Books I Loved in 2023 

by Leelee Jackson

Happy New Year! 

As I look back on 2023, I want to share a list of books that inspired and got me through the year. They aren’t in any particular order. 

  1. The Art and Practice of Spiritual Herbalism by Karen Rose 

I ended 2022 and started 2023 with Karen Rose The Art and Practice of Spiritual Herbalism: Transform, Heal, and Remember with the Power of Plants and Ancestral Medicine. I often refer to this book as one that saved my life. At the time, I felt really lost and uninspired. Heavy with grief, I committed to reading a page a day. It was easy to commit to one page because of all the illustrations. The way the book is written feels like my aunty or OG who cares about me is talking to me, sharing something really important. After reading this book from cover to cover, I was able to walk away with a generous amount of tools that have helped me balance my emotions and process my deep feelings throughout the year. 

  1. Fat Ham by James Ijames 

Although this play is a reimagining of Hamlet, it’s so much better to me! I was skeptical at first because of my personal disdain of Shakespere, however, I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy every bit of Fat Ham. It reminded me of a Tyler Perry play versus Shakespere. I say that with a high regard of respect and admiration. I grew up on Perry’s plays in my home. However, I have no memories of my family gathering to watch Taming of the Shrew live on PBS; but we went out of our way to find Madea’s “Family Reunion” from the bootleg man. The comedy in Fat Ham was so strong, I would burst out laughing as I was reading it. By the time I got to the end, my jaw was on the floor. No spoilers but gurl…

  1. Sing a Black Girl’s Song edited by Imani Perry 

My friend told me one time “Leelee,  yo life change every week!” But for real, both Imani Perry and Ntozake Shange are women who have changed my life. This anthology of the unpublished collected writings of Shange has allowed for me to feel so seen/heard/felt in my mental health. I’m taken back by Shange’s audacity. The hyper awareness of her own mental state was profound. She’d write so clearly about matters such as anxiety, grief, trauma and depression in a way that was poetic but not romantic. Perry was able to carefully gather parts of Shange and piece them together with a lot of love and the utmost respect. I have a more well-rounded understanding of who She was as a person/artist/performer/Black woman/scholar/author because of this book. I’m grateful.  

  1. Parable of the Sower Graphic Novel written by Octavia Butler Illustrations by John Jenniggs 

Although I’ve already read the non-illustrated novel many years ago, reading the graphic novel gave me a visual and unique reading experience that I didn’t get the first time. The graphic novel offers a picture that allows for the already beautiful text to have movement and texture. I was met with a lot of fear and anxiety however. Sower takes place in a fictional Southern California city called Robledo that is somewhere Inland of the non-fictional, Los Angeles. The portrayal of familiar buildings, bridges and freeways ruined and on fire woke me up in a way I didn’t have to with the original text. My biggest takeaway was not only that “god is change” but also how essential community is to ensure real survival. 

  1. Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury 

This play has been a part of my archive for many years. And the first time I started reading it, I couldn’t get through the first few pages. At the time, I was so over the whole “let’s have a party and talk about race” plot. I was bored with the conflict that presented itself in the first few pages. Uninterested in the characters. But I picked it up again and gave it a fair-read and discovered that the first act was supposed to make me feel that way. The second act turns the  audience viewpoint backstage and we drop in on a conversation with the other half of the cast (white) who are having a conversation on what race they’d prefer to be if they weren’t  white. The play turns in on itself in this fascinating and unique way that made me interested and invested in the narrative. By the time I was near the end, I couldn’t guess what was going to happen rather than accept it. 

  1. The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals by Mimi Tempestt

This was the most exhilarating book of poetry I’ve ever read. As it takes on beautiful pros that center the personal life of the writer, it also incorporates pleasure, play and spiritualism that makes each piece feel different from the last. The second act is a play on poems (or the poetry of play) and incorporates monologues and scenes. I call it a punk rock poetry experience that doesn’t fail to speak to the personal as loudly as it does the universal. Tempestt is a master at talking shit and backing it up; calling out the university, publishing companies as well as other poets and how they pander to the white gaze. I’m a bolder writer because of my engagement with this work of art. 

Have you read any of these books? What books are on your reading list for 2024?