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April 2020 book column

All the books to get lost in this April as quarantine continues

Miranda July’s sprawling retrospective speaks to the power of art and human intimacy for these times, while a Warhol biography and a crime novel set in a houseshare offer delicious escapism

We’re a few weeks into widespread lockdown now – while most of us practice the government-advised self-isolating and social distancing, it can be a time to pause and reflect. We’ve been updating our ongoing list of digital art exhibitions, podcasts, films, and other stimuli to engage with and keep you busy in these unprecedented times; a list that also includes some ways to engage in direct and positive action online that better the world while you stay indoors (supporting indie bookstores included). And here, as we enter another full month of lockdown, we’re collating the forthcoming books that provide solace, escape, and inspiration.

You could dive into a sprawling Warhol biography full of delectable tit-bits, or transport yourself to the salons of South Korea with Frances Cha’s debut. There’s a deep dive into the impressive, multi-faceted career of Miranda July – a timely retrospective that speaks to the power of art in empowering human intimacy and connection. Or maybe Jennifer Savin’s spikey debut crime novel set in a houseshare – more timely than we’d care for maybe, but a riveting read! There’s also the deeply personal and intimate writing of Sinead Gleeson to get lost in.

Once you’ve done your recommended reading – check back on our #AloneTogether campaign – a new space to link our peers, collaborators, and readers to chat, share their work, and spread the news of causes we can and should be supporting, as well as URL events, classes, and check-ins. Stay safe, stay inspired!


“Each decision we make is a self-portrait, but like Elizabethans, we commission painters who make us look better. We don’t choose stuff for who we are, but more for who we want to be, pursuing a life we see as successful.” Although this might be one of the more serious quotes from Raven Smith’s debut book, Raven Smith’s Trivial Pursuits, it kind of sums up the book’s slippery subject matter; it is a dissection of our modern-day landscape of virtue signalling and (cultural) class signalling. With wicked humour, it points at the shallowness and silliness of it all, but never once judges you – a tricky note to hit. It also semi-follows the life of its author, billed as “Instagram’s answer to David Sedaris”, as he looks back at his single-parent upbringing, coming out story, and journey to becoming the man he is today – journalist meets Instagram content king. (AA)

April 2, Fourth Estate


This essay collection will be the prolific Olivia Laing’s fifth published book (and that’s not to mention her introductions to the works of Derek Jarman and David Wojnarowicz). While Crudo, a short novel embodying Kathy Acker (if she were alive today), was Laing’s first published foray into fiction, Funny Weather is a return to her nonfiction work, collecting profiles, reviews, and columns that she has written over the last decade for the likes of The Guardian and Frieze. Discussions of the work of Deborah Levy, Maggie Nelson, Sally Rooney, Chantal Joffe, and Chris Kraus all make an appearance. The uniting argument is simple: why art matters. For those in search of a new reading list (many recommendations here), or those whose taste already overlaps with Laing’s. And definitely for fans of Laing’s book Lonely City. (AA)

April 16, Picador


Full name My Meteorite: Or Without The Random There Can Be No New Thing. The subhead hints at what this nebulous book gets at overall: the idea that from tragedy or loss, or any of the other unexpected twists and turns life throws at us, a new path at least emerges. A mixture of memoir and a kind of lyrical social theory investigating the ties that bind us, My Meteorite asks: Is love a force akin to gravity? A kind of invisible fabric that enables communications through space and time? If you’re a fan of Maggie Nelson’s work, you’ll like this book, and not only because Harry Dodge, its author, is Nelson’s long-time partner (as well as an incredible artist in his own right), but because they offer a similar sideways look at the mundane, share an occupation with the way that we form social bonds, and have a subtle way of bringing theory and philosophy into everyday situations (here ranging from Karen Barad to Rosi Braidotti) without ever seeming pretentious. It’s truly beautiful. And if that weren’t enough of a sell, Hilton Als, Miranda July, and Eileen Myles are among this book’s fans. (AA)

March 17, Harvil Secker


Like Benjamin Moser’s 2019 biography of Susan Sontag, Blake Gopnik’s Warhol biography is quite the commitment, coming in at 976 pages, and made up of a staggering 260 interviews worth of research. But, clearly, it is the most thorough biography to date. “The tone is often gossipy and intimate, full of irresistible titbits, including a period Warhol spent stalking Truman Capote, his attempt to hire a lookalike to deliver university lectures, and the naming of his sausage dog Archie after a man with an oversized penis who cruised Union Square,” writes art critic Hettie Judah, in one shining review. The book lands close to the opening of the huge Andy Warhol retrospective at the Tate Modern, which has now temporarily closed because of COVID-19. For those who didn’t make it to the show – but are fascinated by the underexplored topics of Warhol’s queerness, religion, and family – Gopnik’s book should satiate all your needs. (AA)

April 21, Allen Lane


For those of you who feel lonely in this period of self-isolation, introducing ‘honjok’, a South Korean term for people who undertake activities alone. This timely read not only analyses the cultural context of this growing trend, but explains the importance of spending time by yourself by offering practical ways to brave the world on your own – dining out, visiting an exhibition, travelling, staying in – you name it, honjok’s got it.

