Feature image credit: @thestackspod
This is my first column here at SheReads.com, and I’m really excited to share my love of books with all of you. If you don’t know me, I’m Traci Thomas. I am the creator and host of The Stacks, a podcast all about books. Each week I talk with authors, readers, actors, podcasters, and other book nerds about the books they love, the books they hate, and the books that make them who they are. The Stacks also has a monthly book club, where I discuss one book in detail (yes, that means there are spoilers) with my guest. The show is a place to talk about race, gender, class, and the ways the books shape the world we live in and how we interact with it. It’s also a place to simply gush about books!
That being said, I’m thrilled to be writing a monthly column at SheReads where I can share even more book love with you all. In an effort to help you read more books you’ll love and less books you’ll hate, I’ll be sharing books recs with you.
Each month I’ll share three new releases and pair them with two backlist titles that I think you’ll appreciate. Ok, enough of the getting to know you portion of this, let’s bring on the books!
INFINITE COUNTRY by Patricia Engel
A multi-generational story of a Colombian family that immigrates to America and the ways that their undocumented status has sperated them from themeselves, their loved ones, and in some ways their own future. This book will make you feel things, and it also has some major fairy tale vibes, especially in the ways the characters feel archetypal in their experiences and emotions.
If you’ve read and enjoyed Infinite Country I think you should check out
THE UNDOCUMENTED AMERICANS by Karla Cornejo-Villavicencio
Karla Cornejo-Villavicencio has crafted a book that is both memoir and reporting about the experiences of undocumented people in The United States. Cornejo-Villavicencio is herself undocumented, and her experiences inform this book. I like it as a pairing with Infinite Country, because Engel is a US citizen and her story does romanticize the experiences of undocumented people—so The Undocumented Americans is the perfect counter balance. Not to mention how great the writing and storytelling is, it’s no wonder The Undocumented Americans was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award. You can also catch Karla Cornejo-Villavicencio on The Stacks discussing the book.
THE FAR AWAY BROTHERS by LAUREN MARKHAM
In this story of twin brothers, Ernesto and Raul Flores, who come to America unaccompanied, we get to see a different set of challenges and experiences that undocumented children face. The book follows the brothers from their home in El Salvador through their journey across the border, and into their lives going to school, working, and living in Oakland, California. The Far Away Brothers incorporates the experiences of the brothers and the history that contextualizes the experiences of many undocumented people in America.
YOLK by Mary H.K. Choi
I am not normally a YA person—hell, I’m not normally a fiction person—but Yolk is a delight of a book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s for and about young people but has a maturity level that makes it work for adults too. I don’t want to give anything away, so let me try and tell you what it’s about without telling you too much. Yolk follows two sisters, June and Jayne, and their strained relationship in the face of a major life development. The book is more broadly about the ways we feel our bodies betray us, and how families can be hard to be a part of and hard to be apart from. Yolk also has delectable writing about NYC, food, crushes, and Patrick (you’ll get that once you read it). Choi 100% gets whatever it means to be young and scared and free and fighting for your place in the world.
If you’ve read and enjoyed Yolk I think you should check out
ANNA K by Jenny Lee
I know I just said I’m not normally a YA person, so maybe I don’t know myself as well as I think. I loved Anna K, a modern day retelling of Anna Karenina, and think it’s a perfect pair for Yolk because it’s set in (mostly) in NYC, has a lot of young folks following their hearts and behaving badly. It also is full of difficult relationships, and the relationships we with have with ourselves and our own desires. Anna K is a bit more fun than Yolk and the kids in Anna K certainly have more money and privilege, but both books will get you in your feels and longing for days filled with crushes and teenage angst.
WHAT WE DON’T TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT FAT by Aubrey Gordon
In Yolk there is a character who lives with disordered eating. What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat is a perfect pairing because it looks at the history and policy behind anti-fatness. Gordon, also known online as Your Fat Friend, asks the reader to think about the ways anti-fat bias and discrimation is shaping the world we live in—and we get to imagine a world without it. The book is unapologetic, and that, too, pairs nicely with Choi’s work.
A LITTLE DEVIL IN AMERICA by Hanif Abdurraqib
This collection of essays is all about the ways Black people and Blackness is performed in American culture. Abdurraqib, who is known for his writing about music, has crafted an incredible collection that reflects on how Black performance is inextricably tied to the essence of American culture. The essays range from Beyonce at the Superbowl to Black face, from Whitney Houston’s life and legacy to the game of spades. This collection is special, joyful, and will force you to think about the ways performance can be found anywhere.
If you’ve read and enjoyed A Little Devil in America I think you should check out
HOW TO SLOWLY KILL YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN AMERICA by Kiese Laymon
This is another stunning collection of essays that looks at what it means to be alive and Black in America. How to Slowly Kill Yourself… is less about the performance of Blackness and more about the detailed experiences of Blackness, though one could argue much of that is a kind of performance. The writing in the book is as incredible as what Abdurraqib is writing, but the style is more personal and relies on the intimate reflections of Laymon’s life.
SHE BEGAT THIS by Joan Morgan
Feminist author and scholar Joan Morgan takes a deep dive into the iconic 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to discuss how this one album has shaped American culture, feminist thinking, and the music industry. What Abdurraqib does in each of his essays, Morgan does in depth with just one artist and one album.