I’ve been working in the book industry for over 15 years, and ten of those years were spent as a bookseller. Consequently, I can’t envisage a time when I won’t get a ridiculous amount of pleasure from recommending books. When I was ten I used to keep a lever arch file of the first chapters of my favourite books, which I’d typed up on my clunky typewriter, and I’d stuck those inside plastic wallets along with book covers I’d replicated in crayon. Anyone who stepped foot into my parents’ house would be forced to sit on the sofa whilst I asked them to read those chapters, and then I quizzed them on which ones they liked best. You may be pleased to hear that I’ve mellowed since then, but we’re still here to talk about books; that part hasn’t changed.
I’d like to highlight new and recent releases today. Two books that are high up on my to-be-read pile are Ghosted by Jenn Ashworth, a very intriguing novel about a woman called Laurie who waits five weeks to tell the police that her husband has gone missing, making everyone very suspicious of her motives; and Mrs. Death Misses Death by Salena Godden, the memoirs of Mrs. Death, a black, working-class woman who shape-shifts and does her work unseen. I’m also in the middle of Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake, the perfect read for fans of Yuval Noah Harari and Robert Macfarlane. It’s a deep dive into the roots of communication in nature and it’s delightful.
As for new releases I have finished and fallen in love with, I have four to thrust into your hands:
Underbelly by Anna Whitehouse is one of those whirlwind books I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I bought it last Saturday, read it on Sunday, and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s so refreshing to read a book about how social media interacts with parenthood, written by someone who actually works with social media. I’d describe it as the TV show Motherland meets something dark and cruel. It’s the story of two women, Dylan and Lo, who lead very different lives but are brought together when their children become friends at school. It’s a snowball-text of class, guilt, shame and friendship. It has so much heart—not just in the warm-feeling-in-your-chest way, but in the bloody, anatomical way, too.
The Child by Kjersti A. Skomsvold (translated from Norwegian by Martin Aitkin) is another book that focuses on motherhood; a short text where a mother is narrating the sleepwalking-feeling of life with a new-born. In welcoming this new life, she examines the arrivals and departures of other people over time, how sometimes friends can appear ghostlike as we move onwards, both in the sense that memories of them haunt us, but also because these memories can become translucent and otherworldly. She asks: ‘do ghosts get more or less dangerous when you toss a sheet over them?’ If you’re a fan of Sarah Moss, Skomsvold’s writing will feel brilliantly familiar.
Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles is a fluid memoir of language, family and swimming. Her last non-fiction title Tiny Moons focused on the food she ate when she lived in Shanghai. It was a small book of less than a hundred pages, but it took me so long to read it because it made me hungry; I had to keep pausing to make snacks, so I could eat alongside her as I read. Small Bodies of Water made me hungry, too, and not just for the food that she also talks about here, but hungry for her prose which is vibrant and loving. ‘The pain is the colour of raspberry sorbet, which is the colour of the inside of a person’s mouth,’ she writes, and: ‘We learned that tofu is often given as an offering [at funeral banquets] because it’s soft enough to be swallowed by a ghost.’ If you’d like to dive into a series of essays about belonging, this one is for you.
Continuing with that theme, the final book I’d like to recommend is Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. I sobbed my way through the last third of this book. It’s one of those perfectly balanced novels, split across different periods of a person’s life, so when you reach the end you just feel heartbroken. At its core, Transcendent Kingdom is a story about nourishment. What nourishes us? Who nourishes us? What things do we consume despite knowing they are bad for us, and what is the cumulative effect of that? Gifty’s mother moved from Ghana to the US with Gifty’s brother, Nana, when he was a baby. Now Gifty is working in a science lab, metaphorically trying to save her brother through a series of experiments, gifting a language to herself through which she can process her past. It’s currently shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it takes the crown next month. It’s a book you’ll want to sit and hug for a while after you’ve finished the last page.
Article written by author Jen Campbell whose latest book is The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers.
Images courtesy of Jen Campbell.