Among the many other challenges presented this year, my reading has dropped significantly. As of writing this, I’ve finished reading a total of 40 books this year — certainly not bad in the grand scheme of things, but far below my personal average of 90-100 books from a few years ago.
Though, I can’t blame the drop entirely on 2020 (for all it’s anxiety and stress), since my reading has been dropping each year. In general, I’ve had a more difficult time focusing on reading, particularly longer books. So, I’ve shifted somewhat to shorter, quicker reads.
Nevertheless, I’ve read many fantastic books this year — more than I can fit on this list. Lately, I’ve been wanting to get back into reading more of the horror genre (which I’ve been writing lately as well). Horror seems to hit a certain intellectual itch in me, providing a safe means to explore and process my anxieties. So, it’s no surprise that horror fiction makes up a large portion of the works mentioned here.
(ETA: If you want to know the movies, shows, and other media I loved this year, check out my post on Medium.)
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Set in Nigeria, My Sister, The Serial Killer is the story of two sisters — Ayoola, who is alluringly beautiful (and has an unfortunate tendency to kill her boyfriends), and Korede, a nurse who is left to clean up the mess afterwards. Sisterhood in all its complexities is at the center of of this novel, showcasing the inherent blend of frustration, jealousy, anger, compassion, and love. A fantastic, quick-paced, black comedy.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
The Only Good Indians is a dark tale of revenge, in which four American Indian men find themselves facing brutal consequences following their actions as youths. One by one, they are slowly hunted down by a strange entity, bent on making them pay. Beautifully written and shockingly gory, The Only Good Indians blends intense action with sharp social commentary, presenting a book with a powerful and moving conclusion. The evolution of this story provided a number of surprises and ultimately left me in tears by the end. Fantastic.
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
Machado presents a collection of powerful, complex short stories that explore the place of women in the world, with each story featuring its own uniquely intimate horrors. Female desire and sexuality are at the forefront of many of these stories, exploring a longing for pleasure that would traditionally be denied. The best known story in this collection is likely “The Husband Stitch,” in which a a woman relates the story of meeting, falling in love, and living with her husband. She gives him everything of herself, with the only thing that belongs to her being a green ribbing she wears around her neck — which her husband over time grows more and more eager to understand and claim, leading to an unsettling conclusion. Her Body and Other Parties is worth reading for that story alone, however, the book also offers many other beatiful, strange, and disturbing works.
Soft Science by Franny Choi
Franny Choi’s book-length collection of poetry, Soft Science, explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. As she notes in my New Books in Poetry interview with her, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? Choi’s poetry contemplates such questions through the technology of poetic form.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
When asked to clear out her grandmother’s house, Mouse travels with her dog to rural North Carolina where she discovers her grandmother was a hoarder, presenting a bigger mess than she could possibly have imagined. As she sets to work, she too overwhelmed to focus on the strangeness of the woods around her — but that changes when she discovers her step-grandfather’s journal, which relates the story of terrifying things hidden within the tree line and she begins to witness them for herself. The Twisted Ones is a pitch perfect horror novel, made all the better with its cast of fun and interesting characters.
Bunny by Mona Awad
Struggling through her MFA program at a prestigious university, Samantha Mackey can’t seem to produce new work. She’s also repelled by the clicky group of women in her fiction writing workshop, who all call each other “Bunny.” Her one comfort is her friend, Ava, who is fierce and doesn’t give a crap what anyone else thinks — and yet, when the Bunnies invite Samantha to their infamous Smut Salon, she finds herself drawn into their group, discovering their dark, strange secrets. If you’re into darkly comic academia stories, then Bunny is the book for you. The voice is bitingly sharp, presenting a funny, blood-soaked story laced with longing and sorrow.
The Good House by Tananarive Due
Angela Toussant inherited the Good House from her grandmother, a woman well known in the small Sacajawea, Washington, community for her “healing magic.” When Angela returns with her son for summer vacation, she hopes to draw on some of that magic to heal her broken marriage. Instead, a surprising and violent tragedy strikes, driving her into a deep depression. Years later, she returns with the aim of healing her own emotional wounds, only to notice a pattern of tragedies that may all be connected to something restless living within her old family property. The Good House is a multi-layered, complex, and utterly brilliant horror novel.
Catrachos by Roy G. Gúzman
Guzmán’s Catrachos is a stunning debut collection of poetry that immerses the reader in rich, vibrant, and inventive language. Described as being “part immigration narrative, part elegy, and part queer coming-of-age story,” this powerful collection blends pop culture and humor with Guzmán’s Honduran cultural experience as a to explore life, death, and borders both real and imaginary. (I interviewed, Guzmán for the New Books in Poetry podcast.)
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
When Noemi Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin describing some terrible doom and begging for help, she travels to High Place, a house located deep in the Mexican mountains. The site of once booming silver mining community, High Place and the surrounding community is now run down and giving in to decay. The family themselves are for the most part cold, distant, and strange — and hiding some dark secret. As a debutant accustomed to attending glamorous parties in the city, Noemi is caught off guard by the remoteness of the house. However, she uses wit, intelligence, and determination to stand up to the cold or controlling Doyle family, refusing to be overcome by them or anything else that might be lurking with in the manor’s walls. Altogether, Mexican Gothic is a masterfully told gothic horror novel, building an unsettling tension into every moment that Noemi is in the house.
Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste
Each night Resurrection Mary wanders a lonely highway, waiting for a driver to come by and pick her up, so she frighten them and feed on their fear. In the morning, she returns to her household of Marys — other urban legends who fill the night with terror, including Bloody Mary, Mary Mack, Mari Lwyd, and Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary. Pretty Marys All in a Row presents a wonderful new depiction of found family, in which ghostly women are bound together by the need to feed. As the scares grow further and further apart, the women will come together to fight for their own deathly existence.
From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems by B.C. Edwards
With the feel of a medicinal road show, From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes offers poetry in the form of recipes and concoctions. This is as chemistry, words reacting with words to form new strange mixtures, with surprising and beautiful results. Each time I pulled the cork off a new poem, I was never sure what I would get. Maybe it would evoke the ache of love, the sweetness of longing, the pain of lingering hope. Or maybe I’d enjoy a contemplation on the nature of coffee or the preservation of birds and other animals. Each poem delighted me, providing just the medicine I needed. (Find my full review here.)
Sealed by Naomi Booth
Sealed is a powerful, psychological, body horror novel, which is driven by the anxieties of the main character Alice, who is heavily pregnant. Terrified with rumors of a bizarre new disease that seals people within their own skins, Alice travels with her boyfriend to the countryside in search of solitude and safety. Seeing signs of the disease all around her, she increasingly questions whether they made the right decision — or whether anywhere at all might be safe. This book is brilliant in the way it slowly builds uncertainty and tension, with Alice equally afraid of her own skin and what lies within her pregnant belly as she is of the terrors of the world (including mass poverty, privately controlled social services, and environmental pollution).
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