Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
It’s quite common for small business owners to focus on product development. They’re passionate about it and have experience in it. But, they completely overlook having a marketing system that can lead to increased profits. The key to successful marketing lies in focusing on three main components, and knowing what you are actively doing.
You need to determine who your targeted audience is and what problem you are solving for them. And, what makes you different and unique so that they will choose you over your competitors. Providing you complete this initial step successfully, you won’t encounter any problems later in the sales process. You will not stand out from other competitors in the market if you don’t know your customers and the problems you’re solving for them. This will hinder your ability to make sales.
It is the process of converting a complete stranger who doesn’t know anything about your company or product to someone who is interested in learning more about it. Business owners complain that they are not achieving their targets even when most of their customers are satisfied and their feedback is always positive. The usual questions I ask them are, how do you get leads and are you constantly running ads. I usually follow up by asking, how are you expecting people to learn about your services if you’re not advertising to them. There is no point in creating content on social media if it doesn’t reach the people to the degree you want it to. A business without advertising will never grow in the way it expects. It will be left in the dark. Businesses that spend money and invest in advertising are more likely to attract consumers. Without lead-generating commercials and advertisements, you will not be able to achieve significant results.
Any business needs a sales system that assists interested leads in becoming more aware of your product and converting them into paying customers. Essentially, it helps build trust between you and your potential clients step by step. An essential element of the customer generation system is your sales presentation. What is your message about your product, what are your proofs, what is your pricing and what are your advantages over your competitors? Is there an additional benefit that you are planning to provide? Anything besides the main product that is backed up by studies and proofs from customers who have dealt with you before and are satisfied? If so, have you won any awards or been a guest on a TV show? In order to motivate your interested leads to buy from you, you will need to present powerful proofs and unique advantages. When you have a well-defined system in place, it becomes easier to measure your numbers, spot errors and quickly fix them.
Nothing has happened yet
Let’s suppose that despite creating advertisements you haven’t generated any leads. Your lead generation objective remains unfulfilled. When you have a system in place, you’ll be able to tell whether you’re targeting the wrong audience or solving the wrong problem. Simply, it could be a marketing message problem.
Suppose this was not the case. You received a great deal of inquiries about your products and services, but no one bought them. It’s a very common issue for business owners. They either have pricing problems or do not have enough proof, or a strong sales presentation or good offers in order to convert leads. You need to improve your sales presentation for leads so that you can increase conversion rates. Simply, it is a customer generation problem.
Once the leads convert into customers, everything should work smoothly. As you work on this system, you will discover a wide range of errors that must be addressed to improve your business.
As long as you follow the three main components of this marketing system, any business issue you face can be solved. However, if there is a problem with any one of them, you will not succeed in improving your sales and profits.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
A common mistake that many companies make is using a “one-size-fits-all” approach to its marketing efforts. Said another way, the company comes up with one marketing strategy, uses mass marketing techniques and the same messaging to everyone that sees its advertising. Yes, that is a simple approach and saves you the time and effort required to customize your messaging to specific sub-audiences. But, if you are looking to maximize your return on marketing spend, that additional upfront investment in building customer personas (sub-audiences) and a customer journey flow (from the upper funnel to the lower funnel) will pay back in spades. So, don’t be penny-wise in the short run and pound foolish for the long run. The more you personalize your message to the exact target, and where they are in the buying process, the more it will help you put your marketing efforts on steroids. This post will help you learn how to do exactly that.
What is a customer persona?
A customer persona is the sub-audience of users that are buying your product or service. If you are a consumer business, maybe that is men vs. women buyers, or older vs. younger buyers, or which target products they are most interested in (e.g., coffee drinkers vs. tea drinkers). If you are a B2B business, maybe that is customers from one industry or another, or buyers at different levels of the organization (e.g., executives vs. lower-level managers) or different sizes of companies (e.g., enterprise vs. small businesses). Every single one of these sub-audiences should receive marketing messages from you that are directly relevant to them.
The customer journey is the path in which a customer researches, considers and ultimately purchases products or services. A customer that is researching to figure out what it needs is typically the upper funnel, a customer that knows what it wants and is considering various vendors or solutions is the middle funnel, and a customer that is price shopping and ready to pull the trigger is the lower funnel. Why does that matter? Your marketing messaging should be tailored to where they are in their customer journey.
