Ah, May, also known as The One With all the Bank Holidays, the perfect time to kick that reading habit up a gear. In this feature we’ll be bringing you a monthly round-up of essential reading and new releases, aiming to shake you out of your literary comfort zone with a colourful parade of the best the book world has to offer, all guaranteed to make you at least 50% more interesting at parties.
Whether you’re a kindle convert or loyal to the humble paperback, we’ll be plucking tomes from the wilds of Amazon to suit all tastes. So, if you’re looking to spend less time scrolling, relax before bedtime or you simply want something brilliant to get stuck into on your commute, read on.
Here are our top picks for May:
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
This Sunday Times bestseller from award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge was released last summer, but in the wake of the recent Windrush scandal and on the 25th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, it seems even more essential. If you haven’t read it yet, make this the month you do.
Based on her viral blog entry of the same name, Eddo-Lodge uses her exasperation from years of frustrating debate to construct a book that unflinchingly observes British race relations, tracing our history of slavery, mob lynchings and institutional racism within the police, right through to present day complacency and privilege, showing that violence is not where racism begins and ends.
Eddo-Lodge addresses issues that are crying out for open discussion. She challenges white British complicity in the face of structural racism and highlights the snail’s pace of progress. This is an uncompromising and rigorously intellectual study of power and ignorance. Those of us who benefit from any privilege that limits another must learn to listen harder if we want to live in a fairer country, and this book is a good place to start listening. For fans of Paul Beatty and, frankly, anyone living in Britain today, this book is required reading. Consider this your clarion call.
Circe – Madeline Miller
An immortal witch who turns men into pigs? A feminist retelling of The Odyssey? Sign me up! Circe is the second novel from author and classicist Madeline Miller. Her first book The Song of Achilles won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012 and her second offering looks set to kick up a storm that Zeus himself would be proud of.
Compelling premise aside, this novel delivers straight 10s across the board. Miller has managed to create an intricately woven, lyrical narrative where finely drawn characters are explored in all their complexity.
We follow Circe, daughter of Helios, as she grows from submissive and overlooked daughter into a powerful and vengeful enchantress who threatens even the mightiest of the gods. This is a tale of identity, grief, independence and female power. In Circe, Millar has created a truly original rendering of a mythical character and given her a platform on which to shine.
Fans of Like Water for Chocolate, The Wind-up Bird Chronicles and lovers of Greek Myth will adore this book, but I predict it will equally beloved by anyone who appreciates kick-ass female characters and bewitchingly beautiful prose.
Frankenstein in Bahgdad – Ahmed Saadawi
Ahmed Saadawi’s savagely funny, darkly satirical Frankenstein in Baghdad was longlisted for the Man Booker, and won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, making Saadawi the first Iraqi author to have done so. If the accolades aren’t enough, the fact that I’m managing to call it Kafkaesque without a hint of irony should surely convince gothic horror fans to pick it up.
Set in the aftermath of the US invasion, Hadi, scavenger and fabricator, assembles a being out of disparate body parts from the streets of Baghdad. His purpose is to shock the government into seeing each victim as an individual worthy of a proper burial. When the corpse goes missing and murders ensue, we are given a crash course in morality from the varying viewpoints of a wide cast of locals, each illustrating the overlap and grey areas between good and evil.
Perfectly capturing the pointless absurdity of war and treading the line between fantasy and realism, the novel’s black humour serves to highlight the nightmarish everyday reality faced by Baghdad’s residents. Saadawi has produced an unforgettable rendering of wartime humanity essential for political fiction and sci-fi fans alike.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton
Describing this book is difficult; it’s Cluedo meets Doctor Who, it’s Agatha Christie via Gosford Park, with time-travel. It’s all of these things, but it’s somehow completely original and deliciously clever.
Aiden Bishop finds himself embroiled in a real-life murder mystery weekend when he wakes up in the woods that surround the remote and crumbling country house of Blackheath. Guest are gathering for the Masquerade Ball, and someone is going to die.
Aiden has 8 nights to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle or be doomed to relive the day over and over in a purgatorial loop. To add to this conundrum, every morning Aiden wakes up in the body of one of the other guests and must battle conflicting personalities to unravel the mysteries of Blackheath or be stuck there forever. Oh, and a ghoulish masked footman seems desperate to stop him from succeeding. Poor old Aiden. This debut from Stuart Turton is complex, twisty and completely addictive, making it the perfect all-consuming holiday read for the long weekend.
You’ll lose track of what’s going on half a dozen times but it doesn’t matter. Hold on tight and enjoy the ride.
Educated – Tara Westover
Firstly, Educated has superlatives from Stephen Fry himself on the cover, which is never a bad thing on a first book. This is a startling memoir that delivers a homage to the transformative power of education. Born to an extreme religious survivalist family, Westover and her siblings did not go to school, did not ever visit a doctor or hospital and did not have birth certificates.
Her father’s paranoid beliefs coloured every aspect of family life, creating a childhood devoid of safety and comfort, causing severe physical and emotional scars in all of the Westover children. We follow the author’s path from the mountains of rural Idaho to the lecture theatres of Harvard and Cambridge, a journey beginning with her decision to educate herself. Westover struggles to reconcile her choices with those of her family and her grief in severing these bonds is tangible.
The prose is stark, displaying formidable emotional control when describing what must be agonising memories of betrayal. The strength and compassion Westover shows is inspirational in the face of adversity so shocking that the word brave seems pale when you consider the enormity of what she has achieved in the lead up to completing this book. We get the feeling that this is only the first part of this author’s coming-of-age.