From Nikita Gill to Joan Didion and beyond, 20 new books to make your shelf happy.
February is one of those packed-to-the-brim months of incredible book releases. Alongside Stylist’s uplifting new collection Life Lessons On Friendship featuring wise essays by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, Gina Martin, Flo Perry and Candice Brathwaite, many of 2021’s most anticipated fiction and non-fiction titles will also be hitting the shelves.
Some we’ve already covered in our ones to watch in 2021 (see Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan and Brown Baby by Nikesh Shukla) but we couldn’t fit them all in! So here’s our carefully curated list of February’s new books to bring wit, wisdom, joy and comfort to your reading pile.
From a feminist Western that’s becoming one of the most talked-about books of the year already (Anna North’s Outlawed) to Nikita Gill’s incredibly emotional and wise new poetry that tackles the past 12 months via brilliant reads from Salena Godden, Zoe Folbigg, Sarah J Maas, Ali Benjamin, Sarah Pearse and Helen Fisher alongside compelling essays and short story collections that feature Roxane Gay, Morgan Parker and Carmen Maria Machado, it’s a seriously packed month.
Meanwhile, Bernardine Evaristo presents a new collection of republished writing by Black authors and Joan Didion releases 12 essays published together for the first time. Happy February reading!
The Smash Up by Ali Benjamin
A modern rewrite of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, The Smash-Up is an ode to female rage, social media, feminism, #MeToo, family and confusion. Ethan and Zo have a comfortable, creative life but when they move to a tranquil ideal, their lives begin to unravel and Ethan looks for an escape in the worst possible place. Funny, compelling and utterly relatable, this is the novel for you (out 23 February).
Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena GoddenPerformance poet Salena Godden turns her formidable powers to a debut novel that captures the raw and violent injustices of our world as a weary Mrs Death (“a Black, working-class woman who shape-shifts and does her work unseen”) narrates her experiences to Wolf Willeford, a writer who’s experienced his own fair share of death. Lyrical, powerful and definitely one you need to read (out now).
Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X Kendi and Keisha N Blain
A polyphonic work that unites writers, historians, lawyers, poets and activists, this is the story of African America from the arrival of 20 Ndongo people arriving on the shores of the first British colony in America in 1619 to the present day told through essays, short stories and poetry. From Morgan Parker’s poem Before Revolution to writer Bernice L McFadden’s soaring exploration of Zora Neale Hurston’s genre-defining writing, it’s something quite incredible (out 4 February).
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
In need of total immersion right now? The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse (out 18 February) is here to transfix and terrify in equal amounts. Set in a Shining-esque hotel high up in the Swiss Alps that also happens to be an abandoned sanatorium (this can’t end well), this is an addictive, creepy and twisting read. The perfect gothic story for a cold February night.
Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh
Derry writer ní Dochartaigh’s memoir explores her childhood growing up during Northern Ireland’s Troubles, the terrifying violence and prejudice she experienced first-hand and the impact it’s had on her as an adult. It’s also a story about the redemptive and elemental power of nature and of a landscape that endures (out now).
Kink edited by RO Kwon and Garth GreenwellThis anthology of literary short fiction explores everything from love and desire to BDSM and sexual kinks from incredible writers including Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado and Brandon Taylor to name a few. Edited by the brilliant RO Kwon (The Incendiaries) and Garth Greenwell (What Belongs to You and Cleanness), it’s a reflective and must-read collection (out 9 February).
Space Hopper by Helen Fisher
Conjuring up Rowan Coleman’s The Summer Of Impossible Things and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Space Hopper is the story of Faye who has a happy and loved life but lost her mother as a young girl. Then she stumbles across a way to travel back through to time to 1977, where she meets both her mother and her younger self. It sounds bonkers but it’s beautiful and explores grief, acceptance and love – providing much-needed solace right now (out 4 February).
Coming Out Stories edited by Emma Goswell and Sam Walker
Compiled by podcast hosts Emma Goswell and Sam Walker, this collection of stories tackles coming out across all ages, eras and cultures across the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Moving, relatable, sad, courageous and funny, each of the stories are interspersed with advice from well-known names including Joe Lycett and Davina DiCampo to help anyone find their authentic self (out now).
This One Wild And Precious Life by Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson’s previous book – First, We Make The Beast Beautiful – is a comforting and enlightening re-evaluation of how we approach anxiety and in this new work she pinpoints where we’re currently at. Living through crisis after crisis, facing climate change, political polarisation and digital disconnection, she argues we all recognise that we want and need a new way of living so we just need to get on with it (out now).
