Family, togetherness, and my favorite books of 2015

There’s always that sigh-of-relief moment that comes around when the holidays are over, isn’t there? Or is that just me? Maybe it’s just me. It’s such a whirlwind of going here and meeting there and cheering and toasting and having loads of fun, and by the end of it I’m more than a little bit in need of a recharge. So, once the calendar flips over I’m glad it happened, but I’m kind of glad it’s over, too.

The holidays also tend to remind me that I’m doubly lucky. Most queer people are in a place where they have two families: the one they were born into and which doesn’t accept them, and the one they’ve chosen and built around themselves that takes them completely as they are. I tend to think I hit the lottery because I was born into a family that has my back no matter what, and have a fantastic circle of friends scattered across the globe that, likewise, has my back no matter what.

Well, as long as I don’t blow up the moon or anything. I think they might be peeved with me in that case.

In spite of my love of lists, I’m not a huge fan of making “best of” lists (although I’ve probably done just that in the past and in that case am I a hypocrite? Maybe) because my consumption of popular anything is always pretty well skewed. I don’t always see, hear, or read a lot of what’s current because I’m working from a backlog, be it books, TV shows, or movies. (I can’t even keep current on music; I’ve given up trying.)

That being said, my favorite books that I read in 2015 were, to no big surprise, centered around that idea of family and friendship. They were not necessarily published in 2015, so they won’t all be on anyone else’s list, but here are three that I loved especially hard:

...which I read, apparently, at Starbucks.

…which I read, apparently, at Starbucks.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This brick of a book (720-plus pages) follows the lives of four college friends as they build lives for themselves in New York, and the troubling but unspoken past of one of them, Jude, begins to make his present unravel. This book is spellbinding and beautiful.

KindredKindred by Octavia Butler. A black woman in 1970s Los Angeles finds herself suddenly transported through time and space to the antebellum South where she confronts a slave-owning ancestor. As she continues to be pulled back again and again without any choice, the situation gets more and more desperate. I’m currently reading another Butler novel, The Parable of the Sower, which is also science fiction but with a solid grounding in reality.

Pictured here with another fantastic book I read last year, Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett.

Pictured here with another fantastic book I read last year, Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I would have loved this book, about a band of Shakespearean actors roaming the Great Lakes region after a plague has wiped out most of the population, even if one of the characters didn’t have a tattooed line from an episode of Star Trek Voyager on her arm: “Because survival is insufficient.”

In 2014 I set myself a goal of reading more books by people other than straight white guys. Admittedly, since I read a lot of queer fiction and books by writers who are women, this was an achievable goal. What I noticed from that year, though, was that even when the books were by queer writers or women writers, they were still frequently white writers. In 2015 I decided to broaden my focus and explore more writers of color. Out of the 27 books I read last year, 13 were by writers of color. Not as big of a percentage as I would have preferred, but a marked improvement over 2014’s percentage of around 25 percent.

It would be a shame, I think, to consider that a goal that’s checked off and now I’ll just go back to reading primarily white writers. It’s a big world, and if you’re not careful you’ll miss it. (Thanks, Ferris.) So the first book I’m reading this year is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I’ve got another book by Shyam Selvadurai, Funny Boy, on my to-read stack, a book by Kim Fu, and I’m really looking forward to reading The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee when it comes out.

In fact, Alex’s book is going to be an exception to my reading goal for 2016, which is to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. Seriously, there are at least three dozen books in the house that I’ve bought or been given but have yet to crack, and it’s time to do something about that. So I’ll also finally be reading Birds of America by Lorrie Moore, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, and Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Nick Clegg.