Five must-read books for the Christmas break
Christmas presents are, for many, the first and last opportunity in the year to take a break and, free for a (very short) moment of work and responsibilities, have a proper read. Books are the present to please almost everyone: whether or not you end up reading them, they at least look nice on the shelf. To mark the festive season and the end of 2019, we’ve rounded up five of the very best literary offerings of the year – ideal for a present or to relax with yourself.
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
In this assured third outing from poet and ex-boy wonder Lerner, a teenaged boy growing up in a tight-knit community of psychotherapists in Kansas has to deal with the repercussions of his attempt to bring a bullied classmate out of his shell. Lerner once again manages to deal with profound questions – what does it mean to grow up a young man? What can the small town of the 1990s tell us about the small towns of the Trump era? – through a lens both meditative and very funny. Go for the hilarious opening set-piece, stay for the thought-provoking analyses of Americas bygone and present.
The Topeka School is published by Granta in the UK. Buy it here.
Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow/She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
Two immense books have been published this year about the 2017 Harvey Weinstein scandal that sparked the #MeToo movement. Farrow, Kantor and Twohey were at the vanguard of rival efforts to expose Weinstein’s decades-long history of sexual abuse and harassment – Farrow at NBC and then the New Yorker, Kantor and Twohey at the New York Times. Farrow’s is a straight account of the journalistic turmoil he went through to interview Weinstein’s victims and bring the story to publication (after months of vacillation from NBC, which didn’t want to run the story, Kantor and Twohey pipped him to the breaking of it). She Said begins in the same vein, but goes on to address the Christine Blasey Ford/Brett Kavanaugh hearings of 2018, drawing out the power structures that allow the mistreatment of women to go repeatedly unheard.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
The eighth novel by British author Evaristo was this year’s joint winner of the Man Booker Prize (with Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments). It follows 12 interlocking characters – mostly black women – as they navigate race, class, relationships, gender, the internet, and aging. Evaristo’s prose is beautifully fluid, her examinations of often controversial issues nuanced and compassionate. A deserving prizewinner.
Girl, Woman, Other is published by Hamish Hamilton. Buy it here.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
Tolentino, staff writer at the New Yorker, late of Jezebel, has her finger firmly on the pulse of millenial life. In Trick Mirror, a collection of essays taken from her longform journalism, she addresses everything from ecstasy (religious and illicit) to weddings to reality TV. By turns intimate, despairing and radically inconclusive, Tolentino is assuredly unsure of everything. “I wrote this book because I am confused, because I can never be sure of anything, and because I am drawn to any mechanism that directs me away from the truth,” she writes in the introduction. What better champion could there be for 21st-century lostness?
Trick Mirror is published by Random House. Buy it here.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong caused a stir when his debut novel was published in June, to almost universal acclaim. The Vietnamese-born American poet had already won the TS Eliot prize in 2016 for his collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, and he brings the same lyrical voice to bear on this work of autofiction. Little Dog, a refugee from Vietnam at the age of three, addresses his abusive and illiterate mother Rose in a book-long letter. The American opioid crisis, racism, homophobia and gay identity are touched on with beauty and charm. Perhaps not the most festive book, but astounding nonetheless.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is published by Jonathan Cape. Buy it here.
Featured photo: Drew Coffman