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  • Gabby Womack

The Best Books Of The 21st Century According To Me

I'm often at odds with the choices that The New York Times makes in reporting and book choices so when I saw Keisha's (@theblerdlibrary) post on what she deems the best books of the 21st century, I was intrigued. She encouraged me to jump into this trend, so here I am!

[Note: this template and idea was first posted by @rev.alicia.reads]

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

This novel felt all-encompassing to me. Not only is Robert Jones, Jr. a genius with the written word, his story is gripping in a way I'm not used to experiencing with Historical Fiction. It has multiple points of view that are incredibly visceral; I can't imagine what it must have felt like for Jones to get into each mindset. I will never forget the way he lovingly depicted our ancestor's agency and power.

Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo

I have loved pretty much every book that Elizabeth Acevedo has published but Family Lore has been on my mind since I read it a year ago. It definitely has to do with how she writes about family secrets, women in Latine families who are forced to be strong, and the mystical beliefs of Caribbean folks. Acevedo also doesn't stick to Anglo-American storytelling styles; each time a memory is triggered, we go along for the ride (just like how my family members actually tell stories).

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

After years of researching race in the United States, it was almost a relief to read a mainstream book sharing so much of what I learned and more. Wilkerson has a way of drawing on empathy as well as logic to walk readers through complex history and concepts. I often hear people say "history repeats itself," but Caste proves what I've been contemplating for quite a while; History has continued the way it always has, with greedy actors drawing on the past for inspiration.

An Island Princess Starts a Scandal by Adriana Herrera

Oftentimes, Romance novels are overlooked as seminal works because of misogyny, among other things, which is why I've added the second book in Herrera's Las Léonas series. This book centers two queer Latinas from different backgrounds in Paris, which is something I never imagined until now. Through her research and writing, Herrera reminds us that we existed in the places that have been depicted as entirely white. Our ancestors may have suffered but they also loved, created, and dreamed.

Call Us What We Carry: Poems by Amanda Gorman

The moment Amanda Gorman finished reciting her poem at the presidential inauguration, I knew I had to purchase a book of her poems. Her delivery was powerful, clear, and timeless. Her book is all of that and so much more. Gorman reaches into the despair many have felt since Trump's election and the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic while tying in our country's struggles with past pandemics and racial inequality. She literally shapes her words into images that add to her message. I've said this before and I'll say it again, this is an historical document.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin has been a must-read author for me ever since I read How Long Til Black Future Month? The City We Became blew my mind. Her creativity is established as soon as the reader connects with the human avatars of the boroughs of New York City. Jemisin weaves the rise of far right groups like The Heritage Foundation, white supremacists, corrupt government officials, gentrification and so much more into this story. As I read it, I could tell that the author had done a tremendous amount of research to fairly portray the diverse cast of characters as well as the systems they are resisting.

Jade War by Fonda Lee

Fonda Lee's second book in the Green Bone Saga succeeds in keeping the momentum of book one going. It's an admirable feat as many authors struggle with delivering a hard-hitting sequel. This modern fantasy is packed with fascinating intrigue and epic battles. Throughout this book, we are taken through discussions of class, sexuality, honor, legacy, and refugees. I must also mention how easy it was to slip into the world of the series. I cared about each of the characters points of view which made the ending all the more devastating.

Pet & Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi

I tried to narrow this list down to just one of these two books but I really can't because they are a package in my eyes. Emezi manages to transport readers into a seemingly an idyllic future where trans children are loved, families of different make-ups are normal, and the evils of the past are long gone. However, these short books still make time to prompt us with some serious questions: When we make it to our dream future, what does it look like? How do we make sure it is actually safe for all? What will it take to make our dreams a reality? I truly believe these books will become revolutionary classics next to Octavia E. Butler and James Baldwin.

To Shape A Dragon's Breath by Moniquil Blackgoose

It feels almost like Moniquil Blackgoose came out of nowhere with this stunning fantasy/ alternate history. After I got over the excitement of reading historical fiction from the perspective of a young Indigenous woman in what we refer to as Massachusetts, Blackgoose's method of storytelling comforted me. Anequs is straightforward, curious, strong-willed, and genuinely compassionate which made reading from her perspective enjoyable. The story itself is one that rejects the superiority of European customs and rejects assimilation. It's refreshing and I think this series will shift the perspective of magical stories in the United States moving forward.

