Believe it or not, the final month of 2020—one of the most hellacious years many of us have ever experienced—has arrived. Congratulations on surviving! We know that it hasn’t been easy to focus on keeping track of new book releases amid a pandemic, but we hope that our monthly BitchReads list has served as even a small distraction, even if the books themselves are just collecting dust on your bookshelf. There will be a time when our world will return to some semblance of normal order, and I hope these seven books, as well as the others we’ve recommended, will be revisited and shared and loved. As always, happy reading!
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Majella is 27; living in Aghybogey, a fictional town in Northern Ireland; and caring for her alcoholic mother. Her life is so small that it sometimes feels meaningless— particularly after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement segregated Catholics and Protestants many years ago, further slowing down the town’s attempts at economic progress. Majella’s an unlikely protagonist, but readers will certainly root for her after her grandmother dies and she realizes that there’s more to life than the troubling gossip that has become the heartbeat of her small town. Big Girl, Small Town is for readers who enjoy books about women realizing that their purpose is bigger than they ever imagined.
Art curator Kimberly Drew and New York Times Magazine writer Jenna Wortham understand how expansive Blackness is: With a multitude of cultures that exist within that political and social designation, it is impossible to see Blackness through a single prism. With that in mind, they’ve curated Black Futures, a 544-page anthology whose contributors range from Solange Knowles and Nikole Hannah-Jones to Kiese Laymon and chef Kia Damon exploring what it means to be Black in our current time. This is not a traditional anthology; instead, Drew and Wortham employ a combination of essays, poems, and art to express the many facets of Black existence, which makes Black Futures even more interesting and worthwhile.
Though Dr. Naya Turner enjoys her role as an education professor at Chicago’s Thurmond University, her personal life has been at a standstill since an abusive ex-boyfriend tried to ruin her professional reputation. She’s become rightfully protective of her personal space, but one night out at a bar changes everything: Naya meets Jake, who slowly begins bringing down her walls and aiming to understand the woman beneath the defense mechanisms. There’s only one problem: Thurmond University has hired Jake to determine if Naya’s department, among others, should be restructured or eliminated entirely. How To Fail At Flirting has all the trappings of a perfect romance novel: believable characters, steamy scenes, and a plot that readers will fall into and never want to leave.
The United States has never been a meritocracy, but for more than 150 years, white men have been taught and sold that myth everywhere from pop culture (Westerns and other stories about cowboys) and history (Reconstruction and Jim Crow) to politics (there’s only been a single president who isn’t a white man). Many of them have come to believe that they’ve earned their stations in life by being smarter, more ingenious, and more intuitive than people from marginalized communities—specifically Black and Indigenous people. In Mediocre, bestselling author Ijeoma Oluo outlines how white men have clung to the belief that success is their birthright—and, more dangerously, have been convinced that the perceived liberation of other groups threatens the “natural” social order. Mediocre is an excellent primer for those who want to better understand the current moment (one in which an incumbent president refuses to relinquish power) and the people who have made whiteness their worldview.
The Chicken Sisters is a Reese’s Book Club selection as well as an instant New York Times bestseller for good reason: It might be the perfect book to read this month. The novel follows sisters Amanda and Mae Moore, who’ve long been disconnected from their roots in the small Kansas town of Merinac. The Moores have for decades been battling with another local family, the Pogociellos, over whose restaurant serves the best fried chicken in Kansas. When Amanda betrays her family by marrying Frank Pogociello, it creates a divide that can only be bridged by Food Wars, a TV competition that guarantees $100,000 to the fried-chicken champion. Returning to Merinac isn’t what Mae—who lives in Brooklyn—wants, but when her own career goes up in flames, she has no choice. The Chicken Sisters is entertaining, heartfelt, and most important, low stakes—the perfect mix of ingredients for a book being released during a holiday season like no other.
Crosshairs wastes no time throwing readers into a frightening dystopia: In this world, massive floods have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Canada, creating an opportune moment for The Boots—a state-sanctioned terrorist group of sorts—to round up the “Others” and dispatch them to labor camps. Suddenly, people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ people are stripped of their rights and forced to work in the labor camps or risk being killed. When Kay, Bahadur, and Firuzeh—a former drag queen, a transmasculine refugee, and a social worker, respectively—join forces to resist their new fate, the government has no idea what it’s up against. Crosshairs imagines a world not too different from our own, which is one reason it’s timely, terrifying, and important.
Michelle Buteau is one of Hollywood’s most in-demand comedic actresses, appearing in BET Plus’ reboot of the First Wives Club, Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe, and Hulu’s highly anticipated queer rom-com Happiest Season in the last two years. She’s also helmed her first Netflix standup special, Welcome to Buteaupia, and two podcasts, signaling that her rise in Hollywood is only beginning. Survival of the Thickest offers more of the humor and frankness that has made Buteau a fan favorite: She writes candid essays about her childhood in New Jersey, working as a news editor during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, her surrogacy journey, and so much more. If you enjoyed any of Mindy Kaling’s essay collections, then I highly suggest reading this one. It is as laugh-out-loud funny as the author herself.