Hard to believe we’re in the second half of this very long year. In July, I went back to work and started semester reading for my MFA program. Both of those life changes slowed me back down to five books, as well as how much time each of these books demands (in a good way).
My monthly reading average jumped in June, including two by activist and abolitionist Angela Y. Davis, both of which I covered in my anti-racist reading series. I started my MFA at Antioch University, where the residency was on Zoom for ten consecutive days. Instead of slowing me down, I was happy to sit with a book in place of a screen at the end of each day, and I was especially happy to read the books discussed below.
Since my last post on recommended books on racism, more Black Americans have been killed by and within racist institutions: Rayshard Brooks, Riah Milton, Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, and Robert Fuller, among others, should be alive today. I am a firm believer that white people should educate ourselves and reach out to educate other white Americans, and in that spirit I have been sharing what I have learned from books authored by Black writers. I encourage you to purchase the books from Black-owned bookstores and to not simply stop at reading the books, but to allow the books to compel you to action within your spheres of influence.
This week, I am recommending books on abolition. To be clear, I have not read books that specifically address defunding the police, but once the phrase came across my social media feed, I began to think back on what I’ve read about abolition, as well as sought out a few titles from my to-read shelf in order to think through this current moment.
I am seeking to educate myself on what it would take to attain an “abolition democracy,” the term W.E.B. Du Bois coined during America’s Reconstruction Era to argue that slavery would not truly be eradicated in the U.S. until institutions were put in place to genuinely incorporate Black Americans into the nation’s conception of democracy. I credit Angela Y. Davis with articulating this notion, and several of her books are described below. State, local, and federal funding must be invested in community solutions that address racism and other social ills (homophobia, transphobia, sexism, classism, and so on), and our current system of overfunding systems designed for punishment must change. I have arrived at this belief because of the books and resources listed below.
Whoever said we would have more time to read now did not anticipate how hard it would be to focus. Although sure to change in the summer, sticking to five books in April was only challenging in that I struggled to finish five, opting for some poetry at the end of the month to ease my mind. If you missed my previous 2020 reads, you can find them all here: January, February, and March.
I hope you are still ordering from your local bookstore, and I hope you find something here worth reading, as I did through and through. Although I often prefer essays, I read quite a bit of fiction in April, as stories with at least some semblance of unreality were easier to delve into than the so-called real world in this moment.
Since limiting my reading time in January, I thought more time at home in March might challenge that boundary, but I stuck with my commitment and only read five books this month. If you missed January and February, they’re still waiting for you.
Bookstores could really use your support during the current closure, and indie bookstores especially. I personally love Deep Vellum Books in Dallas and Commonplace Books in Fort Worth, but I’m also partial because I have friends and roots in both places. Wherever you are, try to find your local bookstore and order from them.
Last month I shared that I was limiting my monthly reading so that I would have more time to prioritize writing and people in my life. I also wanted to get better at reflecting on what I was reading, so I started this monthly newsletter to write a few words about each of the five books I read in a given month (you can read about my January books here).
In February, two works of criticism (by Emily Nussbaum and James Baldwin) deepened my understanding of the critical task, while two novels (by Sally Rooney and Annaleese Jochems) both coincidentally included sharp commentaries on capitalism. As the shortest month of the year draws to a slow end, I turned to poetry (by Ada Limón) to settle into the slowness and change my thinking process. More on all of that below:
Yesterday, I wrote that I turned my annual reading goals into a reading limit so that I might spend less time running a marathon and more time reflecting and sharing my learning. Each month this year, I’ll be limiting myself to five books, and my hope is to record a note about each so that I can read more consciously and hopefully connect with others who read books from the list. Drop me a line in the comments or an email if that’s you.
In October of last year, reading 100 books in 2019 seemed possible if I really pushed myself. Over the years, my annual reading has steadily increased by about ten books, and last year I planned to read eighty. After surpassing this and hitting triple digits, regret—instead of accomplishment—settled in.
The privilege to read for leisure is not lost on me, but something about indulging a personal scorecard felt especially off. The last two months of the year felt like reading to win a marathon rather than reading to learn or enjoy. I skipped my reading journal and seemingly picked books at random. Writing and reflecting became secondary to the act of digesting pages.
Last year I started a new tradition of keeping track of my favorite reads from the year. It led to great conversations with friends who read some of the books and recommended some to me in turn. Besides reading, I really love to talk about reading, so please drop me a line if you want to discuss these or anything else you read.