Sometimes all you need from a book recommendation is the trusted word of a good friend who knows what you like. We'd like to be the next best thing. While we may not be friends IRL, we're internet friends at this point, and there is nothing the RUSSH Editors love more than talking about books. Boiling things down into a top three is a painstaking task for those who power through books faster than the new iPhone battery runs out, but alas, here we share ours. From coming-of-age winners to philosophical musings about the very fabric of monogamy, these are the best three books that each of the RUSSH Editors have read this year.
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Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams
When Queenie, a 25 year old British-Jamaican woman, finds herself on a tentative “break” with her long-term boyfriend, she is faced with a lot of questions she must answer to move forward. As she navigates her post-breakup grief, she finds comfort in the arms of men who aren’t necessarily good for her, wrestles with her purpose at a predominantly white workplace, and comes to terms with questions around self worth, belonging, and friendship. Queenie astutely and humorously leans into the messines that is mid-twenties life, while articulating issues around race and colourism that are essential for all readers to witness. I read this book over the summer and it made me feel so attached and thankful for this period of life in all of its complexity and messiness, alongside the teaching moments for white people Carty-Williams so generously offers up in her prose.
Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
An investigation into the origins of monogamy and sexuality that date back to Darwins day. I read Sex at Dawn while working on a piece for our 100th issue about the rise of consensual non-monogamy, and found this book essential reading for understanding the concept of monogamy and why we are so attached to it.
Open Water, Caleb Azuma Nelson
A beautiful, poignant and cerebral love story that follows the entanglement of two Black British artists – he a photographer and her a dancer – as they work out how they fit together in a city that is both diverse and exclusionary. With words so lyrical and fluid it feels as though you could swim in them, Open Water was one of those novels that makes you want to write, and appreciate those who give the gift of their words to the world.
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Love & Virtue, Diana Reid
If you’re a Sally Rooney fan then this one’s for you. It follows the story of two young women who befriend each other at the residential college of a prestigious Australian university. Refreshingly intellectual and complex this isn’t your typical coming of age.
Rooted in feminism, sexuality and social discovery it’s a novel which I plan to read at least once a year.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, Jia Tolentino
I’m very late to this party but I’m about halfway through Tolentino’s series of nine essays and already have mentioned this book to almost every one of my friends.
By discussing her own experiences and revelations on topics such as the internet social revolution and the female experience with societal beauty expectations, Tolentino provides a thought provoking and unique perspective on the topics plaguing women in the modern world.
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Whilst I’m yet to see the movie I can say that I loved this book. Following the story of Kya, a barefoot and wild “Marsh Girl” it’s part murder mystery and part coming of age, whilst also providing an exquisite ode to the natural world.
Thought-provoking, wise, and deeply moving, Owens’ novel reminds us that we are forever shaped by the child within us.
Sunbathing, Isobel Beech
If you’re a loyal RUSSH reader then you will know I, along with our Digital Writer Jasmine, bang on about this book quite a lot. Sunbathing has stuck with me since I read it a few months back. Set in Italy with the underscoring theme of grief permeating the text, it takes the reader on an undulating journey on grappling with loss and the power of friendship in guiding us through life’s ups and downs. It is a debut novel that has left me hungry for more of what Isobel Beech may publish in the future.
The Cost of Labour, Natalie Kon-yu
The idea of birthing a child is something I am yet to be totally on board with. Caring for the child itself? Somewhat manageable. The idea of carrying them for nine-months in my body? Simply put, it terrifies me. In The Cost of Labour, Natalie Kon-yu unpacks the literal stress on a woman’s body throughout pregnancy, how the health system in Australian can often undermine women’s agency over their own body during this time and how the disproportionate share of the childcare expected of a woman is oft overlooked as normal and expected. Necessary reading for all, whether planning on being pregnant at some stage of their life or not.
Notes on Love, Annie Lord
I love reading about love in all its forms. The happy tales are great but the raw, unfiltered, laid-bare recounts of real relationships are what I feel to my core. Annie Lord has that same knack it seems all contemporary women British writers have of being incredibly frank and straight-shooting, with Notes on Heartbreak a vivid tableau of a relationship unexpectedly ending, yet gradually realising it may have been for the best. Towards the latter half of the book, there is a page where Lord waxes lyrical on what love really is, saying it is “doing things even if they won’t notice them” and “making a massive fucking deal about their birthdays” amongst other tasks. It’s a manifesto I try to live by in my own relationships, and one I had never read so succinctly put.
Sunbathing, Isobel Beech
Rationally, I know most of us aren’t going to Europe this year. We’ve just been through a pandemic for pete’s sake. But still, I have massive fomo and so turned to Isobel Beech’s debut novel for escapism. What I’ve found within the pages is much more nourishing. It’s deeply contemplative, about death yes – the narrator has recently lost her father to suicide – but also social media, influencers and feminism. It’s gentle, introspective and sparse, reminding me of Hisham Matar’s A Month in Siena.
The Other Half of You, Michael Mohammed Ahmad
Mohammed is one of the most original voices in Australian literature today, and through Sweatshop Literacy Movement he’s nurturing new talent with equally unique perspectives. The Other Half of You is the third and final instalment to his semi-autobiographical series, centring Bani Adam. Torn between familial and cultural expectations and his own desires, Bani must cut a new path for himself even if the fallout means isolating those dearest to him.
People Person, Candice Carty-Williams
Having powered through Queenie while holidaying in Bali in 2019, I pre-ordered my copy of Candice Carty-Williams’ second novel the moment I could following its announcement. People Person opens with shifty Cyril Pennington driving his gold Jeep around the streets of Brixton to pick up his five children – Dimple, Nikisha, Danny, Lizzie and Prynce – born to four different women. Carty-Williams sets the scene for Dimple’s story to bleed through. She’s 30, has an abusive ex, a career as a middling influencer and like all her siblings, is riddled with abandonment issues from her absent dad. If you liked Swing Time by Zadie Smith, then this one’s for you.