet, and at risk of being lost. Much more than an individual’s personal journey or interpretation, it presents a history of the development of culture and medicine in the South, integrates this with its relevance to modern healthcare today, and is reflective of a living tradition whose evolution continues.” —Roy Upton, author of American Herbal Pharmacopoeia
“By delivering these stories to readers it not only entertains but informs and heals as well. ‘Tales represents the rich and complex ways that we actively engage with and transform the world we live in,’ Aldama says. Future generations may look upon this anthology as a codex for the Latinx experience during turbulent times much like we now look back on the Nahuatl or Mayan codices.” —Comicosity.com
“Small presses across Appalachia and the Rust Belt consistently publish, to little fanfare, incredibly diverse work – books that are lush, gritty, surprising and so very true. Perhaps the best example, or certainly the best place to begin, is Catte’s What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia. This edgy, meticulous work of nonfiction from Cleveland’s Belt Publishing dispels many myths about the region.” —The Los Angeles Times
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
Race & Ethnicity
“A rare and incisive examination of the system of white body supremacy that binds us all as Americans… With authenticity and clarity, [DiAngelo] provides the antidote to white fragility and a road map for developing white racial stamina and humility. White Fragility loosens the bonds of white supremacy and binds us back together as human beings.” —Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands
This novella packed with charming weirdos, reckless witchcraft, and anarchist subculture is a thoroughly satisfying addition to local author Margaret Killjoy’s Danielle Cain series—which author Alan Moore (V for Vendetta) calls “fast, eerie and crackling with disarmingly matter-of-fact phantasmagoria”—but also makes for a solid stand alone adventure!
A collection of poems and flash fiction that “blurs the lines between good gals (and guys) and bad, questions the utility of goodness, and subverts the clichés and gendered stereotypes of the most recognized of fairytales – leaving readers to consider the characters whose stories aren’t being told. If you’re not already familiar with Gill, you should be. The British-Indian writer has been called ‘the voice of the generation’ – and with 441,000-and-counting followers on Instagram alone, she just might be.” —Bustle
“A comic about a Seattle-based trans woman struggling as a sex worker to make enough money for hormones and gender confirmation surgery… In its raw depictions of sex—sometimes hot, sweet, perfunctory or grueling—between trans characters, The Pervert is breaking new comic ground. But neither Boydell nor Perez consider the work to be political. Rather, they see it as an autobiography, elucidating a story that’s rarely brought into focus, especially not in the comic world.” —HuffPost
“The best work of fiction I’ve read yet about the millennial condition – the alienation and cruelty that comes with being a functional person under advanced global capitalism, and the compromised pleasures and irreducibly personal meaning to be found in claiming some stability in a terrible world. I love how, in this novel, doom is inevitable, and yet it comes so slowly you might not even notice it. Ling Ma has written one of my favorite novels of the year.” —Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker
“A miraculous achievement, a book that wields ferocious honesty and originality in service of telling a story that needs to be told. This is a novel about what it means to inhabit a land both yours and stolen from you, to simultaneously contend with the weight of belonging and unbelonging. There is an organic power to this book – a revelatory, controlled chaos. Tommy Orange writes the way a storm makes landfall.” —Omar El Akkad, author of American War
"One of the side effects of your continual aging is that now you’re like the grown-up in some little kid’s life. And maybe that kid’s life doesn’t revolve around the intense consumer fest that is 'the holidays,' but it probably does, and you should probably buy that kid something. And that something should probably be books."
—Maggie Block, Mask Magazine
“Larson has proved that she can marry words and images to delve into the complex inner lives of her characters in a way that is nothing short of spellbinding… [All Summer Long is] a Judy Blume-grade coming-of-age story where no one is a villain, everyone makes mistakes, and the ending is so satisfying that it makes you want to jump up and salute when it's over.” —Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother
A simple story about body boundaries for kids 2 and older, C Is for Consent was written as a teaching tool for very young children – especially boys. Responding to #MeToo, the author noted “I didn’t want to wait to give [my son] something to start shaping a better future culture—for him and through him—so I started writing the book I wanted to give to him.”
“Rather than subverting them, Adeyemi revels in fantasy tropes, giving us princesses, family betrayals, power struggles and an epic world with a new system of magic to explore and enjoy. But it is the vibrantly drawn, West African-inspired setting that makes this unlike any fantasy readers will have encountered before.” —Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of The Girl of Ink & Stars
Murder, ghosts, and Jim Crow! A riveting mystery based on Zora Neale Hurston's childhood adventures in America’s first incorporated Black township. Michael Eric Dyson, best-selling author of Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, calls The Cursed Ground “a stunning work of imagination and a deeply necessary read.”
“Historically, most chapter books featuring magical tales of witches and dragons center the experiences of White protagonists and characters; Elliott offers something much needed in the genre: a Black protagonist in an urban setting. Elliott skillfully introduces themes about creating positive change, examines issues of othering and the fear of differences, and touches upon the complexities of family, gentrification, and segregation.” —School Library Journal
In this worthy sequel to The Witch Boy, a diverse cast of characters grapple with magic, gender, bullying, and family acceptance across rich pages illustrated with big panels and bright colors. Ostertag calls it “a book for queer kids, for kids who don’t know who they are yet, no matter what their families tell them to think.”
“By depicting love and security beyond a White, professionalized class, the book allows children of different backgrounds to see their family lives reflected authentically… Fitzgerald’s words, woven into Peterson’s illustrations built on vintage photography, celebrate the diverse ways mothers give their children economic support, including the racialized and gendered labor that is often hidden or that disproportionately criminalizes women of color.” —Colorlines
“In this bravura feat of understated storytelling, the richness of Julian’s day-to-day reality and free-floating imagination is caught in images layered with colour, movement, muscle and life, celebrating Black and Latin experience.” —The Guardian
“Readers will be charmed by this one-of-a-kind character and won't tire of her small but significant dilemmas. Faruqi nails the child's perspective, and illustrator Aly gives Yasmin life. Backmatter intended for child readers offers things to think and talk about from the stories, an index of Urdu words presented as a fun way to learn the language, facts about Pakistan, a recipe, and a craft. Utterly satisfying.” —Kirkus Reviews
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazzard
Picture Book, Racism
Published by the American Psychological Association, this book explores a police shooting from the perspectives of two families, one White and the other Black. The book’s three authors bring their experience in children's behavioral health and social justice to create a beautiful and honest story that can help parents and caregivers discuss a difficult topic and teach allyship to young readers.
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson
Young Adult, Graphic Nonfiction
“A brand new book that will help explain not only how to use they/them and other gender neutral pronouns, but also explains why it’s so important… does a great job of explaining pronouns and non-binary gender to both people who already have an understanding of queerness and pronouns, and people who might have no introduction to it at all.” —Autostraddle
“It pretty much has everything I’ve ever wanted in a book on Kindergarten. Dinosaurs. Sociopathic goldfish. Saliva. You name it. Ryan T. Higgins is no stranger to the picture book game but with this book I think he’s topped himself. Like that long piece of drool on the cover, this is one title that refuses to let the reader go.” —School Library Journal