I’m on deadline and should be writing (other things), so of course, I decided to put the final polish on this post.
Despite the fact that we have three kids and there is never any quiet in our home, Francisco and I read a considerable number of books in 2016. We took turns hiding in the bathroom, staying up in the wee small hours, or covering for each other while one of us read on the subway.
We purchased many of these books (I am fortunate that he has never said to me, “You know, I really think we need to stop buying books”). Others were sent to us as review copies. I indicate which is which below. We get no kickbacks or any other incentive, financial or otherwise, by recommending these. In fact, I’m not even linking to Amazon and our Associates account because we’d much rather you buy these from a local, independent bookstore (find one near you here).
Regardless, if they’re on the list you can be assured that we thought they were fabulous.
FABULOUS BOOKS BY FABULOUS FRIENDS:
We’re lucky to be friends with a number of really superb writers. Several of them published books this year and we’re thrilled to recommend them.
All Strangers Are Kin, by Zora O’Neill
Even if we didn’t know Zora (we’ve gone halvsies on vegetable, pig, and fish shares for the past few years and she throws THE best Día de los Muertos party in NYC, period), I’d recommend this book, which is about her experiences learning Arabic and traveling through ‘the Arab world.’ This book, which is lively and curious and profoundly respectful, seems more urgent now than ever, especially as the dark news from Aleppo continues to render us speechless and helpless.
Glorify, by Emily Heath
Em is one of my dearest college friends, and her first book, Glorify, was published earlier this year. Em is a binary-smashing (her words) UCC minister, and Glorify is about progressive Christianity. I don’t consider myself religious, but I still found a great deal to appreciate in her book.
La Americana, by Melanie Bowden Simón
Melanie and I met in an online writers’ group and became quick friends, united by common characteristics (namely, being writers and having married Cuban men). Her memoir about her mother, travels to Cuba, and falling in love with her husband, Luís, is moving and gorgeous, and is especially notable for the way in which she portrays Cuba in all its complexity.
Frida Kahlo at Home, by Suzanne Barbezat
If I told you about the first time Suzanne and I met in person, which was on a bizarre press trip in Mexico, it would eclipse her beautiful, hardcover tribute to Frida Kahlo. Think you know everything about Frida? You don’t. Suzanne, who has a degree in anthropology and who has lived in Oaxaca for many years, offers a new treatment of the iconic artist we all think we know so well.
The Art of Risk, by Kayt Sukel
Looking for a little more adventure in your life? Whether you want to experience risk directly or live it vicariously, Sukel’s research-grounded book remains accessible for a general audience who’s interested in the subject of living a less staid life.
Lucky Broken Girl, by Ruth Behar
Behar, who I interviewed a couple years back for The Los Angeles Review of Books, is one of the most humane writers I know, and this book, based loosely on her own childhood, is a wonderful addition to the young adult fiction options for 2017. I won’t say more than that, as I have a review of the book coming out on Cuba Counterpoints next year, prior to the book’s official release.
FANTASTIC BOOKS BY AUTHORS WE WISH WE KNEW PERSONALLY
Reputations, by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
I prefer non-fiction over fiction, but this slim novel by Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez kept me neglecting my family in the two days it took me to read it. I wasn’t satisfied with the ending, but that shouldn’t be a discouragement from reading it; it’s exquisite. (*This was a review copy.)
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
It’s going to take me a long time to recover from this book, whose power and force I can’t even begin to describe. I told Francisco, as I was reading it, “I’m so glad I wasn’t assigned a review of this book.” It’s an urgent read. And if you don’t believe me, well, listen to Oprah and the National Book Awards committee.
Island People, The Caribbean and the World, by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
Essential non-fiction reading for anyone who cares about the Caribbean. (*This was a review copy.)
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
This was another one of those books that was published a couple years ago, but just made it to the top of our reading pile, and at the perfect time. Stevenson, an extraordinary lawyer and civil rights advocate, writes an urgent book that helps us understand the American justice system.
Sing for Your Life, by Daniel Bergner
I picked this book up for Francisco at Book Culture on Columbus Avenue a few months ago. Francisco is a slower reader than I am, savoring words and passages, shutting the book to meditate after a sentence he finds powerful. This book, however, was totally different; I don’t think he’s read anything faster and with greater pleasure since García Márquez’s Cien Años de Soledad, which he read in a single night.
