2021: A Year in Books
As we inch forward towards the end of the 2021, it is a great time to reflect on some of the books that kept me company over the last 12 months. The folks at Goodreads tell me that I have read 73 books this year and I think that might be a record for me. I am actually a little stunned by that number but thankful for the time that I have had to read. Last year, I wrote that every book I read teaches me something as a human and as a writer and that continues to be true. In 2021, I made an intentional effort to seek out and read books written by minority writers and what a marvelous adventure of discovery that was.
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In no particular order, here are my top twelve books for 2021:
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (stories) by Deeshaw Philyaw. This was one book that continued to cross my radar throughout the course of the year. Using a clever brand of humor and wit, Ms. Philyaw narrates tales that showcase what is hidden behind the masks that people wear when they appear to the larger world.
Swallow by Sefi Atta. Full disclosure: I had picked up a copy of this book when I was in Lagos the year it was released with the intention of reading it. It became a casualty of my endless reading list as I set it aside time and again. When I saw that Netflix was about to release a movie of the book, I knew I had to read it before I watched the movie and I was glad I did. Ms. Atta weaves a wonderful tale that took me back to a time and a place that I had actually inhabited and could relate to. The movie actually does capture the story very well which is not something I have encountered often, but of course, as always, I would recommend that anyone interested in the story should read the book, then see the movie.
Southbound (essays) by Anjali Enjeti. There are so many nuances to the American immigrant experience and a lot of it has to do with what part of the United States, an immigrant chooses to settle in. Ms. Enjeti has lived in the southern part of the country and in these really insightful essays she shares the experience growing up and the challenges that they encountered.
No Presents Please (stories) by Jayant Kaikini. I have always been drawn to stories that capture the simplicity of everyday life, especially when they are told through the perspective of every day people, whom I consider to be the heroes that keep the world going round. I loved the stories in Mr. Kaikini’s collection because they did just that: captured the lives of every day people.
Love in Colour (stories) by Bolu Babalola. I did something different with Ms. Babalola’s book. I did not read the stories in chronological order. I did not have any reason to do so, except I saw that the title of one of the stories was Alagomeji and that rung a chorus of bells for me because I once lived in the vicinity of Alagomeji in Lagos. I get pretty excited when I see names of people and places which are rarely represented in books. To make things even more delightful, the tales are spun in such a glorious way that deliver black girl magic through every page.
A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance (essays) by Hanif Abduraqib. Mr. Abduraqib uses his beautifully crafted sentences to deliver treasures that are both thought-provoking and providing an evocative and unique insight into issues that many may overlook.
The Water House by Antônio Olinto. There are few books that trace the history of the Afro-Brazilian returnees to the city of Lagos. Mr. Olinto’s novel brings an exceptional perspective, introducing the world to unforgettable characters whose stories need to be told.
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo. I have been a huge fan of Dr. Onuzo’s writing for a long time and with Sankofa she serves up another incredible literary treasure. It was one of my most anticipated books of the year and such a satisfying read,
Red Island House by Andrea Lee. I discovered Ms. Lee’s writing when excerpts of her recent book were featured in the The New Yorker. Her writing is exquisite, as she uses delightfully composed sentences to create a powerful narrative.
Looking for Transwonderland. Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa. It is never easy to write a travel book and immerse the reader in the places you have been, to the point where reading because a joyful sensory experience. It is even more admirable when the writer takes you to places you have been and evokes the ability to see familiar places through a different lens. Ms. Saro-Wiwa achieves this effortlessly by being honest in her writing.
This is Why I Resist. Don’t Define My Black Identity by Shola Mos-Shogbamu. Over the last few years, I have become more racially aware than I have ever been in my adult life. There is an emotional burden in being able to express certain experiences that one goes through as a minority living in a place where you do not belong to the dominant culture. Dr. Mos-Shogbamu not only highlights some the issues sharing her own personal experiences but also providing some insight in how to navigate these often difficult racially-tense issues that might compel one to try to compromise one’s identity. I am so thankful for the wisdom that she has poured into this book. It is not going to be a one-time read for me.
The Eternal Audience of One by Rémy Ngamije. One of my best discoveries of the year was Mr. Ngamije’s writing. He brings people and places to life in a spectacular way.