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November: we’re now firmly in snuggling-under-blankets season, and what better accompaniment than a good book? And there’s plenty of those coming this month.
I take the titles for these monthly posts from a number of sources, including the highlighted books on The Bookseller, my own knowledge of authors to watch, and various lists around the web, and while I can’t claim to have read them, they definitely seem to have merit — or, at least, buzz. Unless indicated otherwise, descriptions are taken from Goodreads, Amazon, or the publisher’s site.
Gnomon, by Nick Harkaway (UK, 2nd November, dystopian/literary fiction)
Near-future Britain is not just a nation under surveillance but one built on it: a radical experiment in personal transparency and ambient direct democracy. Every action is seen, every word is recorded. Gnomon is a sociopathic human intelligence from a distant future, falling backwards in time to conduct four assassinations. As the secrets and encryptions of Gnomon are revealed, the question becomes the most fundamental of all: who will live, and who will die?
An Almost Perfect Christmas, by Nina Stibbe (UK, 2nd November, humour)
From perennially dry turkeys to Christmas pudding fires, from the round robin code of conduct to the risks and rewards of re-gifting, An Almost Perfect Christmas is an ode to the joy and insanity of the most wonderful time of the year.
What We Think About When We Think About Football, by Simon Critchley (UK, 2nd November, non-fiction/essay)
What do we think about when we think about football? Football is about so many things: memory, history, place, social class, gender (especially masculinity, but increasingly femininity too), family identity, tribal identity, national identity, the nature of groups. It is essentially collaborative, even socialist, yet it exists in a sump of greed, corruption, capitalism and autocracy. Philosopher Simon Critchley attempts to make sense of it all – and to establish a system of aesthetics – even poetics – to show what is beautiful in the beautiful game. He explores, too, how the experience of watching football opens a particular dimension in time; how its magic wards off oblivion; how its dramas play out national identity and non-identity; how we spectators, watching football with tragic pensiveness, participate in the play. And of course, as a football fan, he writes about his heroes and villains: about Zidane and Cruyff, Clough and Revie, Shankly and Klopp.
First Person, by Richard Flanagan (UK, 2nd November, literary fiction)
A young and penniless writer, Kif Kehlmann, is rung in the middle of the night by the notorious con man and corporate criminal, Siegfried Heidl. About to go to trial for defrauding the banks of $700 million, Heidl proposes a deal: $10,000 for Kehlmann to ghostwrite his memoir in six weeks. Kehlmann accepts but begins to fear that he is being corrupted by Heidl. As the deadline draws closer, he becomes ever more unsure if he is ghostwriting a memoir, or if Heidl is rewriting him—his ife, his future. Everything that was certain grows uncertain as he begins to wonder: who is Siegfried Heidl—and who is Kif Kehlmann?
Love & Fame, by Susie Boyt (UK, 2nd November, literary fiction)
Eve a nervous young actress from a powerful theatrical dynasty has found herself married to an international expert on anxiety called Jim. Could it work? Should it work? Must the show always go on? This is a highly-strung comedy about love, fame, grief, showbusiness and the depths of the gutter press. Its witty and sincere tone – familiar to fans of Susie’s newspaper column – will delight and unnerve in equal measure.
The Broken Mirror, by Jonathan Coe (UK, 2nd November, fairy tales/coming-of-age)
One day, Claire, to escape her quarrelsome parents, takes refuge in the dump behind her house. There she finds a broken mirror, a nasty piece of sharp glass… She soon discovers it has the power to transform even the most drab reality into a fairy-tale world. As Claire grows older, always accompanied by her magic mirror, she can see her face without her teenage acne, and her town before it fell victim to thieving property developers. But, in reality, libraries are being turned into luxury flats wherever she looks, and the boy Claire loves is instead her worst enemy. Frustrated and angry with the mirror’s illusions, Claire is about to destroy it when the mysterious Peter steps in: he has also found a shard of broken mirror, and so begins their journey to piece together the larger puzzle…
Winter, by Ali Smith (UK, 2nd November, literary fiction)
In Ali Smith’s Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith’s shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter.
Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece, by Stephen Fry (UK, 2nd November, literary fiction)
They are embedded deeply in the traditions, tales and cultural DNA of the West. In Stephen Fry’s hands the stories of the titans and gods become a brilliantly entertaining account of ribaldry and revelry, warfare and worship, debauchery, love affairs and life lessons, slayings and suicides, triumphs and tragedies.
My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage, by Ingrid Seward (UK, 2nd November, US, 1st November, biography)
When a young Princess Elizabeth met and fell in love with the dashing Naval Lieutenant Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, the romance between the sailor prince and the young princess brought a splash of colour to a nation still in the grip of post-war austerity. When they married in Westminster Abbey in November 1947, there were 3000 guests, including six kings and seven queens. Within five years, as Queen Elizabeth II, she would ascend to the throne and later be crowned in front of millions watching through the new medium of television. Throughout her record-breaking reign, she relied on the formidable partnership she had made with her consort. Now, after 70 years of their marriage, acclaimed royal biographer Ingrid Seward sheds new light on their relationship and its impact on their family and on the nation.
The Best of A. A. Gill, by A A Gill (UK, 9th November, non-fiction/journalism)
In the words of Andrew Marr, A..A. Gill was ‘a golden writer’. There was nothing that he couldn’t illuminate with his dazzling prose. Wherever he was – at home or abroad – he found the human story, brought it to vivid life, and rendered it with fierce honesty and bracing compassion. And he was just as truthful about himself. There have been various collections of A. A. Gill’s journalism – individual compilations of his restaurant and TV criticism, of his travel writing and his extraordinary feature articles. This book will collect examples of the very best of his work: the peerlessly funny criticism, the extraordinarily knowledgeable food writing, assignments throughout the world, and reflections on life, love, and death. Drawn from a range of publications, including the Sunday Times, Vanity Fair, Tatler and Australian Gourmet Traveller, The Ivy Cookbook and his books on England and America, it will be by turns hilarious, uplifting, controversial, unflinching, sad, funny and furious.
Keep Smiling Through: My Wartime Story, by Dame Vera Lynn (UK, 16th November, biography)
Written with her daughter, Virginia Lewis-Jones this will be a powerful and life-affirming account of the time Dame Vera Lynn spent with troops in wartime Burma. Based, in part on a diary she kept, alongside unpublished personal letters and photographs from surviving veterans and their families, it will explore why it was such a life-defining event for her and show how her presence helped the soldiers, airmen and others who heard her sing.
Christmas on Coronation Street: The perfect Christmas read, by Maggie Sullivan (UK, 16th November, fiction/TV tie in)
Elsie Grimshaw lives in one of the worst streets in Weatherfield and is desperate to escape from life at home with a brutal father and the drudgery of working at the local mill. Grabbing at the slim chances that come her way, Elsie emerges from the heartbreak of first love and her marriage to bad boy, Arnold Tanner at only sixteen years old, if not much older, then certainly wiser. Going under her married name of Elsie Tanner, she and Arnold move in to No.11 Coronation Street in 1939 as war breaks out. Her cheeky self-confidence immediately puts her at loggerheads with local busy-body Ena Sharples and Annie Walker, landlady of the Rovers Return. As Christmas approaches, the residents of Coronation Street must put their petty squabbles aside if they are to survive the worst that Hitler’s Luftwaffe can throw at them. And as the Manchester Blitz grips their home town of Weatherfield, the residents must pull together to make this a Christmas to remember – for all of the right reasons…
Wild Embers: Poems of rebellion, fire and beauty, by Nikita Gill (US, 14th November, UK, 16th November, poetry)
Wild Embers explores the fire that lies within every soul, weaving words around ideas of feeling at home in your own skin, allowing yourself to heal and learning to embrace your uniqueness with love from the universe. Featuring rewritten fairytale heroines, goddess wisdom and poetry that burns with revolution, this collection is an explosion of femininity, empowerment and personal growth.
