Freya Parr rounds up the books you need to add to your basket this month.
This month’s book releases are such a mixed bag it’s difficult to tie them all up with a neat little bow. But if you’ve been finding the relentless English rain a little too much and are suffering from a serious case of the blues, there’s definitely more than a few here to lift you out of your funk.
There are some of the funniest books here I’ve ever come across – some light and fluffy, others with much darker undertones. There’s also personal essays and fascinating historical reads, which have contributed to my screen time tripling this month with mindless Wikipedia searches about open swimming ponds in southwest England, the love affairs of Truman Capote and the varying strands of psychosis. Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense once you’ve made a batch order of this month’s book releases. Come and join me in the depths of weird internet research when you’re finished.
Gina Martin Be the Change: A Toolkit for the Activist in You
Gina Martin campaigned to successfully end upskirting in the UK, a law that was finally passed earlier this year. It is now illegal to take photos up women’s skirts without consent. Martin had no background in politics or activism, so this is the guide she wished she’d had.
It’s a brilliant blend of serious, weighty topics like how to work with your privilege and use it to platform the voices of others, and slightly fluffier advice on how to choose a colour scheme and utilise social media in your campaign. This balance of grassroots advice and tips for thinking bigger about the issues at hand is difficult to achieve, and this book manages to do just that.
Claire McGlasson The Rapture
Are you after a book of fiction based on a real-life set of events so weird and wonderful that you’ll find yourself down a 3am internet research rabbit-hole? No? Just me? This book explores the fascinating phenomenon of the Panacea Society, a religious cult made up of well-to-do ladies dedicating their lives to serving God in the wake of the First World War within an enclosed community in – wait for it – Bedford. Yes, they believed the original site of the Garden of Eden was Bedford.
The Rapture is written from the perspective of Dilys, who meets a woman called Grace and invites her to join the society. As she develops feelings for her as the world around her crumbles. It’s a brilliantly crafted tale, and the real-life element at the heart of the story is mind-boggling to say the least.
Brian Bilston Diary of a Somebody
Brian Bilston has succeeded in capturing the public’s affections through his witty, pun-filled poems within the initial 140-character limitation of Twitter, all without ever exposing his true identity.
Diary of a Somebody begins as Bilston’s New Year’s resolution to write a poem each day. This lasts all of about two days, with some days dedicated exclusively to rambling prose. But these sections are just as witty as the poems, with the added benefit of breaking up the flow to great effect. He discusses his relationships with his son, ex-wife and his nemesis from his poetry group with whom he is in savage competition. It is his poems, though, that reign supreme. They are real novelties: vastly varied in format, never taking themselves too seriously. All complete with sublime rhymes.
Tassy Brodesser-Anker Fleishman is in Trouble
How this is Tassy Brodesser-Anker’s first novel I have no idea. Her writing is streamlined, punchy and incredibly moreish. This is one of the wittiest books I’ve read in a while, and despite being fiction it has the same incisive wit seen in the writing of the likes of David Sedaris, who’s also on the list this month.
Fleischman is in Trouble follows the life of Toby, who has recently separated from his wife, has downloaded Tinder and is ready for the next stage of life in the city. Unfortunately the reality doesn’t quite live up to his expectations, and his ex-wife Rachel suddenly disappears. The writing is Sally Rooney-esque, but more fleshed out. It is stuffed full of really astute, humorous commentary on Fleischman’s fraught familial relationships and the parodies of women around him, rocking their ‘Spiritual Gangster’ and ‘Eat Sleep Spin Repeat’ workout tops. Genius stuff.
Margaret Drabble, Esther Freud et al. At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond
Following the recent BBC broadcast of the independent film Swimming Through the Seasons: The Hampstead Ponds, which, if you haven’t watched yet, I implore you to do so. The Hampstead Ponds have long been considered an oasis of calm in the midst of the hustle and bustle of London living, and this collection of essays is written by a selection of women who have all swum in the Hampstead Ladies’ Ponds over the years. Each writer has a different perspective on the Ponds, reflecting on visits in childhood, first-time visits as an adult, swimming throughout the changing seasons and working as a lifeguard.
Anecdotes are woven through personal reflections on the Ponds and what they mean to the people who swim there. The power of swimming can be both mentally and physically life-changing. This essay collection has a calming effect that will slow your day right down and lead you headfirst into the nearest body of water.
Esmé Weijun Wang The Collected Schizophrenias
Now for something totally different. This month’s releases really are quite the diverse spread. The Collected Schizophrenias is Esmé Weijun Wang’s account of her mental illness over the years, and how she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder while living a high-functioning life at Yale and Stanford. She explores the labels of mental illness in this book, which reads as a collection of fragmented essays, giving a kaleidoscopic and encyclopaedic look at the illness.
It’s by no means a light read, and is densely scientific in parts. If you’re wanting something more prosaic and descriptive, you might find this quite a lot. Her narrative is peppered throughout, but there is a lot of analytical language to sift through if that’s not your neck of the woods. Psychiatry is an inexact science, and The Collected Schizophrenias goes some way to helping us get to grips with the complexities of it all.
David Sedaris Calypso
David Sedaris is the comedic genius of our time, and if you haven’t come across his writing before, now’s your chance. His latest book is a collection of personal essays, stories and musings on life, written with a relentless sense of proper old-school dark comedy. It has the shock factor, that’s for sure.
Sedaris’s observations on middle age, family and mortality are provocative and powerful in equal measures, and I implore you to find a funnier, more astute understanding of the human form anywhere else.
Sofia Zinovieff Putney
This book has, somewhat crassly (but quite accurately), been described as Lolita for the modern day. It just proves how infrequently these stories of power, manipulation and age-inappropriate relationships are told that the only measure of comparison we have is a book written about 60 years ago.
Putney tells the story of 27-year-old Ralph and nine-year-old Daphne from their personal perspectives. The narrative switches constantly between the pair (and Jane, Daphne’s childhood friend), meaning that unlike Lolita, Daphne is given a voice throughout and we are given insight into the consent she readily gives. The reader’s allegiance is switched throughout as the narrative moves between the characters. It’s a total minefield of a book.
Kelsey Miller I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends
This is not just a book for lovers of cult TV show Friends. It explores a moment in time, looking into the social landscape when Friends took the world by storm and what it was about it that captured the hearts of audiences across the world and has continued to do so in recent years with a totally different generation.
Kelsey Miller is a really well-respected journalist and you can tell: this book is extremely well researched and argued. She doesn’t hold back in exploring the problematic aspects of the show, but by putting it in perspective we can see that there were elements that were revolutionary for TV of its time. Yes, it was unrealistic and there were hardly any characters of colour, but Miller explores why this was, and how, in its own way, it made real moves to opening up the landscape to amplify the voices of lesser-heard communities. If you’re a fan of cultural deep dives, this is a book that will floor you.
Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott Swan Song
Truman Capote was a fascinating figure. This book – the result of a decade of research – goes a long way to painting a picture of him during his rise and fall from grace, surrounded by the young, vulnerable, beautiful, damaged women he collected, whom he called his ‘swans’.
The book opens in Capote’s prime, when he is loved by society following the massive success of his novel In Cold Blood. We then see what happens when, in 1975, he publishes excerpts from his savage book Answered Prayers, which tells the secrets of the upper echelons of society – those whose group he spent years trying to infiltrate. Capote is such a well-drawn character, and this dense, detailed tale gives real insight into a story we all should know, because it is dripping in glamour, seduction and betrayal. Yummy.
Words: Freya Parr