Someone that is upper funnel needs to know why they need a solution in the first place, someone that is middle funnel needs to know your product is better than others in the market, and someone that is lower funnel may be stimulated by a promotional offer to save 10% if they purchase by the end of the month.
And, the marketing tools you use to communicate with them will be different—from mass marketing tactics (e.g., TV, radio, print, search engines) for the upper funnel down to one-on-one marketing tactics (e.g., emails, phone calls) for the lower funnel. So knowing your customer journey and which media are best to communicate with your targets is a critical component to personalizing your marketing messaging.
Personalizing your marketing means you need different marketing creatives for each sub-audience. Let’s say you have three core personas and three stages of the marketing funnel, that would be a total of nine different creatives that need to be created (not just one). And, in those creatives, use images and copy that actually will resonate with that sub-audience. So, if speaking to men, use male models in your creatives. When speaking to older people, put older people in your creatives. If pushing a specific industry use case, speak to that industry expertise in your creatives. If speaking to executives, promote the strategic benefits of your product, vs. the more tactical functionalities that would be better promoted to lower-level employees. You get the point—don’t spray and pray. Be laser-focused with your targeting and messaging, and good things should happen to accelerate your sales.
What can you expect to happen from personalization?
With every layer of personalization, you can expect to increase your conversion rate, and ultimately your sales. So, as an example, let’s say the one-size-fits-all approach allows you to convert 10% of your leads. Layering on the customer personas may allow you to convert 20% of your leads. And further layering on the customer journey messaging may allow you to convert 30% of your leads. The better you sharpen your pencil, the higher your resulting revenues will be. Any good marketing agency can help you here.
Tracking is critical
Setting up the customer personas, journey and creatives is only part of the exercise. The other part is tracking the results from each of those sub-audiences. So, when setting up your campaigns, tracking URLs or other conversion metrics, make sure the appropriate tagging and tracking are in place so that your CRM can easily see how the different personas are performing at driving sales. You may learn that each persona behaves equally the same, and deserves equal attention. Or, you may learn certain personas are outperforming others, and need your oversized attention and budget, redirecting efforts away from your other underperforming personas. So, in all cases, the devil is in the details, and you need to be tracking and optimizing everything.
The concepts presented in this post are “table stakes” in the marketing world, and it amazes me how many early-stage companies have absolutely no clue here. If you are not doing it, you are potentially wasting a lot of your marketing dollars. Or at a minimum, not driving an ROI as high as you ultimately should be. So, either hire a strong marketing team or engage a strong marketing agency, for your business. They can help lay the groundwork here and ultimately tee you up for maximum marketing success.
Disclosure: Our goal is to feature products and services that we think you’ll find interesting and useful. If you purchase them, Entrepreneur may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners.
There’s a lot to think about as an entrepreneur, from getting your product in front of a massive audience to becoming a more effective leader. But while you’re undoubtedly thinking about finding seed capital and investment for your business, you shouldn’t neglect your personal finances.
Don’t get so caught up in your business that you forget to secure some extra cash for your everyday living expenses. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to earn passive income online in the internet age. One method that’s growing in popularity is selling products through dropshipping, and you can learn how to get started with the 2022 Complete Amazon Dropshipping & Private Label Master Class Bundle.
This 11-course bundle will teach you how to utilize Amazon to earn money while barely lifting a finger. The bundle is led by entrepreneurial experts like Brock Johnson (4.1/5 instructor rating), Bryan Guerra (4.1/5 rating), and Ryan Ford (4.3/5 rating). Through the courses, the instructors will share their first-hand experience in passive income and teach you how to leverage existing options to make money online.
At the outset, you’ll learn proven strategies to launch, sell, and grow private label products on Amazon FBA, understanding the most profitable product ideas that are low in competition and high in demand. You’ll understand how to source products from around the world, develop your brand, and rank your product at the top of Amazon search results for the right keywords. You’ll also learn how to build PPC marketing campaigns to boost your product rankings and earn some extra income, successfully brand your products, and much more throughout the courses.
The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson Longlisted for the Women’s prize, this is a darkly funny portrait of a dysfunctional family bent out of shape over decades by its narcissistic artist patriarch – and of what happens when his wife will no longer squash her own creative energies. Wise, waspish and emotionally astute, it’s addictive reading.
