The books that live on my bookshelf are somewhat transitory––I only keep a select few, often lending out or giving away titles that I want others to read. However, Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men series has remained in my childhood bedroom since I was first introduced to them as a preteen. These three books––The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith (the series is actually longer than this, but these are the ones I own)––have never failed to help me through especially difficult patches of mental health issues. Part-comedy, part-fantasy, and surprisingly feminist, these tales of a young woman growing into witchcraft (which, she learns, is really just about helping others) have always been stories I could turn to that I knew would serve as a light to lead me through the foggy, dark bog that depression can turn into.
But these are the books that stay. I figured for my portion of Project Bookshelf, I would highlight some of the most recent books I read, which currently have a home on my bookshelf, but may not for long. Public libraries are such incredible things, aren’t they?
A handful of recent books on my bookshelf:
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward
Written as a response to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, this book is a collection of essays and poems written by various Black writers in response to the overt and systemic racism pulsing through our country. I’m currently halfway through this book and struck by the timeliness of this, as such voices will always be timely.
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat
Zaina Arafat was my first writing professor during my undergrad at the University of Iowa, and so it was an incredible treat to be able to read her first novel, published by Catapult in 2020. What’s so compelling about this inherently queer story is that it refuses to be about just one thing––You Exist Too Much grapples with racism, homophobia, love, addiction, and, as the title suggests, taking up space.
On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
Published in 2014, this nonfiction book explores the history and science of vaccinations, set against the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, and the birth of Eula Biss’s son. Reading her lyrically written treatise on the protection of others during the tenth month of the COVID-19 pandemic was eerie. Although I found this book compelling and beautifully woven, I was disappointed that disability was not discussed more throughout, as this perspective goes hand in hand with Biss’s discussions of interdependence, illness, and the body as metaphor.
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
Circuses and the carnivalesque enchant me, perhaps in part because of disability’s tenuous relationship with them, and the history surrounding “freaks” and freak shows. While there are many lovely circus-centric novels out there, none (that I have read, anyway) capture the magical paradoxes of the carnivalesque like this one. Like every Angela Carter story, Nights at the Circus hovers between the grotesque and marvelous at all times.
Next on my list: Untamed by Glennon Doyle, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, and Brief Encounters by Dinah Lenney and Judith Kitchen.
Hannah Soyer is a queer disabled writer born and living in the Midwest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cosmopolitan, About Place Journal, Evocations Review, The Rumpus, Entropy, Mikrokosmos Journal, Brain Mill Press, Disability Visibility Project, Rooted in Rights, Sinister Wisdom, and Peach Mag. She is the founder of This Body is Worthy, a project aimed at celebrating bodies outside of mainstream societal ideals, and Words of Reclamation, a space for disabled writers.