Still struggling to get into the swing of January? Nothing kickstarts the mind like easing yourself into a truly fantastic book. We've written about some of our favourite upcoming titles for 2018, but what if you still want to catch up on some must-reads from 2017 that you never quite got to? We don't recommend titles lightly but one person we do tend to trust when it comes to recommending words that will be uplift and soothe the soul is former President Barack Obama.
He's spoken of his love of reading at length before, prior to his presidency coming to an end: "It was important to pick up the occasional novel during the presidency because most of my reading every day was briefing books and memos and proposals," he said at the time. "Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day."
And just as 2017 came to an end, he took to social media to share the titles that he thinks are worth investing your time in. New reads they aren't, but the truly great stories never lose their potency.
"During my presidency, I started a tradition of sharing my reading lists and playlists,” Obama wrote on Facebook recently. “It was a nice way to reflect on the works that resonated with me and lift up authors and artists from around the world. With some extra time on my hands this year to catch up, I wanted to share the books and music that I enjoyed most.”
Obama’s book list includes a mix of great fiction, non-fiction and even a couple of memoirs. Here’s three of from the list we particularly loved:
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Could you imagine a world where gender stereotyping was flipped on its head? This is the concept that author Naomi Alderman explores in her intriguing novel The Power. Alderman worked with - and was mentored by - the great Margaret Atwood a year before this release and it shows. Like Atwood, she has created a unique dystopia; a universe in which teenage girls discover they develop a 'skein' - a muscle in their chest which then means have the ability to electrocute men at will - and they use it to their advantage; suddenly they are physically stronger than men. There are many role reversals throughout the novel, but what jumps out is that even the secretaries are male, and referred to only as he, for the most part. It's not meant to be sexist or derogatory; it's just the way it's always been. Or has it? This story is a fascinating look at what the world might be like if sexism went the other way. It will unnerve and fascinate you.
Anything is Possible By Elizabeth Strout
Compelling characters make Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible truly shine. Nine interconnected stories that reintroduce the central character of Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton all deal with the same chasm throughout - the inability to make any real connection with others. All nine tales are built around the Illinois town where Lucy grew up. She remains an almost mythical figure because we're so drawn to those who knew her. Like Dottie, Lucy's second cousin, who has become an expert at suffering rejection; or Tommy, her school janitor, who spent his life convinced an early tragedy was meant to happen. A captivating read from start to finish, and Strout's best work yet.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Thirteen-year-old Jojo is confused, angry and learning what it is to be a man. In Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, he and his toddler sister, Kayla live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop. They wait the return of their mother Leonie, fresh from another drug-induced bender. Then Jojo is stuck in a car; on a road trip as his mother and her drug buddy Misty drive them to Mississippi State Penitentiary to see his father. Everything about the journey is claustrophobic; Jojo is resentful, Kayla is sick and Leonie’s coping mechanism is going from one fix to the next. But this isn’t an ordinary story; it has ghostly undertones. When high, Leonie is haunted by her dead brother and Jojo communicates with the tortured spirit of a boy, Richie. A remarkable tale.
And here is the rest of the list:
Grant by Ron Chernow
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Five-Carat Soul by James McBride
Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
A Gentleman in Moscow by Am Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano