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Nov book column 2020

Books to read this winter instead of doomscrolling your life away

Julia Bell’s essay grapples with our terminally online lives, while Otegha Uwagba reflects on white allyship, and Stefan Riekeles’ book is a deep-dive into anime’s sprawling megacities

Between the doomscrolling your way through the US election and sitting out a second lockdown, November has been a wave of emotions, to say the least. As we round off the month, we’ve chosen a selection of our favourite books from this month to comfort you through the cold nights ahead.

Stefan Riekeles’ book is a deep-dive into the sprawling megacities of some of anime’s biggest hits, like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, while Verónica Gago explores how women have transformed the meaning of radical politics. Elsewhere, Julia Bell grapples with the grim realities of our terminally online lives, and in a searing book-length essay, Otegha Uwagba reflects on notions of white ‘allyship’ and privilege. 


In Anime Architecture, curator Stefan Riekeles takes us on a behind-the-scenes journey into the original background paintings, storyboards, and early drafts of the anime industry’s most revered directors and illustrators, such as Hideaki Anno, Koji Morimoto, and Mamoru Oshii. The book portrays background art as the foundation onto which directors can build their core vision – or, as Oshii says in the book’s introduction: “The drama is just the surface of the film. The backgrounds are the director’s vision of reality.”

Often, these imagined worlds are sprawling megacities, home to futuristic technologies and seedy underbellies. There’s the moody, urban dreamscapes of Ghost in the Shell and the cyberpunk overtones of Akira’s Neo Tokyo; the bustling, neon lights of Metropolis and the post-apocalyptic fortress-city of Tokyo-3 in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Anime Architecture presents these otherworldly cities as celebrations of – and lessons for – the near future. (GY)

Out now, Thames and Hudson


“I think fiction is incredibly important, because without it we can’t think our way through or past a present that may be awful,” critic and novelist Lynne Tillman recently told AnOther. In her work – across journalism, cultural criticism, essays, and novels – Tillman has unrelentingly questioned the written form, and ideals and expectations of media, art, culture, and gender. “Fiction is not falsehood,” Zeke Stark, the protagonist of her novel Men and Apparitions, affirms. The book was originally published in the US in 2018, but it’s just been brought to the UK. Zeke is a 38-year-old American cultural anthropologist – somehow both grating and captivating as a narrator – spiralling through a broken marriage and the pursuit of a new research topic: modern men and feminism’s impact on masculinity, a field study ‘Men in Quotes’. Tillman challenges her reader to constantly shift perspective with the floundering Zeke, weaving his fragmented personal story with reflective meditations and mini-essays on contemporary photography and image-making, all for what makes a unique and kaleidoscopic novel. A must-read and gloriously messy excavation of modern masculinity and the performance of self. (AC)

Out now, Peninsula Press


Following on from the success of her debut This Is What I Know About Art, curator and activist Kimberly Drew has paired up with the New York Times’ Jenna Wortham on Black Futures, a collection of images, photos, essays, memes, dialogues, recipes, tweets, and poetry, which tell the story of the radical and imaginative world put forward by Black creators today. Equal parts anthology, scrapbook, and art exhibition, Black Futures is a dynamic mixed-media collection of Black creativity and culture, with over 500 pages packed full with essays, art, interviews, and ephemera. A must-read for anyone in need of some winter months inspiration. (GY)

December 1, Penguin Random House


The father-daughter relationship is something rarely portrayed in books and on screen, which is why reading David Keenan’s Xstabeth feels all the more refreshing. The story starts in St Petersburg, Russia, where Aneliya is torn between the love of her father, a failing musician, and her father’s best friend, a shady guy with a penchant for vodka, strip clubs, and moral philosophy. When an angelic presence named Xstabeth enters their lives, however, Aneliya and her father’s world is transformed.

