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Newsletter #24

Hello lovely people! Listen, we both know what the two big releases this past fortnight have been. They require no introduction, which is why we’ve, erm, put them in the intro: we have plenty of copies of Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice, as well as Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You. And before you ask, no, we didn’t get any bucket hats. Ball's in your court, Osman.

With those out of the way, we’ll let you in on a little publishing industry secret — loads of other great books have come out these past couple of weeks. Honestly! We’re going to spend a whole newsletter telling you about them! Keep scrolling!

New this week

Not since Nostradamus has civilisation been blessed with such an accurate soothsayer as the Booker Prize committee, who shortlisted Bewilderment by Richard Powers before it had even been published. It was a relatively safe bet, mind, coming off the back of his Pulizter win for the dizzying Overstory, and they were bang on the money: turns out this is an enthralling, intelligent family drama about a widowed astrobiologist trying to raise his volatile nine-year-old son, whilst acutely aware of the climate crisis-ridden future that awaits him.

A delightfully dark comedy from that subtitle to its realisation within the story, Sarah Gilmartin’s Dinner Party: A Tragedy is an accomplished and captivating debut, as an annual family gathering spins out of control thanks to the exhuming of long-buried traumas. Another Pulitzer winner returns to our front table in Harlem Shuffle, Colson Whitehead’s latest work of slipstream historical fiction, following family man Ray Carney’s descent into the criminal underworld as he struggles to provide for his new baby in sixties New York.

A master of suspense storytelling whose plotting has been praised by no less an authority than Mick Herron, Robert Goddard’s The Fine Art of Invisible Detection is an inventive spin on the detective novel. Umiko Wada is the recently-widowed secretary to a private investigator, a job that usually entails fetching coffee and making appointments. Then her boss gets killed and she finds herself thrust into his role, muddling her way through a case that may prove to be both her first and last.

Edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and collecting the work of this year’s O Henry prize winners, The Best Short Stories 2021 takes in the length and breadth of genres, nationalities and styles, from up-and-coming authors (Karina Sainz Borgo, Qian Jianan), to established names (Sally Rooney, Tessa Hadley). You can even read a few online: try before you buy! New in paperback, Mother for Dinner is Shalom Auslander’s wild satire of domineering Jewish matriarchs: in this instance, nebbish protagonist Seventh Seltzer disappoints his family by failing to perpetuate their tradition of...cannibalism.
Six years after The Argonauts unexpectedly made her a household name, dragging critical theory out of the academy and into people’s actual lives, Maggie Nelson makes a triumphant return with her new essay collection On Freedom. Each chapter considers ideas of autonomy and liberation, both in this historical moment — touching on the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements — and those passed, with Nelson freely drawing on culture both high and low. Another dizzying, sharp and accessible work from America’s preeminent woman of letters.

Speaking of preeminent women, one gets the impression that there’s never a dull moment in the company of Miriam Margoyles. That’s born out by her hilarious memoir, This Much Is True, which attempts to wrestle an unbelievably storied life, from being conceived in an air-raid shelter through being told off by the Queen, in just 300 pages. There’s not nearly as much namedropping in London Clay, but Tom Chivers provides plenty of memorable insights into what lies beneath the City’s streets, excavating stories of Roman ruins, abandoned tube stations and submerged playhouses. 
Red Thread is a wonderfully eccentric work of non-fiction, one whose magpie approach to its central topic of “mazes and labyrinths” sees Charlotte Higgins scatter references to myth, art, literature, history and archaeology through a personal meditation on feeling lost in a world where it feels increasingly difficult to find your way. In a manner not dissimilar to Nelson’s, Higgins constructs a vivid interior world from elements as disparate as Borges, the Ovid and Eva Hesse, and invites us in for a look.

Dreams From My Mother is the memoir of the wildly accomplished and inspirational Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, combining her life story with searing commentary on the persistent racial inequalities exposed in health care by sickle cell and, now, COVID-19. New in paperback is a John Cooper Clarke double whammy: not only do we have the punk poet’s wry, witty memoir I Wanna Be Yours, but also his most recent collection of verse, The Luckiest Guy In The World, which we've been waiting for since 2018! Both exemplify Cooper's way with words and sense of humour, neither dulled by by four decades in the business
You might recognise the name Ana Sampson: she’s the editor of some of our favourite poetry collections, including the always-in-demand She Is Fierce. She’s turned her keen eye to verse about space, flora and fauna with Wonder, an anthology of poems inspired by the collection at the Natural History Museum and illustrated with botanical drawings and engravings from their holdings. It’s got facts! It’s got rhymes! It’s got pretty pictures! It’s got it all!

Scott SanGiacomo’s graphic novel Bedhead Ted also has plenty of pretty pictures. We’re not sure the story of a boy with hair so unruly that it has a literal life of its own has much basis in the factual, but it's a lot of fun nonetheless. Also fun: the latest in M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman’s Adventures on Trains series! Danger At Dead Man’s Pass finds Harrison Beck investigating a purportedly cursed family of railway tycoons in the mountains of Germany. Another cracking page-turner full of unexpected twists and colourful characters.
Libby VanderPloeg provides the incredible illustrations for Andrew Donkin and Tracey Turner’s A History of the World in 25 Cities, the oversized hardback giving the necessary space for colourful, detailed maps of everywhere from the walled city of ancient Jericho to the modern-day metropolis of Tokyo. Drawing on the collections of the British Museum, each cityscape is packed with factual information, covering the birth of democracy in Athens, everyday life in ancient China, and the flora and fauna of the West African rainforest. You can even get a sneak peek right here!

Piret Raud is an award-winning author for her work in children’s literature, and her latest picture book The Sea exemplifies her surreal style and sense of humour: the ocean itself decides to take a break from its noisy aquatic occupants, leaving the fish bereft of anyone to read their bedtime stories. Enter a cat with not-so-hidden intentions… Inch and Grub, from Alastair Chisholm and David Roberts, reveals the invention of everything from fire, to the wheel, to chairs, to have been a hilarious game of one-upmanship between the two titular cavemen.
Faith Ringgold is a bonafide legend, a 90-year-old artist whose practice covers everything from painting to quilts, sculptures and performance art, almost always using bold colours and political messaging. Our jigsaw pick in this edition is a 1,000 piece puzzle depicting her quilt “The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles,” packed with layers of meaning and detail that befits the close reading that comes from trying to tell one piece of yellow from another. 

What we're reading

  • Anya found Virginie Despentes' King Kong Theory to be a fierce feministic manifesto — short but significant
  • Tom is making his way through He Used Thought As A Wife, comedian Tim Key’s collection of surreal (at times near-inexplicable) satirical poetry and imagined conversations written during lockdown
  • Paul enjoyed Paul by Daisy Lafarge, and not just because of the name: the poet's debut novel focuses on the unsettling and creeping patriarchal control and intimidation of the vulnerable narrator
That’s quite enough of that, we’ve got important conversations about whether you can be a Marxist and a bestselling voice-of-a-generation novelist to get back to. Oh, and bookselling, of course. As always, our opening hours, ordering info and contact details lie just below. Do take care of yourselves, and we’ll be back in your inbox in another couple of weeks!
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