I cleaned out my bookshelf last summer, donating and gifting books I’ve had for years. It’s now half the size it used to be with the stories I have outgrown sitting warmly in new homes.
In an attempt to save money though, I have not refilled my shelves. This year, I hope to rebuild my collection and explore new genres. In the past, I mostly read poetry and young adult novels. More recently, I have been more interested in memoirs and essay collections. But I am still reading a lot of poetry—that I can’t let go of.
To me, a good book is lyrical and the storytelling is creative and passionate. Part of this may be why I have been so drawn to memoirs lately. If you care about these characteristics when picking out a book, you might be interested in some of my recommendations. Here are some of my favourite titles from my bookshelf.
Memoirs and Poetry Books
Girl in Need of a Tourniquet: Memoir of a Borderline Personality by Merri Lisa Johnson
Girl in Need of a Tourniquet by Merri Lisa Johnson is a fantastically written memoir of the author’s experiences living with borderline personality disorder. It is written in the form of lyrical essays, each one more thought-provoking than the last. We follow Johnson as she untangles herself from the mess that her diagnosis worsens as she strives for clarity. Johnson’s writing captures the immensity of her emotions and accurately reflects the thought process of someone with borderline personality disorder. I was drawn to the book because of Johnson’s writing style, something most readers struggle with because it jumps from place to place, but I can say it did not disappoint.
We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib
This memoir was one of my most anticipated reads. Queer Muslim representation is rare and while this is changing now, Samra Habib’s We Have Always Been Here will always be a revolutionary staple for queer Muslim representation. The book begins with Habib’s childhood in Pakistan and her experiences as an Ahamdi Muslim (a persecuted Muslim minority) from which she learned that some parts of her identity must be hidden to survive. As a refugee, she arrives in Canada, where she faces bullying, racism, an arranged marriage, and more. Eventually, she begins to explore her queerness and rekindles her faith at an LGBTQ+ friendly mosque in the face of all her struggles. Habib’s story is an inspiring and resilient one. We Have Always Been Here is the grown-up, queer, Muslim, coming-of-age story that so many queer Muslims around the world have needed.
Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Night Sky With Exit Wounds is Ocean Vuong’s first full-length poetry collection. The book won the T.S Eliot Prize in 2017 and continues to have a significant impact on the literary scene today. With powerful imagery and haunting metaphors, Vuong depicts stories of war and immigration, captures intergenerational trauma, and grounds itself in the human experience. Night Sky With Exit Wounds examines themes of family, gender, sexuality, war, violence, and even self-actualization. This collection is an emotional and memorable exploration of humanity, practically a perfect encapsulation of it. Even if you are not someone who enjoys poetry, all of Ocean Vuong’s books are a must-read.
Other pictured books:
Homie by Danez Smith: To-be-read poetry collection about friendship
Beyond The Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon: Nonfiction, educational book about gender and deconstructing the gender binary to imagine a world without it
The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison: A collection of speeches, essays and reflections on music, life, and society
Glass, Irony & God by Anne Carson: A collection of personal essays written in verse, commenting on life and depicting a journey of self-understanding
Red Doc by Anne Carson: A sequel to Carson’s Autobiography of Red, a novel in verse reimagining the myth of Geryon from Herkles’s ten labours
Chapbooks are short collections of poetry, typically 40 pages. They’re excellent for introducing yourself to poetry or a poet or if you don’t have all that much time to read. The following title is my most favourite addition to my poetry collection.
Lonelieness and Other Bodies of Water by N. K. Said
Loneliness and Other Bodies of Water is hands-down the best chapbook I have ever read. N. K. Said has a strong and well-developed narrative voice, something that can be rare to see in chapbooks. Her poems delve into the healing process with careful precision. Said effectively recreates the loneliness of learning to understand yourself, pulling on your heartstrings and truly giving meaning to the phrase “feeling blue”. It is beautiful, it is delicate, and it is profound. N. K. Said is most definitely a poet to watch.
Other pictured chapbooks:
Shurma by L. Akhter: Recently released, and only just received in the mail but a very anticipated read
dead girl walking by Dez Levier: Out of print, explicit reflections of trauma and living with bipolar disorder
I love magazines, specifically those that are art-focused. These are the magazines I have bought this year.
Reconstructed Magazine – Volume 2: Bodies
Reconstructed Magazine is a creative magazine that highlights Muslim creators, particularly those marginalized within and outside of Islam. It is filled with gorgeous art and writing of all different mediums (textiles, sculptures, photography, paintings, essays, interviews, etc.). I am absolutely obsessed with the issue and love the questions it explores regarding bodies (human, divine, etc.).
Pitch Magazine – Issue two
Pitch Magazine is a publication by and for Black creators. Their work is a celebration of Black creativity and expression and their second issue emphasizes unfiltered Blackness. It is beautifully designed and curated, filled with art and writing that resonates deeply with its readers.
Asahmed Magazine – BLCK PWER
Ashamed Magazine is a pioneer in the world of publications that uplift marginalized voices. BLCK PWER is their first print issue, now out of print. It covers a wide range of topics including Black liberation and prison abolition, Black beauty and feminism, navigating white spaces while Black, and the Black Lives Matter movement. In the form of art, poetry, essays, articles, and interviews, BLCK PWR is a revolutionary collection of Black stories and perspectives.
Iqra Abid (she/her) is a young, Pakistani, Muslim writer based in Canada. She is currently a student at McMaster University studying Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour. She is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Kiwi Collective Magazine. Her work can be found in various publications such as Stone Fruit Magazine, Tiny Spoon Lit Magazine, Scorpion Magazine, and more. You can find her on Instagram at @iqraabidpoetry.
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