Books

Michelle Obama’s autobiography, feminist short stories and Brexit fiction: November’s best new books

Posted by
Francesca Brown
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The end-of-year countdown is on, and these are the reads not to be missed…

Looking for fiction to curl up with, and some inspired gift ideas to boot? Then November has you covered.

Some of the biggest names in the book world (oh, just Michelle Obama, Carol Ann Duffy, Cecelia Ahern and Jeanette Winterson) are releasing inspiring, beautiful books, while we can expect groundbreaking fiction from Akwaeke Emezi, William Melvin Kelley and Jonathan Coe.

The unmissable autobiography: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming

Earlier this year, Michelle Obama gave a talk to the American Library Association where she explained: “When people ask how a girl from a working class family on the South Side of Chicago got to where I am, they think I’m some kind of unicorn. That stories like mine don’t exist. But the truth is, these stories simply aren’t told. 

“Becoming is about the ordinariness of a very extraordinary story. By telling it, I hope that people who feel faceless, invisible, or voiceless feel the pride in their story in the way that I feel about mine.”

From her childhood and motherhood to the years spent in the White House working as an advocate for US women and girls, this is an uplifting and reflective book – and is also a reminder that there are some moments of hope in what feels like the bleakest of times. 

 The breakout new talent: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi 

“I have lived many lives inside this body. I lived many lives before they put me in this body. I will live many lives when they take me out of it.” 

Telling the story of Ada, Emezi’s debut is unlike anything else you’ll read and an incredible feat of storytelling.

Ada is a troubled child filled with many selves. When she travels from Nigeria to the US for college and experiences a terrible trauma, these selves separate into fearsome personalities. Filled with Igbo folklore and written with great originality, this is a book that will become one of 2018’s most heralded new titles. 

The manifesto: Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere by Jeanette Winterson

Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere

Adapted from her Richard Dimbleby Lecture (she’s only the sixth woman to give one since its inauguration in 1972), this short but powerful call to arms by Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit author, Jeanette Winterson, is a joyous read.

Reveling in the successes of the Suffragettes 100 years ago (“Women chained themselves to railings. Women blew up letterboxes – the Victorians and Edwardians loved writing letters… so getting the post blown up was really annoying”), Winterson calls for women to remain vigilant and invested. 

In the worlds of technology, law, politics and everyday life, discrimination is rife. Winterson reminds us that we should take heart in the women who fought before and use them as our guide. 

Feminist tales: Roar by Cecelia Ahern

Roar

Cecelia Ahern’s 30 feminist tales are inventive, anger-inducing and ingenious, with a doffing of the cap to Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. She obviously had a lot of fun with the ideas behind her stories: for example, in The Woman Who Wore Pink, gender roles are taken to an extreme degree as people are identified in Starbucks by their genitalia, and the Gender Police intervene when a woman insists on holding a door open for a man. But, there’s also the everyday rage of women who are just trying to navigate work, motherhood, child-free lives and beyond.

All 30 stories are at once utterly recognisable and thought-provoking. 

The Brexit novel: Middle England by Jonathan Coe

Middle England

In the third installment of The Rotters’ Club trilogy (you don’t need to read the first two books, but the original is brilliant), Coe covers Britain’s most recent history leading up to that fateful 2016 day when the country found themselves utterly divided by the referendum.

Tackling his characters’ opposing points of view, he draws a portrait of a recognisable Britain baffled by its loss of industry and jobs, and of everyday people shocked by a rise of acceptable racism and xenophobia. It’s also very, very funny – as a Tory press secretary explains: “Boris [Johnson] would have had three articles ready [for his Telegraph column] – one for Leave, one for Remain, and one for not being able to make up his mind. He likes to cover all the bases.”

The very funny Secret Santa: How To Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings by Sarah Cooper

How To Be Successful Without Hurting Men's Feelings

Novelty comedy books have a tendency to strike fear into our hearts, but Sarah Cooper’s How To Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings is just inspired. In the chapter entitled Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies For Women, helpful cartoons pinpoint how to make yourself heard in the office without upsetting co-workers: “Pepper your emails with exclamation marks and emojis so you don’t come across as too clear or direct. Your lack of efficient communication will make you seem more approachable.” 

Filled with satirical looks at things like giving presentations and gender stereotyping, and published complete with cut-out badges for all occasions, belly laughs are actually guaranteed.  

The poetic icon: Sincerity by Carol Ann Duffy

Sincerity is Carol Ann Duffy’s last collection of poems in her role as Poet Laureate, and it’s dynamite. Whether skewering our current political situation (“They do not mean us well, these patriots, with their buttock-faced smarm” – who could she mean?) or likening the Grenfell fire to the Aberfan disaster of 1966, in which 144 adults and children lost their lives, Duffy is unrelenting in both her activism and her talent. 

She will be sorely missed in the role but this collection is a beautifully presented tribute to her work, as well as the power of poetry to tell it like it is. Long may she rule. 

The rediscovered classic: A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley

A Different Drummer

If you’ve never heard of William Melvin Kelley, you’re possibly not alone. Credited with coining the term ‘woke’ way back in 1962, his debut book A Different Drummer was hailed as an African-American classic on its publication in the Sixties. However, despite writing for all of his life, Kelley’s work dropped out of view before his death in 2017.

Now, all that is set to change, A Different Drummer has since been the object of a seven-way international auction and this tale of a farmer leading a black exodus out of the fictional Southern US town in 1957 is astounding. The white townspeople are baffled, angry and perplexed, and their voices are a chorus of confusion, all of which lead to a gut-punch of an ending. Absolutely essential reading ahead of its time.

 The instant confidence booster: How To Own The Room by Viv Groskop  

How To Own The Room

Groskop’s idea is inspired: if you’re not feeling the love for public speaking, then look to the women who own it. With chapters entitled Be more Oprah and Be more JK, it’s about looking to role models who have found their voices in different ways: from the nonchalance of Gloria Steinem’s 1970 speech (“there’s a surprising quiet power at work here”) to the stillness and calm of Angela Merkel, who always comes across as the powerful person on a stage (even when surrounded by posturing world leaders). 

Filled with fascinating, well-researched insight as well as practical tips (Amy Cuddy’s power poses are always a winner), this is a book all about finding your own power. 

The winter read: Five Days Of Fog by Anna Freeman

Five Days Of Fog

Baby, it’s cold outside and there is literally no better book to curl up with than Five Days Of Fog. Set against the Great Smog in 1952, Freeman’s book is an atmospheric and gripping story that weaves through the backstreets of a devastated post-war London peppered with lukewarm tea and cigarette ash. Based on the real-life female shoplifting gang, the Forty Elephants, Florrie Palmer wants to leave the Cutters but there’s one problem: it’s all she knows and her mum runs things. Utterly transporting, read and lose yourself completely. 

Images: 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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