As we inaugurate a president who believes climate change is a hoax, whose cabinet choices have made racist, homophobic, and xenophobic statements, and who has himself spoken hatefully and aggressively about immigrants, Muslims, women, and other marginalized communities, books are more essential than ever. Books can be a source of hope and solace. They can provide vital information, new ideas, and fresh perspectives. Fiction fosters empathy and understanding. We walk away from reading a book a little different than we were before—we might become empowered or even a little kinder.
Last year was a particularly good year for books, including strong fiction and nonfiction that shed light on marriage equality, immigration, climate change, and the Black Lives Matter movement. There are plenty of great reading lists to help survive Trump’s presidency that contain 2016 releases, as well as notable classics. But 2017 will bring plenty of excellent reads as well, some which will be of particular value as a certain hot-tempered reality star becomes our Commander in Chief. Here is a list of 10 books to watch for in the next six months that will provide hope, empathy, ideas, and empowerment.
Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
Picador, January 3
“In a series of personal letters to his sons, Omar Saif Ghobash offers a short and highly readable manifesto that tackles our current global crisis with the training of an experienced diplomat and the personal responsibility of a father… Ghobash encourages his sons to face issues others insist are not relevant, not applicable, or may even be Islamophobic. These letters serve as a clear-eyed inspiration for the next generation of Muslims to understand how to be faithful to their religion and still navigate through the complexities of today’s world. They also reveal an intimate glimpse into a world many are unfamiliar with and offer to provide an understanding of the everyday struggles Muslims face around the globe.”
What Do We Do Now: Standing Up For Your Values in Trump’s America
Edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians
Melville House, January 17
“Short, powerful essays on what we can do now to cope with Trump’s election, and how, moving forward, we can protect our values, our politics, and our country.” Contributors include Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU, Bernie Sanders, and Gloria Steinem.
Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin
Spiegel & Grau, January 31
“Rest in Power, told through the compelling alternating narratives of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, answers, for the first time, those questions from the most intimate of sources. It’s the story of the beautiful and complex child they lost, the cruel unresponsiveness of the police and the hostility of the legal system, and the inspiring journey they took from grief and pain to power, and from tragedy and senselessness to meaning.”
Body Horror: Essays on Misogyny & Capitalism by Anne Elizabeth Moore
Curbside Splendor, March 14 (expected date)
“Unspeakable acts are committed on women’s bodies under capitalism—in entertainment, medicine, and due to the conditions of labor that drive our economy. In Body Horror, Moore explores the global toll of capitalism on women with thorough research, surprising humor, and ease—especially when examining her own experiences with disease and health care—to create a portrait of contemporary American culture that is gory and fascinating.”
The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit
Haymarket Books, March 14
“In a timely and incisive follow-up to her national bestseller Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit offers sharp commentary on women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the gender binary, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more. In characteristic style, Solnit mixes humor, keen analysis, and sharp insight in these eleven essays.”
For Love of the Dollar by J.M. Servín
Unnamed Press, March 14
“For Love of the Dollar is a young writer’s tale of ambitions undermined by economic forces, racial divides and artistic hubris. Hilarious, irreverent, even cynical, Servín worked in kitchens, gas stations, golf courses, and finally, as a “manny” for a dysfunctional Connecticut family. His view of the plight of the undocumented worker confronts as much what it means to be Mexican, as it does American, laying bare a version of the American dream few have had the courage to articulate.”
Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard
Harper Perennial, April 11
“Rising literary star and Los Angeles Times First Fiction Award finalist Sarah Gerard uses her experiences growing up along Florida’s gulf coast to illuminate the struggles of modern human survival—physical, emotional, environmental—through a collection of essays exploring intimacy, addiction, obsession, religion, homelessness, and incarceration. With the personal insight of The Empathy Exams, the societal exposal of Nickel and Dimed, and the stylistic innovation and intensity of her own break-out debut novel Binary Star, Sarah Gerard’s Sunshine State uses the intimately personal to unearth the deep reservoirs of humanity buried in the corners of our world often hardest to face.”
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
Picador, May 2
“In One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi Koul deploys her razor-sharp humor to share all the fears, outrages, and mortifying moments of her life. She learned from an early age what made her miserable, and for Scaachi anything can be cause for despair. Whether it’s a shopping trip gone awry; enduring awkward conversations with her bikini waxer; overcoming her fear of flying while vacationing halfway around the world; dealing with Internet trolls, or navigating the fears and anxieties of her parents. Alongside these personal stories are pointed observations about life as a woman of color: where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision, or outright scorn; where strict gender rules bind in both Western and Indian cultures, leaving little room for a woman not solely focused on marriage and children to have a career (and a life) for herself.”
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Algonquin, May 2
“An emotionally harrowing debut novel that explores assimilation and loss, immigration and homeland, independence and connection…Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.”
Fingerprints of Previous Owners by Rebecca Entel
Unnamed Press, June 13
“When Myrna discovers a book detailing the experiences of slaves, who still share a last name with the majority of the islanders, her investigation becomes deeply personal, extending to her neighbors and friends, and explaining her mother’s self-imposed silence and father’s disappearance. A new generation begins to speak about the past just as racial tensions erupt between the resort and the local island community when an African-American tourist at the resort is brutally attacked. Suffused with the sun-drenched beauty of the Caribbean, Fingerprints of Previous Owners is a powerful novel of hope and recovery in the wake of devastating trauma. In her soulful and timely debut, Entel explores what it means to colonize and be colonized, to trespass and be trespassed upon, to be wounded and to heal.”
Rachel León is a writer, editor, and social worker. She serves as Daily Editor for Chicago Review of Books and Fiction Editor for Arcturus. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, Los Angeles Review of Books, the Ploughshares blog, Fiction Writers Review, The Rupture, Necessary Fiction, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere.
Great list. Thank you. They ALL look good. I just wish that second one did not have what’s-his-name in the title.
Thank you. And yes, I could do without the name in the title, but it’s a good collection of timely essays nonetheless.