English Major Wrapped: My Books of 2022!

Like any English major, at Yale or any other university, the majority of my homework is reading. Now, yes, some of the books I read are absolute slogs — but many, many more are incredibly formative and worth their time! So, in 2022, I set out to read 50 books  — and I did! 5,310 pages later, here are some of my favorite reads of the year (and a peek at the kinds and variations of books that a Yale English major might be reading). Before you panic: not all of these were for Yale classes. Though lots were! Some were for my playwriting and/or creative nonfiction thesis research, a couple just for fun, and others were for opportunities and events outside of Yale!

No. 1 — Envisioning Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics: African Spirituality in American Cinema by Kameelah L. Martin

This book came as a recommendation from my professor when I took Introduction to African-American Cinema, as a resource to turn to for the course’s screenwriting final project that I later transformed into my Theater thesis! It ended up being a really thorough, richly dense, and incredibly interesting read about the representation of Black women spiritual practitioners in film in the 20th and 21st century, as well as my first book of the year.

No. 6 The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola

The first book on the syllabus for my Challenges to Realism in Contemporary African Fiction class, The Palm-Wine Drinkard draws on a number of Yoruba folktales to recount one man’s journey through a series of nightmarish and fantastical events. At any given moment reading this book, I had absolutely no idea what was going on or what was going to happen next, and I loved that. In the words of a friend who also read it, “it’s a trip!” But in the best, most wonderfully unpredictable, formative way.

No. 21 — Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Combining the time-honored alien invasion/appearance narrative with Nigerian mythology, I also read Lagoon for my Challenges to Realism in Contemporary African Fiction class — and I ended up writing a 21 page essay about Lagoon, Nigerian science-fiction and fantasy, and the connections between West African folktales and speculative fiction because I liked it so much!

No. 22Is God Is by Aleshea Harris

This one was actually a reread — since I’d last read it just before the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. One thing about Aleshea Harris though, she’s gonna write an excellent play that holds up over time! I first encountered Is God Is at the suggestion of my friend Vanessa, who was also a member of Heritage Theater Ensemble, Yale’s Black arts collective/theater group. Detailing two sisters’ quest for revenge and answers about their family, the play plays (ha!) with typography in a way I’ve never seen before, and is easily one of the most original, gripping works in any genre that I’ve read at Yale or elsewhere. Would highly recommend!

The covers of some of my favorite books of 2022!

No. 26Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition by Yvonne P. Chireau

Another book that was recommended to me from my Introduction to African-American Cinema class, Black Magic looks at the history and uses of the practice and tradition of Conjure — and included a lot of information that I ended up incorporating into my playwriting thesis! Reading for research’s sake may not sound like the most riveting activity, but for topics like these, I recall Zora Neale Hurston’s quote: “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” And ultimately, I learned an incredible amount and gained some insight that my thesis would’ve been impossible to write without!

No. 30Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

A recommendation (and a gift! I was so touched) from my English thesis advisor, to be read in preparation for my creative nonfiction senior project. The book weaves together memoir and cultural criticism into a synthesis of language that grants insight into the author’s own life as it simultaneously looks at the lives and works of other artists — in one of the most surgically precise, crystal-clear styles I’ve seen in nonfiction. An exciting, quick read!

No. 48 — Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine

One of the last books I read for the Iseman Seminar in Poetry, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful (and hauntingly sad) books I’ve ever encountered, in any genre. A severely excellent book that combines TV images and screens with poems/lyric essay fragments (to be honest, I’m not quite sure how to describe or categorize this book beyond telling you it’s poetry, and poetry that’s so good it’s probably altered my brain chemistry), I’ll never quite think about the nuances, levels, and multiple meanings of loneliness the same way again.

No. 49 — Dancing in Odessa by Ilya Kaminsky

Another of the books I read for the Iseman Seminar, Kaminsky writes about silence with a grace, searingness, and sense of instructive mystery that’s unlike any other author I know of. Like, he pulled to the studio to write and his pen caught on fire because he was putting down back-to-back bars on the page. On the day of his book launch they were contacting fire departments to come to bookstores across the world, I just know it. Lots of gorgeous imagery (particularly with regard to wind!) as well!