As the world begins to open back up again and we start to see each other beyond the fuzziness of a Zoom screen, sitting at home reading may be the furthest thing from our minds. However, 2021 gave us some fantastic titles, both entertaining and educational alike. With a breadth of pandemic and political literature at the forefront of the literary movement right now, though, it can be beneficial to sit down with some creative titles to keep us engaged over the winter break. Here are some of 2021’s best books that you can find right here in the JKM Library collection!
After performing her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the 2020 inauguration, Amanda Gorman quickly became a household name. Her use of impactful aesthetics, politically charged dialogue, and sprawling free verse creates an honest, almost journalistic approach in her writing that even non-poetry fans can enjoy. The collection’s inclusion of “The Hill We Climb” sets up this text to fit in the collections of humanitarians and political activists alike. Only released just this December, Gorman’s words will keep audiences engaged, enamored, and most importantly, motivated to make change in the world that we live in.
Punch Me Up to the Gods, Brian Broome
This memoir from Chatham alum Brian Broome has made its way onto many book lists and accrued a few awards already this year, and for good reason. Broome’s striking portrayal of growing up Black and gay in Ohio’s Rust Belt. Full of striking prose and unflinching portrayals of a complex adolescence, Broome’s words will make your heart ache in the best way possible. Broome opens up the reader to a version of Appalachia that is unlike the whitewashed depictions we’re so used to seeing in the media. This year’s Kirkus Prize winner for nonfiction, Punch Me Up to the Gods has garnered attention from all over the literary world.
An Alternative History of Pittsburgh, Ed Simon
You don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy Ed Simon’s book on eclectic Pittsburgh history. In this nonfiction text on Pittsburgh’s hidden histories, Simon opens up the reader to a Pittsburgh that is not often discussed. An accessible read that presents history in an easy-to-follow narrative, this book breathes life into local tales spanning from the Whiskey Rebellion to the legacy of Andy Warhol, with plenty of vignettes in between. Simon highlights a version of Pittsburgh that even locals may be shocked to learn about, and all through a lens that’s both entertaining and informative.
American Bastard, Jan Beatty
Pittsburgh poet Jan Beatty has released another poetry collection, this one specifically centering around her identity as an adopted child. Beatty recalls the search for her birth parents with heart-wrenching lyricism and the effects of a broken system that decentralizes identity. Beatty holds back no punches when she discusses the corruption of the adoption industry and the nuances of parenthood once the bridge between birth family and adoptive family starts to crumble. Her approach is stark, but still hopeful for a future that could be better for adoptees.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deeshaw Philyaw
Even though it was released at the tail end of 2020, Deeshaw Philyaw’s short story collection gained a ton of traction in 2021. A tour-de-force example of literary fiction, Philyaw paints vivid scenes of the lives of Black women and girls, punctuated by themes of sexuality and religious-associated guilt. Drawing from the “church ladies” that she knew growing up in the church, women who approached life in a perfectionist, godly way, Philyaw forces us to question the rhetoric surrounding Black women’s bodies and sexual feelings.
We Could Be Heroes, Mike Chen
Mike Chen’s speculative fiction-superhero novel is one that’ll keep readers on their toes from start to finish. Telling the story of two amnesiacs who have mysteriously gained superpowers, Chen explores the intricacies of the human condition paired with some high-octane action scenes and witty dialogue. When these two superpowered characters encounter each other in a memory loss support group, readers get to watch the unraveling and paranoia happen firsthand. A fast-paced read for the hero in all of us.