Monica Byrne is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter. His ambitious new work of speculative fiction, The real star, follows three characters reincarnated through two millennia, from the collapse of the ancient Mayan civilization to a distant utopia.
God is not one by Stephen Prothero (2010).
I couldn’t let go of this book. It’s a lucid comparison of the eight great religions of the world – and it shows you how religions are formed in the first place. This book was incredibly helpful to me in creating the far-future religion called Laviaja, which is featured in The real star. Buy it here.
Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Summer Prince (2013).
There are relatively few science fiction books that draw inspiration from ancient Mesoamerican and South American cultures, but this one is, and one of the best. Johnson paints a distant society built around an ancient tradition: the selection – and execution – of beautiful youth. Buy it here.
Lewis Hyde’s Gift (1983).
This book, subtitled Creativity and the artist in the modern world, is legendary among artists for a reason. In examining the donation savings among Indigenous peoples, it challenges us to reinvent all of our assumptions about money and commodities. In the distant future in The real star, the world operates on an economy of perpetual giving. Buy it here.
Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown (2019).
In this book, Brown brings together the wisdom of a community of visionaries to reimagine what activism can look like: not a grueling task, but a celebration of fun. It helped me understand how enjoyable activities – like reading and writing fiction – can do as much good in the world as anything we do in the name of social justice. Buy it here.
Blind Descent by James M. Tabor (2010).
It’s a fictional book that reads like a thriller. Two teams – one in the humid Oaxaca, the other in the frozen Caucasus – compete to find the deepest cave in the world. Tabor not only enlightens everyone involved, but also makes you feel like you’re in the caves with them. Buy it here.
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar (2013).
I’ve read a few other novels that manage to conjure up a whole different world with such clarity, depth and beauty as this one. And yet the themes he explores are all too familiar: how a power-obsessed elite leaves vulnerable people behind, and how they finally find a voice, bodily or not. Buy it here.
This article first appeared in the latest issue of The week magazine. If you want to read more, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine. here.