In honour of World Book Night, the Style team offer up their recommendations for a good read.
Tonight is World Book Night, when across the United Kingdom books will be given away to encourage literacy and a love of reading, from hospitals and shelters to prisons and care homes. We’ve rounded up the books that we haven’t been able to stop talking about for the last few months.
The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry
Best known for his work in the art world and for his cross-dressing alter ego Claire, Grayson Perry’s first book is a study of modern masculinity. In just a handful of short chapters, he asks the reader to examine their own biases and ideas about what it is to be a man or a woman, from the clothes we wear, to the toys we play with as children, to the roles we assume in adulthood. Thought-provoking but not condescending, well-researched while still accessible, The Descent of Man is a must-read for our current era, in which old-fashioned notions of gender are being constantly questioned.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and a handful of other prestigious literary awards, A Little Life is that rarest thing; a lengthy literary novel which feels like it flies by as you’re reading it. Following the lives of four friends (Jude, JB, Willem and Malcolm) across 800 pages, from their impoverished post-college years in New York City all the way into middle age, A Little Life explores the friendships and makeshift family units that we build as adults. Each and every character is beautifully drawn (you will come to care for these people more than some members of your own family), but at its core, A Little Life is the story of Jude, whose past is shrouded in secrecy.
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
We’re still not over losing Carrie Fisher, whose iconic portrayal of Princess Leia in Star Wars was, for years, one of only a small handful of strong female role models in pop culture. When she wasn’t kicking ass in a galaxy far away, Fisher was keeping extensive journals, speaking with wit and candour about her own experiences and relationships. The Princess Diarist offers a fascinating insight into the life of the woman who helped change the movie landscape forever.
The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler
A young man arrives in Vienna to become a tobacconist’s apprentice, and strikes up a curious friendship with one of the shop’s regular customers; an eccentric gentleman named Sigmund Freud. The naïve narrator’s beautifully told coming-of-age story happens to take place in 1937, with racial tensions in the city rising, and Nazi sympathisers feeling increasingly emboldened to discriminate against Jews. If that sounds familiar, it should. While embedded in its historical setting, The Tobacconist also reads like a stark, sobering parallel to today’s divisive, demagoguery-driven politics.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
If any entry on this list can encapsulate the importance of an event like World Book Night, it’s the story of Tara Westover. Educated chronicles her tough upbringing by a strict Mormon family, and emphasises the role that books played in her informal education, ultimately enabling her to pursue a college degree and make a better life for herself.