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February 2020

The books to read in February instead of braving Storm Ciara

From Joshua Wong’s manifesto for global democracy to Courtney Love’s early years in Liverpool, here are the must-reads for this month

Batten down the hatches and bump the GoodReads app up on your phone again, bitch – Storm Ciara is currently sweeping the UK, and it’s making going outside almost impossible. Make the most of that indoor time – and stave off the feels around a certain forthcoming romantic holiday – with all the exciting releases this February. Out this month, we’re seeing some electrifying takes on the dystopia from both Buenos Aires and Canada, fascinating non-fiction that takes us to the streets of Hong Kong and inner-London’s radical artistic sets, and beautiful storytelling that goes deep on female desire with startling new perspective.  

UNFREE SPEECH – JOSHUA WONG

At just 23 years old, Joshua Wong puts my career, writing about memes and music for a living, to shame. The young activist is the veteran leader of the umbrella movement against Chinese authoritarianism, and was named “the face of protest” by TIME magazine when he was only 17.

With an introduction by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, Wong describes his extraordinary journey from a nerdy Marvel obsessive to the frontline of democracy, urging young people to get out from behind their phone screens and onto the streets, to rallies. In his own words: democracy “starts with one voice, one flyer, and one speech.” (GY)

February 6, WH Allen

SEARCHING FOR LOVE – DAVID HASLAM

In 1982, Courtney Love travelled to Liverpool, a trip that she’d later describe as “one of the most important things of (her) existence”. Following on from his Art Decades series, Dave Haslam’s Searching For Love explores the then-17-year-old’s formative months in the city where she dropped acid, drunk cider, feuded with Pete Burns, and lost her virginity while listening to Joy Division’s “Isolation”.

With stories and memories taken from those who knew her, Haslam’s book – which places Love into the context of Liverpool’s broader music scene – is an essential read for all those keen to immerse themselves in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll of the 80s. (GY)

February 3, Confingo Publishing

TENDER IS THE FLESH – AGUSTINA BAZTERRICA

Set in the barren plains that surround Buenos Aires, Agustina Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh is a cautionary tale that fits perfectly into the growing dialogue surrounding veganism.

In a plot that resembles Bong Joon Ho’s Okja, and set in a terrifying near-future, Marcos works in an abattoir – only, instead of slaughtering animals, he harvests ‘special meat’, made of humans. Slowly, he becomes tormented by one particular specimen he’s killed. Society has been divided – those who eat and those who are eaten. Bazterrica’s book is a thrilling dystopia that everyone should read for Bazterrica’s stunning, electrifying language and story-telling – that is, if you can stomach it. (GY)

February 6, Pushkin Press

STRANGE HOTEL – EIMEAR MCBRIDE

From beige hotel rooms across Oslo and Bratislava, Cork, and Moscow, Eimear McBride’s anonymous character crosses continents to evade herself. The reader is kept at total arm’s length with the elasticated, adventurous use of language that the Irish author became known for. The circuitous passages are expertly executed, as the protagonist runs from her deeper, darker emotions, literally talks herself off of a ledge,and  keeps us guessing on the psychological turmoil she’s experiencing with traumas that are dripfed across the book. McBride, whose blistering novel Girl is a Half-Formed Thing catapulted her to cult appreciation is both claustrophobic and caustic, departing from the lands of her previous novels with an older voice, but cultivating those familiar, ferocious themes of women’s desire, grief, and loneliness. As ever, McBride is astute at writing of sex – as an act of self sabotage, as a salve, as a way to just fucking pass the time.

Strange Hotel is an emotionally enchanting, if all too brief, that gets deep under the skin – even if it’s protagonist protests so. (AC)

Out now, Faber

REAL LIFE – BRANDON TAYLOR

When Wallace – an introverted African-American from Alabama – heads to university in the mostly-white Midwest, he realises how at odds he is with his surroundings. Building barriers between himself and his circle of friends, Wallace focuses on his own self-preservation as he navigates his new life outside of adolescence. But despite attempting to maintain his distance from others, one summer weekend he finds himself in a series of confrontations with colleagues, before an unexpected encounter with a straight, white classmate threatens his equilibrium. Through Wallace’s intimate and profound experiences, in Real Life, author Brandon Taylor explores whether it’s ever really possible to overcome private wounds. (BD)

February 18, Riverhead

MINOR FEELINGS – CATHY PARK HONG

Using her own experiences to examine racial consciousness in modern America, in Minor Feelings, author and poet Cathy Park Hong explores her identity as an Asian American through her relationship to the English language, her feelings of shame and depression, and her connection to poetry. Blurring the line between memoir and cultural criticism, Hong discusses how her upbringing as the daughter of Korean immigrants was shrouded in shame and sadness. Questioning everything from family and friendship to politics and identity, the author centres on the idea of ‘minor feelings’, and how these feelings – which are not minor, after all – stem from the dissonance between American positivity and actual reality. (BD)