On Getting Off by Damon Young
Uniting philosophy and literature in equal measure, Young explores why we’re all so hung up and embarrassed about sex and eroticism. Why something so fun with all of its attendant quirks and joy can cause us to fold in on ourselves. Covering everything from “what makes sex funny?” to nakedness through the writing of Zadie Smith and Deborah Levy, it’s a book we could all do with reading (out 11 February).
Temporary by Hilary LeichterBizarre, relevant and resonant, this is one of those books that’ll end up tatty and dog-eared as you lend it to everyone you know. The New York Times called it “crisp, swift and sardonic”, as our narrator moves between 23 temporary jobs (from the recognisable to the insane – opening and closing doors while covering for a ghost) and 18 compartmentalised boyfriends in a tale that satirises but also speaks the truth (out 18 February).
The Spy Who Came In From The Bin by Christopher ShevlinIn need of some absorbing comedy? Then may we direct you to the third book in Christopher Shevlin’s Jonathan Fairfax series. As two panicked Berlin bin collectors pull a smartly dressed man with amnesia from the back of a recycling truck (after all, Berlin is “a dressed-down sort of city”), a story of international intrigue, confusion and social manners unfolds. Written with the gentle comic precision of Nina Stibbe and Neil Gaiman, you need Jonathan Fairfax in your life right now.
The Night We Met by Zoe Folbigg
No one does an elevated romance-that’s-rooted-in-reality like Folbigg (despite many imitators). The fourth book from the author of The Note and The Distance twists the timeline of boy-meets-girl to tell the story of Daniel and Olivia who are married with two daughters but met a lifetime ago travelling the world. Spanning Australia, Italy and Britain, it’s a timely reminder that love lasts no matter what can fall in its path.
The 27 Club by Lucy NicholIt’s 1994 and Emma is hiding her anxiety in too much drink, drugs, indie music and Rimmel lipstick. She’s rudderless and worried about her dad, dog and friends – and then Kurt Cobain dies at the age of 27, joining other iconic names such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix – could Emma be next? Perfectly evoking small-town 90s culture, this is a moving exploration of mental health, enduring music myths and why love can help us through (out now).
Minty Alley by CLR JamesPart of the new landmark Black Britain: Writing Back series (which feature lost or hard-to-find books by Black writers who wrote about Black Britain and the diaspora across the last century) that’s curated and introduced by Bernardine Evaristo, Minty Alley by CLR James was the first novel by a Black West Indian to be published in the UK. First published in 1936 and set in Trinidad, hard-up narrator Haynes rents a room in Minty Alley to save money only to find himself caught up in the magnetic lives of the people around him (out 4 February).
Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan DidionThis new book of 12 previously unpublished essays is Didion gold. Beautifully presented (it matters!), the essays and articles date from 1968 to 2000 covering topics such as a profile of Martha Stewart (piercingly titled “Everywoman.com”) and Why I Write. Astute and filled with her trademark wit and wistfulness, it’s a grown-up delight (out 4 February).
A Court Of Silver Flames by Sarah J MaasThe latest book from the author of A Court Of Thorns And Roses and Throne Of Glass (just the 13 million copies sold worldwide in 37 languages) continues with the journey of Feyre’s fiery sister, Nesta, who finds herself training with the infuriating and very attractive Cassian, a battle-scarred, winged warrior. With bits of Buffy, Game Of Thrones and Outlander, this is a glorious series of total joy (out 16 February).
Where Hope Comes From by Nikita GillA soothing balm for our souls, Nikita Gill’s wonderful new collection (out 18 February) is about hope, resilience, healing, hope, grief and some more hope. It’s exactly what you need by your bedside right now for when you wake up at 3am and feel understandably lost. Featuring her beautiful illustrations with poems including Love In The Time Of Coronavirus and How To Be Strong, it confronts the trauma we’re all living through and counsels on how we can find our way to the other side (out 18 February).
A Net For Small Fishes by Lucy JagoThere’s no messing about in Lucy Jago’s A Net For Small Fishes. From the first chapter you’re plunged into the dark intrigues, violence, vying for position and cruelty of the 17th century Jacobean court as society beauty Frances Howard meets Anne Turner, whose way with bodices, stockings and eyelashes is unequalled. Together they attempt to forge their own independent paths in a world made for men as history unravels around them.
Outlawed by Anna NorthLast but not least, we get to one of the biggest books of the year: a feminist retake on the traditional Western, Outlawed has been chosen for Reese Witherspoon’s book club while Amy Adams will be bringing it to TV. Set against the shadow of an epidemic (bear with us reader), it’s a roaring tale of a group of outcast women doing things their own way while tackling everything from gender to abortion rights. Thrilling and exhilarating in equal measure, order your copy right now please (out now).
Images: courtesy of publishers
Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; 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