Transgender History by Susan Stryker

I read this book for a course on LGBTQ+ U.S. History and I'm so glad I did. Naturally, I had no idea just how prevalent anti-trans sentiment and policies are throughout history in the United States. Stryker covers a lot of this in an accessible way and includes many primary sources. I was floored by some of the information I learned and will likely read this again to catch anything I may have missed. My hope is that this book will be assigned to more students and prompt us all to create a more safe and just world for trans and nonbinary folks.

I couldn't include all of my favorite books in this list since there are only ten slots, so here are ten honorable mentions for anyone who is curious!

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

I will not shut up about this book. It inspired me to read more speculative fiction, especially by Black authors. Clark brings us back to a time when the Ku Klux Klan would march through downtowns with white folks cheering them on and the U.S. president describes The Birth of a Nation as "like writing history with lightning." The main characters quite literally fight white supremacy in the form of KKK hoods with the help of the ancestors. It's a short yet thrilling book which I've recommended to just about everyone. If you were hooked on the most recent Watchmen, this one is for you.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I can't talk about my love of books without mentioning Homegoing. This multigenerational tale begins with two sisters in West Africa and follows their descendents all the way into the present day. Before I read this novel, it was rare for books to make me cry. I'm not a complete crybaby now, but Gyasi did open up my emotions like no other. I think folks will talk about this book the same way they reference the impact of Roots in the future.

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed

This book set me on a journey of learning more about those enslaved by powerful men. It's a large tome but the stories of Sally Hemings and her family members kept my interest because it was the first time I learned that they were an open secret. Many powerful people knew about Jefferson and that he had been preying on Sally, his wife's enslaved half-sister. Excerpts from The Hemingses of Monticello should be included in every U.S. History course.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I picked up Pachinko shortly after reading Homegoing because I was excited to read another multigenerational story. It is a wonderful way to learn history you're unfamiliar with. Before reading this novel, I didn't know much about South Korea's relationships with Japan and China. So once I began reading, it felt like I couldn't stop. The transitions to each generation were seamless. This is another book that I plan to reread.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Talia Hibbert opened up my world. Get a Life, Chloe Brown was the first book I had read with a main character who was Black, fat, disabled, and snarky. As cliche as it sounds, I didn't realize what I was missing until I read this book. Chloe defies a lot of stereotypes; she's from a wealthy family, she's very proper, and she has a super soft interior. I come back to this book over and over because of this and Hibbert's humor. This is my comfort place and each time I recommend it to someone new, they say the same.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Jordan Ifueko really came out here and gave us ultimate mommy issues: fantasy edition. In this era of reckoning with toxic parenting, Raybearer fits right in. However, there are numerous things that make it stand out. This story is heavily inspired by African cultures and mythology, it depicts polyamorous relationships, and confronts the brutality of dismantling a system one was born to take over. Raybearer is mysterious, invigorating, and the world-building is stunning.

When We Make It: A Nuyorican Novel by Elisabet Velasquez

This novel-in-verse is one of the most raw young adult stories I've read in a while. There is something indescribable about the way Velasquez stitches together these poems. I felt seen. This is about trying to find a sense of belonging as a Puerto Rican outside of Puerto Rico. It's about realizing that parents can't or don't protect us from everything and that this country was not made for us to succeed. All of those feelings and thoughts are hard to process and I think that people often forget that young people feel this way. This book could be the beginning of opening up young people and caregivers to an honest conversation about mental health and stability.

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo

I promise you, this book will grab you by the collar. Oluo is popularly known for her book So You Want To Talk About Race? but I think Mediocre is more damning. One only has to look at the two presidential candidates we've been given to understand the title of this book. It's a heavily researched book that was honestly entertaining to read thanks to Oluo's wit and graceful delivery.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Not only is the concept of this book ingenious, it captures exactly the feeling of learning about the horrors of this world without being able to share the weight of it with others. Yetu is the Historian of their people which means they must hold the pain of the past so that the others may live happily in ignorance. Solomon does an incredible job of embedding the loneliness that accompanies a job like this. It's painfully accurate to how I've felt as an historian. It would be amazing if folks picked up this book and understood just how unsustainable it is to continue on this way.

The Sacrifice by Rin Chupeco

The island is alive and it's hella mad. The Sacrifice is a satisfying thriller that takes place in the Philippines where a Hollywood film crew have landed to film an exploitative documentary on a local folklore. I think this story is epic and should be given more attention. After all of these years of glorifying white explorers in "foreign lands," it's time to give the perspective of the people and places being observed like zoo animals and buried treasure.

What books do y'all think should be on the list for best books of the 21st century?


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