2019 Reads for the Rest of Us

The Feminist Know-It-All: You know her. You can’t stand her. Good thing she’s not here! Instead, this column by gender and women’s studies librarian Karla Strand will amplify stories of the creation, access, use and preservation of knowledge by women and girls around the world; share innovative projects and initiatives that focus on information, literacies, libraries and more; and, of course, talk about all of the books.


As a reader, I’m always surprised at how challenging it can be to quickly locate books written by women from historically marginalized or underrepresented groups. It’s not that the books aren’t being written—they just are often not afforded the same visibility as titles written by white women, and definitely not by white men.

As a librarian with expertise in gender, women’s and LGBTQ studies, I am uniquely equipped to find these titles—and have been on a mission to curate lists specifically dedicated to books written by women, defined broadly, with a particular focus on Black and Latinx women, women of color and Indigenous women writers; lesbian, bisexual, aro/ace, queer, intersex, transgender and gender non-conforming writers; international writers; writers who are disabled, neurodivergent, justice involved or living in poverty; or any number of other writers whose stories haven’t been as visible. (Including white ones and, at time, even men!)

I’ve been offering these new book lists and reviews on my website for the last year, and I’m now thrilled to offer this to more readers with Ms.! These are the 2019 releases about which I am most excited. And it might not look like the list you’re expecting.

In putting this together, I wanted to focus on titles that haven’t been included on other lists from Bustle, Nylon, O Magazine, The Millions, Book Riot, Publisher’s Weekly, etc. (I read them all! My favorite is by R.O. Kwon for Electric Lit.) There are some amazing books coming this year that you’ve already heard about that won’t be on this list—think: The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray, Magical Negro by Morgan Parker, Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women, On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. While I can’t wait to read these, I’ve left them and other higher-profile books off the list to make room for those that I’m excited about but haven’t seen other places.

I plan to read and review as many of the books on this list as I can over the next year—and will share my thoughts with you right here once I do! I also hope to explain why, as a white woman, I find it absolutely imperative to read the work of women outside of my own identities. But those are future columns…


January

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine

by Emily Bernard

In this volume, English Professor Emily Bernard includes twelve personal pieces about her lived experience as a Black woman—from growing up and attending university, to marriage and parenthood, and even the random stabbing that encouraged her to share her stories. Dr. Bernard’s belief in the regenerative power of writing is beautifully demonstrated in this memoir of essays. Emily Bernard is on Twitter @emilyebernard and Instagram @bernardemily.

A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland

by DaMaris B. Hill

At exactly the right time, University of Kentucky professor DaMaris B. Hill has written a powerful collection of poems examining the incarceration of Black women. Dr. Hill profiles women such as Lucille Clifton, Eartha Kitt, Ida B. Wells and Assata Shakur and, in poetry, demonstrates the multiple ways Black women experience being bound, hemmed in, fettered, imprisoned. I will be processing this book for a long time. Follow DaMaris Hill on Twitter @damarishill and Instagram @dr_digifeminist.

It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America

by Reniqua Allen

Writer, producer and journalist Reniqua Allen has published this timely critical examination of Black millennials in the U.S. who are caught between Civil Rights-era promises and post-Obama realities. Giving Black millennials much-needed airtime, Allen shares their stories alongside keen reporting of how they are playing the game by their own rules—and winning. You can find Reniqua Allen on Twitter @rnz1.

Thick: And Other Essays

by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick has already gotten a lot of play—and rightfully so—but I had to include it anyway because of how excited I am to read it. With this book, Dr. Cottom wanted Black women “to feel seen”, and by all accounts, they do after reading this book. Centered on the importance of Black women taking up and holding space—literally, figuratively and all ways in-between—Thick is one of the reads of the year. Follow Tressie McMillan Cottom on Twitter @tressiemcphd and on Instagram @tressiemcphd. See also: Thick the Book.

