As the year comes to a close, a lot of publications are rounding up the best books (or movies, or episodes of TV shows, and so on) of the year. In a period when most of us could really, really use a distraction from current events or personal tribulations, books can especially serve as a saving grace. Unfortunately, not all books get the limelight and attention they deserve. Below is my own little roundup of some personal favorites from either this year or recent years, including both fiction and nonfiction works.
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This novel is truly unique, enthralling, and chilling. If you’re a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, you’ll likely adore this book. A psychological thriller with fine lyricism in the prose, this book centers on two young queer men in Pittsburgh in the ‘70s. Their obsessive relationship mounts and mounts with a grisly murder. And don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler—the book actually opens with their crime, then moves through time to show us how we got there.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have a fluffy, fun, heartwarming rom-com centering on two queer women in Seattle. This book is a quick read that feels very contemporary—references to tarot cards and dating apps sprinkle the text, and thankfully there is no coming out trauma for our couple in this sharp take on an enemies-to-lovers plotline.
Jumping into nonfiction, this is a gripping, important essay collection that explores immigration and Iranian-American life in contemporary times, including the author’s experience as a refugee post-9/11 through Donald Trump’s election.
You’re likely already familiar with Moshfegh’s bestseller My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but Death in Her Hands is also excellent. This book is a quick read with Moshfegh’s telltale strong voice and dry humor. What makes Death in Her Hands unique is that it’s a satirical take on detective stories, and it features an older woman as the narrator, something we don’t see enough in literature in general. We follow the main character on her journey to investigate what appears to be a murder in her rural town, and she doesn’t put the clues together until the answer is quite literally right in front of her.
A quiet, fascinating novel about a young woman of color who drifts from an unfulfilling job in tech journalism to an extremely white, rural area to follow her boyfriend’s ambitions. The real crux of her journey occurs, however, when she flies solo to visit her father in China.
This novel is an excellent unsung hero that came alive via an independent press. Paper is White is set during the ‘90s in San Fransisco and centers on a young Jewish lesbian who is planning a wedding before marriage equality. The other thread focuses on her work chronicling the stories of Holocaust survivors—and her fascination with one particular survivor who may just have a hidden queer love story of her own. This book is a really great look at intergenerational trauma, too.
Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite short story collections, period. Evans is a master of the form and her prose absolutely sings. The collection, which includes a novella, feels very contemporary in its approach to social media, dating, and structural and systemic racism. There’s humor, sadness, and surprise in every story, and it’s absolutely a book that will get people talking.
A stunning work of personal nonfiction that weaves first-person experience with research and numbers. Elliott, a Haudenosaunee woman, tackles a wide range of serious subjects with grace, including mental health, gentrification, poverty, food insecurity, intergenerational trauma, and systemic effects of both capitalism and colonialism. This essay collection is a gut punch in the very best way.
This novel is absolutely hilarious. Even better, this fiction succeeds in being both hilarious and graceful in handling serious subjects. Big Girl, Small Town is set in the fictional border village of Aghybogey in Northern Ireland and centers on a wry young woman who works at a fast-food restaurant as her family recovers from a disturbing, violent crime.
Readers of Daily Kos will likely adore this book for the same reasons I do. This nonfiction book is a smart, focused take on burnout, but it doesn’t focus just on the millennial experience. Instead, the book tackles wide-ranging aspects of burnout in our culture with a center on the workplace, but also includes parenthood, class dynamics, education, and the structural barriers at every place. Petersen uses her personal experiences to guide the book but also includes interviews and experts every step of the way. An excellent read if you’re interested in the epidemic of burnout, but also if you’re into reading about workers’ rights, labor laws, and the gig economy.
What are your favorite books that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve? Feel free to share and discuss below, especially if they are books that debuted during the pandemic and perhaps got less media attention than usual!
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