Moving between Russia and Scotland, Xstabeth takes the metaphysical mindset of Nabokov and Dostoevsky, and supplants it into the present day. Music and art are depicted as transcendental and Dionysian, and Keenan’s writing reflects this: his rhythmic repetitions and short sentences pulse are loaded with intensity and possess a lyrical quality akin to music. Buzzing with energy and manic idealism, Xstabeth is a wild ride that shatters expectation. (GY)

Out now, White Rabbit


In the time of coronavirus, Britain has entered the deepest recession since records began, and the chasm that separates the rich and poor, invigorated by Tory cuts, a housing crisis, and years of austerity, has grown deeper. Grace Blakeley is one of the most clear-eyed and compassionate commentators on economics and politics in the UK, and her book, The Corona Crash, asserts a radical plan for restructuring a broken, exploitative society amid the pandemic. Given the monstrous disaster capitalism that is gorging itself on the pandemic and looming large worldwide, Blakeley’s book is an urgent read. It is inspiring and thought-provoking, offering expansive resolutions in line with the Green New Deal that could transform our political, economic, and social systems. One of the biggest struggles ahead of us is convincing people across the world of this hopeful alternative, but with Blakeley’s book, it feels all the more possible. (AC)

Out now, Verso Books


In an age of infinite distraction, Julia Bell makes a case for the importance of radical attention. In her book Radical Attention, Bell pushes for the value of nuanced and difficult thought, which, she argues, is dwarfed by the incessant flow of information dominating modern living. Attention is a commodity that is bought and sold by developers and advertisers, bombarding us with free smartphone apps and news websites. Bell asks: In exchange for our attention, information and entertainment is ever at our fingertips. But at what cost? Radical Attention grapples with the grim realities of our terminally online lives, setting out possibilities for resisting and reclaiming our freedom. (GY) 

Out now, Peninsula Press


As an immigrant who’s grappled with feelings of otherness, and the cultural stigmas surrounding sexuality, Zaina Arafat’s debut novel You Exist Too Much hits very close to home. It’s a coming-of-age story that follows a Palestinian-American girl from blushing teen to confused adulthood, as she navigates queerness, love addiction, and a series of tumultuous relationships. Arafat’s nameless protagonist is caught between conflicting cultural, religious, and sexual identities, the results of which manifest in obsessive and destructive behaviours. Overall, You Exist Too Much is an unpretentious read that delves into the complexities of the modern-day immigrant experience, while remaining accessible and honest. Essential winter reading. (GY)

Out now, Dialogue Books


In this provocative, roguish essay that was almost banned in France, Pauline Harmange makes the case for man-hating: as a means of resistance, an act of solidarity and self-preservation. It opens with a Sylvia Plath quote:  “The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way”, and goes on to reflect on how women can utilise feelings of hate and hurt for the better. “What if women have good reasons to detest men? What if anger towards men is in fact a joyful and emancipating path when it is allowed to express itself?” Harmange writes. It astutely observes contemporary feminism with wit, style, and an acerbic, dry humour. Read it in one sitting and let the rage and rigour envelop you. (AC)

Out now, Harper Collins


In this powerful and timely personal essay, Otegha Uwagba reflects on notions of white ‘allyship’ and why the support following George Floyd’s death often felt performative. Reflecting on the events of the past few months, the worldwide protests and public scrutiny of institutional racism, Whites explores the burden of whiteness, as told by someone who is in her own words, “a reluctant expert”. In doing so, she addresses complex interracial dynamics with unflinching honesty: What’s it like to face both racism and white efforts at anti-racism, sometimes from the very same people? What does true allyship actually look like – and is it even possible? Uwagba poses an intimate and gripping portrayal of an unavoidable facet of the Black experience. (GY)

Out now, Harper Collins


Kenya Hunt’s compelling collection of essays, Girl: Essays on Black Womanhood, is dedicated to Black women and girls who have been killed in the US. Exploring life in both America and the UK – two places Hunt herself has lived – the writer delves into the nuances of what it means to be a Black woman, mother, and citizen in today’s world. Featuring contributions from Queenie author Candice Carty-Williams and influencer Freddie Harrel, Girl: Essays on Black Womanhood comprises funny, emotive, and – at times – anger-inducing essays, which cover everything from #BlackGirlMagic to police brutality. (BD)