The Bacon Book, by Christopher Sjuve (UK, 16th November)
If bacon had existed in mythical Greece, a thousand ships would have been launched. If it had been around in medieval times, King Arthur would have tucked into it on the round table. Fast forward… and now, while you can’t buy happiness, you can buy bacon. And here you’ll find the ultimate celebration of this brilliant ingredient. Packed with mouth-watering recipes to start your day with a bang, pack a punch at lunchtime and bring good times at the end of the day. Flick through and discover the wonders of bacon. And then get cooking – and enter the bacon-lovers’ heaven.
We’re Asleep, Dad, by Simon Key (UK, 16th November, humour)
In recent times, we’ve celebrated ‘unmumsy’ mums, but what about desperate dads? We’re Asleep, Dad is a collection of 100 laugh-out-loud tweets from a dad’s perspective on the five main struggles of parenting: Bed Time, School, Food, Going Out and Weekends, complete with quirky hand-drawn illustrations by Moose Allain. In this hilarious and stylish gift book, Simon Key perfectly captures all the ups and downs of what it’s like to be a frazzled father on the front line.
Plus, British books published in the US in November:
The Odyssey, by Homer, transl. Emily Wilson (US, 7th November, classic literature)
In this fresh, authoritative version―the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman―this stirring tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic comes alive in an entirely new way. Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, this engrossing translation matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer’s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer’s music.
The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America, by Rebecca Fraser (US, 7th November)
Edward Winslow, an apprentice printer, fled England and then Holland for a life of religious freedom and opportunity. Despite the intense physical trials of settlement, he found America exotic, enticing, and endlessly interesting. He built a home and a family, and his remarkable friendship with King Massassoit, Chief of the Wampanoags, is part of the legend of Thanksgiving. Yet, fifty years later, Edward’s son Josiah was commanding the New England militias against Massassoit’s son in King Philip’s War. The Mayflower Generation is an intensely human portrait of the Winslow family written with the pace of an epic. Rebecca Fraser details domestic life in the seventeenth century, the histories of brave and vocal Puritan women and the contradictions between generations as fathers and sons made the painful decisions which determined their future in America.
Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe, by Deborah Cadbury (US, 14th November, non-fiction)
Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking travels through the glittering, decadent palaces of Russia and Europe, weaving in scandals, political machinations and family tensions to enthralling effect. It is at once an intimate portrait of a royal family and an examination of the conflict caused by the marriages the Queen arranged. At the heart of it all is Victoria herself: doting grandmother one moment; determined Queen Empress the next.
Balancing Acts: Behind the Scenes at London’s National Theatre, by Nicholas Hytner (US, 14th November, memoir)
In Balancing Acts, Hytner gives us a detailed behind-the-scenes look at his creative process. From reviving classic musicals and mastering Shakespeare to commissioning new plays, he shows theater making to be a necessarily collaborative exercise, and he writes insightfully about the actors and playwrights he’s worked with: Derek Jacobi, Richard Griffiths, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Harold Pinter, and Tom Stoppard among them. With a cultural range that spans from The Mikado to The Lady in the Van, Balancing Acts is not only a memoir but a gathering of illuminating notes on the art of directing and a thoughtful meditation on the purpose of theatre.
Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Affair, by Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan (US, 21st November, non-fiction)
What happened after the Queen married her handsome prince? Did they live happily ever after, or did their marriage, like so many royal marriages past and present fizzle into a loveless bond of duty? Victoria and Albert were the royal couple that broke the mould – it may have been an arranged match, yet their union was a passionate, tempestuous relationship between two extremely strong-willed individuals. Despite the fact that they were first cousins they could not have been more different people – she was impulsive, emotional, capricious, while he was cautious, self-controlled, and logical. But together they became the most successful royal couple there had ever been, and this book reveals the private and the public face of Victoria and Albert’s marriage. Using their letters and diaries, Victoria and Albert charts the constant ebb and flow of power between the couple, and presents a picture of a very modern marriage.