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Verso authors pick their favorite books of the year

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Some recent Verso authors share their favorite reads from the past year. Purchase these books from your local independent bookstore or on Bookshop.org, a new ecommerce platform that supports indie stores.


Blackspace: On the Poetics of an Afrofuture by Anaïs Duplan (Black Ocean, 2020)
"Anaïs Duplan’s stunning collection of essays, artist interviews, and poetry Blackspace: On the Poetics of an Afrofuture and s*an d henry-smith’s electric blend of poems and photography that is their “Wild Peach” are two brilliant books that each respectively, generously, draw out themes of Black futures and queered histories, helping us to reimagine the now and collectively dream toward an emancipatory and abolitionist tomorrow.” — Legacy Russell, author of Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto

Intimations by Zadie Smith (Penguin Random House, 2020)
"My favorite book of 2020 has been Zadie Smith’s small volume, Intimations. The pandemic has left us without a self-portrait, without the normal ways of connecting to each other, and the stories and films we have often feel “of a different time” in a sense. Smith’s volume, written at the start of the pandemic, gives a window in the complexities of the world’s radically changing nature during COVID-19, and how empathy and suffering, survival and longing, have also been transformed. I loved everything about this book, including her astute observations on the realness of suffering to the sufferer (and how we cannot meaningfully feel better by comparing our suffering to others’ suffering), the painful loss of observing strangers, and the ominous implications of George Floyd’s death. She also makes room for the possibility of no longer believing in the capacity of the United States to care about its most vulnerable citizens and residents, which echoed by own melancholic reactions to the pandemic.  While I appreciated the cerebral narratives of Mike Davis’s The Monster Enters and Slavoj Zizek’s Pan(dem)ic, who also examine COVID-19 and its implications for our radically different future, Smith’s work drills into the emotional center of this heartbreaking time." — Breanne Fahs, editor of Burn It Down! Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution

Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte (NYRB, 2005)    
"Sometimes you read a book that immediately starts to make you divide people you know into those who have read it and those who haven’t. Curzio Malaparte’s Kapputt is an extraordinary journey through Fascist Europe, melding fiction and reportage to produce some of the most striking images I have ever read. Malaparte humanises the awfulness of a world tearing itself apart, that is, he makes the crimes human crimes, the horror poetic and thus more terrible. Just astonishing." – Peter Salmon, author or An Event, Perhaps: A Biography of Jacques Derrida
 
Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon (NYRB, 2020)    
"It’s a good thing this year — in the midst of sickness, murderous state violence, political anxiety and atomization, and, perhaps worst of all, long-lingering isolation — to read and reread a beautiful sentence, to dwell on it for a few pages, and reread it again in all of its contextual, syntactical, etymological, rhythmic and skeletal glory. The exercise is what Brian Dillon models for readers 27 times in his new book, Suppose a Sentence. The book follows Dillon’s love of language, literature, and history in slow, winding analyses of words from John Donne, John Ruskin, Samuel Beckett, Gertrude Stein, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Anne Carson, among brilliant others.   Here Dillon captures the power of careful reading in his chapter on a few long lines from George Eliot: 'Here is a sentence whose art as well as import demanded I become a more sympathetic reader—and person.'" – John Washington, author of The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum at the US-Mexican Border and Beyond

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World by Laura Spinney (Public Affairs, 2017)
"Laura Spinney, a British science journalist, is a compelling storyteller who uses a diverse cast of individual characters, cities and science to tell the forgotten story of one of the greatest human disasters of all time. It's an unexpected page turner full of  historical and scientific facts, real politiks, and the human failings and endeavours which helped shape the course of the world's deadliest pandemic. I read it a couple of months into the Covid pandemic, and it became a reference text which has both reassured and terrified me as the current crisis has unfolded. More than anything else, this story demonstrates our propensity to forget rather than learn from the past. It's a must read in the time of Corona." – Nina Lakhani, author of Who Killed Berta Cáceres? Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet

In the Long Run We Are All Dead by Geoff Mann (Verso, 2019)
"The first two decades of the 21st century saw not one but two "once in a lifetime" economic crises, and as in 2008, 2020 proved to be another year of Keynesian revivalism. The Economist, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian all asked—what would Keynes do or say about the Covid-19 recession? As Mann shows, states turn to Keynes in the midst of crisis for good reason. Keynes was a pathbreaking economist. At the same time, he was deeply afraid of what might happen if, in the depths of an economic downturn, working populations tried to take their fate into their own hands (as many did, in the United States, following the police-murder of George Floyd). As Mann would no doubt have predicted, 2020 saw governments once again undertaking extraordinary measures to preserve an economy and society marked by intense economic inequalities and deeply anti-democratic distributions of power, without doing much to alter those arrangements. For a productive contrast, pair Mann's In the Long Run We're All Dead with James Crotty's Keynes against Capitalism (Routledge, 2019). And don't forget to pick up Mann's helpful free ebook guide to Keynes's theory." – Aaron Benanav, author of Automation and the Future of Work

