Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the US, which I am mostly ignoring (for obvious reasons). But just because I’m not spending the morning chopping Brussels sprouts doesn’t mean I want to ignore all of my traditions. Namely, the one where I share which books I’m thankful for this year.
I think we all know 2020 has been a rough year (to put it mildly). Between the pandemic and my own personal struggles, I’ve just been struggling to keep my mental health above water. I’ve been okay lately, but it has definitely been affecting my reading habits. I haven’t read as many books as I usually have by this time of year. Add in the fact that I seem to be picking up quite a few duds this year and it’s been kind of a crappy reading year overall.
That said, I still have a few books I’m thankful for this year, so here we go.
Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
Honestly, this year has felt like an entire decade. When I look back on everything I read this year, most of these books feel like I read them years ago. Including this one. Somehow, it’s only been a handful of months sit I read this book in the midst of nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
This book has been on my TBR for years. I already had it on my planned reading list for this year, but with everything going on this summer, it felt like the perfect time to pick this up. I’ve been trying to read more diversely and better understand the experiences of others. It’s something I truly believe has made me a better person, and I am immensely thankful for books that help me in that way.
But Stamped from the Beginning made me see just how lacking my education (both formal and informal) was. I know this is a longer book about racism, but it’s honestly the most comprehensive I’ve come across so far. And I am so glad I read it, because it just made me want to read and learn more and just improve myself as a person.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
If you are not familiar with this one, it is a memoir written by the formerly nameless survivor of sexual assault on Stanford’s campus. You know, the assault Brock Turner committed before he got a light sentence so his life wouldn’t be ruined (the one that made us all angry and got a judge fired). In this book, Chanel Miller brilliantly and beautifully reclaims her story.
This book is hard to read. But I think it’s absolutely necessary. We need to read difficult stories like this, so that we can enact change and make the world a better place. One where rapists don’t get light sentences because, even though they might have ruined someone else’s life, they don’t deserve the same.
But Miller goes even farther in this book. It isn’t just about her experiences. It’s about the experiences of all sexual assault survivors. About their families and friends. And about all women who experience sexual harassment or fear just being out in the world. If you’ve ever held your keys like Wolverine while walking home or to your car, you know exactly what that feels like. And, if you haven’t, maybe you should read this book because it’s something that has become normal for far too many women. And it’s not okay.
I’m thankful for this book because it eloquently put into words what that fear is like. Fortunately, I have never been sexually assaulted. But I’ve come close (self-defense classes do come in handy sometimes). And I’ve definitely experienced sexual harassment. For many, many women, that’s just a normal, almost everyday, reality. And I think this book does such a great job of expressing that.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
I had not read Octavia Butler until this year. I had of course come across her name many times, but for some reason I still don’t know, I just hadn’t really looked into her books. But I am so glad I finally picked one up, and I’m even more thankful that it was this one. Kindred just pulled me in on so many levels. My reading year as a whole kind of sucked, but at least I started it off great with this one.
For those of you who haven’t read it, this book follows a Dana, a black woman living in California in 1976, who gets pulled back in time… to antebellum Maryland. She soon realizes why: her ancestor is in danger, and she has to save him. That ancestor just happens to be the white son of a slave-holder. I won’t give away too much more, but this book is insanely good. It’s also the first science fiction novel written (or published) by a black woman, and I think that alone makes this a must-read.
But, before I’d read Stamped from the Beginning, this made me think more deeply about black history in the US, from their perspective. I mean, I had decent knowledge of what had happened during and around the Civil War. But I had never really given much thought to how black people today view and think of their ancestors who were white slaveholders, which many of them were. I can’t say I’m anywhere near understanding, but it’s definitely something I want to read more into and just be more aware of.
So I’m thankful for this book, because not only was it an incredible read, it opened my eyes and made me think about something new to me.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Honestly, I’m not surprised that there is a lot of black history on this list, but I’m really glad there is. I’m sure most of you are not strangers to Henrietta Lacks. Her cancer cells, taken without her knowledge, are responsible for most modern medical advances. Ask any doctor and, regardless of when they were trained, they will know what HeLa cells are. But the might not know that HeLa stands for Henrietta Lacks.
This book had been on my TBR for a very long time before I picked it up earlier this year. And it was incredibly interesting. But, more than that, it just felt like an important book to have read. I remember putting it down when I finished it and just feeling incredibly thankful that this story exists. Because the world deserves to know who Henrietta Lacks is, and Henrietta Lacks deserves to be recognized for what she gave the world, even though she didn’t know the doctors harvested her cells.
It is a story both about how the cells of one black woman saved so many people – they played a big role in eradicating polio, in addition to many other important medical achievements – and about about who Henrietta Lacks was. She was my age when she died in 1951, leaving behind five children. And the world didn’t know her name until very recently. I think this is just really an important story, and absolutely one worth reading.
Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride
One of the reasons I love the anonymity of this blog is that I feel like I can be more open with all of you (more open than with anyone I know in real life). So, earlier this year, I shared my journey reading this book and healing from some of the emotional abuse I suffered as a child. It took until I was in my thirties to finally realize why I’ve been so miserable my entire life: my mother is a narcissist. And it has deeply affected every aspect of my life and damaged my mental (and physical) health to a startling degree.
I’m working on myself now, and this book was a huge step forward for me. It made me feel less alone. It’s still not easy, because it feels like everywhere I look, there is someone who has a mother who loves them. And honestly, that hurts. I didn’t get that basic thing every child needs. So, I’m still struggling (the past few weeks have been especially hard, which is why I took a blogging break). But now I know none of it was my fault. And that helps. As does being more open and honest about what I went through, even though I am aware most people won’t understand. Part of it was just growing up – I wouldn’t have been able to get to this place in my twenties – but this book genuinely helped me feel more confident about the thoughts I was having that go against everything I was taught to believe.
So, while I’m still not in a great place, this book gave me the reassurance I needed to keep going. Without getting into too much detail right now, my next steps towards the life I want are going to be brutally hard. But at least now, I know I can do it. And that’s huge.
That’s it for this year! Looking back on what I’ve read so far, I am actually truly thankful that I read these books in 2020. Whether they taught me something new, or changed my perspective, or helped me change and grow, I think they all played a part in making me a better person.
What books are you thankful for this year?