February

Borders of Belonging: Struggle and Solidarity in Mixed-Status Immigrant Families

by Heide Castañeda

I can’t think of a more timely issue to learn about right now than the struggles of immigrant families, especially when some members have legal status and others do not. In this ethnographic study, Dr. Castañeda explores issues imperative to the safety and health of these immigrant families and the strategies of solidarity they use to survive. Follow Heide Castañeda on Twitter @CastanedaHeide.

Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism

by Marquis Bey, out February 19

Dr. Regina Bradley called Them Goon Rules “a provocative and compelling interdisciplinary trans-­feminist read of American society and culture from a Black perspective,” and Dr. Kai M. Green said, “Bey demonstrates a distinctive radical vulnerability that can only be the result of working in and through a Black queer feminist lens.” If you enjoyed Unapologetic by Charlene Carruthers or Black on Both Sides by C. Riley Snorton, I think you’ll dig this one. You can find Dr. Marquis Bey on Twitter @marquisdbey.

We Set the Dark on Fire

by Tehlor Kay Mejia, out February 26

While not usually a reader of romance, I am excited for one featuring two powerful Latinx women fighting for agency in a fantastical world struggling (much like our own) with issues of immigration, equality and privilege. This YA debut is receiving rave reviews and I am here for it. Find Tehlor Kay Meija on Twitter @tehlorkay and on Instagram @tehlorkay.

March

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story

by Jacob Tobia, out March 5

I am a big fan of memoirs, especially memoirs that have something to teach—and we have so much to learn about gender! Tobia shares their story in Sissy with candor, wit and sensitivity. Like Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men, this is a book we really need. Follow Jacob Tobia on Twitter @JacobTobia and on Instagram @jacobtobia.

New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent

by Margaret Busby, out March 8

Over 25 years ago, Margaret Busby brought together essays from over 200 women writers of African descent in one landmark volume, Daughters of Africa. In 2019, she does it again with this companion of another 200 writers such as Roxane Gay, Nnedi Okorafor, Eve Ewing, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Edwidge Danticat. This book is over 700 pages and I can’t wait to dig into it!

On Intersectionality: Essential Writings

by Kimberlé Crenshaw, out March 12

It’s here! It’s here! The collection of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s writings that we’ve all been waiting for! Crenshaw’s collection of essays and “a sweeping new introduction” will cover over two decades of intersectional feminist writing—and be required reading. Follow Kimberlé Crenshaw on Twitter @sandylocks and check out her non-profit, the African American Policy Forum.

Malawi’s Sisters

by Melanie S. Hatter, out March 15

Selected by Edwidge Danticat, Melanie Hatter won the inaugural Kimbilio National Fiction Prize for Malawi’s Sisters. Inspired by the 2013 shooting of Renisha McBride, the book is focused on the grief and healing of a Black family after their daughter was fatally shot by a white man. Hatter has written a story that Danticat calls, “timely and well executed” and that’s enough for me. Follow Melanie S. Hatter on Twitter @mshatter1.

To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism

Edited by Keisha Blaine and Tiffany Gill, out March 19

An impressive array of scholars and writers contribute to this volume examining Black women’s engagement internationally. Topics include travel, migration, the arts, politics, activism and more. With Dr. Keisha Blaine and Dr. Tiffany Gill as editors, this collection is bound to be thorough, critical and well-executed. Follow the editors on Twitter @KeishaBlain and @SableVictorian.

Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

Written and gathered by adrienne maree brown, out March 19

adrienne maree brown follows her popular Emergent Strategy with this collection of essays focused on how to make activism more pleasurable and healing than stressful and unforgiving. Some of my favorite writers have contributed to this volume including Sonya Renee Taylor and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Follow all three on Twitter @adriennemaree, @Sonyareneepoet and @alexispauline. (And don’t miss Gumbs in conversation with Ms. scholar and contributor Janell Hobson as part of the Ms. Black Feminist in Public series.)