Bad Actors by Mick Herron Herron is on playful form in the eighth outing for his ragtag gang of demoted MI5 operatives. The Russians are still playing dirty, and a member of a thinktank goes missing, in a skewering of political cynicism and incompetence that features a familiar eminence grise at the heart of government. Fast, funny, furious and worth the admission for the unimprovable line, “Never bring a spork to a knife fight”.
Companion Piece by Ali Smith Smith follows her seasonal quartet with a sideways look at the harm lockdown did to us all – the loss, sadness, isolation and increased intolerance – that is studded with natural magic and hints on how to close social distance through moments of connection and community.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara The magisterial follow-up to A Little Life offers three books in one. A fragile, wealthy young man looks for love in a gender-queered 19th-century New York; a young Hawaiian is plagued by childhood memories at the height of the Aids crisis; pandemics shape a bleak future in the grip of totalitarianism. Yanagihara weighs up damage and privilege – social, emotional, political, colonial – in a gripping, immersive ride through alternative Americas.
The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett The Appeal, about murder in a gossipy amateur-dramatics community, was told through emails; this tricksy but tender follow-up makes clever use of voice transcription. Ex-con Steven has always loved codes and puzzles; now he must solve the mystery of a missing childhood memory, following clues dotted through the books of an Enid Blyton-esque children’s author. There are games within games in this ingenious treasure hunt, but real emotion at its centre.
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo In this Zimbabwean successor to Animal Farm, inspired by the fall of Robert Mugabe, the toppling of Old Horse and his wife, Marvellous the Donkey, and the chaos that ensues, are related through a chorus of animal voices. A gloriously rambunctious satire of tyranny, oppression and rebellion, with global relevance.
Vladimir by Julia May Jonas The wife of an English literature professor disgraced for sleeping with his students finds herself smitten by a beautiful younger colleague in this deliciously dark American debut. A boisterous campus novel with an outrageously acerbic narrator, it delivers uncomfortable truths about internalised misogyny and creative frustration.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel How does a distant inexplicable event in a Canadian forest link to contemporary New York, and then to a 23rd-century investigation into the laws of physics? An elegantly told yarn from the author of Station Eleven encompasses time travel, pandemics, moon colonies and the tribulations of author tours.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan Would you upload your memories if it gained you access to other people’s? The companion novel to A Visit from the Goon Squad is a clever, endlessly inventive exploration of our increasingly connected, surveilled society and the individual yearning for privacy and meaning.
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi The multitalented Emezi has written a thoroughly modern beach-read romance, featuring deep traumas, forbidden love, brilliant friendships, high-life adventures and plenty of raunch.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart The follow-up to the Booker-winning Shuggie Bain again focuses on a gay boy growing up in an impoverished, oppressive Glasgow. Mungo finds love and hope across the religious divide in a fervent, gritty and emotionally engrossing novel.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister How can you prevent a murder that’s already happened? In this page-turning time-loop thriller, a woman watches her beloved teenage son knife a stranger in the street – and then wakes up on each new day further in the past, searching for clues to his motivation and a way to change the future. An intelligent puzzle full of heart and good sense.
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy This exceptional debut novel, the story of a secret affair in 1970s Belfast between a young Catholic and an older married Protestant, illuminates ordinary lives in extraordinary times. Kennedy brings a sure, light touch to devastating material.
Reward System by Jem Calder Dating, drinking, working, floundering … Precarious young lives in thrall to the algorithm in these up-to-the-minute tales from an impressive new voice.
Amy & Lan by Sadie Jones A child’s-eye view of an experiment in living, in which city families band together to set up a rural smallholding. Jones brilliantly ventriloquises Amy and her best friend Lan, growing from young kids into teenagers. She conveys their passionate attachment to the freedom of their unconventional upbringing and deep connection to nature, along with the adult doubts and betrayals happening off stage.
Here Goes Nothing by Steve Toltz A cynical unbeliever finds himself in the afterlife; meanwhile, back on Earth, his murderer is cosying up to his widow and a pandemic threatens civilisation itself … The latest novel from the author of A Fraction of the Whole sizzles with black comedy and anarchic energy.
