Compelling books to stop you picking up your phone

Phones are helpful – aside from when it comes to chomping through a book. Here's a list of titles that will make you forget it exists

A colourful image showing a horse, a guitar, a rainbow and more popping out of a book.

Like many of us, reading more books this year may have snuck into your new year resolutions. The promise of a fresh opportunity to whittle down an ever-growing TBR list can sometimes be stalled by a book we simply cannot get into. More often than not, reading attempts can be scuppered by the flashing allure of a phone. 

Fear not: we’ve collated a list of contemporary and classic titles that will leave any social media notifications by the wayside, from books that will turn your view of time on its head, to reads that will have you engrossed from start to finish. 

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (2020)

Machado’s highly lauded memoir is genuinely unlike any you’ve ever read before. We follow the  author’s volatile relationship with her partner (only ever referred to as ‘the woman in the dream house’) as she interrogates her experience as a queer survivor of abuse. Each chapter sees the deployment of a different lens or narrative device as Machado analyses the events from different angles, including fairy tales, Disney villains and historic sapphic trysts. The precious fragments of the author’s experience we’re offered, with wit and incisiveness, will have you racing to find out whether the Dream House is still standing in the end.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (1985)

First published in 1895, H. G. Wells’ science-fiction novella is largely credited with being the first and most popular modern portrayal of time travel. Set in then-present Victorian England, a scientist transports himself to the year 802,701 and encounters the Eloi – a small, elvish species descended from humans – and later, the ominous Morlock race. Beyond the gripping escapades of the Time Traveller, part of the intrigue with the work of the ‘father of science fiction’ lies in how relevant and poignant his work still remains today, centuries later. 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (2021)

Bennett’s second novel swept up a host of praise and accolades, and with good reason. The identical Vignes twin sisters grew up together in a small Black community in the Deep South but their adult lives couldn’t be more different – not just because, as the years have passed, their distance from one another has increased, but because one sister lives with her Black daughter in the same town she couldn’t escape, and the other secretly passes for white with her none-the-wiser white husband. Spanning the decades from the 1950s to the 1990s, Bennett threads together a story that traverses time, location and generations in the Vignes family, as she carefully interrogates race and identity in the Jim Crow South.

Against The Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa (2020)

Time – both the excess and insufficiency of it – is central to Abulhawa’s masterful novel and winner of the Palestine Book Award. Nahr, a young Palestinian woman, only knows nine square metres of cinderblock, otherwise known as The Cube. Day and night means very little when all you know is grey. Our protagonist has a secret that, try as they might, journalists can’t squeeze out of her, even if it means being locked up in solitary confinement and named a terrorist or, in some cases, a hero. When your days blur into one, what kind of reflections and, later, decisions could that yield?

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (2022)

When two children meet in a hospital gaming room in 1987 and bond over their shared love of video games, little do they realise the magnitude of the friendship they are embarking upon. However, as the decades quietly tick on, their relationship shifts and changes as their video game collaborations propel them to stardom. Zevin’s writing promises a spellbinding narrative that promises to capture those who have never touched a controller in their lives. One thing’s for sure: you certainly won’t be reaching for your phone.

Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin (2018)

Whether or not you’ve ever tuned into Game of Thrones – or watched that infamous final season – it can’t be denied that George R. R. Martin’s brain would be an incredible space to inhabit for just one day. With new series The House of the Dragon sating fans’ appetites on television, it’s a good time to read the book that inspired it. Taking place centuries before A Game of Thrones, Fire & Blood tells the history of the Targaryens, marked by fire, blood and battle. If you’re yet to dip your toe in Martin’s Westeros, this could be the push you need – after all, there must be a reason that people you know are obsessed with a flying dragon show.

Anonymous Sex, edited by Hillary Jourdan and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (2023)

It's fair to say that steamy books tend to be engrossing enough to keep you from your phone. If you’re looking to be entranced by some erotic stories, look no further than Anonymous Sex – an anthology with 27 authors, 27 stories and no names attached. No two stories are remotely similar – a married woman indulges a BDSM-esque romp at a work conference, holographic gigolos can be hired in 2098, a bisexual woman cheats on her wife with a baker, and many more. With a new sensual narrative every chapter, if you prefer to inhale a short story before quickly moving onto the next, Anonymous Sex could be the one for you.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)

Having taken Ellison five years to write – with one year off for what he referred to as an “ill-conceived short novel”, Invisible Man was published in 1952 to great acclaim. Widely acknowledged as one of the great novels in the African American literary canon, our protagonist, a nameless Black man, is rendered invisible in 20th century America because people refuse to see him, whether in the Deep South or the equally inhospitable New York City. A beguiling read, Ellison’s novel – the only one published during his lifetime – will intrigue and frustrate readers right to the very last page.

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