February 25, One World

A MAP IS ONLY ONE STORY: 20 WRITERS ON IMMIGRATION, FAMILY, AND THE MEANING OF HOME – NICOLE CHUNG & MENSAH DEMARY

The search for belonging can be endless, especially when it crosses borders. In the anthology, A Map is Only One Story, 20 writers share their experiences of migration and discuss what it means to exist between cultures. Edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary – the editors of US literary magazine, CatapultA Map is Only One Story features contributions from a number of emerging and established writers. From the Nigerian experience in America and life on the US/Mexico border, to bicultural role models and the challenges of writing as an Iranian American, this anthology exemplifies the power of personal narratives. (BD)

February 11, Catapult

HERE FOR IT: OR, HOW TO SAVE YOUR SOUL IN AMERICA – R. ERIC THOMAS

In his book of essays, R. Eric Thomas answers the question: Is the future worth it? Exploring what it means to be an ‘other’, Thomas – who is also a senior staff writer at ELLE – delves into his childhood, examining the disparity between his home life and his white suburban schooling. A heartwarming and hilarious memoir, Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America also discusses Thomas’ struggle between his sexual identity and Christian upbringing, his accidental rise to online fame, and his experiences covering the bewildering 2016 US election. Reimagining what ‘normal’ means in today’s world, Thomas’ collection of essays is an uplifting, hopeful insight into how centre yourself in your own story. (BD)

February 18, Ballantine Books

SQUARE HAUNTING – FRANCESCA WADE

London’s Mecklenburgh Square, in an unassuming spot of Bloomsbury, has played an exquisite host to artists, rebels, inventors, writers, and activists over the years – writer Virginia Woolf, classicist Jane Harrison, economic historian Eileen Power, crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, modernist poet H.D. In Francesca Wade’s immersive debut, she provides a beautiful, vivid patchwork biography of five important women that jolted social norms, expectations, and boundaries in their respective areas. Woolf’s line on the importance of “a room of one’s own” gains new perspective, and the book recontextualizes a familiar inter-war era and social landscape into something that feels urgent, thriving, magical. It’s alive with enchanting prose about radical lives, loves, and rebellion. (AC)

Out now, Faber

THE GLASS HOTEL – EMILY ST JOHN MANDEL

Finally! The Glass Hotel is the first book from Emily St. John Mandel since the enthralling post-apocalyptic Station Eleven (currently being made into a forthcoming TV series) in 2014. The tumultuous mystery follows Vincent – a bartender at a luxury Vancouver hotel and Paul – a New York financier and hotelier – as their lives intertwine over a bar tip. Years later, after a threatening note and one illicit affair, Vincent disappears from a ship off of the coast of northern Africa, and the story dovetails into mystery, fantasy, and chaos. Mandel’s sparkling language swirls from the ship decks to deep within your cerebral cortex, with a gripping tale of wealth, class, and relationships stretched to translucence. (AC)

Out February 11, Pan Macmillian

WEATHER – JENNY OFFILL

The end of civilisation, but make it stunning – Jenny Offill writes with enthralling detail and masterful technique in jagged little episodic vignettes, capturing the dread, anxieties, and absurdities of contemporary life from the mini to the macro, the everyday annoyance to the existential endgame. Climate change, the right-wing dominating politics, her brother’s sobriety, millennial angst. Following the 2014 book Dept. of Speculation, Weather follows librarian and life observer and commentator Lizzie Benson as she plods through a broken, self-absorbed, self-sabotaging world. Offill captures the contradictions of the human experience with stunning comic timing and delicate, emotional touches. You just savour her innovative one-liners, and want to start it all again when you’ve reached that last page. (AC)

Out February 11, Granta

IN THE LAND OF MEN – ADRIENNE MILLER

In her upcoming memoir, writer Adrienne Miller asks the question: How does a young woman fit into the male culture of journalism, and at what cost? After embarking on her career as the editorial assistant at GQ, Miller became the first female editor of long-running men’s magazine Esquire. In the Land of Men follows Miller as she comes of age in the 90s male-dominated literary world, learning how to survive in a “man’s world”, and explores her relationship with renowned fiction writer David Foster Wallace, who was her closest friend, confidant, and antagonist. A bold, perceptive, and inspirational story about women’s power, Miller’s memoir is a must-read for the girls still finding their voice. (BD)

Out February 11, Ecco