There’s also chapters dedicated to how introspection can help with self-discovery and self-esteem, ultimately making you happier in the long run. Think of it like having your very own Jerry from Cheer in pocketbook form ready to mat talk your way through solitude. Failing that, it’s probably more beneficial than rewatching all seven episodes of Tiger King. (GY)

April 23, Eddison Books


In April last year, journalist and writer Lyra McKee was fatally wounded during rioting at the Creggan estate in Derry, Northern Ireland. McKee is remembered for her fiery voice and fervent reporting on the traumas and consequences of the Northern Irish Troubles, as a bright light for friends and peers that brought humanity and care to stories that long languished in the conflict’s wake. A new anthology collects McKee’s writing about Northern Ireland, it’s complicated politics, its fascinating people and their dark and deep stories, and her own personal journey as a young LGBTQ+ woman. There’s previously unreleased excerpts from the book she was working on about Troubles cold cases, as well as career-defining articles like that on NI’s suicide epidemic. It brings together thoughtful investigative work and empathetic, urgent political journalism with people and their internal struggles at its heart. Across a carefully curated yet broad spectrum, we see the scope of her brave, engaged, and tenacious work that left a mark on its world, and feel the heartache of a smouldering light extinguished too soon. A must for anyone who wants to change the world with a rebellious voice, radically human heart, and a pen. (AC)

April 2, Faber & Faber


Elaine Feeney’s debut grips you from the get-go – Sinéad Hynes is a determined, tough, and witty young woman with a secret. That secret she shares with no one – not her husband, family, friends, or the other half-lucid patients on her hospital ward. The true depths of her mind – at times hilarious, others viciously dark and sinister – play out in her Googling, and what she regales to a magpie. Sinead runs from a dark past, while reckoning with a terrifying future. As You Were has piercing, sparkling wit and an inventive structure and storyline that keeps you enthralled, through the laughs and tragedy. Through Sinead and supporting characters, the issues with old and modern Ireland’s treatment of women play out, with women’s struggles, stories, fears, and hopes are centred – timely. A wild ride I didn’t want to end. (AC)

April 16, Harvill & Secker


The Other’s Gold centres on four college friends, flung together as hopeful and jittery freshmen in the same dorm – together, they weather wild nights, looming childhood traumas, and passing boyfriends, with each other as rocks. As the story judders from sweeping college days to adulthood, day jobs and kids, the novel’s structure becomes a hydra-head beast split into each woman’s defining mistake – the Accident, the Accusation, the Kiss, the Bite. It’s a story of fizzing friendships and tenacious women, put to the test by each other’s foibles and ferocity. Ames asks nebulous, urgent questions: how long can we stand behind friends when we sometimes can’t – or won’t – understand their knotty issues? Do mistakes define a person? With these, we see what the richly developed women are truly capable of despite the darkness that refracts in them all. For fans of Sarah Henstra’s The Red Word and Expectation by Anna Hope. (AC)

April 2, Pushkin Press


If you thought your flatshare situation was bad, wait until you read The Wrong Move. A twisty domestic thriller about a flatshare gone wrong, Jennifer Savin’s debut crime novel follows protagonist Jessie as she leaves her abusive relationship to move back to Brighton, to be close to one of her best friends. She finds a new job and a place to rent, which she shares with fellow tenants Lauren and Sofie. But weird things start happening – strange noises wake her up in the night and belongings start to go missing. Jesse learns a previous flatmate has disappeared and she begins to doubt if the flatmates she thought she could trust are who they say they are. (GY)

April 23, Ebury Press


Irish author and writer Sinead Gleeson’s intimate debut collection of essays is finally making its way across to the US. With Constellations glittering essays, poetry, and pieces, Gleeson draws on her experiences of illness and health – monoarticular arthritis, diagnosed at 13, 10 weeks spent in a body cast, her leukaemia battle, and two difficult childbirths. Having adored it on first read with its UK release last year, it feels even more pertinent in the strange times we’re living in – fraught, fizzing stories that oscillate from bodily trauma, women’s pain, abortion, and parenthood, to love, women’s strength, and triumph over struggle. It is both poetic and seething; it is about survival against the odds, and channelling the pain, anger, and despair that live deep in your bones out into the world. I thought about my own body very differently after this, and I’m glad. (AC)

April 4, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt


How to define Miranda July? An author, director, artist, performer, app developer, shopkeeper. A cross-disciplinary artist that has defined a creative generation, her sprawling life and art are brought into focus for the first time in this retrospective eponymous book. Miranda July brings together friends, peers, and collaborators from across the years to offer perspective and stories of July – David Byrne, Carrie Brownstein, Lena Dunham, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Spike Jonze, with a little bit of July too. It’s a fascinating, chronological hop-scotch across formative pieces and works, delving into her archive to shed light on her constantly evolving process and heartfelt themes of intimacy and connectivity, whatever the medium. The section on Love Diamond is a personal fave, and the story of her square-toed nurses shoes. Watch out for her wonderfully wacky forthcoming film Kajillionaire soon too. (AC)

April 14, Prestel Publishing


Do you yearn for a bite of that Chalamet peach? Or are you tantalised by the lesbian cat-and-move of Villanelle and Eve? In She Found it at the Movies, Christina Newland offers up a collection that galvanises a much-needed female gaze that’s erotic and sensual, full of subversive wit and electricity. Moving fluidly between the screen and our own bodies with thought and care, the essays encapsulate the importance of both desire and pleasure, something the industry has severely lacked in its treatment of women both on and off screen, in its actors and its critics. Women’s experiences – from periods to abortion, sexual violence, and desire – have been stunted and misconstrued countless times on screen, and that of course speaks to the very real lives we live too. “Women’s desires and sexual needs are marginalised in movies because they are in real life,” Newland writes. “Yet cinema offers us the chance to bring women’s roles as sexual beings, moviegoers and creators of cinema into sharper focus.” ‘I Didn’t Want to be Lauren Bacall, I Wanted Her’ by Izzy Alcott is a particular delight. (AC)

Out now, Red Press