As per the request of the editors, I specifically picked books that felt connected to my collection of prose poetry, Twelve. This means that I wanted to include a mixture of prose and poetry books, as well as focusing on books that are connected to fairy tales and/or folklore. And truthfully, I love each and every one of these books and I hope many other folks come to love them, too.
If I were allowed to expand my list to beyond the five I listed, I would also included any or all of the following (to name a few):
Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom (which I just completed at the end of December)
Goddess of Filth by V. Castro
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
Circe by Madeline Miller
Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
Transformations, poems by Anne Sexton
Drink, poems by Laura Madeline Wiseman
The Moment of Change (a collection of feminist fantasy poetry), edited by R.B. Lemburg
And I’m sure I will discover many more such books of fantastical and frightening female empowerment in the future.
It’s been a pretty great reading year for me. I might have not have hit as many books as in years past, but the quality of books that I’ve read this year have been stellar (and I have a few more great books in the stack that I’ll likely finish by year’s end).
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
Nghi Vo’s Siren Queen unfolds the story of Luli Wei, a talented and beautiful Chinese American woman, who is desperate to become a star in pre-code Hollywood. In order to do so, she navigate the fair-like realm of the Hollywood system, which exacts a sharp (and sometimes deadly) price on those who long for fame. The magic here is at once beautiful, wicked, and mundane.
Vo’s prose is rich and lyrical, evoking a sense of magic, menace, and desire on nearly every page. Siren Queen is a work of art; it is powerful and evocative — a book that I plan to read again and again.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
The City We Became is another masterpiece from N.K. Jemisin. It presents a vision of New York City as a living creature about to be born with a human avatar — except a dark presence nearly aborts the process and the avatars of various boroughs (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island) are awakened to hold back the tide of darkness.
Jemisin is a phenomenal writer, and the story she unfolded in this book made me fall in love with a place I have never been. I cannot wait for a sequel.
In 2021, I read a total of 40 books (thus far) — which is the lowest amount of books completed in a single year in about a decade. Over the past two years in particular, I’ve found it harder to focus on reading and have turned to other forms of media to fill in my entertainment needs.
However, in reading less books per year, I’ve found that the quality of books has gone up. I’ve enjoyed or outright loved the majority of books that I’ve read, which has been a blessing — and has also made it difficult to narrow this list.
Note that the books listed here are not necessarily objectively the best, but they are the books I personally enjoyed or connected with throughout 2021.
Network Effect and Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
Basically, I could list the entire Murderbot Diaries among my favorite books for the year, since I read all six books (most of which are novellas) and then reread many of my favorite scenes throughout various points of the year. The series follows the adventures of a socially awkward android Sec Unit named Murderbot, who only wants to sit back and watch serial dramas, but often finds itself saving humans from doing stupid things that could get them killed.
I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of witchcraft the idea that ritual, spells, and willpower can effectively shape the world around you. No doubt movies like The Craft and Practical Magic had a significant influence on this interest. As a teenager, I would roam through the public library seeking out some old leather-bound tome to guide me (something that always seems so easy to achieve in movies).
If it had existed back then, The Magical Writing Grimoire by Lisa Marie Basile would have been a book that I would have found compelling. Even as a teenager, I already had the sense that the written word and poetry in particular had a kind of magic to it. Reading was empowering for me, conjuring up deep emotions and manifesting new perceptions of the universe around me. At a time when I was just starting to figure out who I was as a writer and a human, this book would have felt like a gift.
“You may not even crack the spine.
You may place this on the bookshelf,
or worse, under a stack of papers.
You may forget it and regift it later
to someone as a Secret Santa.
I will never know.”
— from “The First Poem in the Imaginary Book”
I’ll admit that Sarah Kay‘s No Matter the Wreckage has indeed been a resident of my bookshelf for too long — though it was never forgotten. Every time I perused the shelves, I would notice it sitting there and remember, Oh, yes, I need to read that. Then I would place it somewhere nearby with the intention cracking open and turning its pages, only to have it slip out of sight as my busy days shifted my attention.
In a way, though, the delay was a blessing, as the beautiful words on these pages feel like they have come to me at the perfect time.