In (hopefully) the last of our lockdown reading lists, Fiction Editor Millie Walton picks a mix of six classic and contemporary books to make it your resolution to read this year.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Sing, Unburied, Sing (winner of the 2017 National Book Award) is an intimate, gritty portrait of a family, and a fierce critique of US history. The family comprises Leonie, a drug addict, who is married to a jailed white man named Michael, their son Jojo, and his toddler sister. When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. Here, Jojo encounters the apparition of a dead inmate who carries with him tales of the South’s ugly history.
Blindness by José Saramago
This might seem like a strange time to recommend a story about an infectious disease, but José Saramago’s 1995 novel is one that everyone should read at least once in their lifetime. It begins with a driver waiting at the traffic lights who goes blind behind the wheel; the contagion spreads quickly and those afflicted are herded into quarantine at a mental asylum where a new brutal order of society establishes itself. It’s a frightening, but startlingly imaginative read, filled with humour, wit, and wisdom.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Described by Margaret Atwood as “one of the literary greats”, Ursula K. Le Guin is a must-read in the realm of speculative fiction. The Left Hand of Darkness is an extraordinary novel about betrayal, loyalty, love, and survival, set on a planet called Winter whose weather is arctic all year round and inhabitants are genderless. When a ‘normal’ man arrives, bringing with him the standard prejudices of gendered society, he is initially met with fear and disbelief, but ultimately, this is a tale of an unlikely found connection between two strangers as they embark on a long, and dangerous journey across the icy landscape.
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
Trick Mirror is a smart and playful collection of nine essays that reflect on everything from religion, reality TV, and drugs to feminism and the ‘cult of the difficult woman’. Jia Tolentino’s writing is bold, engaging and sharply insightful, unravelling the fragmented and illusory seductions of contemporary consumerist culture. The focus is specifically on American identity (drawing on Tolentino’s own experiences, including her stint as a teenage reality TV contestant), but nevertheless, the issues she discusses have a powerful universal resonance.
Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover’s much talked about memoir charts her journey from a bleak Idaho childhood as a member of a fundamentalist Mormon family to a Cambridge-educated academic. Her father does not believe in sending his children to school with his views becoming increasingly radical, her mother is largely submissive, and her brother is violent and abusive, but eventually, Westover manages to study her way to college, finding her world transformed by books. Whilst celebrating the importance and power of education, the book offers a captivating insight into America’s rural communities and restrictive social structures.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Secret History was Donna Tartt’s first novel, and quite possibly her best. It’s a seductive, fast-paced detective story that hooks you in from the first page with the unresolved murder case of “Bunny”. The story then goes back in time to the point before the crime was committed, tracking a group of clever, eccentric students at an elite New England college who seek a higher way of thinking and living that revolves around the power of Greek mythology, philosophy, and history.