April

The Affairs of the Falcóns: A Novel

by Melissa Rivero, out April 2

After the Falcóns flee Peru, the family struggles to make it as undocumented immigrants in New York City. In this important debut novel, Melissa Rivero tackles a challenging and pressing issue in accessible, vivid prose. Follow Rivero on Twitter @melissa_rivero and on Instagram on @melissarivero_.

The Body Papers

by Grace Talusan, out April 2

Grace Talusan’s The Body Papers is a challenging, candid memoir of finding meaning and hope in the midst of the challenges of immigration, racism, depression, abuse and cancer. As a fan of memoirs, I look forward to spending time with this Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Follow Grace Talusan on Twitter @gracet09.

In the Night of Memory: A Novel

by Linda LeGarde Grover, out April 2

In her latest book, Linda LeGarde Grover (Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe) revisits the Minnesota reservation of her previous novels and focuses on the younger generation of Ojibwe girls. This coming of age story brings together themes of missing women, family and community, complicated histories and collective wisdoms.

Holding the World Together: African Women in Changing Perspective

Edited by Nwando Achebe and Claire Robertson, out April 16

This collection of essays, edited by Dr. Nwando Achebe (professor at Michigan State University and daughter of Chinua Achebe) and Dr. Claire Robertson (professor emerita at The Ohio State University), includes an impressive list of contributors. Topics focus on the myriad of ways women across Africa wield power, act as agents of change and the challenges they face while doing so.

May

The Farm

by Joanne Ramos, out May 7

There’s been some buzz surrounding Joanne Ramos’ The Farm, but I couldn’t resist including it on my list as well. In this, her debut novel, Ramos presents the reader with a world where fertility commands a high price, in more ways than one. This is a story that inspires critical examination of notions of motherhood, immigration and capitalism, in gripping prose.

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

by Sabrina Strings, out May 7

With this book, Sabrina Strings presents readers with an historical examination of fatness, Black women and the stigma and fears surrounding fat Black women. Dr. Strings hypothesizes that fat phobia doesn’t stem from health concerns, as so often argued, but instead from a desire to control and oppress by gender, race and class.

June

My Seditious Heart

by Arundhati Roy, out June 4

Here’s another one I’ve been waiting for: a complete collection of Arundhati Roy’s nonfiction writing! At almost 1,000 pages, this volume is a monster. But so is she, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m just going to grab it, slowly make my way through it and chew and digest it, one bite at a time.

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir

by Samra Habib, out June 4

In this candid memoir, Samra Habib explores family, queerness, faith, tradition, feminism and creativity from her perspective as a Pakistani Muslim. Follow Samra Habib on Twitter @therealsamsam and on Instagram @samra.habib.

If It Makes You Happy and Tell Me How You Really Feel

by Claire Kann, out June 4; by Aminah Mae Safi, out June 11

These are just two of the fantastic LGBTQ titles coming out in 2019. If you enjoy YA titles featuring diverse characters and contemporary coming-of-age themes, these are for you. Find the authors on Twitter @KannClaire and @aminahmae.

The Record Keeper

by Agnes Gomillion, out June 18

I read a few great dystopian novels last year such as The Book of M by Peng Shepherd and Suicide Club by Rachel Heng. This year I hope that books such as The Record Keeper will scratch my itch for unique speculative fiction. Follow Agnes Gomillion on Twitter @agnesgomillion and on Instagram @agnesgomillion.

The Stationery Shop

by Marjan Kamali, out June 18

Marjan Kamali has written an intense story of love and loss set in Iran, against the backdrop of the 1953 coup d’etat. It’s a grand saga spanning decades and countries, centered on a young couple in love. Will they end up together or will circumstances beyond their control keep them apart? Follow Marjan Kamali on Twitter @MarjanKamali.

The Travelers

by Regina Porter, out June 18

Regina Porter has penned this new American saga that spans the 1950s through the Obama presidency. Fans of character-driven historical fiction will enjoy this one. Follow Regina Porter on Twitter @ReginaMPorter and on Instagram @reginamporter.

