There’s little better – as simple pleasures go – than staying in with a good book.
Fiction Editor Millie Walton picks five powerful female-authored books that probe at the diverse issues and anxieties of contemporary life. Flip through Citizen Femme’s October reading list recommendations and get inspired.
Intimations by Zadie Smith
You’ve most likely heard people talking about Zadie Smith’s latest book of essays and for good reason. Intimations is a slim, slip-in-your-pocket volume of six essays, most of which are no more than seven pages long, written in an accessible, straight-forward style. In other words, you won’t need to keep referring to Google and you won’t need a degree in philosophy to understand what’s being said. In fact, they’re more like vignettes, snapshots or ‘“screengrabs”, as the penultimate essay is titled, of ordinary life, people, and encounters, peppered with beautiful moments of insight that explore questions around creativity, growing old, and life’s general anxieties.
The essays were mainly written in lockdown, but the pandemic is the circumstance rather than the central focus; she makes no attempts at predicting how the world has been or will be affected, instead simply acknowledging that lockdown is “very precisely designed, and different for each person”. At times, the writing feels confessional, filled with self-doubt, but also warmth and gratitude. Plus, all of Smith’s royalties go to charity.
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
Published over ten years ago, Miranda July’s short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You is the kind of book that you pick up for a quick read whilst waiting for the kettle to boil only to find yourself standing there an hour later, still eagerly turning the pages. July is also an artist and a filmmaker as well as writer, which perhaps explains her sideways approach to writing fiction. The narratives are strange and delightfully surprising, but also very real, poignant, and relatable. The focus across all sixteen stories is on ordinary people living ordinary lives, many of whom are caught in fantasies about another existence, another self. For those keen for a double dose of July’s writing, her newly released feature film Kajillionaire is currently screening in the UK.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Another much-talked-about release, Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel My Dark Vanessa is an uncomfortable, gripping, fast-paced story about an abusive relationship between a student and teacher. Told from a first-person perspective, the novel opens in 2017 when Vanessa Wyes is 32, and her former teacher and lover Jacob Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by another student. Vanessa is still unable to admit the true nature of the relationship but as the narrative switches back and forth between her present day, schoolgirl and then college years, the devastating impacts become frighteningly clear. It’s a book that’s very much of its time, exploring the reevaluation of boundaries that continues to be propelled by the #MeToo movement as well as the potential power of social media to bring survivors together.
Weather by Jenny Offill
Shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, Jenny Offill’s slender novel Weather is written in a series of compact, conversational and sharp-witted paragraphs. Narrator Lizzie Benson is a librarian. She is married to a man in IT and has supported her unstable mother and recovering addict brother for years. Lizzie’s offered a job answering emails by her old mentor who has gained fame for her podcast and is currently being flooded with opposing mail from left-wingers worried about climate change and right wingers worried about the decline of Western civilisation. Along with Lizzie, we’re thrown into the noisy midst of an uncannily relatable, polarised world, but despite the overarching sense of doom, there’s plenty of humour, insight and uplifting realisations.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Abi Daré’s debut novel is the story of 14-year-old Adunni, who lives in a small town several hours’ drive from Lagos. She is about to be illegally married off and her bride price will be used to pay for her family’s rent and her father’s expenses. Through a series of unfortunate events, she ends up in Lagos as the servant, or rather slave of Big Madam. Nevertheless, she’s determined to become a girl with a ‘louding voice’; in other words, a young, educated, and outspoken woman who has the freedom to choose her own future. Though often sad, it’s an important read that pushes for social change in a country where forced marriage and domestic slavery are still pressing contemporary issues.