2021 A Year in Books – my highlights

Fiction: The Removed by Brandon Hobson

This excellent novel follows the (mis)fortunes of a Native American family whose son was killed years earlier by a police officer. The book is full of the pain that stems from this tragic event and from ancestral trauma, namely the Trail of Tears. Multiple narrators in varying states of distress and hints of magical realism drive this compelling story.

Non-fiction: Within Our Grasp: Childhood Malnutrition Worldwide and the Revolution Taking Place to End It by Sharman Apt Russell

Within Our Grasp describes a human tragedy but one that contains a sliver of hope. Based on Apt Russell’s 2016 sojourn in Malawi, the book details numerous programs and ideas designed to combat childhood malnutrition. The theme that develops is the interconnectedness of the issues that lead to mass hunger, e.g., corporate greed, colonialism, climate change, economic inequality, the patriarchy, and poor sanitation. Success in combating childhood malnutrition will come only through holistic means chosen and implemented locally. It’s a beautiful lesson perfectly conveyed in this beautiful book.

Biography: Tony Hillerman: A Life by James McGrath Morris

This is a superb biography of one of the great Southwestern authors. McGrath Morris provides fascinating and little-known (to me, at least) insights into the great mystery writer’s life, including Hillerman’s early years in Depression-era Oklahoma, his war service and subsequent PTSD, and his relationship with Navajo culture. Highly recommended.

Poetry: The Algorithm of I by Jack Crocker

This is a deeply personal book, but it transcends the poet’s autobiography to meditate on timeless issues like art, justice, and exile. The tones – questing, elegiac, celebratory, humorous – shift seamlessly, and the nods to old friends and “old friends” Wallace Stevens, Frost, Keats, Wordsworth, Eliot, etc. are perfectly handled. Some highlights include Ritual (a masterpiece, in my opinion), Levitation, Cage, the hilarious Poetry Lesson, and the title poem The Algorithm of I, a tour de force.

Essays: Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul?: Essays by Jesse McCarthy

These essays audaciously integrate art, music, literature and politics—all seen through the lens of race. McCarthy is a superb writer and this is a stunning collection that straddles “high” and “low” culture. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s