There’s so much pressure in the a post-COVID world to do things. Despite how debilitating lockdown can be, every man and their dog seems to be writing a novel, building a surfboard, starting their own microbrewery and getting a six pack. Not to mention perfecting the art of skincare, getting eight hours of perfect sleep and meditating themselves into joyous, serene oblivion. Everyone is reading roughly 50 books per week as well, apparently.
If your New Year’s resolution was to read more books but two months in you’re struggling to make it through ‘The Wim Hoff Method’, or ‘Getting Things Done’, or any other number of seemingly revolutionary books you’ve convinced yourself to read in order to improve yourself, here’s some alternatives for the year ahead.
Featuring a mixture of addictive fiction, awe-inspiring non-fiction and an excellent tome on clothes, here’s our pick of books to read this year. No pressure.
A Swim In A Pond In The Rain – George Saunders
The latest from Booker Prize winner George Saunders ticks a lot of boxes. In a wonderfully positive and passionately delivered way, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain picks apart stories by Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev and Gogol – staples of a Russian literature class he used to teach – and asks why these stories work so well, treating the reader to life-affirming thoughts along the way.
One of the most surprisingly satisfying reads we’ve come across for a long time.
Under A White Sky – Elizabeth Kolbert
Unlike previous years, we’re having a bit of a break from the often punishing world of non-fiction, which for some reason of late has turned into an unavoidable whirlpool of inevitably catastrophic AI, the climate crisis and individuals who have come across Donald Trump and want you to know how inevitably terrible it was.
Something more uplifting to read this year is Pulitzer Prize-winning Elizabeth Kolbert’s Under A White Sky, which takes a look at human interventions in the face of the aforementioned climate catastrophe and how they may well save us.
Let Me Tell You What I Mean – Joan Didion
An icon of experience-led, subjective reporting and a stand-out female member of the New Journalism movement – associated with the likes of Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese – if a book, article or essay says Joan Didion on it, we will read it.
This happily brings us to Didion’s latest, a collection of 12 previously uncollected essays which include Why I Write, a cult essay that was originally given as a Berkeley lecture before being published in The New York Times.
With thoughts on everyone from Hemingway to Martha Steward, Didion’s latest collection is a welcome pocket-sized treat from a trailblazing author.
Land of Big Numbers – Te-Ping Chen
Formerly a reporter in Beijing and Hong Kong, Te-Ping Chen’s experience as a foreign correspondent has provided fertile inspiration for her debut story collection, containing 10 illuminating and entertaining stories chronicling the realities of life in contemporary China.
Mixing a playful and sometimes troubling evocation of the world’s largest and most complicated nation, Chen delivers vignettes of daily life in a much talked about but barely exposed society and culture.
Sea State – Tabitha Lesley
Tabitha Lesley’s Sea State chronicles her time integrating aboard an oil rig and brings a part reportage, part memoir approach that contrasts the likes of the Piper Alpha disaster with getting drunk with oil men who claim to have killed people.
Masculinity, love, fear and immense danger also feature in her study of men who essentially live on a ticking time bomb in the sea.
Male Tears – Benjamin Myers
Fifteen years’ worth of short stories combine in the latest book from Benjamin Myers, author of The Gallows Pole and The Offing, as tales of bareknuckle boxers, farmers, fairground workers and ex-cons combine for a collection that explores the male psyche.
Written by an author described as “the master of rural English noir”, Male Tears promises a mixture of fragility, complexity and failure all told with an often unsettling power and wistful adventure.
What Artists Wear – Charlie Porter
If you read menswear blogs (spoiler alert: we know you do) and are interested in fine clothes and artistic expression, then What Artists Wear by Charlie Porter may well be the book for you. Taking a wonderfully invigorating and inspiring journey through artists’ sartorial self-expression, Porter serves up as much inspiration and as he does insight.
Minty Alley – C.L.R. James
Our pick of Penguin’s ‘Black Britain: Writing Back’ series – a collection of pioneering books depicting Black Britain curated by Booker Prize-winning author Bernadine Evaristo – is Minty Alley by C.L.R. James.
The first novel by a black West Indian author to be published in the UK, Minty Alley is a celebrated portrayal of class and community from a world-renowned writer.
The Cold Millions – Jess Walter
The Cold Millions, the latest from bestselling American author Jess Walter, is an epic. Set in 1909 Spokane, Washington on the eve of the free speech riots, the story centres around the Dolan brothers as they attempt to navigate the worker’s uprising at the turn of the 20th century.
It’s is a rip-roaring adventure rooted in history with a visceral approach to story-telling that’s impossible not to be emotionally invested in.
Memorial – Bryan Washington
2020 Dylan Thomas Prize winner and Lamda award recipient for gay fiction, Bryan Washington is masterful in his ability to tell contemporary stories that don’t shout at the reader, “look how contemporary I am!” His debut novel, Memorial, following on from the success of short story collection Lot, is no different.
Telling the tale of a gay couple from both sides – one flying out to Japan to see his dying father, the other one moving into their now shared home albeit with the addition of his partner’s inbound mother from Japan – is a humorous, timely balancing of perspectives.
Beautifully written and leaves you hungry for Washington’s next.
Fake Accounts – Lauren Oyler
In true millennial fashion, VICE alumni and literature critic Lauren Oyler delves into the world of online conspiracy theories and internet culture with a story that follows a female narrator, not too dissimilar from herself, who discovers her partner is a notorious online pusher of dangerous conspiracy theories.
Funny, very close to home and painfully true in part, Fake Accounts is as much of a character study of the typical VICE employee millennial cliche as it is a takedown of the QAnon basement troll.
The Committed – Viet Thanh Nguyen
There must be a lot of pressure on the writer who wins the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for their debut novel. Especially if their second novel continues with the same story, which thankfully The Committed does.
Having arrived in Paris as a refugee, the Sympathizer and his blood brother Bon attempt to escape their past and prepare for their future by delving into the Paris drug world and the clientele that inhabits it.
Nguyen’s work again combines high-octane thriller storytelling with an open-eyed and wise look at the world we live in.
Animal – Lisa Taddeo
After her #1 New York Times bestselling debut Three Women – a study into the sex and love lives of three women – Lisa Taddeo returns with Animal, a novel that is supercharged with female rage.
Illustrating one woman’s exhilarating transformation from prey to predator, Taddeo’s dive into fiction is stark, brutal and follows on from the visceral subject matter of her previous work.
Filthy Animals – Brandon Taylor
A Booker Prize-listee from last year returns with a collection of interconnected short stories set in the American mid-west.
In one story a young man has to navigate the fragile complexity of a series of sexually fraught encounters with two dancers in an open relationship, while another tells of a group of teenagers exploding into violence on a winter’s night.
A young writer at the peak of their powers, don’t be surprised if Taylor secures a few more awards come the end of the year.