A Year in Reading: Jennine Capó Crucet

December 12, 2019 | 3 books mentioned 2 min read

While I promise that I’ve read more than three books this year, the three that I kept rereading and recommending to anyone and everyone were José Olivarez’s Citizen IllegalRoss Gay’s The Book of Delights, and Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick. In writing out that sentence, I realize that they are, respectively, a poetry collection, a book of essays written by a poet, and an essay collection—so they work as a sort of procession in form to me, a fact I find delightful (to borrow Ross Gay’s word, which I’m doing here delightfully).

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The Book of Delights is made up of what Ross Gay calls “essayettes,” each one cataloging the various things he finds, day to day, delightful; it’s also simultaneously a set of lessons on mindfulness and on how to survive and appreciate each day despite the political and global horrors also greeting us daily, almost upon waking.

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I read Thick early in the year, and it is a masterful book of essays, showing us again and again how personal the political really is; it should be required reading for every American. As I worked on the final edits of my own essay collection (my first; my previous two books are fiction), I kept returning to Tressie McMillan Cottom’s essays not just for technical advice on the essay as a form, but also for the hope and confidence and brilliance and bravery and love each essay offers.

And you’ll find that same bravery and love (along with a healing dose of humor) in Citizen Illegal, José Olivarez’s debut book of poems. I first read it on an airplane, on a long flight in the midst of extreme distress and with a dire need for healing, and by the time I was halfway through, I gave zero fucks about how much it made me cry and laugh and feel, much to the horror of the other people seated in my row, who had no idea what they were missing out on.

Don’t be like them (especially when it comes to these three wonderful books).

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is the author of, most recently, a collection of essays called My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education, which investigates through a personal lens concepts of race, gender, immigration, and the “American dream.” Her novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers, was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice book, the winner of the 2016 International Latino Book Award, and was cited as a best book of the year by the Guardian, NBC Latino, and the Miami Herald. Her story collection, How to Leave Hialeah, won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize and the John Gardner Book Award. A Contributing Opinion Writer for The New York Times, her writing has won a PEN/O. Henry Prize and has appeared on PBS NewsHour, in the Atlantic, and elsewhere. Raised in Miami, Florida, she’s worked as a college access counselor at One Voice, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that serves first-generation college students from low-income families; she is herself a first-gen college student and is currently an associate professor at the University of Nebraska in the Department of English and the Institute for Ethnic Studies.

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