What We're Reading - 29 October 2021

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 29th October 2021

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables


Nicholas Clee
Joshua Ferris' A Calling for Charlie Barnes is in the great tradition of novels about American dreamers. We meet Charlie as he faces a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer ("cancer of the pancreas is the piano that falls from the sky. You have time to glance up, maybe. Then, splat!") He is on his fourth wife, and his umpteenth doomed enterprise. In time, we learn more about the writer of this story, and begin to ask ourselves whether Charlie is the only dreamer here. Like all Ferris' novels, and a bit like the novels of Philip Roth, A Calling for Charlie Barnes has an obsessive quality: it grabs you by the lapels and insists you listen. I always enjoy doing so.

Jo Henry
I have no idea why it has taken me so long to get round to reading Purple Hibiscus (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie/Harper Perennial) as I've had a copy for ages, loved other books by her, and had it highly recommended. It took her appearance as a question on University Challenge the other day to remind me to pick it up, and so far I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Set against a colourful, evocative Nigerian background, with sharply delineated characters, 15 year old Kambili lives a privileged but circumscribed life. In public her father is a rich, venerated defender of the truth, but in private his religious piousness causes huge family tensions, even leading to abuse. Kambili's life changes dramatically when the country is rocked by a military coup and she and her brother are sent away, and I'm looking forward to discovering how - or if - she manages to break out of her gilded but dangerous box.

David Roche
The Gordon Burn Prize every year throws up a really interesting shortlist of books that are recognised as being interesting and different, perhaps in that grey area between fiction and non-fiction. This year's winner, announced last week as part of the Durham Book Festival, is A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance (Allen Lane) by Hanif Abdurraqib. It's a series of essays about significant black figures in American history and moments that struck the author as important in shaping the USA and its part in the world. Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Ellen Armstrong, Josephine Baker and Merry Clayton are some of the dozens of people whose lives resonated, and the author narrates the impact of key moments and their effect on him with poignance and dynamism, and with exactly the flow and craft that one might hope for from a prize winning poet.

Neill Denny
Tim Marshall's The Power of Geography (Elliott & Thompson) sports the irresistible sub-title Ten Maps That Reveal The Future of Our World. Frankly, as someone who has always adored maps, Ten Maps would have been enough, but anyway. The book is commendably straightforward: the promised maps, each adorning a chapter which goes on explain what the hell is going on - or about to kick off - in ten of the world's the world's most important regions. Marshall is something of an under-stated genius, with his matey style rather devaluing his high-level geopolitical analysis, but the maps is no way disappoint. His image of the UK and Europe, swivelled around so Britain is at the bottom of the map, with Europe seemingly pointing into it, would have have swung the referendum the other way all on its own. Outstanding follow-up to his mega-selling Prisoners of Geography.

Lucy Nathan
I loved Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Sutanto (HQ). It was an absolutely perfect romantic comedy, with a blindingly original premise: when Meddy Chan accidentally kills her date, she turns to her aunties for help. The next day, as well as figuring out how to hide the body, their family wedding business also has the biggest wedding of the year, which is coincidentally held at a hotel run by Meddy's ex, the one who got away. Needless to say, this book is full of action and romance, but more than that, it's full of humour and made me actually laugh out loud multiple times. There's also so much warmth between the Chan family members - I just loved every word. The sequel's out next year and I can't wait.