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Lush Library Recommends: Anna James' Books Of The Year

Tsundoku is a Japanese word for buying more books than you can possibly read and

letting them pile up. If this is a familiar feeling and you’re looking for some tips on what

to move to the top of the pile before the year is out - or you’re just after some last

minute inspiration for Christmas presents - here are ten books I’ve loved this

year. From feminist thrillers to a Black Lives Matter-inspired YA book, all of these titles

will make you think, challenge you, or inspire you, but above all they’re all great reads.

 

 

1. What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Short stories can be tough as crowd pleasers; it’s very rare to read a collection by a

single author where every story is as satisfying as the last and that maintains the

momentum to get an emotional response equivalent to a novel. With What It Means

When a Man Falls From the Sky, Arimah has managed this and then some. Each story

is a gem in itself, but you can read the collection from beginning to end and have an

entirely engrossing reading experience. The stories are unpredictable in the best

possible way; moving from magical realism to the fiercely contemporary, but all of them

are exquisitely written, surprising, and moving. Regularly coming back to themes of

cross-generational relationships, and women and girls, be prepared for some gut-

wrenching, heartbreaking moments, as well as touches of magic and wonder.

 

2. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Initially taking shape as a crowd-funded project, this illustrated collection of the stories

of real life women has been become a fully fledged publishing sensation. Turning the

traditional stories of princess and damsels in distress on its head, the writers have

selected 100 women who have changed history and written their stories in a modern

once-upon- a-time style. Covering much of the world, and history, the women range from

politicians to artists to activists to sportswomen. Each story is accompanied by a full

page illustration by a huge array of upcoming female artists. A must for girls and

women, and boys and men, of all ages who fancy a bedtime story that’s a little different.

 

3. Little Deaths by Emma Flint

If you’ve ever wondered whether a psychological thriller can ever be truly feminist then

here’s your answer. In Little Deaths, Flint has created a fiercely intelligent, thought-

provoking, twisty thriller inspired by the real life case of Alice Crimmins, who was

charged with the murder of her two young children despite an overwhelming lack of

evidence. In Little Deaths we follow Flint’s creation Ruth Malone, a newly single mother

and cocktail waitress in a similar situation, whose guilt is presumed due to her lifestyle,

job, and refusal to act the way the police and the media want a woman to. A brilliant,

provocative thriller that will have you hooked until the final pages. (A hint: You will want

to have someone on hand to discuss the ending with.)
 

4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I’m still getting over the fact that this didn’t make the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction

longlist, let alone the shortlist. An outstanding debut novel that more than lives up to the

hype that surrounded its release, it traces several generations of one family from 18th

century Ghana to modern day America looking at the horrifying legacy and impact of

slavery, and the way the smallest of decisions or events can have devastating ripple

effects. The book takes the form of several sections moving forward in time, giving

snapshots into the lives of the descendants of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi. Gyasi

manages to make you care for every single descendant we meet, as well as bringing

the whole thing to a moving, satisfying conclusion. A must read for fans of The

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

 

5. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

At its heart, Exit West is the sort-of- love story of Saeed and Nadia, a couple who meet

in an unnamed city that is crumbling under the weight of terrorism, extremism and an

ever-mounting number of refugees. But just as you think you know what story he is

telling, Hamid takes an unexpected turn as doors start appearing around the world

allowing people to travel to new cities and countries in a fraction of a second. Tackling

tricky, topical issues of freedom of movement and the refugee crisis, Hamid has created

a novel that manages both to be an intensely zoomed in portrait of one relationship and

a novel of big ideas, thoughtfully explored. It will both move you and make you think, as

the best books do.

 

6. Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

I can promise you that Gnomon is unlike anything you’ve ever read before. It opens in a

future version of the UK where a benevolent dictator of a surveillance system called The

Witness looks after everything, but it quickly takes in the kidnapped widow of a saint, a

Greek banker obsessed with a shark, and a future consciousness travelling back

through time to commit a series of assassinations. An ambitious, audacious novel full of

huge ideas, structural and linguistic playfulness, dark humour and wildly unpredictably

plot twists, it’s an adventure, a mind-trip, and possibly the most fun you’ll have reading a

book this year (while also thoroughly terrifying you at where we’re headed).

 

7. Dear Friend, From My Life I Write To You In Your Life by Yiyun Li

A memoir told through a series of essays exploring ideas of selfhood, language, and art.

It’s profoundly beautiful, incredibly intelligent, sometimes playful, and will make you

think hard about the things that make you who you are, and the role art - particularly

reading and writing - have to play. After a period in a mental hospital following a suicide

attempt, Li interrogated why reading and writing mean so much to her and how she

uses them as a crutch, an escape, and a form of recovery. She uses this experience as

In the evening a base to explore big ideas and personal experiences, and she’s created a book that’s

both intensely personal and reassuringly universal.

 

8. The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

If you liked La La Land, but wanted it to be darker, sexier and weirder then this is the

book for you. It opens in 1914 in Montreal at an orphanage, where Rose and Pierrot

meet for the first time. Despite, or because of, hardships past and ongoing, they form an

intense bond that continues as they grow up and encounter eccentric patrons and circus

folk alongside intense poverty and misogyny. A pitch black story told in soaring, lovely

language, it’s a darkly whimsical, fiercely intelligent feminist fairytale.

 

9. Winter by Ali Smith

Although a little slower to get started, Winter builds on the brilliant foundation that Ali Smith created in Autumn and grows into something truly extraordinary with a piercing finale. A fierce, beautiful, and sharp book that takes in Brexit, lost love, Christmas, Trump, family and even the Grenfell Tower tragedy. If we have to be living through this bit of history, at least we've got Ali Smith writing about it.

 

10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

If you’re a reader and spend any time at all on the Internet, you’ll no doubt already be

aware of this YA juggernaut. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, debut author

Angie Thomas has created a sparkling cast of characters in a warm but provocative

read that thoroughly deserves all the attention and praise it’s attracted, not to mention

the upcoming film starring Amandla Stenberg. It follows sixteen-year- old Starr in the

aftermath of her witnessing the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend by a police officer.

It’s a heart-breaking and powerful exploration of race and privilege, but it’s also a funny

and tender look at friendship, first love and family.

Anna James writes for Lush Life as a correspondent - you can find her here online!

 

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