If you are finding yourself in need of solitary entertainment, the team at Emirates LitFest have pooled their recommendations for must-read books this spring. Some are new, some are old, and all of them are wonderful.
In no particular order:
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
If you want a book that echoes your own experience of COVID-19 isolation right now, but also transports you away from your cabin-fever, try this debut novel by zoologist Delia Owens. A reclusive young girl lives alone in a swamp on the outskirts of a sleepy town in 1960s USA, the setting for a coming of age story, a complicated love affair, and a murder, with writing that will take you immediately to the North Carolina Marsh.
5fingers: Initiation, by Joshua Raven
This book starts off the five-book series of novels for adults and young adults. It is supernatural thriller is packed with cliff hangers and surprises. It starts with a 16-year-old loner, Rachel Race, hurled into a world of darkness and intrigue and forced to carry out a series of assignments by an enemy with many faces. This fast-paced quintet is carries a message of hope in a dark world, and that is always a good thing.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is a socially awkward loner who tends to say exactly what she thinks. One day she witnesses an accident and is forced to be there for someone else. Feeling needed, for once, leads her to discover the joy of having other people in her life. Although the book tackles themes of loneliness and mental health, it does so with warmth and humour, and you come through the book rooting for Eleanor.
Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
This is the first novel in the Six of Crows duology. It follows a ragtag bunch of misfits on a magical heist full of intrigue, suspense and general chaos. A whirlwind of action, unforgettable characters, and reluctant romance, this book is so much fun to read our team member is rereading it for the third time. Even though you shouldn’t really be rooting for the main characters, you can’t help but love them by the end of it.
Utopia for Realists, by Rutger Bregman
If you have had the misfortune of reading the news in the last few weeks, you have probably seen prophecies of social and economic disaster to follow the rapidly-spreading pandemic. But much of the expected harm comes not from the virus alone but from existing ills – particularly poverty and the lack of a social safety net, with sick people working because they can’t afford not to.
Rutger Bregman’s 2017 book Utopia for Realists is a good book for bad times, detailing ideas – universal income and housing, a shorter working week, open borders, and better ways of measuring prosperity – that could build a fairer and happier society. Backed up by extensive research, Bregman’s book is a great argument for optimism.
The Book of Collateral Damage, by Sinan Antoon, translated by Jonathan Wright.
Nameer, a young US-based Iraqi academic, visits Baghdad after a ten-year absence. He meets Wadood, an eccentric bookseller, and learns about his project to create a record of everything single item destroyed by the war. Tasked with translating the catalogue, Nameer collects evidence of the impact of the war while navigating his own identity as an Iraqi living in a country that is at war with his homeland.
As readers, we gradually come to understand how Wadood is using the project to help him come to terms with his own personal losses in the war.
Without being overly sentimental, this book brings to life the irrevocable impact of war and the importance of remembering all that is lost.
Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race, by Lara Prior-Palmer
If social distancing is making you blue, or you just like an underdog story with great writing, this is the memoir for you. At the age of 19, Lara Prior-Palmer stumbled across a competition online: the world’s longest, toughest horse race – the Mongol Derby. While other riders spend years preparing for this 1,000 km race across Mongolia that recreates the horse messenger system invented by Genghis Khan, Lara entered the race on a whim with no formal training. And against all odds… she won. It’s an incredible story but the real charm is in the author’s poetic writing style which is hinted at in the title that takes its inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
The Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
This is the story of a story that was never finished. Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. He was shot dead by a relative at the funeral of his last victim. Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted, defended in court by the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend. Harper Lee had travelled to her native Alabama to attend the trial with the idea of writing the true-crime story, and she worked on it for years, but it was never finished.
Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.
Gold Fame Citrus, by Claire Vaye Watkins
This dystopian novel is set in a future when climate change has done its worst. California has completely run out of water, the ocean is now made of sand, and the desert is growing at an alarming rate. Those who were evacuated live in relocation camps in the east, and the few that refused to leave are essentially refugees, stuck in a dry sandy world. They roam the abandoned mansions of former film stars in search of water.
Luz, a former poster child of a failed conservation movement, meets Ray, a damaged war veteran on the run from the authorities. One night they kidnap a small child who seems to be abused by the gang around her, and that sets them off on a dangerous path to the sand dunes.
The Republic of Imagination, by Azar Nafisi
Who could forget the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran? Now she is back, weaving together elements of memoir, criticism, biography, and history. In the Republic of Imagination Nafisi explores the influence fiction has had on life in America, and should continue to have.
The Warrior Heart Practice, by HeatherAsh Amara
The Warrior Heart Practice allows us to realign with our true nature. It is based on the four chambered structure of the human heart. Walking through each of the four chambers―Feeling, Story, Truth, and Intent―readers learn to take stock of their current emotional and mental state and reframe their situation in a new healing light.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
If you have not read this global bestselling trilogy yet, now is the time while we eagerly await the prequel. In these books you will find gut wrenching dystopia, a sympathetic, arrow-slinging young heroine, twists and turns, impossible choices, and fast-paced action. Like most great YA fiction, you can read these books as page-turners, or you can immerse yourself in the complex situations in which these characters find themselves.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
First published 130 years ago, this novel of decadence, vanity, and corruption scandalised society and was even met by calls for prosecution of its author. At its heart is the story of a beautiful narcissistic young man who is corrupted and then seduced by the desire to stay young forever.
My Sister the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite
It is razor sharp, confronting and funny. It evokes a sense of place, a family, and all the old patterns and dysfunctions that exist in a family. Braithwaite has a distinct voice you will not forget in a long time.
The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
This is the famed debut novel of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. It is a story about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the “Love Laws” that lay down “who should be loved, and how. It is a textured, layered story, and like an onion, each layer is likely to bring tears to your eyes.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
This Booker Prize winner offers a huge cast of characters spanning multiple generations. And it is pure joy from the first page. The emotions and conflicts are brought to life with the lightest of touches. As the narrative breezes through the lives of twelve women – ranging from an elderly matriarch struggling through a family dinner to a young student finding her feet at university – each is brilliantly and believably evoked.
Grown ups, by Marianne Keyes
Hot off the press, this is the latest novel by Marianne Keyes. It is the story of a family, a messy, complicated family, with secrets kept until something happens. The suddenly at a party with the whole family present, one careless remark leads to all the secrets coming out. In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?
It has been called hilarious, poignant and relatable, and like all of her novels it is a great read.
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
If you are not scared off by the size of this classic American novel, it is a real treat. It will make you forget everything as you follow the ups and downs of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and their stormy relationship, set against the backdrop of the American confederate south and the civil war. It will make you laugh and cry and stomp your feed in frustration, and when you come to the end of this very big book, you will likely contemplate reading it all over again.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell is back with a fascinating and, at times, alarming analysis of how we read the behaviours and motives of people we don’t know. Collecting enlightening examples from life, Talking to Strangers is a life-changing account of the dangers and dilemmas of approaching the unknown. Each chapter looks at a case study, such as Amanda Knox’s conviction, and asks why we so often get it wrong.
No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, by Greta Thunberg
Climate change has never had such a visible advocate, and never before have so many young people all around the globe campaigned together for one cause. This has been called the Greta effect, and at only 17, we have seen her prove the title of the book is true. This book brings together her impassioned, articulate speeches, and together they make a rousing call for action.