July

Speaking of Summer

by Kalisha Buckhanon, out July 30

I don’t read many thrillers or mysteries but the description of Speaking of Summer piqued my interest. Critically acclaimed novelist Kalisha Buckhanon presents a story of a missing twin and the sister searching for her throughout Harlem. I’m eager to give this one a try. And I am in love with this cover. Follow Kalisha Buckhanon on Twitter @KalishaOnline.

August

A Pure Heart: A Novel

by Rajia Hassib, out August 6

Raija Hassib has written this gripping contemporary novel about two Muslim sisters who grew up in Egypt and then took very different paths as adults. When one sister is killed, the other uncovers continuous challenging questions in her quest for understanding and closure. Follow Rajia Hassib on Twitter @rajiahassib.

The Memory Police: A Novel

by Yoko Ogawa (Author), Stephen Snyder (Translator), out August 13

Acclaimed Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa has written a frightening new dystopian novel about state surveillance and strange disappearances. The description reminds me of Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M in which people’s shadows begin to disappear along with their memories. I’m intrigued by this book, written by a prolific author who has won every major literary award in Japan.

Trans Love: An Anthology of Transgender and Non-Binary Voices

by Freiya Benson, out August 21

This anthology includes essays about transgender love including familial and romantic love, friendship and self-love. Full of candid voices and stories, this thought-provoking volume is edited by writer and photographer Freiya Benson. Follow Benson on Twitter @scarlettraces.

September

Pet

by Akwaeke Emezi, out September 10

This is the book I am most excited for in 2019. If you read my review of Akwaeke Emezi’s debut adult novel, Freshwater, you would know that it was my top read of 2018. Emezi has a style all their own, filled with edges, curves and corners. While I await their second adult novel due out in 2020, I will devour this, their first YA novel, a tale of monsters and those who deny their existence. Follow Akwaeke Emezi on Twitter @azemezi and Instagram @azemezi, and click here to read the Ms. Q&A with Emezi.

Renia’s Diary: A Holocaust Journal

by Renia Spiegel, out September 17

For the first time this year, the diary of Holocaust victim Renia Spiegel will be published in English. Spiegel was a Jewish Pole who began her diary at age 15 in 1939 when she went to live with her grandparents after the start of the war. Spiegel wrote almost 700 pages before she was killed in 1942. Destined to become a new classic of primary Holocaust literature, the diary relates the life of a teenage girl during the Nazi occupation, in all its raw insights, candid emotions and aching fear. Not to be missed. Learn more at the Renia Spiegel Foundation.

High School

by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin, out September 24

A memoir by Tegan and Sara? Yes, please. That is all. Find Tegan and Sara on Twitter @teganandsara and Instagram @teganandsara.

October

In the Dream House: A Memoir

by Carmen Maria Machado, out October 1

This is Carmen Maria Machado’s follow up to her extremely popular Her Bodies and Other Parties. A memoir of an abusive relationship, In the Dream House challenges readers’ assumptions of safety, lesbian relationships, humor, abuse narratives and memoir. Follow Machado on Twitter @carmenmmachado.

The City We Became

by N. K. Jemisin, out October 8

This is the first book in a new series by N.K. Jemisin, best known for her speculative fantasy works but also last year’s short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month? I’m looking forward to getting in on the ground floor of this new series. Follow N.K. Jemisin on Twitter @nkjemisin.

Escaping Exodus: A Novel

by Nicky Drayden, out October 8

Fans of scifi and magical realism will be excited for this spacey standalone novel by Nicky Drayden. Escaping Exodus sounds like a fantastical, save-the-world adventure and I can’t wait for it to take me away! You can find Nicky Drayden on Twitter @nickydrayden.

Who are you excited to read this year? Tell me in the comments!

About

Karla J. Strand is the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian for the University of Wisconsin. She completed her doctorate in Information Science via University of Pretoria in South Africa with a background in history and library science, and her research centers on the role of libraries and knowledge in empowering women and girls worldwide. Karla is working on her first book, a history of the Office of the GWS Librarian, due out in 2020. Tweet her @karlajstrand.