My June picks are characterised by their honesty and bluntness, and their willingness to challenge ideas through fiction and non-fiction.
There are two blistering non-fiction reads that can be seen as manifestoes - Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games. Kayo Chingonyi’s Kumukanda is an extremely short collection of poetry, which packs a punch while looking at race, masculinity and more.
Koh-i-Noor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand explores the history of one of the world’s most famous diamonds, while Abir Mukherjee picks up on some of the history explored by Dalrymple and Anand for his crime novel A Necessary Evil.
In her second book, A Manual for Heartache, Cathy Rentzenbrink looks at grief and how we deal with tragedies small and large, while in fiction Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin examines how a family deals with an unexpected illness and Laura Barnett looks at a life lived in her second novel Greatest Hits. Catherine Lacey’s The Answers looks at dating and love in the modern age.
And finally, there is Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, a novel that comes 20 years after her first, the award-winning and much loved The God of Small Things.
Main image: iStock
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book grew out of a column of the same name written by Eddo-Lodge on the topic of, well, not speaking to white people about race any further. Eddo-Lodge’s powerful book - which is also one of the most important reads of the year - covers topics including white privilege, feminism, race and class, and how various systems (governmental, educational and so on), discriminate. It’ll make uncomfortable reading for some, but that’s exactly what it should do and what is needed.
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Khong’s novel is about a woman whose life is falling apart, but Goodbye, Vitamin is not a book about a self-indulgent millennial with privileged problems trying to find herself. Home for Christmas, Ruth’s mother asks her to stay for a year to help her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Ruth agrees, and so begins 12 months of trying to help her father survive and thrive in moving, funny and heartbreaking ways. Alzheimer’s is horrific, but this novel is full of warmth, humour and compassion.
Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
The Koh-i-Noor is arguably the best known diamond in the world, but how did it come to be so valued, and so fought over? In the first half of Koh-i-Noor, Dalrymple traces the diamond’s roots and its journey as well as exploring the place of jewels in India and the world of the maharajas. In the second half, Anand recounts how the Koh-i-Noor was taken from the 10-year-old maharaja of Punjab, Duleep Singh, and the diamond’s place in history. This is a fascinating read about a jewel that still captures the imagination, and emotions, of people across the world.
A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
From fact to fiction, Mukherjee’s novel delves into the world of the maharajas described in Dalrymple and Anand’s book. When the heir to the kingdom of Sambalpore is shot dead, British detective Captain Wyndham and his sidekick Sergeant Banerjee decamp from Calcutta to Sambalpore to try to solve the crime. There, they are faced with palace intrigues, from the suspicious politician to the prince’s playboy brother to the mysterious, and often unseen, women of the harem. An intriguing and enjoyable crime novel.
A Manual for Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink
Full disclosure, Rentzenbrink is a friend (and sometime Stylist contributor), but even if she wasn’t I’d still recommend her work. A Manual for Heartache is a beautiful, practical, kind book offering advice to people experiencing heartache of any kind. This book’s appeal lies in the way that it makes you feel like you’re not alone, and it’s full of hope and lightness, even as Rentzenbrink talks about some of our darkest experiences.
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
The concept for Catherine Lacey’s The Answers might initially make you raise your eyebrows, but this is a clever, gripping read. Beset by a mysterious pain and undergoing an expensive (and strange) treatment to make herself better, Mary signs up for the Girlfriend Experiment (GX). She will play the role of Emotional Girlfriend to Kurt, a famous actor, while other women fulfil other roles in his life. A fascinating dystopian examination of love and relationships.
Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett
Hugely successful British singer-songwriter Cass Wheeler disappeared after three decades in the spotlight. Now she is back in the studio, spending a day choosing 16 songs from among the hundreds she has written, each track triggering memories from her past. Barnett’s second novel tells the story of a life through all its highs and lows, from Cass’ childhood through to the present, encompassing the tragedy that caused her to stop making music.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
It’s been 20 years since Roy released her first, and to date only, novel, the Man Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things. Finally, here is The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Starting with Anjum, who used to be Aftab, and taking in a varied cast of characters, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness goes from the neighbourhoods of Old Delhi to a burgeoning new metropolis, from Kashmir to the forests of central India.
Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi
Kumukanda translates as ‘initiation’, and is the name given to the rites a young boy from the Luval tribe must pass through before being considered a man. In this collection, Chingonyi reflects on the passage between boyhood and adulthood, between who he is and how he is perceived. Chingonyi muses on growing up black, masculinity, and the power of music and art. Kumukanda is full of nostalgia and gentleness as well as being sharply observant.
The Gender Games by Juno Dawson
Dawson’s transition has been well documented in her writing and through various interviews, but The Gender Games is a little different. This is partly the story of Dawson’s life, recounting parts of her childhood and later life, all told with humour and frankness. It’s also a study into how society reinforces gender rules and expectations, to the detriment of everyone, with insights from activists including Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates and poet Anthony Anacagorou.