This month’s best new reads
What kind of insaniac leaves the house in January? Retire to the sofa and get stuck into one of pro bookworm Kerry Potter's enthralling new literary picks.
Book of the month – Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Emira is a 25-year-old black woman employed by a wealthy white Philadelphia family to babysit two-year-old Briar, whom she adores. While clowning around one evening with her toddler charge in a posh grocery store, Emira is detained by a security guard and accused of kidnapping the child; an incident which is filmed by a bystander, as a small crowd gathers. And so begins the deliciously compelling and timely debut novel by Kiley Reid. Those opening pages feel precision-tooled for cinema so it’s no surprise to hear the film rights have already been snapped up by Lena Waithe, the Emmy-winning writer of cult Netflix dating comedy, Master Of None, while the novel is currently Reese Witherspoon’s book club’s pick of the month (Reese and I both have excellent taste, it seems).
Reid, a babysitter and nanny throughout her twenties, covers so many bases in this ridiculously accomplished first outing. It’s a thoughtful exploration of racial dynamics in modern America. It deftly observes the travails of twentysomethings – Emira is broke, directionless and her friends mean everything to her, while simultaneously driving her mad. It’s also hugely insightful on how motherhood can impact on a woman’s life. Briar’s mum Alex has left the big city to seek a better life for her family – but at what cost to her career, social life and identity? The characters are fully realised, complex and flawed – I found myself reluctantly relating to some of Alex’s behaviour through gritted teeth. What’s more, it’s a total page-turner with one especially excellent twist. Oh, and it’s funny too. Do believe the hype – and devour it now before the entire world does.
Craving a feel-good read for a feel-bad month? You got it – grab a spot at the The 24 Hour Café by Libby Page, whose best-selling previous book, The Lido, was a key example of the recent ‘up-lit’ trend (as in uplifting literature, which has kindness and community at its core). This new outing is equally gentle and heart-warming. The titular central London café brings together all manner of waifs and strays, and is the workplace of waitress friends and flatmates Hannah and Mona. They find their relationship tested over the course of day behind the counter. Elsewhere in fiction, Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth is a somewhat spikier proposition. Jenny is a 35-year-old woman-child who works for an online magazine called, ahem, The Foof, and spends an insane amount of time worrying about the content and tone of her Instagram captions. She’s all at sea after splitting from her boyfriend but when her eccentric psychic mother arrives out of the blue to help steady the ship, Jenny doesn’t exactly see it in those terms. And you thought your mum was annoying… As you’ll know if you’ve read her previous novel about two hedonistic twentysomething best pals, Animals, Unsworth is insightful on the intricacies of female relationships – and hilarious with it.
In a world where everyone now behaves like an A-list celebrity, constantly boasting about their achievements and possessions, and peddling myths on social media about their amazing lives, The Unexpected Joy Of The Ordinary feels like a much-needed corrective. With insight from neuroscientists and psychologists, journalist Catherine Gray unpicks why so many of us feel so dissatisfied with our lot, moan about mundanity and are constantly striving for more, more, more (it’s called the ‘hedonic treadmill’). Turns out not only is it fine to be normal, average and ordinary when it comes to parenting, work, holidays, our houses, our bodies and so on, it can actually make us happier. It’s such an enlightening read and perkily written to boot.
Finally, hurray for a welcome new edition of I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron. Not familiar? The late American author was the Oscar-winning screenwriter who specialised in savvy rom-coms, including When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. She’s also a fine essayist, as this witty, sage collection of “thoughts on being a woman” shows. Ephron’s advice includes: never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from, get a blowdry rather than seeing a therapist – it’s far cheaper and more uplifting, and “when your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you”. Ain’t that the truth.