Books

Activism, anger plus fiction that sparks actual joy: March’s 10 most unmissable books

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Francesca Brown
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books for spring

Stylist’s books editor Francesca Brown presents March’s top 10 unmissable reads.

March is traditionally all about the feminist books, thanks to International Women’s Day on 8 March. This year it’s evolving, with books such as Caroline Criado Perez’s fascinating Invisible Women tackling a world that’s physically designed for men and Daisy Buchanan’s The Sisterhood exploring what we can learn from our sisters (both biological and beyond).

Added the highly-anticipated novels from Nina Stibbe and Samira Ahmed, plus The Good Immigrant USA, and you’ve got a recipe for a reading month your brain (and heart) will love.

(Also keep an eye out for the much-hyped Daisy Jones & The Six which is out 7 March and one of our picks for 2019 here.)

The you-gotta-read-this anthology: The Good Immigrant USA edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman

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Before Trump, and the Brexit referendum, 2016 saw the release of The Good Immigrant – a collection of essays by 21 British writers of colour, including the actor Riz Ahmed and Reni Eddo-Lodge, examining and re-evaluating what race and immigration truly meant in a modern society. It was a huge hit but in the years that have followed the word “immigrant” has become part of a new toxic political discourse fuelled by so-called mainstream politicians.

This time, 26 writers take the US as their subject. The resulting anthology is revelatory, sad, uplifting and very, very angry. The Fishermen author Chigozie Obioma movingly writes of his joy at studying in the US slowly being dissipated by first-hand experience, citing the Igbo proverb: “Son, beware the naked man who offers you clothes”. Jenny Zhang’s on-the-nose take down of cultural appropriation means you’ll never be able to look at late Nineties/early Noughties fashion in the same way again. 

(Out 7 March, £16.99, Dialogue)

The comedy gold: Reasons To Be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe 

Reasons To Be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe

Ah, she’s back! Nina Stibbe, who brought us the always-uplifting Love, Nina and the subsequent fictional Man At The Helm series, picks up the story of Lizzie Vogel as she leaves the family home to become a dental assistant to the awful JP.

The book is filled with Stibbe’s characteristic observations: “Andy very much liked my vision of the flat (French bistro)… most of all he liked the Hoover Aristocrat and he squatted beside it as if it were a vintage car or a poorly alien we’d found in the cellar”. Reasons To Be Cheerful is just the read you need right now, seamlessly weaving together the big themes of life with charm and warmth.

(Out 28 March, £12.99, Viking)

The book that’ll be everywhere: The Sisterhood by Daisy Buchanan 

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“Sometimes I wonder whether anyone else feels as though they have been sent out on a long and impossible quest by a very grumpy wizard who hasn’t actually told them what they’re looking for…” Daisy Buchanan (writer and You’re Booked podcaster) has that gift for writing that also seems to have struck Caitlin Moran, Samantha Irby and David Sedaris. These are authors you want to spend time with – it doesn’t really matter what the subject is, they’re going to make you laugh and think.

Happily, Buchanan has also picked a fascinating subject for her collection of essays: sisters. She examines what we can learn from these simultaneously comforting and infuriating beings, and how we can apply this to our own feminist sisterhood. How by understanding each other’s foibles, emotional make-up and infinite variety, we’re all stronger and surer.

(out 7 March, £14.99, Headline)

The book every woman needs to read: Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

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The UN estimates that 50% of women in EU countries have been sexually harassed at work; this figure rises to 80% in China. Plumbing codes demand 50/50 floor space for male and female toilets – but women take 2.3 times longer in a toilet (for obvious reasons) while women also make up the majority of the elderly and disabled. This means that the 50/50 split no longer seems so fair…

In every corner of globe – from Argentina’s gender bias on taxes (where self-employed women are more likely to be hit by higher taxes than employed men) to the fact that globally 75% of unpaid work is done by women (Denmark has the highest male unpaid working time but it’s still less time than Norwegian women who have the lowest unpaid working time) – Criado Perez has unknitted reams of data to present the fact: this is a man’s world. Essential and fascinating reading, it’s no surprise it’s caused such a stir.

