- Traci Thomas is the host of “The Stacks” podcast, where she connects with authors, actors, screenwriters, and politicians to use books as a catalyst for larger conversations on race, privilege, and culture.
- For anyone who didn’t get as much reading done as you would’ve liked during lockdown, Thomas has compiled a list of 11 books to kick off the new year on the right foot.
- These books cover everything from sports to climate change, to social justice, to race and privilege, and include titles such as ” Black Futures” by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham and “The Undocumented Americans” by Karla Cornejo Villavicenio.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
2021 is finally here. I know I’m not alone in being excited to welcome a new year, not because I think the world will miraculously be fixed overnight, but because new year means a chance at a fresh start, and I’m all for that.
As the host of The Stacks, a podcast about books and reading, I spend pretty much all my time talking about, sifting through, taking pictures of, and smelling books. When I reflect back on 2020, books were a cultural touchstone throughout the year.
When lockdown first began, many people took it as the opportunity they needed to finally read that Russian novel they’d been putting off since 1996. Then in May and June, books on anti-racist reading lists surged as a response to the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Finally in November, one book was on everyone’s wish list, President Obama’s memoir “A Promised Land.”
While people were certainly talking a lot about books, I’m not sure much reading got done. Which is totally fine, no judgement. If you do want to kick off your new bookish self in 2021, here’s my list of 11 books from 2020 to begin. A few were pretty popular, and others flew under the radar, but they are all very good and worth your time. They range from sports to climate change, from social justice to rich kids, all in their own unique way diving deeper into the world we live in.
Once you finish reading through this list, the most exciting books of 2021 will be here (I’m looking at you “The Prophets” and “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African-America, 1619-2019)” and then we can truly move on from the year that was 2020.
1. “Stakes Is High: Life After the American Dream” by Mychal Denzel Smith
This book is a searing work of nonfiction that looks at America, both our realities and our myths, and asks us to consider who we are as a country. Smith has crafted a book that indicts the American Dream and the ways we, as a country, fail to live up to our self-professed ideals.
This book is a great jumping off point for the new year as we think about our collective resolutions as conscious citizens, and what we will have to give up in order to abolish the systems of oppression that hinder us all.
2. “The Office of Historical Corrections” by Danielle Evans
This story collection is about the ways history, both personal and collective, can haunt, harm, and heal us.
The stories range from a college student caught in a confederate flag scandal to a womanizing artist who finally decides to apologize for his abusive behaviors, to a near future dystopia concerned with correcting the historical record.
In this collection you’ll examine grief, race, love, and loss and find characters that confuse and excite you. This collection is The Stacks Book Club pick for January 2021, and you can hear our discussion on the podcast on Wednesday, January 27.
3. “Black Futures” edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham
This book was easily my most immersive and unique reading experience of 2020. It’s a collection of essays, art, memes, conversations, recipes, lyrics, and more that attempt to detail and encompass the experience of Blackness, both as a time capsule of this moment and a dream for our future.
“Black Futures” is the embodiment of the saying “Blackness is not a monolith”. The topics found in the book range from Black Indigeneity to BDSM, from ocean preservation to Colin Kaepernick. Drew & Wortham poured so much love into this collection and into telling the many stories that make up the varied existences of Blackness.
4. “Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back: Dilemmas of the Modern Fan” by Jessica Luther & Kavitha A. Davidson
If you love sports, but are finding it harder and harder to cheer for your favorite teams because you hate rooting for the owners and organizations that run them, this is your book.
This book covers brain injuries, racism, domestic violence, and the ways we can hope to move forward in creating a sports world that has room for both social justice and our fandom. This book feels particularly relevant as we watch sports in 2021 through the lens of leagues and teams putting profit over players (and fans) in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
5. “Minor Feelings: An Asian-American Reckoning” by Cathy Park Hong
This is a collection of essays from poet Cathy Park Hong that examine the idea of “minor feelings” – the dissonance that occurs when America’s optimism contradictions the reality of one’s own life.
This book is memoir and cultural criticism and uses Hong’s own identity as a Korean American, and a child of immigrants, to tell the story of race in America and the ways Asian identities can complicate and expand our preconceived notions that are often centered only on Black and white.
6. “The New Wilderness” by Diane Cook
A dystopian near future novel, this book tells the story of a mother and daughter who leave their over polluted city life and move into “The Wilderness State”, a place where humans had been previously forbidden. Now they, along with other volunteers, are living in the wild to see if people can live in and among nature without destroying it. Creative and imaginative and a commentary on our own, very real climate crisis.
7. “We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice” by Adrienne Maree Brown
This super slim book was inspired by a July 2020 blog post from brown titled “Unthinkable Thoughts: Call Out Culture in the Age of Covid-19”. The book looks at “cancel culture” and the ways it functions and how we can transform it to serve a greater good. Told from the perspective of a Black, queer, feminist, “We Will Not Cancel Us” shifts the conversation away from those who have been “canceled” to those we are seeking transformative justice.
8. “Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America” by Ijeoma Oluo
Every woman and/or person of color has been faced with the white male counterpart who is less knowledgeable, less accomplished, and less skilled but somehow holds more power and authority, and respect. “Mediocre” explains the history of this phenomenon throughout American history. Oluo shows her reader the many manifestations of this mediocrity from “The Bernie Bro” to higher education. If you’ve ever felt gas-lit by the systems that are in place in America and have lacked the language to put words to your frustration, this is the perfect book for you.
9. “The Undocumented Americans” by Karla Cornejo Villavicenio
In this work of creative nonfiction Villavicencio takes her reader into the world of undocumented immigrants that is rarely explored in art and media. This isn’t the story of The Dreamers or immigrants who have been deemed successful, it is instead the stories of day laborers, delivery people, domestic workers, and other undocumented people whose stories have cast them into the shadows of the American dream. “The Undocumented Americans” is a book about the reality of life for many undocumented immigrants in America who have been villainized, harassed, and demeaned.
10. “Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex” by Angela Chen
An overview of Asexuality and it’s many intersections, “Ace” is ambitious in its willingness to dive head first into the complexities of sex, desire, and relationships. Chen isn’t only talking about Asexual people, she’s also presenting a much more complex picture of Allos (folks who do feel sexual desire). “Ace” is a wonderful encompassing introduction into the world of sexual desire.
11. “Anna K: A Love Story” by Jenny Lee
A young adult retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” set among NYC’s wealthiest teenagers. It is juicy with sex, drugs, mega-parties and, of course, a little romance. “Anna K” is a really good time, think Gossip Girl, and the best part is, there is a sequel coming out in April 2021, so by the time you finish this gem, you’ll be ready for “Anna K Away.”
Traci Thomas is the creator and host of “The Stacks,” a podcast about books and reading. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and twin sons. Listen on Apple Podcasts, and follow “The Stacks” on Twitter and Instagram.