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Book Column November and December
Cam, Isa Mazzei; Dior/Lindbergh; The Topeka School, Ben Lerner; Find Me, Andre Aciman

All the books to read in a winter that’s as cold and dead as you are

Flick on that Muji diffuser and bust out the slanket – we’ve got Ben Lerner’s state-of-the-nation novel, essays on being bipolar, an impactful camgirl memoir, and more in our winter reading list

Maybe you can’t afford a SAD lamp strong enough and you’re in need of a post-clocks back pick-me-up. Or, you want to channel some anger at the ruling classes with the help of a timely call-to-action (go out and register to vote first though). Or, given that it’s cuffing season, you’re up for diving headfirst into an emotionally decimating romance for the ages. Whatever your wave, our winter booklist has you covered. 

Across this book list installment, we’ve got the caustic writing on gender of Andrea Long Chu and Ben Lerner’s astute book that sets a future agenda for the novel as a format. There’s a taut, turbulent saga of women’s lives set against one of the decade’s biggest protest movements, and an expansive, intimate look at camming. Enjoy!

THE TOPEKA SCHOOL, BEN LERNER

On the cover of Ben Lerner’s new novel The Topeka School, Sally Rooney (who, like Lerner, is informed by the world of competitive debating) says, “To the extent that we can speak of a future at present, I think the future of the novel is here”. ‘Woah!’ I thought, and immediately bought it. A psychological bildungsroman, it focuses on the bohemian – utopian, really – community at ‘the Foundation’, a progressive psychoanalytical research centre in Topeka, suburban Kansas (the birthplace of both the author and the Westboro Baptist Church), and the America around it. Lerner himself is a child of psychologists, so the novel is, at times, self-aware to a fault. It may have been impossible to write it otherwise, but I wouldn’t blame you if the struggle of a white intellectual family versus toxic masculinity is not a narrative you can care about at this time. Besides, and this is hardly a spoiler, the liberal project (or, as they call it in Topeka, milieu therapy) fails, in that not even a literal group of hippies can stop their children from embarrassingly adopting the language of hip hop or egging on a school shooter. The Topeka School, however, is a masterful exercise in language, and I would recommend it for that alone. It is at its best when collapsing the difference between political debate, poetry, appropriation, and hate speech, and thinking about what happens when you mix, as we have done, the language of therapy with that of art, or work with love or power with clout – and to those excluded from any of it. (ZSP)

Out now, Granta Books

DIOR/LINDBERGH

Legendary photographer Peter Lindbergh, who passed away in September, is renowned for having setting a new precedent when it came to the established – and highly edited – fashion image. Stripping away the OTT excesses of the late 80s’ aesthetic, Lindbergh captured the OG supermodels, including Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Kate Moss, in all their natural beauty – sans retouching. Having lensed iconic campaigns for  the likes of Comme des Garçons and Versace, Lindbergh also had a longstanding relationship with the house of Dior, which a new book comprising two volumes explores. Released this month, Dior Lindbergh is a testament to the photographer’s unique vision and a poignant reminder of his influence on fashion. (ED)

Out now, Taschen Books

CAMGIRL, ISA MAZZEI

Sex work psycho-thriller CAM was one of last year’s most exhilarating films. Written by former camgirl Isa Mazzei, it drew on her own experiences of the sex industry, as well as cultural concerns over deepfakes and the sinister power of technology, to ask questions about online/offline identity, misogyny, and emotional turmoil IRL and URL. Now, Mazzei has stepped away from fiction to write her own memoir, CAMGIRL. It’s rich and textured writing, funny in parts, searing in others, and always intimately candid, with fascinating insight into the misconceptions that surround sex work, her journey from sugar baby to successful cam girl, and the layers of labour that go into it. At its heart, it’s a story of personal healing through a job that’s been so often misrepresented. (AC)

Out now, Rare Bird Books

LITTLE WEIRDS, JENNY SLATE

Comedian and actor Jenny Slate is a joy to watch – whether in the ah-mee-zing PubLIZcity sketches to early days on SNL, Bob’s Burgers and Big Mouth, and her recent personal and side-achingly funny stand-up special Stage Fright. I first came across Slate in her feature film debut Obvious Child, where she shone in a comedy drama that handled the sensitive topic of abortion with tact, maturity, and meticulously well-placed humour. Her collection of essays, Little Weirds, looks back at her life, burgeoning and failing romance, and self-love with riotously odd language and prose: ‘Geranium’ looks to the wildness of nature to contextualize her own rowdy spirit, while ‘Fur’ is a journey to self-acceptance with animals. It takes a startling visit to a psychic in one essay to see Slate zone in on the path she wants to carve for herself. It’s a luminous, wide-eyed look at the world, a perspective anyone needing a bit of time and reflection on themselves should have. Shout out to her recent interview about how she gets things done on The Cut’s podcast too. (AC)

