It’s been nearly a year since Rep. Maxine Waters gifted us the phrase “reclaiming my time,” and the California member of the House of Representatives hasn’t stopped fighting the current administration’s policies.
It’s been a long year, and if you, too, have been fighting—calling your elected officials, protesting in the streets and at local town hall meetings, and donating to important organizations—you’re likely tired.
Reclaim some of that time with the books below. We asked Rumpus editors for favorite titles of writing that centers us in a world gone awry and offers us new perspectives to challenge outdated modes of thinking and being.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
This collection of essays—spanning politics, criticism, and feminism—is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.
Confessions of a Barefaced Woman by Allison Joseph
These poems are smart, shameless, and empowered confessions of the best kind. In semi-autobiographical verse highlighting in turns light-hearted and harsh realities of modern black womanhood, these poems are funny, but never flippant, and are always forthcoming about the author’s own flaws and foibles.
No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh
No Mud, No Lotus introduces ways to be in touch with suffering without being overwhelmed by it. “When we know how to suffer,” Nhat Hanh says, “we suffer much, much less.” With his signature clarity and sense of joy, Thich Nhat Hanh helps us recognize the wonders inside us and around us that we tend to take for granted and teaches us the art of happiness.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Where the sidewalk ends, Shel Silverstein’s world begins. It is a place where you wash your shadow and plant diamond gardens, a place where shoes fly, sisters are auctioned off, and crocodiles go to the dentist. Silverstein’s masterful collection of poems and drawings is at once outrageously funny and profound.
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s astonishing and haunting first novel, is a classic of twentieth-century literature. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, blindings, and wisdom gives us one of the most riveting characters in American fiction.
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
A first novel by an unknown writer, Invisible Man established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. Its nameless narrator describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood,” and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.
Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing
Blending stark realism with the surreal and fantastic, Eve L. Ewing’s narrative takes us from the streets of 1990s Chicago to an unspecified future, deftly navigating the boundaries of space, time, and reality. Electric Arches invites fresh conversations about race, gender, the city, identity, and the joy and pain of growing up.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis is often cited as one of the seminal works of fiction of the twentieth century. The story begins with traveling salesman Gregor Samsa waking to find himself transformed into an insect. The rest of Kafka’s novella deals with Gregor’s attempts to adjust to his new condition as he deals with being burdensome to his parents and sister, who are repulsed by the horrible, verminous creature Gregor has become.
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
In writing that explores the nature of memoir itself, Yuknavitch’s story traces the effect of extreme grief on a young woman’s developing sexuality that some define as untraditional because of her attraction to both men and women. Her emergence as a writer evolves at the same time and takes the narrator on a journey of addiction, self-destruction, and ultimately survival that finally comes in the shape of love and motherhood.
Litany for the Long Moment by Mary-Kim Arnold
The orphan at the center of Litany for the Long Moment is without homeland and without language. In three linked lyric essays, Arnold attempts to claim her own linguistic, cultural, and aesthetic lineage and interweaves personal documents, images, and critical texts as a means to examine loss and longing.
Attempts at a Life by Danielle Dutton
Operating somewhere between fiction and poetry, biography and theory, the pieces in Attempts at a Life, though nominally stories, might indeed be thought of as “attempts.” They do what lively stories do best, creating worlds of possibility, worlds filled with surprises, but rather than bring these worlds to some sort of neat conclusion, they constantly push out towards something new.
You Ask Me to Talk about the Interior by Carolina Ebeid
You Ask Me to Talk about the Interior emerges out of the ontological shock and double-bind of there being a world (rather than nothing at all), and inhabiting this world that “depends on violence.” Ebeid explores a poetics that is at once intricate and intimate. Each poem in the collection is an ardent fathoming of our most interior selves and a momentary “allegory for the soul.”
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Brilliant and entertaining, Outliers is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.
Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance by Fady Joudah
Joudah is a translator between the heart and the mind, the flesh and the more-than-flesh, the word body and the world body―and between languages, with a polyglot’s hyper-resonant sensibility. Generous in its scope, inventive in its movements and syntax, Footnotes in the Order of Disappearanceis a richly rewarding and indispensable collection.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we reckon with our fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his son. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
High Ground Coward by Alicia Mountain
Alicia Mountain’s urgent and astonishing debut collection maps a new queer landscape through terrain alive and sensual, defiant and inviting. With a voice that beckons while it howls, Mountain nimbly traverses lyric, confessional, and narrative modes, leaving groundbreaking tracks for us to follow.
Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele
Faith Adiele shows readers that the path to faith is full of conflicts for even the most devout. Residing in a forest temple, she endured nineteen-hour daily meditations, living on a single daily meal, and days without speaking. Internally Adiele battled against loneliness, fear, hunger, sexual desire, resistance to the Buddhist worldview, and her own rebellious Western ego. Adiele demystifies Eastern philosophy and demonstrates the value of developing any practice―Buddhist or not.
Let’s All Die Happy by Erin Adair-Hodges
The poems in Let’s All Die Happy explore apostasy, concerned with what happens after the beliefs and institutions which promised fulfillment leave us empty instead. Darkly humorous, the collection examines a patriarchal culture in which women are defined through their relationship to others.
Telepathologies by Cortney Lamar Charleston
Cortney Lamar Charleston’s debut collection looks unflinchingly at the state of race in twenty-first century America. Today, as much as ever before, the black body is the battleground on which war is being waged in our inner cities, and Charleston bears witness with fear, anger, and glimpses of hope.
Idiophone by Amy Fusselman
Idiophone is a strikingly original meditation on risk-taking and provocation in art and a unabashedly honest, funny, and intimate consideration of art-making in the context of motherhood, and motherhood in the context of addiction. Amy Fusselman’s compact, beautifully digressive essay feels both surprising and effortless, fueled by broad-ranging curiosity, and, fundamentally, joy.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage—and a life, in good times and bad—that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking’s book explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin—and what made its start possible? Does time always flow forward? Is the universe unending—or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space? What will happen when it all ends?