So It Begins.

Also, my 2020 in Books

Welcome to The Audacity, a newsletter and The Audacious Book Club.

The past year… the past four years have been overwhelming. As a writer, as a woman, I have struggled with what to says beyond expressing horror at the cruelty the Trump administration demonstrates at every opportunity. I have been reminded of the limits of language, that sometimes, the state of the world is such that words cannot adequately express dismay, disgust, frustration, fury. With each new atrocity, I wonder what terrible thing this administration is capable of, I tell myself things cannot get any worse and then they reveal themselves anew. Banning Muslims from entering the country. Building an incomplete, failing border wall. Separating families at the border. Detaining children in cages. Withholding federal funding from blue states. The relentless confirmation of conservative judges. A relentless number of federal executions. Dismantling education and what remained of the social net. Ignoring a pandemic and allowing thousands of people to die every single day, for months on end. I often find myself reciting these atrocities as I bear witness to their accumulation and it doesn’t feel real. But it is. And there’s no looking away.

In March, most of my paying work disappeared indefinitely. I had to sit still. I had a lot of time on my hands. After three weeks, it was the longest I had been in one place since 2014. I finally had time to get to know my house, to take stock of how prepared we were or weren’t for calamity. I stocked up on canned goods and water and searched, often vainly, for toilet paper. I found masks and latex gloves and hand sanitizer. I made sure we had cash on hand and a survival kit. All that preparation made me feel a semblance of control even though very little was in my control. I had plenty of work but it was hard to focus. When the reality of the pandemic finally hit me, when I realized this was going to last more than a year, maybe even more than two years, when we started to understand who in this world is truly essential, I found myself contemplating how inessential my work feels. I wasn’t being self-deprecating. I am not a medical doctor or a nurse or a radiology technician. I am not a delivery person or a grocery store clerk or a truck driver. I’m a writer. The world will keep on turning with or without my work. In some ways, the realization was freeing. It relieved some of the pressure, mostly self-induced. It allowed me to think about what I really want to write, and for whom.

Over the past several months, I’ve been trying to write more for myself, the way I used to before I published books or opinion pieces or made a modest name for myself. In this space, I am going to share some of that writing—the kinds of things I like to write when I am not writing toward a deadline or the limits of a given project. I am going to write audaciously or, at least, I am going to try.

I’ll also host weekly discussions. Twice a month I will feature essays from emerging writers. If you are an emerging writer (3 publications for fewer, no books) you can submit your work at And I will be hosting The Audacious Book Club here, so we can talk about great books with passionate, intelligent people.

A project like this takes a lot of work and I have a great time doing this work with me. I am joined by two outstanding editors—Brooke Obie and Megan Pillow and my assistant, Kaitlyn Adams, who is the co-director of the Audacious Book Club. Last but not least, the logo was designed by the one and only Chip Kidd who is the greatest.

Writing, recently.

For The New York Times, I wrote an essay about the coup-attempt, Democratic senate wins in Georgia, and how the Democrats should use the power they know have.

Reading, recently.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon, out in May 2021. It is remarkable, dense, haunting.

The Audacious Book Club.

The Audacious Book Club is a monthly online book club. Each month we’ll read a great book and have online discussions. Paid subscribers will, when the authors are willing and able to join us, have the opportunity to join me in a live Zoom conversation with that writer. And because there are so many amazing books being published every month, I will also be featuring other recommended reading.

Please purchase the books from your favorite independent bookstore or check them out from your local library. Gibson’s Bookstore has kindly assembled an order page featuring all the titles we’ll be reading. Eso Won Books is a black-owned bookstore in Los Angeles and could use your support. I will do whatever I can to shout out independent bookstores in this newsletter, and if they offer subscriptions for the book club, you will be able to find that information here.

How the Book Club Will Work.

The structure of the book club is simple. During the week listed for each book, we will host a series of discussions, with prompts to get things started. We’ll also be crafting a syllabus of supplementary reading for each book. And finally, we’ll be having live conversations with the writers via Zoom. The dates for the first three conversations are below and though most of these conversations will be exclusively for paying subscribers, the first conversation, with Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, the co-editors of Black Futures, will be open to everyone. I hope to see you there!

The Audacious Books.

JanuaryBlack Futures, edited by Jenna Wortham and Kimberly Drew (Week of 1/25)
Zoom conversation: January 25th, 8pm EST/5pm PST. (Open to all subscribers)

FebruaryDetransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (Week of 2/22)
Zoom conversation: February 25th, 8pm EST/5pm PST.

MarchThe Removed by Brandon Hobson (Week of 3/22)
Zoom conversation: March 24th, 8pm EST/5pm PST.

AprilMilk Blood Heatby Dantiel W. Moniz (Week of 4/26)
MayLibertie by Kaitlyn Greenridge (Week of 5/24)
JuneOf Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia (Week of 6/21)
JulyThe Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade (Week of 7/26)
AugustSomebody’s Daughterby Ashley C. Ford (Week of 8/23)
SeptemberThe Renunciations by Donika Kelly (Week of 9/20)
OctoberThe Heart Principleby Helen Hoang (Week of 10/25)
NovemberSometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins (Week of 11/22)
DecemberAfterparties by Anthony Veasna So (Week of 12/13)

My 2020 in Reading.

