Another month, another period of minimal interaction with the outside world for most of us.
To pass the time, many of us have taken up different hobbies – out of my friends, Ella has taken up diamond painting (trust me, I don’t know what it really is either), Robin has been baking up a storm, and Jennifer has perfected the art of spending days on end lying in bed not doing much. Others have binged their favourite TV series, started baking (Breadmakers of St Andrews, I’m looking at you), or even picked up embroidery, while I’m sure we all know at least one person who’s determined to make a living off of either YouTube or TikTok.
I, however, have been reading a somewhat extravagant amount of books, and cocooning myself amongst a mixture of Euripides, Rick Riordan, and Owen Jones, after falling into a slightly depressing slump from February to April. So I’ve decided to foist some of my sort of off-the-beaten-track recommendations upon you from a mixture of fiction, non-fiction, plays, diaries and poetry. Hope you enjoy!
Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec
For the staunch postmodernist in all of us, this staple of French literature weaves through the lives, loves and tribulations of various characters (both murderers and millionaires) within a Parisian apartment block, as Serge Valene, our somewhat elusive main character, plans out an elaborate picture of his home of sixty years.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Follow the story stretching across sixty years of four college best friends – an artist, an actor, an architect, and a lawyer – and experience the little tragedies and happinesses of a seemingly ordinary life; if being entirely emotionally devastated is your cup of tea, this book is certainly for you.
The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
The biggest bookshop in Scotland, the misanthropic owner, and a wide array of customers – for the fan of Black Books, the aspiring bookseller, and the booklover, this will probably leave you with more books on your to-be-read pile than before.
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akal
For anyone interested in the experiences of POC in modern Britain, Akala reveals parts of British history that aren’t taught in schools, such as Operation Legacy, while offering consistently searing and sharp polemic on the state of racism and discrimination in the our world.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The story of a retired man receiving a will that forces him to reevaluate everything he knew about his past – from an ex-girlfriend, to a summer away from home, to a friend he thought he’d lost long ago.
Any Human Heart by William Boyd
Laid out in the fictional diaries of a remarkable life, from boyhood dares to World War Two, fame and fortune to destitution, and through a whole cast of countries, Boyd presents to us the life of Logan Mountstuart, with such an engaging tone that you’ll find yourself drawn to him over and over again.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
A classic feminist text, Woolf writes a lecture on the suppression of the female voice in academia, in a world where most universities are male institutions with restrictive rules over women’s presence, and forces us to consider the position of the mythical Shakespeare’s sister – just as talented, but dead before she was able to write.
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy
For anyone who needs assurance during a time of great uncertainty and isolation, this book of short affirmations and beautiful illustrations was a bestseller throughout 2019, and will make your heart warm as you follow the adventures of these four strange friends.
The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig
The finest work of anti-capitalist fiction I’ve ever read, Zweig explores what the commoditization and profit-centric world of capitalism does to human feeling through his post office girl, Christine, who flits from poverty to borrowed fortune, and never quite recovers.
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones
With chapters hinging on anti-working class rhetoric in newspapers and parliamentary speech to the sheer difference in the coverage of the two disappearances of Madeleine McCann and Shannon Matthews, Jones explores and condemns the consistent and common mistreatment and mislabelling of the working class in modern Britain.
Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
For anyone who enjoyed the TV adaptation, a read of the original play’s script should be a treat, with Waller-Bridge’s characteristic snappy style and brutally honest exploration of mental health, suppression, and family.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Twisted retellings of famous fairy-tales from a feminist perspective – because what if Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother actually was the Wolf?
The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla (Editor) & Assorted Authors
Written by multiple actors, writers and comedians, this anthology of texts explores the position of the immigrant in Britain and the Western World, where aspiring actresses can be told that the only part they are ‘fit to play’ is ‘a terrorist’s wife’, or a teacher can be told by their student that stories are ‘only about white people’.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
In this modern epic poem, Anne Carson explores the monstrous figure of Geryon transposed into the modern world as he runs away, falls in love, and takes photos.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson calls for a fix for the broken justice system in the USA, with its deep racial bias and its privileging of the rich, through the story of Walter McMillian, sentenced to death for a murder that he didn’t commit.