R29 Reads: The Books We’re Reading This July

Alicia Lansom

With pubs, restaurants and cinemas all opening back up this month, it feels like the days of lockdown boredom are starting to draw to a close. Now that we can now head out into the world and enjoy the sunshine with friends, it is starting to feel like quarantine hobbies will soon be relegated to a thing of the past. But despite the changing tides, one isolation habit team R29 are hoping to continue long after lockdown ends is voraciously reading everything on our bookshelves.

Last month, R29 staffers made their way through a variety of fantastic novels, as a well as a handful of revealing memoirs. From The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley to Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, diving deep into someone else’s life story proved to be the perfect remedy to lockdown boredom. But it wasn’t just memoirs helping us escape to another world, with fictional reads like Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty and Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan also ranking high on the list.

This month however, the R29 team are turning their attention towards more educational reads, with July’s booklist featuring a plethora of non-fiction works by Black British authors. The selection includes an in-depth analysis of how hair is racialised and a re-examination of British history, this time (unlike at school) without excluding Black history.

Click ahead to discover the books on R29's reading list this July…

Katy Thompsett, Sub Editor

Book: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Why is it your July read?

I confess I was drawn to Brit Bennett’s first novel The Mothers by the striking cover art but I was even more delighted by what I found inside: the generously written story of 17-year-old Nadia whose relationship with the local pastor’s son throws up a series of difficult choices that haunt them both as they grow up and forge different paths. In this follow-up, the mixed race Vigne sisters run away from their southern Black community, then go their separate ways: one ends up back in the town they tried to escape, the other passes for white and marries a man who knows nothing of her roots. Bennett has been described as a successor to the likes of Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, and The Vanishing Half promises an absorbing exploration of race, family and the American history of ‘passing’.

Brit Bennett The Vanishing Half, $, available at Hachette

Jess Commons, Lifestyle Director

Book: Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga

Why is it your July read? As someone who grew up in the US, I was fortunate enough to take classes in African American history with an amazing teacher who strived to educate beyond the whitewashing of history (rest easy Dr Gantt). However, I missed learning anything about Black British history. This book from historian David Olusoga is helping make up for that. It aims to tell the story of Black Britons from as far back as the 200AD, break down misconceptions and injustices covered up by the white men who recorded our nation's history and present evidence of thriving Black British communities living amongst the Romans, the Georgians the Victorians. It’s long, but seriously un-put-downable. 10/10 must read (or listen, as I am, read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith).

David Olusoga Black and British : A Forgotten History, $, available at Book Depository

Vicky Spratt, Features Editor

Book: Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bergman

Why is it your July read? Rutger Bergman is a historian and I read his first book, Utopia For Realists in one sitting. It was a really clear, smart argument in favour of Universal Basic Income which, somehow, didn’t read like a book about economics. His new book is a radical assessment of human kindness which argues that we should not only assume that people are fundamentally good but that doing so can actually be revolutionary. It's something we could all do with thinking about as we still get to grips with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rutger Bregman Humankind: A Hopeful History, $, available at Waterstones

Georgia Murray, Junior Fashion Editor

Book: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Why is it your July read?
My lockdown brain has not taken kindly to reading, but I had a week off in June and used the time to step away from the screen and dive back into books. I chose Beloved, the 1988 Pulitzer winner by novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor Toni Morrison, and boy am I glad I did. Inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, an African American woman who escaped slavery after the American Civil War, the book follows protagonist Sethe, her daughter Denver and the troubling phantom that seems to haunt their home. A vivid, heartbreaking and sometimes frightening exploration of the many ways — physically, mentally, supernaturally — that the trauma of slavery and its aftermath can be embodied, I can’t wait to finish it and read more of Morrison’s work. 

Toni Morrison Beloved, $, available at New Beacon Books

Alicia Lansom, Editorial Assistant

Book: Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala

Why is it your July read? The last few weeks have made it incredibly clear that the British school system has failed generations of students by not educating them about Britain’s horrific colonial past. Though there are now many campaigns and petitions gaining traction to add the topic to the curriculum, the subject has been spoken about extensively by many Black British authors for some time. Natives, written by musician and activist Akala, is both a memoir and a historical guide, chronicling his own lived experiences in relation to Britain's racist past and present. The bestselling book is the first in a long line of recommended reads I hope to educate myself with over the coming months.

Akala Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, $, available at New Beacon Books

Jessica Morgan, Staff Writer

Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Why is it your July read?
At the beginning of lockdown (yes, four months ago) I vowed to finish the book I have been trying to complete for the last six years. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is as thick as the ole’ Yellow Pages and has been near enough impossible to finish. However, this time I’m taking a different approach to this absolute mammoth of literature: I have purchased the audiobook. As I can’t hop on a plane to paradise any time soon, Shantaram will offer much needed escapism. The novel follows Roberts, a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escapes prison on his epic journey to India where he is faced with the dangerous underworld of Bombay (all while he is hunted by his beloved native state). It’s a true story of human grit, determination and survival in one of the world’s most magical countries; if there’s anything we need right now it’s inspiration… so I better get listening.

Gregory David Roberts Shantaram, $, available at Waterstones

Sadhbh O’Sullivan, Health & Living Writer

Book: Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri

Why is it your July read? Like many other white people, recent weeks have made me re-evaluate and re-prioritise my reading list. While this was recently added to my to-read, I’m very happy I decided to bump it up and forgo the comfort I was planning on finding in an old Poirot. Instead, Emma’s book took me through a meticulously researched and thought-provoking analysis of how hair has been racialised and what that means for those with type 4 hair. I ended up learning about mathematics and fractals, afrofuturism, the development of Black hair products, and how Western ideas of time have reframed hair care as something arduous and time consuming. As a second-generation Irish woman in London I particularly enjoyed reading about the Black Irish experience, one that I’ve not learned nearly enough about.

Emma Dabiri Don't Touch My Hair, $, available at Waterstones

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