Why aren’t we reading more backlist books? 2020 was the year that Back List books showed up for me. There were so many times throughout the year where I thought, “how am I just finding out about this book?!!!”. The thing about these books is that even with time they have continued to remain relevant because of the themes and topics they discuss.
Better late than never right? Here are nine backlist books I read in 2020 that you should definitely add to your radar.
1. Manchester Happened by Jennifer Makumbi
How do I put into words how this collection of stories made me feel? This book absolutely stole my heart and it is now one of my all time favorite books.
In Jennifer Makumbi’s collection of stories, Manchester Happened we meet Ugandans who journey to England, specifically Manchester, to make a life for themselves. The collection is separated into two sections. The first section we journey with those who decided to leave. The second section takes us on a trip back with the characters who decided to visit Uganda after spending a significant amount of time in the UK. In conclusion, we know that everyone’s immigration story is different. Jennifer Makumbi was able to give me a diverse and nuance look with these twelve stories.
2. Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo
I have never read a book where the main character is a 75-year-old Caribbean man professing his love for his childhood boyfriend. I was here for all of it! The author addressed themes of homophobia, aging, love, manhood- especially in the Caribbean context, regret and marriage. These themes were addressed in a relatable and realistic way. I liked how the father-daughter relationship was portrayed, it was REAL.
I can go on and on about this book- what I will say is that is one of my all-time favourite books. It is a book that I will revisit for years to come.
3. Girl Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Girl, Woman, Other won the Man Booker Prize in 2019 and after reading this masterpiece I can see why. The book is a collection of interlinked stories of 12 black women living in Britain. Majority of these women are first- or second-generation immigrants with parents from Africa or the Caribbean. We see how complex these women are, how they navigate life, what is expected of them, and how frustrating being a black woman in Britain can be.
The writing is phenomenal, I was INSTANTLY pulled in. I felt immersed in the lives of these women, I wanted them ALL to win. Evaristo writes such fully formed character in such few pages. I was invested!
4. Where There Are Monsters by Breanne Mc Ivor
The entire time I was reading this book I kept thinking to myself “Cindy, WHY did you wait so long to read it?!!!” This is a brilliant collection of short stories. McIvor did a great job of showcasing Trinidad and Tobago in a contemporary way and from a myth and folklore perspective. I also feel that even if you are not from the Caribbean you will appreciate this book.
Where There Are Monsters is a debut collection of twelve stories. Mc Ivor plays on the title throughout the novel. She makes us aware that monsters are not just the creepy crawly thing we so often hear about, but also the people around us. The collection explores so many themes that are timely and relevant. The themes include mental illness, dating in the 21st century, domestic abuse, heartbreak, betrayal, infidelity and love
5. In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
In the memoir In the Dream House Machado details her abusive same-sex relationship in the most real and vulnerable way. I cannot remember the last time I read a book that felt so raw, oozing with vulnerability and courage. There were times I am reading this book I got enraged, it felt like your best friend was telling you about years of abuse after the fact.
Not only is this a memoir but Machado used this opportunity to educate me about how same-sex abuse is usually viewed. I think that is what I appreciated with this, it gave us historical knowledge, it showed us that we still have a long way to go as it concerns same-sex abusive relationships.
6. Come Let Us Sing by Leone Ross
Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross is a collection of 23 short stories that explores various themes of love, grief, mental health, abuse, sexuality, infidelity, identity, immigration, loss and among others. Every story was different, nuanced, and complex. Leone Ross can WRITE, and she shows off in this collection- I thoroughly enjoyed her showing off- I was HERE for it! She wrote contemporary, fiction, and magical realism stories in this collection.
At the end of each story I was left mouth hanging and blown away. If you check my book I actually wrote “whoa!” at the end of some of these stories. I love how Leone Ross through these stories questions what it is to be a woman, how society places a lot of expectations on us, and how we sometimes fight to live up to them. This book is a must read.
7. Decolonial Daughter Lesley-Ann Brown
Lesley-Ann Brown writes that unlearning is a tenet of decoloniality. The Author wrote this book for her biracial son so that he can have the knowledge of who came before him and a narrative he can use to navigate his life.
Lesley-Ann Brown was born in Brooklyn, spent some of her formative years in Trinidad and Tobago and is currently living in Denmark. She is well traveled, a poet, activist, writer and also worked in publishing. In this book she sets out to show how colonialism impacted her history, heritage, the world and how we are all still reeling from the effects.
8. From Harvey River by Lorna Goodison
Beautiful, utterly beautiful… a memoir from a daughter about her mother…. The BEAUTY!
A sweeping memoir set in Jamaica starting from the 1890s to the 1950s with Lorna’s mother Doris Goodison being the center. This book is packed with history of fascinating tidbits about Jamaica, in writing about her mother. Lorna Goodison takes us in what is was like living in Jamaica during that particular time period and she did it so seamlessly. This is a beautiful memoir that I highly recommend to Jamaicans or anyone who loves history and strong females.
There you have it, nine backlist books that will forever be in my heart!