Reading is a political act

It’s always a bit staggering — to find oneself and the world arriving yet again at a December 31st. Here we are, on the precipice of hope, and yet, how easy it is to feel the loss of the year past — how we want to hold so much in ourselves at once.

It has become a tradition of mine to celebrate December 31st with a remembrance and appreciation for some books I encountered during the year, books that brought company, wisdom, linguistic splendor, and perspective — for in times of ever uncertainty, books are a stalwart, omnipresent friend. Throughout electric days, blue days, and the always-prowling fog, look — a book is here, waiting to sing to you as you hold each other close.

I want to acknowledge — there are dozens of books that are still stacked on my floor, yelping to be read. There are dozens (thousands?) of books I mightily wish I could have included in this year’s list, but alas I have not met them yet! For me, the prospect of meeting new books, new poetic or narrative friends, gives me great hope for the new year. So, with the fact that it is impossible to include every book that has made an impact on me, here is my annual sampling of a few books I would like to highlight: texts that were exquisitely staining and impactful to me in one way or another —  and have inevitably shattered and rearranged my glass body, my glass path … books that after reading, I will never be quite the same.

In 2022, I posed the question: “Why do we make “end of the year” lists anyway? What is the purpose? Why uplift the books that we do and not others? Who does that serve? How do we make decisions for which books to include in our end of the year lists, and how influenced are we by the lists that others make and share?”

I posed these questions to you, to consider and graze on your own.

Here’s how I said I approach these questions: “Sometimes I think of books as bandaids, adhering to my body, healing me wherever I go.

Sometimes I think of books and their content as organic material invisibly floating through the air and collecting on my skin, in my bloodstream. These book particles are vital invigorators, as vital to life as yeast is to a sourdough starter.

In both scenarios, there’s something that sticks to me…for some scientific or spiritual or poetic reason beyond my knowing. It is up to me to pay attention to this adhesive phenomenon; to notice the words that beg to stay, the wisdoms that make a home in me.

Of course, there are some books that just enter into our lives, through trusted recommendation or by a life-changing sweep of the hand at the bookstore or library. There’s a fascinating tango of choice and serendipity that dictates which books we read in a year, the only kind of uncertainty and dare that my soul can bear to look forward to.”

In 2023, I say undoubtedly, what we choose to read is also a deliberate political act.

I cannot write this post without writing about the genocide in Gaza. I cannot write this post without writing that almost 22,000 Palestinian people have been murdered since October. I cannot write this post without writing that the country I live in is actively funding the genocide in Gaza.

My question in 2023 is: What use is a book list when people are being murdered?

As I gather together my book list, starting off with the novel by Palestinian writer Adania Shibli, I notice an obvious thread between them all. Every book in this list confronts and exposes state violence on bodies (queer bodies, BIPOC bodies, disabled bodies, poor bodies, foster bodies, sick bodies, bodies of water, more-than-human bodies) and/or imagines a life of liberation for our collective future. It is not the book list itself that matters; it is the acknowledgement and gratitude of all the time and energy, the trust and passion, the vulnerability and sacrifice that went into the creation of these works. It is a celebration of their existence; of the power of their words and craft to bear witness, speak truth, resist erasure, and activate change.

So, on this pensive day of old and new, I give thanks to those who write books, make books, bind books, share books, give books, read books, and love books. While I do encourage joy to be sought out in small and large ways in 2024, I will not say happy new year. I will say these words: Liberation. End the occupation. Read openly. Open your heart. Wear a mask. Abolish state violence. Love more.

starting from the bottom right corner: 

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, trans. by Elisabeth Jaquette *

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra *

Who Owns the Clouds? by Mario Brassard, illustrated by Gérard Dubois

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers *

Generations by Lucille Clifton

One Hundred Saturdays by Michael Frank, illustrated by Maira Kalman *

Mothers of our Own Little Love by Jesse Eagle

Greek Lessons by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won *

Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen

Maybe This is What I Deserve by Tucker Leighty-Phillips

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler *

Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala, trans. by Anna Kushner

Abolishing State Violence by Ray Acheson

Blackouts by Justin Torres

Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch *

A Minor Chorus by Billy-Ray Belcourt

A Luminous History of the Palm by Jessica Sequiera

The Old Philosopher by Vi Khi Nao

Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

Civil Service by Claire Schwartz

The Employees by Olga Ravn, trans. by Martin Aitken

Gold by Rumi, trans. by Haleh Liza Gafori

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, trans. by Richard Zenith


* A star next to a book title means that I listened to and enjoyed the audiobook version, and you might enjoy it, too! (Hint: Did you know you can borrow audiobooks from your library system through the Libby app?)