September's must-reads

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

In 2015, a young woman called Sandra Bland was arrested when what should have been a routine traffic stop escalated into a heated confrontation with a policeman. A few days later she took her own life while still in jail, sparking protests from those who believe it was yet another example of racist policing in America. It is that initial, fateful moment of misunderstanding between two strangers by the side of a road that Malcolm Gladwell has made the basis for his new book, which takes us on a rollercoaster history of our failures to understand each other properly, from double-crossing spies in Cuba to Neville Chamberlain’s doomed attempts to placate Hitler. In the end, he doubles back to the Bland tragedy for a reading that is as surprising as it is illuminating. Talking To Strangers is another brilliant work from one of the world’s truly original thinkers.

My favourite quote. 'Prejudice and incompetence go a long way toward explaining social dysfunction in the United States. But what do you do with either of those diagnoses aside from vowing, in full earnestness, to try harder next time? [...] I suspect that you may have had to pause for a moment to remember who Sandra Bland was. We put aside these controversies after a decent interval and moved on to other things. I don’t want to move on to other thing.'

My three-word review. Insightful, inquisitive, invigorating

Sam, Website team

The Wych Elm by Tana French

Life has been remarkably smooth for Toby, until he’s the victim of a burglary that marks the beginning of a catastrophic downward spiral. A tantalisingly slow building of tension, secrets layered upon secrets, a family in crisis, glimpses into an uncertain past and a series of strained relationships make this a chilling and irresistible thriller that explores memory, family and history. If you’ve read Tana French before, expect something different from her Dublin Murder Squad series. Here French leaves behind her usual detective structure and opts instead for a complex and addictive character study suffused with tension throughout.

My favourite quote. 'Some animal part of me knew; I had sat bolt upright, and all the time my heart was laying down a grim relentless beat. A brief murmur from the living room. Pale swish of a torchbeam past the crack under the bedroom door.'

My three-word review. Compulsive, unsettling, thrilling.

Zainab, Campaigns team

The School of Life by The School of LIfe, Alain de Botton (Introducer)

Founded a decade ago by writer and philosopher Alain de Botton, the School of Life organisation has one simple aim: to equip people with the tools to survive in the modern world, with the most powerful of them being emotional intelligence. Across five key areas, the book explores what it means to achieve ‘wellbeing’ in today’s social media-saturated climate – all without the cheesy ‘You can do it!’ affirmations usually associated with the self-help section. Educating us on the hurdles of failing relationships and in-office politics to encouraging us to embrace ‘imperfection’ while navigating a consumer society, the dawn of the self-care era is here. How better to embrace it than with this brilliant book?

My favourite quote. ‘It is notable that, within the upper echelons of culture, there is no genre more maligned or discredited than self-help [...] but to dismiss the idea that underpins self-help – that one might at points stand in urgent need of solace and emotional education – seems an austerely perverse prejudice.’

My three-word review. Insightful, therapeutic, intelligent

Mary, Website team

On Fire by Naomi Klein

There is an eerie sense of foreshadowing in the title of Naomi Klein’s latest book: On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, a collection of her speeches and essays from the last decade. Its publication coinsides with news that the Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted and the Amazon rainforest is still ablaze, threatening the very oxygen we breathe. It is a book straight from the frontline of climate collapse. Klein is the award-winning journalist and author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate (2014), and has been at the forefront of climate activism, demanding justice for twenty years. Her latest foray is a call to arms, documenting a range of problems that exacerbate the crisis, from extreme and careless consumerism to the impact of short-term electoral and political cycles. While laden with facts, cases studies and analysis, On Fire is written with verve and is an accessible entry point for those looking for a deeper understanding of the fundamental issues and crucially, what it will take to resolve. 

My favourite quote. ‘Beneath the theatre of some governments denying climate change and others claiming to be doing something about it while they fortress their borders from its effects, there is one overarching questions facing us. In the rough and rocky future that has already begun, what kind of people are we going to be?’

My three-word review. Impassioned, rousing, informed.

Donna, Website team

Sanditon by Jane Austen

This is the story of Charlotte Heywood, the daughter of a country gentleman whose chance encounter with Mr and Mrs Parker results in an invitation to their seaside home in Sanditon. Here, Charlotte is introduced to many intriguing, eccentric and shadowy characters including Lady Denham, a widow with a fortune and her family eager to inherit it, a young heiress from the West Indies named Miss Lambe and the brooding and dashing hero Sidney Parker. Tragically, after eleven chapters Austen set down her pen due to ill health and died only a few months later. Now, Sanditon is back in the spotlight with screenwriter, Andrew Davies’ (War & PeaceLes MisérablesPride and Prejudice) TV adaptation which will allow us to see where he takes the characters next. But for the purists amongst you, nothing can quite compare to reading the original text – no matter how short.

My favourite quote. 'Sidney says anything, you know. He has always said what he chose, of and to us all. Most families have such a member among them, I believe, Miss Heywood. There is someone in most families privileged by superior abilities or spirits to say anything. In ours, it is Sidney..'

My three-word review. Pure Jane Austen

Sarah, Website team

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