(out 7 March, £16.99, Chatto & Windus)

The thinking novel: Permission by Saskia Vogel

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Actress Echo is sinking. Her father has been lost at sea; her mother perpetually unhappy at choosing a life in California. Unable to find a way out, she is saved by a chance meeting with a dominatrix called Orly. Suddenly, Echo begins to understand herself and her life…

If this story sounds a tad remote then rethink first impressions because Vogel’s writing is beauty in motion. From capturing a humiliating date with a predatory agent to what attracts people to BDSM, this is an addictive read you’ll finish within hours. (It’s also part of a rising publishing trend of young women attracted to domination and why: see Normal People and In At The Deep End…)

(out 7 March, £14.99, Dialogue)

For those who love a murder mystery: Mrs Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkowa

mrs_mohr_goes_missing_maryla_szymiczkowa

Co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union (what’ve they ever they done for us? Yada, yada), this is the charming and moreish tale of Zofia Turbotynska, set in turn-of-the-century Cracow. Zofia discovers that crime is far more diverting than organising raffles and philanthropy and stumbles into the case of murdered women at a retirement home.

Inspired by her reading of Edgar Allan Poe and a mind that unravels the intricacies of Polish society, this is a tale that conjures up the delightful books of Dorothy L Sayers and is the perfect diversion for annoying commutes.

(out 28 March, £12.99, Oneworld)

The big adventure: Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken 

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In a need of a big sweeping tale that’ll engulf your life? With possibly one of the greatest opening lines ever written (“They found a body in the Salford Cemetery, but above ground and alive”) Bowlaway is your ride.

Spanning the early 20th century, this is the story of Bertha Truitt, her family and the bowling alley she founds. Quirky and filled with truths about life that’ll resonate (it’s reminiscent of John Irving’s books, which is absolutely no bad thing), it’s chock full of beguiling characters that’ll charm you but also break you at points. Find a quiet, sun-filled corner and be utterly transported for hours at a time.

(out 14 March, £16.99, Jonathan Cape)

 The wake-up call: Internment by Samira Ahmed 

internment_samira_ahmed

This magnetic novel is set in a near-future (and all-too-plausible) US where a Nazi government comes into power and methodically starts removing people’s rights (“you’d be surprised how quickly armed military personnel and pepper spray shut down the well-meaning protests of liberals”).

Muslims are the government’s main target: first placed on a registry then – as with Japanese-Americans during World War 2 – internment camps for American Muslim citizens. Narrated by the rebellious 17-year-old Layla whose family is imprisoned in one of these camps, this is a story that seems uncomfortably prescient in these uncertain times, but it’s also one of hope and resistance. Author Ahmed is proving herself to be a YA gem.

(out 7 March, £7.99, Atom)

The thinker: The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (& Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) by Philippa Perry 

the_book_you_wish_your_parents_philippa_perry

Not got kids? It doesn’t matter, as the wonderful psychotherapist Philippa Perry’s latest book is actually about using our pasts to understand ourselves and how we react to situations that test our patience and emotions.

She explains that these sharp reactions might well be down to what happened in our childhoods – and the flashpoints that these emotions can stir up makes for fascinating reading whether you’re actively parenting or not. It’s also an excellent book for reminding yourself: life is hard and you’re doing your best – so try not to beat yourself up for everyday mistakes.

(out 7 March, £12.99, Penguin)

The literary one to watch: Lanny by Max Porter

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In 2015, indie bookseller and editor Max Porter wrote Grief Is A Thing With Feathers – small but perfectly formed, it’s become a go-to for anyone who’s suffered loss or just wants to be moved by lovingly crafted poetic prose from a ground-breaking contemporary writer. So, his follow-up book Lanny was always going to be one of this year’s most anticipated releases.

Described as a “meditation on Englishness”, it is the story of a little boy Lanny and his very recognisable village captured with Porter’s unique ear for dialogue simultaneously exploring the forces that hold this country in a unique bind. It’s unlike anything else you will read all year and is, quite frankly, magical.

(out 7 March, £12.99, Faber)

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Book jackets: Supplied

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Francesca Brown

Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Emerald Street; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown

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