Broaden Your Poetry & Non-Fiction Tastes in 2021
I read 28,459 pages of books and 94 books in total. I don’t know if I will ever have a reading year like this again. At one point in the pandemic, I was reading two to three books a week. Books and bath’s, acting as a dynamic duo, kept me mildly placated. I knew that amidst the last two terms of my creative writing degree I needed to give myself over to the whims of other creators. Reading this year was my grounding exercise, something that kept me tethered to solid stories, not tainted by the pandemic.
To be honest, I felt like Belle locked up in the Beast’s castle. Unable to seek freedom beyond my swinging wooden gate. At least I could console myself with the thirty books that had built up on my shelf. I found that this year was all about tending to things that I had once neglected, and what was in my home became a constant backdrop.
Poetry can be tricky for some people. Most readers will read Rupi Kaur and call it a day, which I would highly suggest not doing. There are an array of poets who are redefining poetry for the modern-day resident of planet earth. Don’t let early exposure to Wordsworth and Keats keep you from the poetry section. Poets are speaking to real issues such as sex, race, homophobia, millennial experience, and in Danez Smith’s “Homie” he writes a surprisingly complex poem about Scooby-Doo.
1. My Art Is Killing Me by Amber Dawn
Dawn bulldozes her reader over with a pace that waves you on, telling you “catch the fuck up.” You somehow senes that she has this playful, frenzied half-smile on her face all the time. She examines sex work, academia, sexual assault and living as a survivor. Ultimately, she asks the question every writer is familiar with, how do you not let your art knife you in the back? Buy your copy here.
2. Homie by Danez Smith
This book should be required reading for everyone. Smith weaves ode and tribute to the friendships that have sustained them. It is a mosaic portrait of the intimate moments exchanged in queer black people’s lives. It’s a compelling and absorbing book that will leave you rereading the poems five times because they are just that complex and incising. Buy your copy here.
3.Citizen by Claudia Rankine
If you are looking for multimedia, prosaic take on systemic racism, then do yourself a favour and pick it up. Rankine’s full book-length poem transcends voice, digs into the facets of black identity through internal monologue and the microaggressive actions of people around her. Buy your copy here.
1. Mating In Captivity by Esther Perel
Do you ever feel ashamed or repressed in your sexual desires or appetite? Perel is one of the most insightful sexuality psychologists out there. Many of us in quarantine had to examine the intersection of domesticity, work, and romance/sexuality that occurred in such bizarre ways in our lives. She asks: how do we bring the eros and lust back into the home? This is not some dry psychology book, it’s vibrant, full of real stories and motivates you to look at sides of yourself that are in hiding. Buy your copy here.
2. Bread Out Of Stone: Recollections, Sex, Recognitions, Race, Dreaming, Politics by Dionne Brand
Dionne Brand is Toni Morrison’s spirit sister. She settles into that liminal space of cultural and geographical identity, where questions never have answers, and the past is a never-ending story of self. It examines the racial equality movement in the sixties, in Canada, through protest, Jazz and the mark black queer women left on history.
3. Quit Like A Woman by Holly Whitaker
Booze is pervasive in every aspect of women’s lives. A glass of wine at night. Parties of every kind: wedding shower, birthdays, graduation, work promotion, and every milestone in between. It’s a social lubricant on dates, first friend meetups and at family gatherings. Whitaker gets us, as women, to take a good hard look at the role alcohol plays in our lives. I asked myself: is this substance bringing me more good than bad? I’ve been sober for three months and this book helped me navigate this sober world as a woman. Also, she speaks to the male and Christian dominated the history of AA. It works for some people, but it also isn’t a one size fits all space.
Whitaker has also started a community called Tempest and you can follow them on Instagram @jointempest
4. Lost Connection by Johnathan Hari
Big pharmaceutical companies have led us to believe a lot about what is happening in our brains. This book perhaps was one of the most influential books I’ve read in a few years. It felt revolutionary yet also a no-brainer that depression can stem from social isolation, our society’s garbage values, meaningless work and trauma. A must-read for everyone who has ever felt disconnected (hello!! everyone right now…). Hari’s claims reinforced with countless studies and narratives that encouraged me to see the ways I’ve lost connection to the point of despair in my life.
Here is a sampling of four tenets Hari extrapolated from his research on the causes of depression.
- Disconnection from meaningful work. Those with the least control and authority in the workplace are the most likely to have depression. We need to feel like what we do has meaning.
- Disconnect from others. Loneliness and no sense of belonging are big indicators of depression.
- Disconnect from meaningful values. Our consumer-driven society has left us detached from worthwhile values, which in turn contributes to depression.
I know that 2021 has so many more thrilling pages to flip through, but I hope that you can carve out some time for these 2020 reads.
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