From short stories to powerful poetry: 10 must-read books for November

Posted by
Sarah Shaffi

My selection of November books can best be described as eclectic.

Two powerful books about race and justice in America - Danielle Allen’s non-fiction book Cuz and Jesmyn Ward’s novel Sing, Unburied, Sing - will stay with you for a long time.

Doctor Sam Guglani’s collection of short stories set in and around a hospital are affecting and full of depth.

I’m not usually one for animal novels, but November brings two very special books in translation that are about cats on one level, and human nature and love on another. Trust me, you’ll love The Tiger and the Acrobat and The Travelling Cat Chronicles.

In non-fiction, two very different books by women will make you feel empowered - Mary Beard’s Women & Power and Emma Byrne’s Swearing is Good for You.

If you have nightmares about school poetry lessons, Insta-poet Nikita Gill’s Wild Embers will show you that poetry can be accessible and full of meaning (and also makes a great gift for any teenage girls you know and want to inspire). Chloe Mayer’s Second World War-set novel A Boy Made of Snow calls on classic fairytales (as do some of Gill’s poems).

And my final recommendation of a book out in 2017 is Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, one of my favourite novels of the year.

Happy reading, and clear your shelves in anticipation of my novels to watch out for in 2018!

Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. by Danielle Allen

This devastating book tells the story of the author’s cousin Michael - tried as an adult at age 15 for an attempted carjacking in California, imprisoned for 12 years and 8 months, and shot and killed less a month after being cleared of all parole in June 2009. Moving, tender, angry, insightful, this is a damning incitement of how the system fails to treat people as humans, at how gang culture affects families, and a look at how love can blind people and have terrible consequences.

(The Bodley Head, £10.99)

Wild Embers by Nikita Gill

Gill, an Insta-poet, is the UK’s answer to Rupi Kaur. In her first collection she explores what it is to be a woman, particularly looking at women’s survival after heartbreak and abuse. Her poems focus on lifting women and driving home women’s worth. I particularly enjoyed the sets that explored the alternate narratives of well-known fairytale princesses, and those of Greek goddesses. 

(Trapeze, £12.99)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This story starts at the end - with the Richardson family house going up in flames. We’re then introduced to Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, tenants of Ellen Richardson. All four Richardson children are drawn to Mia and Pearl, but the placid suburb both families live in is divided when a white couple attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby. Ng is brilliant at crafting an all-consuming world, and I found her exploration of whether family is biology or love fascinating. 

(Little, Brown, £16.99)

Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

In Women & Power, containing two lightly edited versions of essays Beard gave on women and power in the West in 2014 and 2017, Beard looks at how speech is gendered and how women have been told to keep quiet in public spheres since near the beginning of Western literature - Telemachus telling his mother Penelope to shut up and that speech is the “business of men” in The Odyssey. She brings us through to modern times by looking at how women are culturally excluded and how the image of a powerful person is still male. Engaging and full of food for thought, I devoured this in one sitting.

(Profile Books, £7.99)

Histories by Sam Guglani

This is a new take on the trend for doctors writing books. Instead of non-fiction, Guglani takes his experiences as a doctor - he is a consultant clinical oncologist - and turns them into a series of short stories and scenes set in and around a hospital. In Histories, interconnected stories are told from the points of view of doctors, nurses, patients and even a chaplain and a porter. The stories in Histories reminds us there is so much more to medicine than clinical learning - all those found in hospitals have stories beyond their work or illness.

(riverrun, £12.99)

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The Tiger and the Acrobat by Susanna Tamaro, translated by Nicoleugenia Prezzavento and Vicki Satlow

This beautiful novel follows Little Tiger, a tiger cub unlike others. Curious about the world, she leaves her childhood home in the snow forests of Siberia, embarking on a journey to encounter the creature she has heard most about: man. Captivating, engaging and gorgeously told, this is a story about being true to yourself.

(Oneworld, £8.99)

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Ward’s novel begins with Jojo, a young boy caught between two worlds - his drug addict mother Leonie is black and his imprisoned father Michael is white. Sing, Unburied, Sing is an American road novel transplanted to 21st century rural America, looking at race, belonging and how the past can never be left behind. Utterly captivating, this is a special book that will make your heart and soul ache.

(Bloomsbury Circus, £16.99)

Swearing is Good for You by Emma Byrne

In this joyful read, Byrne takes a look at swearing, from how the brain is wired so that bad words are an essential part of our linguistic repertoire to how swearing has evolved over the years as language has. This is a spirited, fun defence of bad language, backed by historical case studies and new research. So next time someone tells you that swearing is bad, you’ll be able to tell them where to go with the backing of a scientific text!

(Profile, £12.99)

The Boy Made of Snow by Chloe Mayer

During the Second World War in a sleepy English village, nine-year-old Daniel imagines his life as a fairytale - battling a troll who lives in a railway tunnel and keeping his mother - who has depression and feels distant from her son - safe from harm. Into their lives comes Hans, a German POW who offers both Daniel and his mother comfort, but his presence is not without its dangers. Calling upon classic fairytales - in their original, not Disney-fied versions - this is a beautiful and evocative debut by Mayer (disclaimer: Mayer is a friend and former colleague).

(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99)

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel

Satoru Miyawaki is on a quest - to find the best home for his beloved cat Nana. So he embarks on a road trip around Japan, calling on old friends from his past to see someone well placed to provide a loving home for Nana, who slowly comes to realise why Satoru, who adores her, is looking for somewhere else for her to live. A book about kindness and love, and about how the smallest things can provide happiness.

(Doubleday, £9.99)