The Days of Afrekete: A Novel

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A Year in Reading: 2023

Welcome to the 19th installment of The Millions' annual Year in Reading series! YIR gathers together some of today's most exciting writers, thinkers, and tastemakers to share the books that shaped their year. What makes the series special is that it celebrates the subjectivity of reading: where yearend best-of lists pass off their value judgement as definitive, YIR essayists take a more phenomenological tact, focusing instead on capturing the experience of the books they read. (I'm not particularly interested in handing down a decision on "The 10 Best Books of 2023," and neither are this year's contributors.) This, of course, makes for great, probing essays—in writing about our reading lives, we inevitably write about our inner lives. YIR contributors were encouraged approach the assignment—to reflect on the books they read this year, an intentionally vague prompt—however they wanted, and many did so with dazzling creativity. One contributor, a former writer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arranged her essay like an art gallery, with each book she read assigned a museum wall label. Another, whose work revolves around revolutionary and utopian movements in history, organized her year by the long-defunct French Revolutionary calendar. Some opted to write personal narratives, while others embraced the listicle format. Some divided up their reading between work and pleasure; for others, the two blended together (as is often the case for those of us in the literary profession). The books that populate this year's essays also varied widely. Some contributors read with intention: one writer of nonfiction returned to reading fiction for the first time in 13 years; one poet decided to read only Black romance in the second half of 2023. For two new parents, their years in reading were defined by the many picture books that they read to their infants. There were, however, common threads. This year, contributors read one book more than any other: Catherine Lacey's novel Biography of X, which chronicles the life of a fictional artist against the backdrop of an alternate America. Also widely read and written about were Dan Sinykin's Big Fiction, an analysis of the conglomeration of the publishing industry, and the works of Annie Ernaux (a star of last year's YIR as well). I'm profoundly grateful for the generosity of this year's contributors, the names of whom will be revealed below as entries are published throughout the month, concluding on Thursday, December 21. Be sure to bookmark this page and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date. —Sophia Stewart, editor Emily Wilson, classicist and translator of The IliadVauhini Vara, author of This Is SalvagedJenn Shapland, author of Thin SkinDamion Searls, writer and translatorLaToya Watkins, author of Holler, ChildIsle McElroy, author of People CollideTaylor Byas, author of I Done Clicked My Heels Three TimesKristen Ghodsee, author of Everyday UtopiaJames Frankie Thomas, author of IdlewildJoanna Biggs, author of A Life of One's OwnAthena Dixon, author of The Loneliness FilesChristine Coulson, author of One Woman ShowPhillip Lopate, author of A Year and a Day More from A Year in Reading 2023A Year in Reading Archives: 202220212020 201920182017201620152014201320122011201020092008200720062005 [millions_email]

A Year in Reading: Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

I started 2021 by finishing Deesha Philyaw’s sterling collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, stories that sit adjacent to Black Southern church experiences and explore desires. I keep reading collections, including  Dantiel W. Moniz’s Floridian brown-girl Gothic-lite  Milk Blood Heat. In my claustrophobic wintery months, I traveled to parts of China with Te-Ping Chin’s The Land of Big Numbers, and then to a Europe I hadn't quite seen before with Garth Greenwell’s, A Cleanness. (Greenwell's book resists neat classification as "stories," but, to me, reads like a novel made up of satisfying stand-alone parts). Venita Blackburn’s lithe stories in How to Wrestle a Girl managed acrobatic forms.   I reread Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (that novel so gorgeously book-ended by attempts at flight!), then cracked open Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower for the first time. I've read other work by Butler, of course, but did not want to miss why folks were now calling this book prescience, on apocalypse, wall building, and making America great again. In 2021, I crossed the water in Caleb Azumah Nelson’s poetic novel Open Water, then stayed in Europe with Jean-Paul Satre’s dread-filled Nausea. I crossed water again with Hiroko Oyamada’s unsettling novel The Hole, translated by David Boyd, and still can hear the screech of insects. I quickly finished Nadia Owusu’s memoir, Aftershocks, in which she fractures time and space with stories of her mixed heritage, her vulnerabilities, and her strength, on three continents.   I came back home to the States in Asali Solomon’s Philly in The Days of Afrekete—and with Dawnie Walton’s debut, The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, a novel made up of a chorus of voices so clear they'll ring in your ear. I found myself reading a couple of writers connected to my adopted Virginia town, too: Henry Hoke’s weird, wonderful essay collection, Sticker, and Shannon McCleod’s portrait in stories, WhimsyMatthew Sallesses’s Craft in the Real World articulated and expounded on a thing for which I had not yet found words. Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings spoke to me about the grief and violence that can collect around all that is left unsaid.  The year is not quite over yet, and I'm still reading. I've started Carolyn Ferrel’s wonderfully splintered novel, Dear Miss Metropolitan. I'm just about to finish Callum Angus’s collection A Natural History of Transition. What I love about these stories in particular, and reading in general, is how precision and specificity can expose connection for me. While Angus's characters live different lives than I do, I recognize myself among his words, too, in his evocation of climate-baffled geese confused in their migration, or in the ache of being stuck in a body—of change and then more change. More from A Year in Reading 2021 (opens in a new tab) Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2020,  20192018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 [millions_email]