The Anomaly by Hervé le Tellier, translated by Adriana Hunter A plane and all its passengers somehow duplicate after in-flight turbulence. So who, and what, is real? This high-concept SF thriller is enormous fun: a French prize winner spiced with Oulipian theory and literary in-jokes, riddling away at existential questions in the guise of a breakneck page-turner.
Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes A quarter of a century on from Rachel’s Holiday, this witty sequel reunites readers with Keyes’s much-loved heroine as she explores the trials and transformations of midlife.
Fight Night by Miriam Toews Excluded from school for scrapping, nine-year-old Swiv must care for her troubled, pregnant mother and her irrepressible grandmother – and accept their care for her, however infuriating, in return. As ever, Canadian novelist Toews swirls together tragedy and humour in a love letter to spirited women.
An Olive Grove in Ends by Moses McKenzie A young Black Bristolian is determined to escape inner-city poverty and shut-down expectations: but will drugs, violence, faith or love be the route to fulfilment? A gripping, full-octane debut told with flair and style.
Homesickness by Colin Barrett It’s been eight years since the prize-winning Young Skins, but this second short-story collection is worth the wait. Funny, devastating, slow-burning, these understated tales of misfits and misadventures in smalltown Ireland are written with a casual grace.
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Rebecca Wait Toxic mothers, absent fathers, angry sisters and enraging brothers – this sharp, wise comedy explores difficult family dynamics, from all-too-relatable emotional patterns to the inexplicable agonies of mental illness; yet it’s also one of the funniest novels you’ll read this year.
Love Marriage by Monica Ali Clashes of culture, personality, expectations: this is a warm and witty panorama of modern Britain from the author of Brick Lane, seen through the rocky engagement of two doctors and the explosive combination of their very different families.
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart By turns poignant, absurd and darkly comic, Shteyngart’s “lockdown novel” is always – like the Chekhov it riffs on – deeply human. The group of friends that flee to a house in upstate New York aim to elude the virus, but they can’t escape the entanglements and rivalries that have defined their relationships – and are brought into sharp relief by the arrival of a famous stranger.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw Nominated for a national book award in the US, these touching short stories focus on the sex lives of various Black women in the southern US, along with all their desire, shame and fear. Philyaw expertly treads the line between humour and heartbreak in stories you’ll want to wolf down.
The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life by David Robson Does worrying about dementia make you more likely to get it? What if stress isn’t the problem so much as the fear of what it might be doing to us? Robson surveys the latest counterintuitive research on how our expectations shape us – with tips on how to apply its insights to our own lives.
The Journey of Humanity by Oded Galor In an age of seemingly relentless bad news, economist Oded Galor provides an antidote to doomscrolling. His faith that our future is relatively rosy is grounded in data about economic development that suggest technological progress and declining fertility mean that not only will we be able to feed the world, we’ll soon be able to fix it.
White Debt: The Demerara Uprising and Britain’s Legacy of Slavery by Thomas Harding Harding’s ancestors benefited from the slave trade, but were also victims of Nazi persecution. “If I was willing to identify as a victim in my father’s family, to receive reparations from the German government, then surely I had better understand Britain’s role in slavery,” he writes. His book shines a light on a pivotal moment in colonial history.
How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them by Barbara F Walter A chilling warning from a leading US political scientist. Looking around the world, Walter delineates the tell-tale signs of anocracy, a transition stage between democracy and autocracy that nation states enter before civil war begins. America, she warns, is edging perilously close.
Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problem of Philosophy by David Chalmers A brilliantly engaging philosopher tackles the question of whether or not we’re living in a simulation, and asks if that would even matter: the virtual worlds created by computers, he argues, could be just as fulfilling and meaningful as “real” life.
Everything Is True: A Junior Doctor’s Story in a Time of Pandemic by Roopa Farooki A searing account of the first 40 days of the UK’s pandemic lockdown from a first-hand witness. Farooki, a novelist, finished medical school a matter of months before coronavirus emerged – and found herself on the frontlines of an unprecedented medical emergency.
Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell Donne broke new ground writing about sex, love, faith and death; this sparkling biography of the metaphysical poet turned preacher illuminates an era of plague, persecution and great existential change.
The Go-between: A Memoir of Growing Up Between Different Worlds by Osman Yousefzada A beautifully observed memoir of growing up in a conservative Muslim community in Birmingham, in the 1980s. As a child, Yousefzada has access to secret worlds: watching his mother sew in a back room of their house was, he says, “like watching a magician”. He grew up to design dresses for Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.
