What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in February | Books

What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in February | Books


Matt Lloyd-Rose, author

Having worked as a carer, primary school teacher and volunteer police officer, I’m always on the lookout for literary non-fiction that explores big social questions: searing, lyrical books like Citizen by Claudia Rankine or Evicted by Matthew Desmond.

I’ve felt for a while, though, that compared with the amount of great new writing about adjacent subjects, such as climate or health, relatively few books are written about education, community, care or inclusion. Those that are can be difficult to find because there isn’t a Society section in most bookshops, so they get squirrelled away under Politics, Memoir or Smart Thinking.

In response, I’ve been assembling a Society shelf of my own. The latest addition is Who Cares: The Hidden Crisis of Caregiving, and How We Solve It by Emily Kenway, a gripping, beautifully written memoir-manifesto about caregiving. It draws on Kenway’s experiences of caring for her mother and is written in “the urgent hope that we can remake our world to put care at its heart”. It’s a mind-expanding read, blending deep research with poignant personal stories.

Alongside Who Cares, I’ve been reading Madeleine Bunting’s Labours of Love: The Crisis of Care. This might sound like an overload of care and crisis, but in fact the books complement each other brilliantly. Bunting’s book is equally radical, but more expansive, exploring everything from parenting to nursing to palliative care, weaving the voices of her interviewees with a powerful case for rethinking the place and value of care in society. “No one can afford not to be interested in care,” Bunting writes. Her dramatic, moving, philosophical book makes care feel freshly urgent and fascinating.

For contrast, I’ll drop in two other recent favourites. I loved the poet Hannah Sullivan’s second collection Was It for This: remarkable long poems about grief, time, childhood and growing older.

And I was completely swept away by the immersive storytelling of Locks by Ashleigh Nugent, a novel about a mixed-race teenager from Liverpool who goes to Jamaica in search of his roots but is quickly arrested and locked up in a detention centre. It’s compelling, lyrical, wise, insightful and extremely funny.

Into the Night: A Year With the Police by Matt Lloyd-Rose is published by Picador, out in paperback on 7 March (£10.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Lloyd-Rose also writes the weekly newsletter Social Imagining.


Louise, Guardian reader

I have enjoyed The Most Secret Memory of Men by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr tremendously, and I keep thinking about it: the rich language, the intricate storytelling and the interesting references to world literature. The reflections on the French literature scene are also quite insightful. I’m hoping it will be on the longlist of the International Booker prize – it deserves to be!


Anne Sebba, author

There’s nothing like a long plane journey to rediscover the joys of reading an entire book in one sitting and I have just had that pleasure, understanding the dangers of where AI might take us if left unchecked but seeing many positive opportunities, too. In the end I found the arguments in Madhumita Murgia’s Code Dependent unexpectedly reassuring. It made me realise that much of what we call AI has actually been around for years already. But watchfulness is key.

As a judge on the inaugural Women’s prize for non-fiction, I’ve been on many other imagined journeys in the last few months. Led by experts in their field, I have been taken from Jamaica to Lahore, South Asia and the Philippines, discovering new lands, new ideas, and new ways to write about old emotions. Here, I pick out just a few of the 16 on the longlist. As a biographer I have been thrilled by how others in my field find new ways to approach the genre and I loved Anna Funder’s Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life, part memoir and part biography of George Orwell and his first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy. It’s a brilliantly original insight into the nature of Orwell’s genius and the largely unacknowledged help he took from Eileen. Funder writes with an authoritative voice about male privilege and the invisible domestic help that Orwell took for granted and which she believes still operates today.

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In the capable hands of Leah Redmond Chang I was transported into 16th-century Europe. Her book Young Queens: The Intertwined Lives of Catherine de’ Medici, Elisabeth de Valois and Mary, Queen of Scots tackles the lives of female monarchs with a compelling freshness as she tells the intertwined story of Catherine de’ Medici, her daughter Elisabeth de Valois who became Queen of Spain, and Mary, Queen of Scots – three queens exercising power at the highest level who nonetheless understood that they operated in a world dominated by men.

Chang writes beautifully and clearly about complicated events of world history, religion and dynastic strife. Retaining a good eye for the telling details of what it meant to be a woman when so little was known (rather than surmised) about pregnancy and childbirth, and a mother, she draws her reader deeply into these women’s lives.

These are bold stories confidently told, but I’ve also loved reading a poetic memoir of growing up with an oppressive father in a devout Rastafari family in Jamaica – How to Say Babylon: A Jamaican Memoir by Safiya Sinclair – and an account of the drug wars in the Philippines by courageous investigative journalist Patricia Evangelista – Some People Need Killing: A Memoir of Murder in the Philippines. Shocking aspects of both these stories have remained to haunt me. Go and seek these books out, along with the rest of the impressive books on the Women’s prize longlist!


Brian, Guardian reader

I have recently enjoyed Dolphin Junction by Mick Herron, a well-written collection of short stories full of the author’s subtle humour and clever plotting. I have also read Misbehaving by Richard Thaler, an interesting introduction to an essential economic/political idea of the early part of the 2000s. This book contains its own subtle humour, too.



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