Getting lost in stories, learning about new topics or people and discovering new perspectives are some of my favourite past-times. And what better way to do that than reading new books? Unsurprisingly, there are quite a lot of books on my Christmas wish list this year. Some of them are there to challenge me, some there to inspire me and some just to entertain me and fuel my imagination. All of them will hopefully be great reads and maybe inspire you to gift a friend, family member or yourself a book and relax with it over the holidays.
Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan
After Ava moves from Dublin to Hong Kong to work as an English teacher, she doesn’t quite get the happy, exciting life she imagined. Things start to change when she meets British banker Julian and moves into his luxurious flat – and life. When he travels back to London for a while Ava meets Edith, a lawyer who impresses her in every possible way. Eventually, Ava has to decide between easy and complicated, Julian and Edith.
Exciting Times seems like a great book to escape reality with. A love story, set in a far away place, yet with relatable characters and immense depth. An ideal read for that period between Christmas and new year’s, sitting on the sofa with a huge cup of tea and my dog warming my feet. Dolan’s writing style, which has been likened to Sally Rooney’s and described as raw, dry, funny and sharp, also sounds right up my street.
A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future, David Attenborough
David Attenborough must be among those who have seen the most of the world, especially in terms of nature, wildlife and biodiversity. Most importantly, he has witnessed how the natural world is rapidly depleting, in a process so slow many of us hardly noticed. That’s what his newest book, and accompanying documentary, is all about.
His experience, of course, gives him the authority to speak about the issue and offer us advice, and his predicted vision for the future is rooted in an incredible amount of knowledge and awareness. I always try to do my part in helping the environment and biodiversity, but equally, I am always keen to learn more and discover ways to improve. So who better to help than David Attenborough? The documentary also made me cry, so I feel like I really should read the book as well.
Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi
Gifty’s life has been deeply affected by depression and addiction. Her brother died of an overdose after a knee operation left him hooked on pills, and her suicidal mother won’t leave her bed. Studying neuroscience at Stanford University, Gifty is desperate to scientifically understand the pain her family has gone through. And so, she uncovers all the layers to the suffering of her family of Ghanaian immigrants in Alabama.
Even though it had been on my parent’s bookshelf for years, I only got around to reading Gyasi’s Homegoing this year. I absolutely loved it and I really didn’t want it to end. Gyasi’s writing is so touching and rich with images and emotion. And of course, incredibly topical as well, making it an excellent mixture of that transportation into another world and provoking thoughts about the state of society and politics.
Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights, Helen Lewis
Throughout the history of feminism, there have been many “difficult women”. They got us to where we are today, by standing up for women and their rights in impressive ways. Lewis highlights the causes they fought for and how progress was made. Even if the women that created change don’t fit with the characteristics of modern feminism.
I’ve seen mixed reviews of this book and the way Lewis critiques modern feminism in it. Nevertheless, it has been very high on my reading list for a while now for multiple reasons. Firstly, I love history and true stories because there is always something to learn and understand. Secondly, I think it is important to engage with different strands of theory, to be aware of different perspectives, even if you might not agree with them. And finally, even if I don’t agree with Lewis entirely, the book still has huge potential to be inspiring and insightful.
The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half is about Identical twins who ran away from their small, southern black community at 16, and end up with very different lives. One sister returns to the community with her child, the other moves far away, passing as white. Yet their lives remain intertwined and overlap again and again as family history continues to play a role in their identity.
Topping many “best of 2020” lists, The Vanishing Half is bound to be written exceptionally well and carefully crafted into a touching and deep story. It is also incredibly topical, discussing passing as white, identity, the desire to change it and the state of society. Many of these important topics soared in popularity in 2020 and just because the year is almost over, doesn’t mean they should be forgotten about. Another novel that will make me think, and feel, a lot.
Ghosts, Dolly Alderton
Life has gotten rather difficult to navigate for Nina, who is dealing with friends and ex-boyfriends moving on (and away), doors closing rather than opening, her mum’s big mid-life changes and her dad’s early dementia. At a time where everything seems to be falling apart, rather than growing together (like it does for Nina’s friends), her new boyfriend, Max appears. Seemingly at the perfect time to give her hope for the future.
Another escape from reality type book, one to relax with and definitely a source of comfort. Relatable characters and themes (even though I am not in my thirties yet) appear and invite the reader to get lost in them. The questions about life that Ghosts brings up might just make the reader feel less alone in this rather lonely, uncertain year.
Words by Sophie Kiderlin
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