Burning Questions: Essays and Occasional Pieces 2004–2021 by Margaret Atwood Atwood’s third volume of essays begins in 2004 and runs until 2021. Her panoptic gaze takes in the aftermath of 9/11, the Obama years, the financial crisis, Trump, #MeToo and the Covid-19 pandemic, the writing shot through with wisdom and wit.
Bitch: A Revolutionary Guide to Sex, Evolution and the Female Animal by Lucy Cooke Is the female of the species more demure than the male? Not according to zoologist Lucy Cooke, who surveys the extraordinary sexual behaviour of myriad animals, from lemurs to insects, upturning decades of scientific bias in the process.
The Man Who Tasted Words: Inside the Strange and Startling World of Our Senses by Dr Guy Leschziner Neurologist Guy Leschziner vividly describes what happens when our senses malfunction, as in the bizarre case of James, who tastes a full English breakfast when he hears the words “Tottenham Court Road”. Just as compelling, though, is the science behind everyday sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. A latter-day Oliver Sacks, Leschziner brings the strangeness of our human faculties to life.
The Palace Papers by Tina Brown A rollicking ride through the last few decades of intrigue and scandal in the house of Windsor, based on more than 100 interviews with courtiers and assorted other subjects. Even die-hard republicans will find Brown’s pacy prose and juicy insights into the personalities at the heart of this bizarre institution difficult to resist.
The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A True Story of an Artist, a Spy and a Wartime Scandal by Simon Parkin As a result of Britain’s policy of internment during the second world war, a clutch of European intellectuals were thrown together in the unlikely surroundings of the Isle of Man. There they instituted an informal “university”, with lectures on Greek philosophy, Shakespeare and the industrial use of synthetic fibres. Parkin follows the young German-Jewish refugee Peter Fleischmann as he navigates this strangely rarified world.
Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman Oxford during the second world war was a crucible of a new kind of philosophy – and its greatest exponents were female. Mac Cumhaill and Wiseman tell the story of the work, life and loves of Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot and Mary Midgley, who sought to bring a new emphasis on human values to their field.
Out of the Sun by Esi Edugyan Edugyan’s elegant essays on Black identity and representation deal in empathy and nuance rather than polemic. She considers Marie-Joseph Angélique, the enslaved woman accused of burning down Montreal who is now said to haunt it, the questions raised by Rachel Dolezal’s claim of “transracialism”, and artist Kehinde Wiley’s portraits in the grand European manner, which centre Black people rather than white aristocrats.
In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing by Elena Ferrante In a series of essays, the famously elusive author of the Neapolitan novels sheds light on her literary development, from her school notebooks onwards. At first she strives for realism, seeking to render her mother’s aquamarine ring, for example, as purely and directly as possible. Eventually, through reading, she comes to understand that “the teller is always a distorting mirror”.
Portable Magic: A History of Books and Their Readers by Emma Smith Smith explores the physicality of books through the ages – “bookhood”, as she puts it – in this homage to the tactile pleasures of reading. From Madame de Pompadour’s insistence on being painted against a backdrop of books (an early example of the shelfie), to Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s witty defacement of covers in their local library, it is filled with historical nuggets.
The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight One of the eeriest books of the year tells the story of John Barker, a psychiatrist with an interest in the paranomal. In the aftermath of the Aberfan disaster, which various people claimed to have foreseen, Barker solicits premonitions from members of the public to see how many come true. A number of “seers” do seem to have uncanny abilities – which gives Barker pause when one of them begins to make ominous predictions about his own fate.
Homelands: The History of a Friendship by Chitra Ramaswamy Sent on assignment to interview 97-year-old Holocaust survivor Henry Wuga, journalist Chitra Ramaswamy is fascinated by his past, and the two become firm friends. The resulting memoir, which tells Ramaswamy’s own story, too, is an exploration of migration, belonging and what constitutes a home.
I Heard What You Said by Jeffrey Boakye Drawing on his experience as a teacher, Jeffrey Boakye shows how schools have consistently let down Black boys and girls, leaving them disillusioned and demotivated. But Boakye also argues that the system short-changes all students by failing to prepare them for life in a multicultural society. His prescription is a form of radical listening: to hear what makes pupils feel included and reframe teaching around it.
All in My Head by Jessica Morris A brain tumour diagnosis blindsides Jessica Morris, a Brit living with her family in New York. But not for long: having been told her glioblastoma is incurable, she devotes her considerable nous and determination to making it treatable. She lobbies Joe Biden and sets up OurBrainBank so others can pool their experiences and aid research. But it is her unvarnished account of what it means to face her own mortality that makes All in My Head so moving.
The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World by Oliver Milman They’re not always easy to like (Darwin was notably unimpressed by the contribution of the revolting parasitoid wasp), but insects are essential to life on Earth. From pollination to waste disposal, pest control and nutrient recycling, they drive the biological processes that allow the natural world – and human civilisation – to flourish. As Guardian journalist Milman sets out in fascinating detail, though, they are under unprecedented threat from habitat destruction and pesticide use.
I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys by Miranda Seymour This new biography of the Dominica-born author of Wide Sargasso Sea charts her course from the Caribbean to London and Devon, via a tumultuous affair and two marriages. Seymour is careful to separate the writer from her fictional protagonists: “At the centre of Rhys’s life stood her writing, a resource that is entirely absent from the lives of the women she described in her novels.”
Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris As ever, Sedaris flits from subject to subject in his latest book of essays, landing most powerfully on his relationship with his father, who died in 2021. Lou, portrayed in earlier work as an occasionally mystifying but relatively affable eccentric, is revealed posthumously as a vindictive, mendacious presence in his son’s life. What made him like that, and can the scars inflicted by him begin to heal now that he’s gone?
Good Pop, Bad Pop: An Inventory by Jarvis Cocker Rifling through his attic, the former lead singer of Pulp embarks on an object-by-object exploration of his influences and obsessions. Through them he tells the story of the first 25 years of his life in Sheffield, culminating with an acceptance letter from Central Saint Martins School of Art in London – and the promise of a new world.
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson A hazy London summer is brought to life in this prize-winning debut novel about two young Black artists: sharp on race, class and masculinity, but at its heart a slow-burning love story, beautifully told.
My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley Can you escape your demons when you’re related to them? This icily funny, emotionally acute portrait of a difficult mother-daughter relationship is as sharp as a knife, and just as lethal.
The Magician by Colm Tóibín This year’s Folio prize winner tells the story of German Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, the artist and the individual, set against two world wars and tumultuous global change.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney Love, sex, fame, anxiety: four no-longer-quite-so-young people negotiate the difficulties of modern life and what it means to be a couple.
Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell The first winner of the International Booker prize to be translated from Hindi is the exuberant tale of an 80-year-old Indian woman who reinvents herself.
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki A troubled teenager, grieving for his father, hears the voices of the objects around him, while his mother battles her hoarding instincts and struggles to give him his freedom. This year’s Women’s prize winner is a wise and magical meditation on how to find out what’s really important amid the overwhelm of modern life.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It by Oliver Burkeman This refreshingly counterintuitive guide argues that rather than trying to eliminate procrastination, we should embrace it; instead of planning everything to within an inch of its life, we should understand that time is not really ours to “spend”.
Free by Lea Ypi Raised an obedient communist, as a teenager in Albania Ypi witnesses the collapse of the regime that defined her life. Her memoir describes the vertigo of seeing everything you took for granted disappear, amid revelations of her own family’s political secrets.
Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett Billed as “the first neuroscience beach read”, this digestible guide to the mind is subtly radical; rather than received notions about our “lizard brains” and “emotion centres”, it presents a revelatory model of consciousness that will be completely new to most readers.
This Much Is True by Miriam Margolyes Thanks to social media clips of her outrageous anecdotes on Graham Norton’s sofa, Margolyes is having something of a renaissance. That’s a good thing; admired for years for her comic turns on TV and the stage, it turns out she is also a fabulous storyteller.
Children’s and YA
Mrs Noah’s Song by Jackie Morris, illustrated by James Mayhew Mrs Noah brings music back into the world, teaching her children to sing and sharing the wonders of the dawn chorus in this beautiful picture book, featuring poetic text and exquisite collages.
Today Will Be a Great Day! by Slimy Oddity This slim “guide to happiness” , packed with endearing rainbow-coloured images from Instagram art collective Slimy Oddity, is full of brief but resonant statements (“Your past does not define you”; “Know that you are loved”) to give readers a gentle boost. Ideal for those with a case of the pandemic blues.