Out now, HQ


In the post-war years, a form of romantic storytelling called photoromance – which used photographs instead of drawings – drew a large female audience. Originating in Italy, the medium was frequently dismissed by those who condemned its fandom as naive and uneducated. In her new book, The Photoromance: A Feminist Reading of Popular Culture, Paola Bonifazio rejects this narrative, instead offering a new perspective of the genre as pioneering and community-building. Examining the “convergence culture” of Italian media, Bonifazio explores how photoromance magazines expanded their empires across multiple formats, strategies, and platforms, and delves into the media habits of their dedicated readers. (BD)

Out now MIT Press


In recent years, several movements have galvanised women in the fight for gender equality – from the Women’s Strike to the #MeToo movement, it feels like a reckoning is finally happening. In her new book, Feminist International: How to Change Everything, Verónica Gago explores these global feminist mobilisations, examining how women have transformed the meaning of radical politics. Drawing on her own experiences, Gago engages in a number of established feminist debates, urging readers to abandon the rhetoric of victimisation and imagine a different theory of power. (BD)

Out now, Verso


Lost Cat is the closest thing we’ve got so far to a Mary Gaitskill memoir, and of course, it’s stunning. Gaitskill is known for her mastery of short fiction, from Bad Behaviour to This is Pleasure, and transgressive protagonists and characters. Turning to her most personal yet, Lost Cat is an arresting and all-too brief rumination on loss, personal tragedy, and love in all its nebulous forms. She begins with Gattino, a stray cat she rescued in Italy and who is now lost-presumed-dead, and expands into two other planes of love and loss: the death of her father and her and her husband’s fostering of two children, who came to impact them in both joyous and painful ways. With stark, unsentimental prose, it is really liberating to read a writer who can so deftly unpack the most knotted aspects of humanity – on love that is deemed problematic and untouchable, and our reckless pursuit of it. There is self exploration with authority and real honesty. One to return to with a heart full or broken. (AC)

Out now, Daunt


In her debut collection of poetry, I Would Leave Me, Grammy Award-nominated popstar Halsey – real name Ashley Nicolette Frangipane – intimately delves into the highs and lows of her life. The poems – some of which later influence lyrics in her music – tackle everything from abusive relationships and heartbreak, to questions of sexuality, family dynamics, and her struggle with bipolar disorder. Halsey has described the collection as “things I ruminate on, fixate, miss, cry, regret, re-live, and overcome”, declaring that she’ll “always be a writer first and foremost”. (BD)

Out now, Simon & Schuster


Using “a writing process akin to musical improvisation”, K Allado-McDowell has joined forces with an AI language model, known as GPT-3, to co-create Pharmako-AI. An exploration of identity and intelligence, the idea for the book was dreamt up during the summer, when Allado-McDowell initiated an experimental conversation with GPT-3. Together, the human and AI authors explore memory, language, and cosmology, and offer us a glimpse into the potential future of literature. (BD)

Out now, AIAA


Kikuko Tsumura’s novel There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is a surreal, wickedly funny reflection on the daily grind. It was originally published in Japan back in 2015, and arrives in the UK with a translation by Polly Barton – it feels pretty timely, as we consider the workplace and the purpose of work in our lives at a time of cultural and societal upheaval. Our protagonist is a young woman in Japan who is over a bout of work burn-out, and is now in search of menial work that requires minimal thinking – she finds herself at the helm of a hidden camera surveilling an author suspected of keeping contraband items, writing advice for rice cracker wrappers that gain somewhat of a following, coming up with concepts for advertisements for businesses that quickly disappear. We move through absurdist tableaux and moments of deadpan, existential drama, but it’s Tsumura’s incisive eye on the small, everyday office stresses so many will find deeply relatable that kept me captivated. The neo-liberal work-life fantasy is oblitherated so beautifully. (AC)

Out now, Bloosmbury