Feb’s best new books
It was still the dog days of winter last time I checked so there's only one thing for it - let's hunker down with a compelling new book.
Kindle fully charged? Sofa commandeered? Tea brewed? Let’s go!
BOOK OF THE MONTH
Brave Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani
In 2010 Reshma Saujani was the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress and touted by her hometown New York media as a new political Messiah. But on election day, she got a piffling 19 percent of the vote. Devastated and humiliated, she spent time licking her wounds (well, eating lots of crisps in bed) before emerging to found Girls Who Code, a lauded, global, non-profit that’s attempting to close the gender gap in tech industries.
The moral of her story? Be bold and if things go wrong, relish failure and learn from it. Research shows women, surprise surprise, need much more encouragement on this front than men. Reshma’s TED talk on this theme has clocked up 4m views and now her book – part memoir, part manual – expands on the theme.
Sounds a bit earnest? I promise it’s not, she’s earthy (there’s swearing), funny and very likeable despite having friends in very high places (Hillary Clinton is her mentor). And it’s packed with brilliant advice. There are echoes of Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In but this is definitely not about working 18 hour days, it’s about making your life work best for you (and your family), even if that’s being brave enough to say no sometimes. Buy it for yourself – and buy more copies for the teenage girls in your life.
ALSO OUT THIS MONTH…
Confession: when I’m reading a famous person’s autobiography, I’ll often impatiently skip the bit about their childhood – take me to the chapter where they make it big and their life goes mental, pronto! But I’ve got all the time in the world for Everything But The Girl singer’s Tracey Thorn’s Another Planet, a companion piece to her acclaimed 2014 memoir Bedsit Disco Queen. She places her childhood in Brookmans Park in Herts under the microscope in this one – travelling back home to reassesses her commuter town upbringing, sniggering at her moany teenage diaries and musing on the accepted wisdom that suburbia galvanises creative, outsider types. Oh, and the writing is gorgeous.
Another memoir I lingered over this month is The Smallest Things: On The Enduring Power Of Family by Nick Duerden, in which he writes tenderly about his Milanese grandparents. He may have never once been able to have a proper conversation with them, thanks to the language barrier, but their bond endures. More family affairs, this time fictional, in If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman. Audrey’s daughters and grand-daughters are estranged due to a buried family secret that, like they always do, re-surfaces. You, meanwhile, should dig out the waterproof mascara because this one’s a proper weepie.
Elsewhere Renee Knight, whose clever-clogs debut thriller Disclaimer was a best-seller, returns with another corker in The Secretary. It’s told from the viewpoint of the titular employee, who has loyally and meekly responded to her boss’s demands and kept her secrets for two decades. But it’s always the quiet ones you have to watch, of course… And while we’re talking thrillers, I loved the fresh premise of dystopian mystery The Last by 28-year-old hotshot Hanna Jameson. Nuclear war breaks out and businessman Jon is hunkered down in a remote Swiss hotel with 20 others – one of whom is, it seems, a murderer. Jon turns Poirot, with the action unfurling via his compelling diary entries.
Finally, let’s whizz back to the 17th century for an impressive historical debut. The Familiars by Stacey Hall has been praised by The Miniaturist author Jessie Burton no less and rightly so. Set against the backdrop of the Pendle witch trials, it’s the story of a pregnant teenage girl Fleetwood Shuttleworth (brilliantly named and an actual person, apparently) and her friendship with a midwife called Alice. Enchanting and evocative, it’ll teleport you from the sofa to a very different world. And that’s the whole point of getting stuck into a good book, no? Psst! Blackwell’s Oxford is hosting Stacey on 28 Feb to discuss her compelling new read. Tickets here.
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