The Twenties Club’s Winter Reading List ’20
A list of novels you might enjoy reading this winter, made up of my favourite books from the year so far, the ones I’ve got lined up next, and a few incredible recommendations from the TTC community.
Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I sought this out from my local bookstore in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and was immediately embarrassed I hadn’t read it sooner. Structured as a letter to his teenage son, Ta-Nehisi Coates explains, with devastating beauty and precision, what it means to be black in America. Coates is one of the most gifted writers I’ve ever come across and sentences like the following will stay with me forever: “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.” This book is essential.
Pretending by Holly Bourne
I always find myself recommending Holly Bourne’s How Do You Like Me Now? to girlfriends – it’s an un-intimidating, funny, and moving look at love in your thirties – so I’m excited to read her latest novel Pretending about love amidst the pressures and duplicity of online culture. It follows the protagonist, April, as she adopts a new identity in order to be more like the “Everyday Manic Pixie Dream Girl Next Door” that her failed dates seemed to be searching for.
The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale
Descried as an addictive thriller, Charli Carter is a successful actress who, eighteen months into her happy marriage, catches sight of her husband on a dating app that her friend is browsing. But Charli quickly discovers that infidelity is the least of her problems… A TTC reader said she devoured it in a single day over lockdown: “I’ve read both of Pip’s books, and discovered this one after reading her best-seller The Sunday Girl. All of Pip’s work is dark and impossible to put down. The twists in the story and appeal of it being set in present-day London made it one of my favourite reads of the year, so far.”
Notes To Self by Emilie Pine
Pine’s carefully-crafted short stories speak to the business of being a woman in the 21st century – in both its extraordinary pain and extraordinary joy. Courageous, humane and uncompromising, she writes with radical honesty on birth and death, the grief of infertility, caring for her alcoholic father, taboos around female bodies, and sexual violence. I’ve been told it will make me “ugly cry”. Sold.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
In the year it was published, The New York Times Book Review named Pachinko one of the 10 Best Books of 2017. Lee’s story follows a Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of the poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame her parents, until a young minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. Lee’s novel dissects what it means to be a Korean living in Japan, and covers themes including colonialism and xenophobia. The first sentence of this incredible book is: “History has failed us, but no matter.” And that sentence served as Lee’s thesis for the novel – she believes that history has failed almost everybody who is considered “ordinary”. And the phrase “but no matter” is a statement of defiance.
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
Joanne Ramo’s debut novel, The Farm, circles issues of race, money and power, as well as how little control women have over their own bodies. The novel has a dystopian setting that is far enough away to remind you it’s fictional, but close enough that you’ll feel intentionally uncomfortable over the similarities it has to the way women are treated today. Golden Oaks is a luxury compound set up to provide rich clients with surrogate mothers to carry their children, confining the surrogates to a five-star country retreat for the duration of their pregnancy. When a young Fillipina women signs up to be a surrogate, she considers how the money she’ll get in return would be enough to change her life, but no children are allowed at the retreat, so during her nine-month stay she has to leave her own newborn behind, in the care of a friend.
Olive by Emma Gannon
Gannon’s debut novel isn’t slated for release until July 23rd but I’ve been dying to read it ever since it was discussed on The High Low about six months ago. Through the protagonist Olive, Gannon’s novel unpacks the obstacle course of adulthood, and more specifically, the taboo and shame that still surrounds women who actively choose to not have children. It’s honest, funny and moving, and fellow author Holly Bourne said, “I suspect a lot of women will feel relieved and seen when they read it.”
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
The Mars Room was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2018, but it was the Orange Is The New Black similarities that put this at the top of my personal winter reading list. Set in the Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in California, The Mars Room follows Romy Hall, a 29 year old single mother who is about to begin two consecutive life sentences for killing her stalker. But Romy’s real life sentence started at birth; as the daughter of a mother addicted to opioids, Romy was raped at age 11 and soon after that became a drug addict and sex worker. The supporting cast of prisoners is said to provide comic relief and copious amounts of dark humour throughout the book (this is where people have drawn similarities to OITNB), with characters like Betty LaFrance, a former pantyhose leg model, now on death row, and Conan, a sharp-as-a-tack trans woman who makes dildos in woodwork class.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
You could argue that female Irish authors are having a bit of a “moment”. Sally Rooney, Caroline O’Donoghue, the legendary Marian Keyes, and now… Naoise Dolan. Dolan’s critically-acclaimed debut novel follows 21-year-old Irish expat Ava as she embarks on a new life in Hong Kong as a foreign language teacher. Ava quickly finds herself in a quasi-relationship (mainly sex and fancy dinners) with a witty British banker called Julian, while also developing feelings for a woman (for the first time) called Edith. Good Reads described the novel as, “Politically alert, heartbreakingly raw, and dryly funny, Exciting Times is thrillingly attuned to the great freedoms and greater uncertainties of modern love.”
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge
A look at Black history in Britain as it intertwines with class, and how it resulted in the disconnect in conversations about race today based on a 2014 blog post by Renni Eddo-Lodge in which she expressed her frustration with speaking to well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful white people.
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
The Couple Next Door is about a husband and wife who seem to have it all – a loving marriage, happy baby and beautiful home – but when a terrible crime is committed while they’re a dinner party, the parents immediately become the main suspects and Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something.
What Red Was by Rosie Price
I’ve been consistently warned that What Red Was is a difficult read – in particular, there is a rape scene and a self-harm scene (so please take care if either of these topics are triggering for you). The novel is about a young woman, Kate, who is swept into the orbit of a dysfunctional family when she starts dating Max – a charming, intelligent and wealthy young man who she’s immediately enamoured by – until Kate is sexually assaulted by someone Max knows, on Max’s mother’s bed.
Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth
For the average woman, there is perhaps no more complicated relationship than the one we have with the small screen we carry around all day. Or, more specifically, the dependent and dysfunctional dynamic that exists between the person we are in real-life and who we portray ourselves as online. Emma Jane Unsworth delivers this relationship through the witty, hopeless and hopeful Jenny, a thirtysomething columnist recovering from a miscarriage and a breakup. I read Adults during the first few days of lockdown when it felt like we were grieving the end of life as we knew it, and it made me laugh so much I momentarily forgot what was happening in the world.