We both read Bergner’s Gods of the Rodeo over a decade ago and we were moved deeply by it. In Sing for Your Life, he’s at the height of his narrative powers, writing about Ryan Speedo Green, an unlikely opera star who is dominating world stages, from New York to Vienna (in the midst of reading the book, we saw Green perform in “La Bohéme” at The Met.
The Chicago Guide to Fact-checking, by Brooke Borel
As a fact-checker, I was especially interested in Borel’s book, and interviewed her shortly before its release. This is a must-read for any journalist or writer, especially those operating without any publication or institutional support or without any formal journalism training. (*This was a review copy.)
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, by Joshua Hammer
I first read Hammer’s work about Timbuktu in Smithsonian Magazine (subscribe!), and was thrilled to see that he had a whole book on the same subject. I couldn’t put this book down. (*This was a review copy.)
Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary: She Led by Transgression, by Margaret Randall
Published by Duke University Press in 2015, I didn’t get around to reading this book until this year. I was glad I did. I knew who Santamaría was, but didn’t realize the complexity of her self or her role in the Cuban Revolution until I read this book. (*This was a review copy.)
BEST BOOKS FOR KIDS
We have three kids, ages 7, 3, and 2. Our three year old reads Dr. Seuss’s ABC on repeat, and I’ll confess to having hidden Green Eggs and Ham so I don’t have to read it again. Our two year old has worn out That’s Not My Puppy.
But it’s our seven year old who’s had a thrilling year of reading. Though you’d be hard-pressed to find them in the pages of the Scholastic Reading Club’s sales fliers, there are some INCREDIBLE books being published for kids. Here are a few of our favorites:
Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, with illustrations by David Roberts
With fun, engaging illustrations and compelling characters, Beaty’s books, which portray girls, in particular, as smart, creative, and powerful, are among our favorites. And thank you, Andrea, for ensuring that your protagonists aren’t all white! We haven’t read Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau, but we ordered it last week.
Election season provided plenty of opportunities to discover books that would help kids understand the democratic and electoral processes. For all my complaints about Scholastic, that’s where we found Kelly Dipucchio’s Grace for President, which is particularly special because it portrays a girl of color running for school president (No spoilers here!) and envisioning herself in the portrait gallery of American presidents.
Scholastic is where we also found Rana DiOrio’s and Emma D. Dryden’s What Does It Mean to Be an Entrepreneur?, illustrated by Ken Min, who portrays a diverse range of kids.
Niño Wrestles the World, by Yuyi Morales This lucha libre-themed book, written by Mexican author Yuyi Morales, is SO MUCH FUN to read aloud… especially if you’re in bed with all your kids.
Count us among the readers happy to see another lucha libre book; this one’s being published in March 2017, so pre-order it now!
Lucía the Luchadora, by Cynthia Leonor Garza, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez
Here’s how the publisher describes this fantastic book:
Lucía zips through the playground in her cape just like the boys, but when they tell her “girls can’t be superheroes,” suddenly she doesn’t feel so mighty. That’s when her beloved abuela reveals a dazzling secret: Lucía comes from a family of luchadoras, the bold and valiant women of the Mexican lucha libre tradition. Cloaked in a flashy new disguise, Lucía returns as a recess sensation! But when she’s confronted with a case of injustice, Lucía must decide if she can stay true to the ways of the luchadora and fight for what is right, even if it means breaking the sacred rule of never revealing the identity behind her mask. A story about courage and cultural legacy, Lucía the Luchadora is full of pluck, daring, and heart.
Rad Women Worldwide, by Kate Schatz
As parents of a 7, 3, and 2-year old, we are always on the lookout for books that will appeal to young readers AND transmit our core values. This one is at the top of that list. Our seven year-old loves it.
AND OTHER GIFTS FOR LITERARY AND GENERALLY SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS FOLKS
#ILookLikeaFarmer: Handmade cards by Anna Brones, based on photos by Audra Mulkern.
50% of the proceeds from these gorgeous cards will be given to women farmers. Buy them here.
Alison Wonderland Jewelry: My friend, Alison Stein, has channeled her writerly impulses into handmade jewelry, which often features words, including some pieces that are particularly appropriate for these bizarre, apocalyptic moments.