Best Of 2019

Best of: September

Once again, it took me about three seconds to choose my top three books from last month, I love it when it’s easy! I’ve already reviewed Reckless Paper Birds in full, so do go and read that post if you haven’t yet, and I’ll just give it a few words below. I know the whole point of these posts is to tell you these books are marvellous, but these three in particular really are, do check them out!

Book cover images

Best Novel: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong. I rarely buy hardbacks, but occasionally I make note of a book that I know I will be buying as soon as it’s arrived in the shops. This was one of those. Vuong arrived on the UK scene last year to great acclaim, winning both the Forward Prize and T.S. Eliot Prize for his first collection of poetry, Night Sky with Exit Wounds (read that too). His work in both books draws on his Vietnamese heritage and his experiences growing up as both an immigrant and gay in the United States. On Earth… is a letter from a young man to his mother, exploring their family history and relationships, winding through racism, addiction, violence and coming-of-age. It is at times brutal, and always tender.

But how do I tell you about that boy without telling you about the drugs that soon blew it apart, the Oxy and coke, the way they made the world smolder at its tips?

Vuong’s writing is poetry even when it’s prose, and this book is gorgeous from beginning to end.

Best Non-Fiction: Transgressive, by Rachel Anne Williams. I have been wanting to to read more trans theory and picked this up at the Coast is Queer literary festival (which was fab, by the way), it was just what I wanted. Williams is a philosopher and academic, and while the essays in this book draw on personal experience – in fact she stresses that she is only speaking from her own experience and research and doesn’t presume to speak for anyone else – she only suggests what we can think about, and doesn’t tell us what to think. The essays cover all the topics you might expect (trans feminism, gender dysphoria, passing, the loss of male privilege, and much more) with a depth and clarity that meant I came away feeling like I’d gone from about level 3 to level 50 in my understanding. There were a few terms that I googled, but generally this book is very accessible even if you’re completely new to the topic. If you have an interest in queer theory, and trans issues, then I highly recommend you pick it up. The only thing it lacks – and it couldn’t have been any other way – is the perspective of trans men, so I am on the lookout for a similar book written from that angle.

Best Poetry: Reckless Paper Birds, by John McCullough. Another find at the festival, I attended a panel that McCullough chaired and picked up his book to flick through afterwards. I bought it thirty seconds later, on the strength of a single poem, and I wasn’t disappointed by the rest.

December nights, I hold my anxiety in front of me, electric yellow,
like a giant beak. It smacks into things. The milk I splash
in my tea becomes a jellyfish and that entails being stung […]
from ‘Pelican’

These poems are magical. Examining topics from homophobia to homelessness, and the vulnerability and tenderness of love. This collection is full of tiny exquisite moments of joy. Read my full review here.

That’s it for September, what have you loved lately? Will you be picking up any of these? Happy reading.