Welcome to a brand spanking new year and decade! I was going to write a best books of the year column, but there was too much goodness and I worked myself into a tizzy. I would write down some titles, maybe write a sentence or two, re-examine the books I have read, add another book, delete another book, repeat. So instead I focused on one of the most popular book trends of the decade, the personal essay. Women have been at the forefront of this trend with politically charged, personal, and, you sir will no longer silence me essays. 2019 was no exception with many whip-smart, witty, and insightful new releases. I would like to shout out a few that rocked my socks off.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion – Jia Tolentino
Jia Tolentino started out a blogger when she was a kid and then moved on to The Hairpin and Jezebel before ending up at The New Yorker. Her first book Trick Mirror cements (as many others have already commented on before me) her status as the Joan Didion of her time. Her 11 essays tackle many issues such as spelling out the 7 biggest scams of this generation that ends in the 2016 US election. Her most powerful essays examine the problems of the world but has no easy answers. “The I in the Internet” examines her and her generation’s life on the internet and how that has changed and how it has changed them. “Where we had once been free to be ourselves online, we were now chained to ourselves online, and this made us self-conscious. Platforms that promised connection began inducing mass alienation.” In “Ecstasy”, Tolentino reflects on her path towards transcendence during her teen years, first through her church, then chopped and screwed hip-hop, and finally MDMA.
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground – Alicia Elliot
In A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, Elliot succinctly weaves her life story through the history of the atrocious treatment of Indigenous people in North America. Her essays covers such topics as trauma, poverty, mental health, racism, and head lice, which her and so many others have lived through for centuries. The subject matter is grim, but Elliot uses her sarcastic wit to keep it lively and informative with such lines as, “Pauline Johnson, the local Mohawk poet good enough to name a school after but apparently not good enough to have her work taught within it”. This is not a safe and easy book. It is a tough and necessary book.
The Witches are Coming – Lindy West
Lindy West lays out what to expect in The Witches are Coming in “ Introduction: They Let You Do I”. She is sick and tired of Trump and his cronies wringing their hands, pouting and shouting, “it’s a witch hunt”. So she turns it on them and declares, “So fine, if you insist. This is a witch hunt. We’re witches, and we’re hunting you.” Her essays delve into such matters as politics, feminism, and pop culture or a combo of them all. In the best title ever, “Ted Bundy was Not Charming – Are You High?” she challenges us to rethink our bad habit of portraying men— who even after committing the most heinous of crimes— as “likable”. Go figure. She is funny and she is angry and she is going to let you know that she is not taking it anymore and neither should we.