The smell of passing rain clouds lingers as I consider what I’ve read so far this year; as I consider whose words have remained with me, despite being placed on a bookshelf — a kind of limbo, crinkled pages and cracked spines wondering if they will ease themselves into new or returning hands again.
I have read guilty pleasure, Sicilian crime novels, non-fiction from the brilliant minds of David Olusoga, Mikki Kendall, and Audre Lorde, moving poetry collections, memoirs and novels I know I read exactly at the right time in my life. They have left the mind enriched yet scattered with stories, hopes and criticisms of the world we live in and the worlds we create. They have left me savouring the beauty of reading.
And so, without further ado, here are five I heartily recommend:
History of Present Complaint : HLR
A collection which intertwines poetry with prose across the past, present and future, History of Present Complaint documents, viscerally, the author’s experience with mental illness, psychosis and the Mental Health Act in the UK. HLR’s words both ground and suspend you in a moment of panic and fear, exposing the conflict between fragile humanity and a healthcare system scarred with inhumanity in its treatment of those diagnosed with mental illnesses. HLR’s work is important. It is moving. It is the sheer force of curtains being pulled harshly from the window, searing light finding its way to you.
Calling a Wolf a Wolf : Kaveh Akbar
Another poetry collection, just as raw, but Akbar explores the weight of living and alcoholism. I found pain in this collection but hope and enlightenment too. The ugly truth of not being alone. The comfort of wishing to bury and drown not being unique to you, but haplessly human. Akbar’s work helped me approach my own maladaptive coping mechanisms with curiosity and care. Akbar inspired me to write, to embody the struggle with a voice, to finally stop ignoring the reality of turning towards a liquid before love.
Fugitive Pieces : Anne Michaels
Recommended to me by a kind cashier in the local Post Office, Fugitive Pieces is perhaps the most beautiful book I have read thus far in 2021. Michaels’ prose is reminiscent of the beauty to be found in books like The English Patient and Brideshead Revisited. It is heady with place, with poetry and with belonging. The novel follows the story of a young, Jewish boy, rescued, during the Second World War, by a Greek archaeologist. Through their work together exploring the past, both find a reason to find the future. My heart was broken but it was necessary to feel peace hidden within grief.
Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women that a Movement Forgot : Mikki Kendall
A much needed indictment of feminism and the white supremacy at its core, Kendall broadens the horizons and ambitions of feminism by focusing on more than equal rights and pay. Instead, Kendall focuses on food poverty, homelessness/unstable housing, crime and incarceration, and education — issues that are too often overlooked by feminism, white feminism in particular. Kendall’s call for intersectionality goes beyond the call for diversity within the movement but challenges the very bones of the movement, the very reason people are motivated to fight. Kendall reminds us that the ‘fem’ in feminism should not cage us, it should free us to campaign for more than we ever have before.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s : Truman Capote
To be read simply for Capote’s nuance and freshness, even now. But I urge you to forget the film, as sublime and perfect as Audrey Hepburn is. Capote’s short story is different and I promise you, you will sob. Instead of Holly standing in the rain, you’ll learn how much belonging aches —how transitory life is. And it is sad. Yet I’m glad I met and fell in love with Holly Golightly as Capote truly intended her to be.