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 Illegal, Ross 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).
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.
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).
More from A Year in Reading 2019
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