For bibliophiles and writers alike, words are everything. Language and its potential to convey meaning and tell stories is essential to who we are and how we inhabit the world. On the page and off, words set things into motion. They help us define our collective and individual sense of truth. They allow for us to document the past and make sense of the present. With countless histories and connotations, the words we use and how we use them matters. Each of the authors on this list understand that. Through their work, they examine how language isn’t just a necessity, but a life sustaining gift.
The introduction to Patrisse Khan-Cullors compelling memoir When They Call You a Terrorist begins with a quote from the prolific Sonia Sanchez: “I write to keep in contact with our ancestors and to spread truth to people.” A befitting preface to Khan-Cullors’ truth-filled remembrance of the path that lead her toward activism and social justice, this book paints a portrait of the woman and the movement so often erroneously labeled as “terrorist” by those unable to comprehend our nation’s insidious legacy of racism. It articulates the passion and urgency embodied by the voices of protesters who shout, “Black lives matter.” Within these pages, the story of an American hero, a revolutionary woman, and a justice warrior emerges.
Tiffany Watt Smith
The Book of Human Emotions delves into the etymology and contemporary meaning of feelings like delight, envy, and cyberchondria. With the perceptiveness of a poet and the heart of a historian, Smith highlights the origin, context, and connotation of each emotion with a refreshingly immersive brevity. Collectively, these words create an uncanny map of the human psyche that will make you think about your feelings in a new and deeper way. If you’re a fan of the Oxford English Dictionary or have a soft spot for semantics, consider Smith’s compendium of emotion a must-read.
Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say
A heartfelt examination of language and the way words shape the world around us, Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say unblinkingly grapples with how intimate communication can be. The strength of this book lies in Kelly Corrigan’s ability to unpack the depths and limitations of language and the difficulty of bridging the gaps between what is experienced, what is felt, and what is heard. Whether embracing the unknown in “I Don’t Know” or the affirming litany of “Yes,” Tell Me More articulates the impact of words, the power of their intentions and the stories they tell.
In I Am Your Sister, Audre Lorde writes, “we can work for a world in which we can all live and define ourselves.” This 2008 collection fully embodies that aspiration and documents the importance of owning your personal truths as well as the necessity to voice them. Comprised of interviews and essays by Lorde along with remembrances by those who loved her, I Am Your Sister is a feminist touchstone. From the intersection of her many identities, this book challenges readers to reconsider how they define solidarity, compassion, and community. I Am Your Sister, much like Lorde’s legacy, urges us to shake off our fears and celebrate all that we are.
Penned by n+1 co-founder and NBCC finalist Mark Greif, Against Anything explores the topography of post-modernity’s cultural landscape. Throughout his collection, Greif deconstructs the connection between angst and punk rock, the lyrical power of rap, the socioeconomic implications of food snobbery, and the ethos of hipsterdom. Greif’s analysis is straightforward yet ingenious in a fashion reminiscent of Teju Cole and Joan Didion. Against Everything gives readers a kaleidoscopic and vivid glimpse at how culture can define how we see ourselves and others. Each essay strikes the perfect balance between criticism and fascination.
Ariel Levy’s NY Times bestseller The Rules Do Not Apply tells the story of a woman whose life is defined by boldly rejecting norms. True to her memoir’s title, Levy’s experiences with loss and love illustrate how wanting “everything” can sometimes be your saving grace and how honoring your deepest desires can lead to intimacy and independence. The honesty and wit of this memoir will have you laughing one moment and crying the next. From start to finish, Levy will charm you.
Lindy West’s dynamic debut Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman is a deservedly memorable meditation on using your voice, whether people want to hear it or not. With humor, wisdom, and unwavering courage, West unravels what it means live in world where the unabashed rejection of sexist and sizest ideologies can put you at risk. Despite the online trolls who try to silence her and a culture that fails to disavow itself of misogyny, West refuses to censor herself, which makes this memoir all the more timely.
Zadie Smith’s first essay collection is an insightful rumination on the stories that define who we are as a culture as well as individuals. Throughout Changing My Mind, Smith teases the lines between criticism and memoir with ease, revealing how cheesy films, breathtaking books, and holidays with loved ones can uncover the often obscured joy of mulling things over and examining weight of their significance. Written with veracious breadth, Changing My Mind is a the perfect primer for readers anticipating Smith’s forthcoming collection Feel Free.