I’m one of those book nerds who logs what she reads. I’ve been doing it for more than a decade and it’s a real pleasure to keep track of my reading, year after year. In 2020, I read a lot. I love to read as escape and there was plenty worth escaping. I was also on a couple of award committees which brought a lot of extra reading. These are the books I finished and wanted to talk about. There are plenty I didn’t finish for one reason or another. It happens.

My favorite book of the year

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

My second favorite book of the year

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

The rest of the very best

Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon
The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
These Women by Ivy Pochoda
The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
by Deesha Philyaw
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Daddy by Emma Cline
A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet 
Un-American by Hafizah Geter

A raucously fun novel I will love until the end of time and also it reminds of me of Deadwood

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

The book I loved that I was truly surprised to love and I think everyone should read it and really this belongs in the best of the best

The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha

Brilliant books by immensely talented former students of whom I cold not be prouder

Mustard, Milk, and Gin by Megan Denton Ray
Thin Girls by Diana Clarke
A History of Scars by Laura Lee

The book that amused and horrified me in equal measure and honestly we need to make sure someone like Trump can never be president ever again

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump

Romance novels that were charming, sexy, beautifully written, original, and inclusive in unexpected ways

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory 
So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith
Get a Life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

A truly wild book I enjoyed far more than I expected with a bad ass protagonist handling her business and I do mean HANDLING

The Meat Hunter by Megan Allen

An intriguing novel with a really unexpected premise that kinda falls apart at the end but is still one hell of a read/ride/romp

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

A multi-layered, deeply clever and intelligent novel that won the National Book Award for fiction

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

A novel with intricate, powerful prose that also tells an endlessly interesting story and goddamn some writers are too talented for words

The Vanishing by Brit Bennett

A novel that absolutely stands on its own but also reminded me of A Little Life, one of my favorite novels of all time

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Remarkable Poetry

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
Aug 9 - Fog by Kathryn Scanlan
Guillotine by Eduardo Corral
Gauntlet by Juliane Otok Bitek
Finna by Nate Marshall

One of the most imaginative, charming short story collections I’ve read

And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks

A book that was terrible and rightfully excoriated

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

A fun novel about girls and field hockey and so much more

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

A book about a pandemic that was well-intended but wasn’t very good but was also really informative

The End of October by Lawrence Wright

A novel that is epic in scope, romantic in its own way, and is one of the most thoughtful depictions of what it means to be working class

The Great Offshore by Vanessa Veselka 

A book with two narratives, one of which I loved and the other which I did not

Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis

A play that is absolutely buck wild, bold, brash, uncomfortable, messy as hell and unforgettable

Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris

A dark, deeply compelling novel with a twist at the end that made me gasp

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

A reimagining of the life of a former first lady and would be president that has some really solid moments

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

A novel with a feisty protagonist I was rooting for from the first page to the last

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

An essay collection from a writer who manages to be hilarious and heartbreaking and powerful all at once

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Probably the sexiest, most uncomfortable and most unresolved novel I read all year

Luster by Raven Leilani

A novel about a woman on a journey to find out who her mother really was that was surprisingly poignant and affecting

All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad

Very odd (in a good way) novels

Telephone by Percival Everett
Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth
Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino
Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

A really good novel about a single mother trying to make her life work while still holding on to the dream of herself

Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould

A novel from one of the finest prose stylists writing today that came together in an unexpected but satisfying way

The Nightwatchman by Louise Erdrich

Two melancholic novels that were atmospheric in very different ways

Life Events by Karolina Waclawiak
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

A book for which I am not the target audience but I am glad the author found joy and is living her truth

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

A novel I had mixed feelings about for a lot of reasons but that was well-written

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Books that are masterclasses in political writing

Alligator by Dima Alzayat
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
And Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian

Incisive nonfiction that demands a real reckoning with race, gender and citizenship

Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami
Just Us by Claudia Rankine

An utterly original novel that is at times bonkers but is also extremely propulsive and smart and sharp as fuck

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

A meditative, loosely structured novel that reminds me of Renata Adler’s fiction

Weather by Jenny Offill

Genre-bending novel that defies convention in the best ways

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

A book about big friendship—the platonic relationships we should prioritize for all the ways they hold us up

Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

A novel that is gothic and surreal and fascinating and I will definitely be seeking out more from the author

The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson

A book where the writing is absolutely electric and the author has a big bold necessary voice

Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera

Supremely good short story collections

How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs
The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott
Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
If I Had Two Wings by Randall Kenan
How to Be a Man by Nicole Krauss

A novel with finely detailed prose that moved a bit too slow but that I have thought about for months so clearly, it’s also good

Red Dress in Black and White by Elliot Ackerman

An engrossing exploration of Korean womanhood with a great many perfect lines throughout

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Books I blurbed so obvi, they’re very good

Surviving the White Gaze by Rebecca Carroll
Dear Miss Metropolitan by Carolyn Ferrell
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon

Award reading which is to say these are all good books from talented writers and I was glad to get to know something of each of these writers

Everything Here is Under Control by Emily Adrian
Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
The End of the Day by Bill Clegg
Why Visit America by Matthew Baker
The Ghost Variations by Kevin Brockmeier
Enter the Aardvark by Jessica Anthony
These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card
The Party Upstairs by Lee Conell
The Caretaker by Doon Arbus
Winter Honeymoon by Jacob Appel
Indelicacy by Amina Cain
Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
The Last Taxi Driver by Lee Durkee
Little Gods by Meng Jin

What was the best book you read in 2020? What are you looking forward to reading in 2021?

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