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About Some Beautiful Things I Read Last Year

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Connie Pan

Senior Contributor

Connie Pan is a writer and editor from Maui, Hawai‘i. She earned an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University and a BA in creative writing from Grand Valley State University. Her writing has appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Carve, HelloGiggles, PRISM International, The Billfold, and elsewhere. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Instagram: @csnpan Twitter: @panlikepeter

Along with sequins and kissing, year-end reading lists are one of my favorite things about saying goodbye to December. Annually, one of my oldest friends shares her book count and select titles, and I look forward to it so much that she inspired me to do the same.

Since 2015, I’ve been in an independent reading contest. After two years of tying myself with the number 32, I finally surpassed my record with 40 books. Of those, 13 were audiobooks, which I started listening to yearning for productivity during my work commute. I read one graphic novel and 23 fiction, 10 poetry, and six nonfiction titles. 29 were authored by women, 28 by people of color, and 14 by the LGBTQ community. A little tardy but it’s never too late to talk about how these books dazzled me.

Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair

That feeling when you read a book that’s so satisfying—if given a chance—you wouldn’t change a word. This is one of those books. A taste from her opening poem, “Home”: “And what a joy / to still believe in anything.”

The Argonauts CoverThe Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

Nelson’s brain intimidates me. In a good way. One of my choice interviews to relisten to and beloved books to recommend, Bluets, this memoir about love, sex, and gender didn’t disappoint. Hello, passion: “I know we’re still here, who knows for how long, ablaze with our care, its ongoing song.”

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Recommended by my MFA wifey, we have a thing for novels featuring multiple perspectives. The collective voice of the church mothers surprised and amazed me. Watch Bennett pull it off: “The weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains.”

WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier

I waited and waited for this collection. Brain-bendingly intelligent, I could chew on her lines for days. For example, “What is it to wish for the absence of nothing?”

Here Comes the Sun CoverHere Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

A couple of the countless things I love about this debut novel are the setting and description. An island girl, I’ve always loved and looked to Caribbean literature. Felt a kinship with their ocean and flowers and, last but not least, celestial bodies: “The stars are sprinkled across the sky like grains of salt.”

Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

An instant classic, I recommend this book to friends, and strangers, often. Full of magic and history, this novel sings masterpiece. Let Yanique’s words sink into you forever: “The idea that people who guarded you could also be the people that you needed guarding from was nothing anyone should have to learn.”

What We Lose CoverWhat We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

A birthday present from my fiancé, the cover, bright yellow with flowers (two of my weaknesses) drew me to this book. The vignettes, charts, and footnotes solidified that I needed this on my shelf to revisit its experimental form and lines like “I fall in love carefully.”

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

A book with a family tree is the way to my heart. How Flournoy breathes life into the Turners, into each of her characters, is skillful. Sometimes her words sound like incantation. Listen: “Speak something into existence. Give it a name and give it life.”

Simulacra by Airea D. Matthews

After reading the first three poems online, I hit the buy button and happily ever after. A longtime fan of Gertie, I fell in love with “If My Late Grandmother Were Gertrude Stein.” These poems deliver. Especially the last line of “Psyche on Prozac”: “There are limits to what / even Love can know.”