Prisoner of Love by Jean Genet (NYRB, 1986/trans. 2003)  
"During the ugliest weeks of the pandemic in springtime New York, I found some clarifying orientation in Genet's posthumous memoir of spending a few years in the early 1970s encamped with Palestinian revolutionaries and making periodic visits to the Black Panthers in the US. Written from his deathbed over a decade after these experiences, Genet avoids jejune exoticism at every turn, and instead reflects, with a kind of sublimely astringent passion, on finding a home, as an old man, in other people's revolutions. It'd be a stunning book at any moment, but it especially resonates these days, when, stripped of even the most basic forms of social life, we might feel once far-flung solidarities more intimately than ever." – Matt Sandler, author of The Black Romantic Revolution: Abolitionist Poets at the End of Slavery

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (OneWorld, Jan 2021)
"My favorite novel of 2020 is Torrey Peters, Detransition, Baby but you'll have to wait 'til the new year when it's released. It's a landmark book in trans fiction but it's more than that. Among other things it opens up ways of thinking about what the family could be, once we accept trans women and trans people in general as having a stake in whatever it means to be human. I read it alongside Sophie Lewis, Full Surrogacy Now (Verso) and I think they go together. Sophie's book gives us a concept for thinking about what Torrey gives us in narrative form: social reproduction theory. What's at stake, in the production not of commodities but of the workers who make them? What kinds of solidarity and care can we imagine? I read C. Riley Snorton, Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity (Minnesota University Press) and that for me really underlines how gendered categories and the surveillance and control of them is rooted in categories of race. I read Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism (Verso) is an encouraging counterpoint, with its emphasis on creative acts of regendering. Another novel I really treasure from this year's reading is Hazel Jane Plante, Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) (Metonymy Press). It's a book about mourning. One trans woman remembers another through allowing herself to become obsessed with her dead friend's obsession with an obscure TV show, one of Plate's invention. I lost someone dear to me this year and I reread this book as a beautiful way to work through my own loss. A really good book can do that. The book that got me through the pandemic is Mattilda Sycamore Bernstein, The Freezer Door (Semiotexte). Amid all the talk about 'when things get back to normal' it really wants to know what's so great about either normal norms—or queer norms. It imagines another city for another life. A classic I reread in a different light in Jean Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers (Grove Press). Of all the trans women invented by cis writers, Genet's Divine is the only one I can recognize as a sister. Of all the social movement street demos of the year, Brooklyn LIberation for Black Trans Lives, which drew fifteen thousand people, moved me the most. I read and reread all I could find by Black trans women. And also: Red Jordan Arobateau's The Big Change. It's self-published 'street' lit by a trans man of color. Most of his books are about bar dykes, biker dykes or working class trans men. This one, probably written in the seventies, is about a white trans woman in The Life in Chicago. There's a lovely scene where mostly Black queer and trans people sing a long to a jukebox playing The Supremes: "Nothing can hold us back! Nothing can keep us down!" That feeling, in 2020, was everything to me." – McKenzie Wark, author of Sensoria: Thinkers for the Twenty-first Century

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Penguin Random House, 2019)  
"Such a Fun Age is a beautiful piece of writing that pulled me along toward a train wreck I knew was coming, but couldn't look away from. With characterization so accurate it hurts, Reid builds a set of relationships among the central characters - a white social media influencer, her young Black nanny, the chill white dude who videos a racist incident - that you know are doomed to explode. This book exposes the subtle and not-so-subtle workings of everyday racism, especially the racism of "nice white people." Ultimately, it's a great piece of storytelling and the ending does not disappoint." – Leslie Kern, author of Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World

What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché (Penguin Random House, 2019)
"Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been fascinated by South America. I read everything I can about the continent, its literature and politics. Carolyn Forche’s What you Have Heard is True, a memoir of El Salvador in the fearsome run up to its dirty war, is a gripping, beautifully written book. I’ve been haunted by it since I read it." – Fatima Bhutto, author of The Runaways: A Novel

Against the Loveless World: A Novel by Susan Abulhawa (Atria, 2020)
"
This is a beautiful, lyrical and intensely political novel.  The book flips the script of many novels on the theme of political revolution by putting a woman at the center.  It engages with questions of patriarchy, sex work and sexual exploitation for Arab and Paletinian women, while confronting the traumas of the Nakba and the oppressions of Israeli settler-colonialism.  It is also a love story, a prison novel, and an homage to real women who have engaged in Palestinian resistance. The book has received a Palestinian Book Award and is longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize." – Bill Mullen, co-editor of The US Antifascism Reader