Stylist’s books editor Francesca Brown selects November’s best 11 books you need to own.
November is all about taking it easy and slow – wrapping yourself under a duvet with some comfort drinks and enjoying some of the greatest stories ever told.
Thankfully, with new, highly-anticipated fiction arriving from Elizabeth Strout, Emma Forrest, Erin Morgenstern, Sarah Hall and Kate Griffin, there are some perfect winter reads waiting for you. And that’s not all, either, as Priya Basil is releases life-affirming reflections on food and generosity; Red River Girl is a true-crime investigation into the murder of Tina Fontaine, an indigenous teenager in Canada; Kamila Shamsie, Bidisha and Zoe Lambert contribute moving essays of activism in Resist; and Gabrielle Jackson blows the doors off women’s bodies and healthcare in the call to arms, Pain And Prejudice.
With so many brilliant titles on offer, though, which to choose? Don’t worry, help is at hand, as we’ve selected the 11 best fiction and feminist reads for November.
The sheer delight: Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout
This is a welcome return to Crosby, Maine as Elizabeth Strout picks up the story of her irascible heroine, Olive Kitteridge. Strout is one of those writers who somehow weaves words into pure storytelling magic (see also My Name Is Lucy Barton) and as soon as you pick up this slim-but-delicious book we guarantee you it will soothe your brow and take you off to a community of other lives, hopes and dreams that you’ll become utterly immersed in. Funny, sad, tender and truthful, this is pure joy for a weekend of reading.
(Out 31 October, Penguin)
The call to arms: Pain And Prejudice by Gabrielle Jackson
Endometriosis, heart disease, chronic pain… Gabrielle Jackson pulls no punches in this timely and anger-inducing book which explores how our culture treats women in medical and social contexts. From medical research to bedside manners, women’s pain and disease is not taken as seriously as men’s (one in 10 women worldwide have endometriosis “the silent disease” and yet it receives just 5% of the funding of diabetes). Exploring how the patriarchy has systematically swept aside women’s needs both historically and now, Jackson rightly calls for a huge cultural shift backing up her research with moving first-hand accounts and shocking statistics.
(out 14 November, Piatkus)
The brilliant story: Royals by Emma Forrest
If you’ve never read Emma Forrest’s memoir of mental health, Your Voice In My Head, then please get to it. And then, immediately follow it up with this tale of a moving friendship between two damaged souls. Set against the wedding and honeymoon of Princess Diana in 1981, it’s a glittering, sad tale of Jasmine, a teenage heiress, and Steven, the narrator of the story who’s finding his own sexuality and talent. Filled with warmth and sweet 80s references (Adam Ant, Sooty and Sweep), it’s a poetic tribute to those who find their freedom and those who don’t quite manage it.
(Out 31 October, Bloomsbury)
The comfort read: Be My Guest by Priya Basil
“In English to cook something up means to prepare food, but also to invent stories or schemes, to concoct something out of fantasy.” This book is a nourishing celebration of global culture and creeds (Basil’s family would regularly host ‘kitty parties’ in which Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs would each bring dishes to eat together) and the meaning of sharing food with friends, family and beyond. It’s also a thoughtful reflection on where we’re at in a world where migrants are demonised and where some people have everything and other people have nothing. Written with poetry and heart, Basil manages to unite huge themes that affect us all while capturing the beauty of sharing.
(Out now, Canongate)
A flight of imagination: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
“There is a pirate in the basement.”
There aren’t many authors who could get away with an opening line of that ambition but Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) isn’t just any writer; she’s here to take you on a journey of wonder and imagination inspired by myths, fairy tales and her own unique mind. Zachary Rawlins is a student who thinks that reading a novel is like playing a video game where the choices have already been made for you – and then he picks up a book entitled Sweet Sorrows only to discover the story of boy – a boy whose life is exactly like his own. Trying to understand the book’s power, Zachary uncovers a whole other world…
(Out 5 November, Vintage)
The feminist true crime: Red River Girl by Joanna Jolly
On 17 August 2014, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine’s body was found weighted down in the Red River of Winnipeg, Canada. A Canadian Aboriginal girl, the brutal case highlighted the fact that indigenous women are vastly more likely than other Canadians to be assaulted and killed. In this book, former BBC reporter and documentary maker Joanna Jolly recreates Tina’s life and the investigation into her death. It starkly assesses the lack of protection and child services for indigenous children and reveals the sexual exploitation of a community in a country that prides itself on its liberal and supportive values.
(Out 7 November, Virago)
Must-read stories: Resist edited by Ra Page
These 20 essays about uprising are essential reading. Tackling everything from Boudica (by Bidisha) and the 1820 plot to kill the Prime Minister and his cabinet in the Cato Street Conspiracy by Kamila Shamsie to modern-day acts of resistance and questioning such as The Tottenham Riots and Grenfell, Resist is about how important it is to question the status quo as governments and right-wing movements attempt to set our agenda. As editor Ra Page eloquently explains in his introduction quoting poet and journalist Jacob Ross, “A ‘rising’ should never be dismissed as a mere act of mass criminality. It is rather a ‘re-negotiation of the social contract’”.
(Out now, Comma Press)
A winter’s mystery: Kitty Peck And The Parliament Of Shadows by Kate Griffin
If you want some proper old-school entertainment that evokes the Victorian East End, feisty protagonists and complex mysteries, you can’t go wrong with the Kitty Peck series. This is the fourth instalment and Kitty Peck is trying to extricate the Paradise music hall from its criminal roots but is also facing down the malevolent Barons who are deadset on her destruction (and they’ve already wrecked a few things in her life). Evocative and addictive, if you need an escape from the cold and want to transport yourself into a world of creepy righteous preachers, dark London alleys and a girl with the wit and humour to navigate them all, then this is the November read for you.
(Out 7 November, Faber)
The dark Americana: On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl
With notes of Revolutionary Road and Mad Men, this debut set in 50s America is a rich and moving read as newlywed Muriel and her brother-in-law Julius attempt to follow their hearts in a world that sidelines them. Set against a backdrop of horse races and gambling, Muriel uses her role as a waitress to get insider tips and win money while Julius hopelessly falls for card shark, Henry, while they both hunt for something more in an era where bigotry and repression were rampant.
(Out 14 November, Harper Collins)
The feminist photography: Girl On Girl by Charlotte Jansen
Breaking down the male gaze and establishing the female gaze is an ongoing endeavour and this book is about redressing the balance. Bringing together the work of 40 female artists and their exploration of the female subject, it’s both beautiful and, at times, an unnerving collection of photography and art. From hair, body types, myths and princess culture, it celebrates and redefines while shining a light on the work of such talents as Nakeya Brown, Lilia Li-Mi-Yan and Anja Carr. It’s also a brilliant would-be Christmas present.
(Out 4 November, Laurence King)
The short stories: Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall
Sudden Traveller is Cumbrian writer Sarah Hall’s third collection of short stories. Beloved by readers for her gorgeous lyricism and ability to delve into unexpected and illuminating tales of what it means to be human, these stories are bound together by the notion of journeys while nature, as always with Hall’s work, is a recurring theme (“Dilly sometimes thought that Mummy was like a truffle pig, rooting around and unearthing ugly, tangled thoughts in people.”) Take each story one by one and revel in Hall’s unique voice.
(Out 7 November, Faber)
Images: Alessia Armenise/PR provided
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