If you’re still finding it difficult to focus on reading in lockdown, you’re not alone. Many of us are still very much experiencing pandemic fatigue and low-level anxiety, which can make it difficult to sit still and get lost in the pages of a book.
But if you’re determined to push through and get into your reading groove, now might be a good time to get cosy on the couch and give yourself the chance to get stuck in. This month marks World Book Day (on 4 March), after all.
If you need a little inspiration to get you going, Stylist has rounded up the best new books released in March, including Megan Nolan’s debut novel Acts Of Desperation and Lisa Harding’s unflinching Bright Burning Things. Or, if you’re interested in a little “self-improvement”, there are plenty of great self-help books and personal finance out there.
Still struggling to pick a title? Here’s what members of the Stylist team are currently reading and – loving! – in lockdown.
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Kayleigh, digital editor-at-large:
“Cinderella Is Dead. Isn’t that just the most perfect title for a book you’ve ever heard of? Set 200 years after the glass slipper situation, the fairytale we know and love has been twisted and warped into a horrifying new ritual. Every girl in the kingdom has to recite it daily. Every girl in the kingdom spends her life preparing for the royal ball and the ‘choosing’. And every girl in the kingdom knows that, should she not be chosen by a man at the ball, her life will be forfeit.
“That, in itself, is a brilliant hook. But Kalynn Bayron’s story ups the ante even further by focusing on Sophia, a young girl who a) is desperately in love with her best friend, Erin, and b) forced to hide out in Cinderella’s tomb after her night at the ball goes spectacularly wrong. Which means this retelling of a classic fairytale isn’t just darkly dystopic and twisted; it feels refreshing and utterly inspiring, too! Pick this one up if, like me, you love both The Handmaid’s Tale and Once Upon A Time, and have been searching for the unexpected crossover of your dreams for what feels like forever.”
Who’s Loving You: Love Stories By Women Of Colour by Sareeta Domingo
Meena, features editor:
“I’m almost finished reading Who’s Loving You: Love Stories By Women Of Colour, edited by Sareeta Domingo, and I’m trying to ration the last few short stories because I don’t want it to end. It’s such an emotive collection, exploring love in its many forms through the eyes of some truly brilliant writers including Varaidzo, Kuchenga and Danielle Dash.
“I love getting lost in a passionate tale of star-crossed lovers, it’s the ultimate escapism, and this anthology breathes new life into a genre that rarely centres women of colour as romantic leads.”
Friends And Enemies by Barbara Amiel
Lucy, SEO executive:
“I love a ‘tell all’ memoir, and Friends and Enemies is as shockingly honest (and packed with celebrity cameos) as it gets. In her doorstop of an autobiography, journalist Barbara Amiel charts her seemingly fairytale rise from unhappy childhood to her life as a successful columnist and marriage to former Telegraph owner Conrad Black. In the early days of their marriage, the pair are regulars on the glamorous high society scene in both Palm Beach and London, rubbing shoulders with an array of colourful A-list celebrities and politicians and notoriously shady characters (like the Maxwells).
“Then everything goes spectacularly wrong. When Conrad Black goes to prison for fraud, the once ‘power couple’ are ridiculed and ripped to shreds by the tabloids on the daily, with Amiel painted as a ‘femme fatale.’ This anti fairytale feels especially timely in a week where we are seeing Meghan Markle be relentlessly (not to mention gleefully) savaged in the press as a ‘difficult woman.’ The book feels like an exercise in getting revenge for all the villains in her life who have wronged her (there is an actual list of names divided up as friends and enemies at the back of the book). Wild.”
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Meriam, fitness editor:
“I’m reading Normal People right now because my cousin gave it to me for Christmas. It’s not usually a book I would go for and I’ve already seen the TV series, so I’m familiar with the storyline. But because I’m going through a phase where I’m finding it very hard to concentrate during lockdown and also wind down after the work day, I wanted an easy read that requires little effort or attention span.
“I like that it’s an simple storyline, that I’m already familiar with it, and it’s entertaining enough to mentally escape for an hour before bed.”
Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel
Moya, women’s editor:
“The #MeToo movement was one of the most important feminist moments of my life. Yet I sometimes felt uncomfortable with the discourse surrounding it, which often seemed to elevate individual women to the position of avenging angels while flattening individual men into depraved villains. This, I felt, did women a disservice: if you put someone on a moral pedestal, they’re inevitably going to fall off it. I also think it made it easier for men who weren’t utterly monstrous – the non-Harvey Weinsteins, if you will – to wriggle out of self-reflection and accountability.
“Many have argued that consent is binary: you either consent to sex, or you don’t. But what if someone isn’t sure whether they consented or not? What if they consented, and still felt like a sexual experience was degrading or exploitative? Where do we go from there?
“Those thorny questions form the basis of Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel, one of the smartest, most nuanced and thought-provoking books I’ve read about sex in the post-#MeToo era. Angel unpicks conventional feminist wisdom about consent and shines a spotlight on the grey areas in male-female sexual dynamics. You won’t necessarily agree with everything she has to say – but she’ll definitely give you a lot to think about.”
City Of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Hollie, digital writer:
“It’s been a pretty stressful month and I have three half-finished books in a pile next to my bed. I read the first chapter of one of them about three times (a hard-hitting, Pulitzer Prize-winning number that requires your full attention) before giving up.
“I realised I want froth, sex, glamour and funny – all the things that let me escape from this mundane lockdown period in my life. My friend gave me Elizabeth Gilbert’s City Of Girls for my birthday and, boy, has it met my escapist requirements. Each night – whether I’m reading it in a scorching hot bubble bath or wrapped up in bed – Gilbert transports me to the bright lights of New York’s Broadway in 1940. It follows the story of Vivian, who befriends showgirl Celia when she moves into her aunt’s crumbling theatre. Together, the young, beautiful, confident girls get up to all sorts in the Big Apple.
“I just really want to be 20 again and hang out with all the characters, sipping martinis, wearing scandalously tight dresses and making men fall at my feet (I’ll be doing all that when lockdown ends, right?). And Gilbert’s writing is just so, so funny – she’s the perfect narrator of my imaginary life.”
Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu
Jazmin, digital deputy editor:
“I’m reading Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu, a memoir that tackles things like identity and belonging in a way that I’ve never really looked at before. Earthquakes feature as a reoccurring metaphor but, under the promise of glowing reviews by people who got there before me, I’m excited to read on to understand how one writer triumphed in a world that made it seem impossible.”
Images: various publications