Toni Morrison is a writer’s writer, and Mouth Full of Blood is a writer’s book: that much is clear from the outset. Chaucer, Beowulf, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Chinua Achebe, Mark Twain — these are just a handful of the sources cited in the Nobel Prize winner’s latest collection of “essays, speeches [and] meditations”. If all this gives the impression that Morrison's non-fiction might be dry, it's anything but.
Tessa Hadley’s compelling new novel, Late in the Day, is a subtle, delicate evocation of modern life. Christine abandons her PhD to become a painter, while Alex, conversely, stops writing his promising poetry and becomes a primary school teacher.
Big friendly giants, honey-loving bears, hungry caterpillars, iron men: these figures populate the vivid imaginary landscapes of our childhoods. Like totems, we pass them on to our own children, each book a spell in itself.
From series three (Bake Off’s pinnacle, in our opinion) winner John Whaite, this book covers both humble, homely food, such as Marmite and cheddar loaf, and the more complex – try the orange and cardamom opera cake – with a sense of humour and warmth that makes it all feel achievable. From Yotam Ottolenghi and pastry chef Helen Goh, Sweet is full of beautiful sugar artistry and long, detailed recipes.
Job satisfaction comes and goes, partners enrapture and abscond, but you can always fall back on the timeless ability of literature to transport you to a different world. From Jane Austen’s mannered drawing rooms to the airless tower blocks of 1984, novels do something unique.
Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person” was published by The New Yorker on Monday 4 December and by that Friday, it was the most-read piece of fiction of all time on the magazine’s website. It earned its author – who was then completing a writing fellowship in Ann Arbor, Michigan – global fame, quickly followed by a seven-figure, two-book deal.
There are few things that make a queen twirl like vintage Madonna. For some queens (and also some queers, femmes, butches, bull dykes, trans women, transvestites, faggots, trans men, asexuals, leather daddies, fisting pigs, campy twinks, aromantics, bisexuals and radical faeries) their tonic might not be a Madonna: it could be a Judy, or a Lady Gaga, a George Michael or a Beyoncé, The Cure, or a niche riot grrrl group who should be way more famous than they are, or Lou Reed or Alaska Thunderfuck. Generally it’s all Madonna, but right now it’s "Ray of Light", to which I’ve just finished spinning around in thigh-high silver lamé boots that chafe my thighs to within an inch of the bone.
A colleague familiar with Eric Hobsbawm summed him up pretty much in two words. It’s a widely held opinion that this intellectually brilliant titan of the left, the most widely published historian in the world and pioneer of economic and social history, was in fact just a tankie: an unrepentant Stalinist who rationalised totalitarianism and political mass murder with some teleological cobblers gleaned from Marx. Not by Richard J Evans, though, another distinguished historian, who has written what looks to be the official biography, though it’s not called as much.
Halfway through Leïla Slimani’s Adèle, I realised that although it was dazzling me, it was also making me feel extremely depressed. It is quite something to be reading about a woman whose coping mechanisms involve seeking violent sexual release with strange men in dangerous situations while realising one’s own coping mechanisms are simply eBay and porridge. Adèle is a brilliant and bothersome book.
"This was a group of parents with grit, resilience and unconditional love. I was both devastated and proud to be among them."
You’ll have come across Kristen Roupenian online: her short story “Cat Person”, a no-nonsense tale of a younger girl dating an insecure older man, was published in The New Yorker in 2017 and subsequently went viral. The first is that Roupenian intended it to be a book of horror stories, “Cat Person” included. The collection is bold, bizarre and defiant, like a lot of its central characters.
Ever since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series aired in 2017, as a nation we’ve sat up and listened. How could we not after seeing the shocking images of an albatross feeding its young bits of plastic which they’d mistaken for food – and yet this was just a snapshot of what is happening around the world today. It’s been widely reported that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish, by weight – so there really has never been a more urgent time to act.
Van Es won the award for The Cut Out Girl, which tells the story of Holocaust survivor Lien de Jong and gives expression to the experience of wartime Jews, and families in the aftermath of trauma. Ms De Jong was present in London to see the annual prize presented and said she has finally been given “a story”. Van Es and Ms De Jong have spoken of the power of stories and the need to give a voice to the silenced and the downtrodden, particularly to counteract “anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism”.
Kavanagh is a young man, and one of thousands of Defenders standing guard, for days at a time, around a solid fortress that encases the British Isles. Lanchester’s writing speaks to the senses – his descriptions vivid. The trouble with the novel is that Lanchester is so committed to ensuring we see and feel exactly what his protagonist sees and feels that we experience the boredom and horror of a 12-hour shift in what seems like real time.
Or you could just shut the curtains, pour yourself a gin and tonic, and curl up with a good book. The soothing power of literature is well documented: there’s a reason shellshocked soldiers were prescribed Jane Austen. Add the specific kind of dry humour or madcap whimsy that so many English-language writers excel at and you have the perfect fix for the January – or Brexit – blues.
When Nadiya Hussain’s first novel, The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters, came out in January 2018, it was deemed “lovely”, “funny” and “breezy”. Adding to that is the fact that Hussain is best known as the winner of the 2015 edition of The Great British Bake Off. Or that The Fall and Rise of the Amir Sisters, like the first book in the series, is ghostwritten by author Ayisha Malik, whom Hussain thanks in her acknowledgements.
Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, came out in 2006 to wide acclaim. Once Upon a River continues to demonstrate her mastery of the Gothic genre in a way that will appeal to modern readers. It all begins at an inn, the Swan at Radcot (about 20 miles from Oxford, where Setterfield lives), on the evening of a winter's solstice in the 19th century.
“Books do furnish a room.” I’ve used this expression while making a small sigh of pleasure, having corralled my collection into various shelves and bookcases, instead of leaving them piled up by my bed. The phrase seems to have originated with Anthony Powell – or rather, with his fictional creation, the hack Lindsay Bagshaw, who uses it to mock pretentious collectors. Bagshaw and his creator might find an unlikely ally in the decluttering superstar, Marie Kondo.
One of my favourite pastimes is reading in pubs. It’s as pleasant on a lively Friday as it is in Sunday morning solitude. It even transcends the seasons: you can get as much pleasure from a summery thriller raced through in a beer garden as you can from a cosy Victorian whodunit read by the fireplace as icy winds batter the pub door.
“Self-care techniques and general lifestyle changes can be very useful in helping us manage the symptoms of many mental health problems,” says Rachel Boyd from mental health charity Mind. All released within the past two years, these self-care books range from moving memoirs with handy tips woven throughout to practical pocket guides filled with interactive exercises.
Up until recently, Melissa Pimentel was an author of romance novels. Then, Pimentel wrote a thriller, and it was so different from anything she had published before that she needed a new name. Thus, Jessica Barry was born – and with her, one of the first great novels of the year.
Despite last year's British book sales income being five per cent up from the previous year – the emerging market for books about autism, written by and for autistic people, tends to be overlooked. Mainstream imprints are publishing many more autistic authors as of late, according to Laura James, autistic author of Odd Girl Out. From memoirs to fiction, these reads were judged based on how easily understood they were by people on the autistic spectrum, as well as how knowledgeable and accepting they were of the condition, I made sure they did not include any ableist content.