Out now, Little, Brown and Company

THE NOT WIVES, CARLEY MOORE

Set against the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011, The Not Wives chronicles the lives of three women in New York as they attempt to navigate the resistance and bubbling sexual encounters, a fraught political climate and chiasmic domestic standards. It’s Carley Moore’s debut novel, following her collection 16 Pills. Moore’s writing is thrilling and complex, challenging the reader to make the internalised guilt and stress that laps at any leftist living amid late-stage capitalism and suffocating status quos to confront. The romantic conflicts are as riveting as the economic spiraling, packaged up in sexy, queer, feminist novel. (AC)

Out now, Feminist Press

DOUBLE-TRACKING: STUDIES IN DUPLICITY, ROSANNA MCLAUGHLIN

‘Double-tracking’ is a term coined in the 70s to describe the state of duplicity needed to do well in the art world, a performance of both sides of class and culture, the counter-cultural rebel with lefty notions where it suits them, that bends to the establishment and right ideologies when they’ll economically benefit. Rosanna McLaughlin, an accomplished writer and editor, highlights this product of “middle-class cognitive dissonance” deftly in today’s reality, where she asserts that double-tracking plays out in contemporary life. Think council-approved graffiti hubs, a bar in a gentrified area of southeast London called The Job Centre. It’s a fierce, satirical laser eye on the middle classes that sprawls across essays, art criticism, and whipsmart fiction. A must-read in these both polarizing and dubiously duplicitous times. (AC)

Out now, Burley Fisher Books

FLEABAG: THE SCRIPTURES, PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE

Fleabag: The Scriptures is an essential companion for any disciple of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Emmy award-winning series. The book brings together the complete filming scripts of the show’s first and second seasons, annotated by Waller-Bridge with never-before-seen stage directions and insights on her creative process and the making of the series. Renowned for its incisive dialogue and searingly acerbic wit, the scriptures offer readers the chance to delve even deeper into the mind of the show’s sexually unapologetic, wickedly humorous, jumpsuit-donning protagonist. Fall in love with the Hot Priest all over again, relive Claire’s excruciating pencil-haircut moment, and fill the Fleabag void with this beautifully presented collector’s edition. (DS)

Out now, Sceptre

THAT’S MENTAL, AMANDA ROSENBERG

Navigating life with a mental illness is hard, and it’s often difficult to articulate just how hard. Having being diagnosed with bipolar II after a breakdown, suicide attempt, and misdiagnosis of borderline personality disorder, comedy writer Amanda Rosenberg struggled to find the words to describe how she was feeling. “Everything is CAPS LOCK,” she said. In her debut essay collection, That’s Mental: Painfully Funny Things That Drive Me Crazy About Being Mentally Ill, Rosenberg reveals the darkly funny, inappropriate, and often overlooked sides to mental illness. Offering an insight into the everyday realities of living with bipolar – finding a therapist, dealing with insensitive friends – Rosenberg obliterates stigma and offers realistic, actionable advice. (BD)

Out November 21, Turner

IN THE DREAM HOUSE, CARMEN MARIA MACHADO

In her captivating memoir, author Carmen Maria Machado tells the harrowing story of a destructive relationship that ultimately shaped the person she is today. Candidly discussing her experience with a charming woman whose erratic and harmful behaviour led to psychological abuse, Machado explores the dangers of society’s ‘utopian’ representation of lesbian relationships. Looking back at her religious upbringing, and unpacking the history of abuse in queer relationships, Machado critically examines her experience, all the while maintaining her characteristic wit. (BD)

Out now, Graywolf 

FEMALES, ANDREA LONG CHU

This is critic and theorist Andrea Long Chu’s debut book, a topical investigation into the nebulous concepts of the body, desire, sex, and complicated selfhood that has already sparked controversy. “Everyone is female,” she writes, “and everyone hates it”. The looming arguments, questions, assertions of what gender identity is becomes an existential, ruminative razor-point, and she refuses to quell her deliberately messy, sprawling narrative on it. “All gender is internalised misogyny,” Long Chu writes. Both caustic in its humour and acerbic in its hope for the future, Andrea Long Chu takes inspiration from a long forgotten play by SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas to take aim at a variety of targets – incels and feminists, porn and performance art. A highly provocative, a turbulent read.

Out now, Verso

FIND ME, ANDRE ACIMAN

Long-awaited novel Find Me picks up five years after Elio and Oliver said their goodbyes at the end of Call Me By Your Name, but it’s not until the final section of the three-part story that the two are reunited. In the meantime, author André Aciman explores love, relationships, and the parallel lives we might lead were we not so tied to convention. Naturally, it’s devastating. Aciman once again demonstrates his inherent skill for propelling you to ecstatic, dizzying heights one minute, before leaving you crushed by the end of the next paragraph, and captures a sense of longing in a way few other writers are able to – no spoilers, but don’t expect to finish it unscathed. (ED)

Out now, Faber