Scram! by Lauren Child The irrepressible Clarice Bean is bored in the summer holidays – until she finds herself hiding a furry someone in the garden shed. A superbly illustrated, slyly funny story of a four-legged family secret for readers of 7+.
I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast by Michael Holland, illustrated by Philip Giordano For junior botanists of 7+, this gorgeous “celebration of plants around the world” is filled with radiant graphic-style illustrations, complementing fascinating facts and activities. Look at lifecycles, make plant mazes or invisible ink, and learn how plants are used in everything from toothpaste to travel.
My Brother Ben by Peter Carnavas Together, Luke and Ben spend the summer happy in their different ways: Ben leaping into Cabbage Tree Creek, Luke sketching birds and watching. When Ben starts high school, the brothers’ bond changes – but though a local competition strains their relationship, nothing can destroy their abiding love in this tender, timeless story for 8+.
Sleepover Takeover by Simon James Green, illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff Dorky Otis is amazed to be invited to rich kid Rocco Rococo’s birthday party. When he wakes up in a wedding dress to find a donkey drinking from the chocolate fountain, however, he realises something has gone badly wrong in this outrageously hilarious romp for 9+.
Escape to the River Sea by Emma Carroll Inspired by Eva Ibbotson’s much-loved Journey to the River Sea, this lush, exciting adventure follows Rosa Sweetman, a Kinderstransport girl, as she travels from England to the Amazon rainforest in search of giant sloths, jaguars and a place to belong – and encounters desperate danger along the way. A thrilling, rich novel for 9+ from the queen of historical fiction.
Finding Jupiter by Kelis Rowe Home in Memphis for the holidays, Ray is too busy ruling the roller-rink, creating “found poetry” and figuring out her future to have time for a summer fling – until she meets hopeless romantic Orion. But will a secret past grief part the star-crossed lovers? Strong characterisation and warm emotional depth mark out this uplifting YA debut.
If You Still Recognise Me by Cynthia So School’s finished, summer beckons, and 18-year-old Elsie has decided to tell Ada, her crush, the way she feels; but Ada lives half a world away, and Elsie’s long-lost best friend Joan has just come strolling back into her life. A pitch-perfect exploration of identity, belonging and coming of age, full of acute observation and compelling slow-burn romance.
Such a Good Liar by Sue Wallman On a private island occupied by the privileged, 17-year-old Lydia Cornwallis settles in for the summer, eager to meet the stylish Harrington sisters. There’s only one small problem – Lydia isn’t Lydia, and the Harrington girls have to pay for what they’ve done. A nail-biting YA thriller of impersonation, iron nerve and revenge, for fans of Karen M McManus and Holly Jackson.
Microplastics are found nearly everywhere on Earth and can be harmful to animals if they’re ingested. But it’s hard to remove such tiny particles from the environment, especially once they settle into nooks and crannies at the bottom of waterways. Now, researchers in ACS’ Nano Letters have created a light-activated fish robot that “swims” around quickly, picking up and removing microplastics from the environment.
Because microplastics can fall into cracks and crevices, they’ve been hard to remove from aquatic environments. One solution that’s been proposed is using small, flexible and self-propelled robots to reach these pollutants and clean them up. But the traditional materials used for soft robots are hydrogels and elastomers, and they can be damaged easily in aquatic environments. Another material called mother-of-pearl, also known as nacre, is strong and flexible, and is found on the inside surface of clam shells. Nacre layers have a microscopic gradient, going from one side with lots of calcium carbonate mineral-polymer composites to the other side with mostly a silk protein filler. Inspired by this natural substance, Xinxing Zhang and colleagues wanted to try a similar type of gradient structure to create a durable and bendable material for soft robots.
The researchers linked β-cyclodextrin molecules to sulfonated graphene, creating composite nanosheets. Then solutions of the nanosheets were incorporated with different concentrations into polyurethane latex mixtures. A layer-by-layer assembly method created an ordered concentration gradient of the nanocomposites through the material from which the team formed a tiny fish robot that was 15-mm (about half-an-inch) long. Rapidly turning a near-infrared light laser on and off at a fish’s tail caused it to flap, propelling the robot forward. The robot could move 2.67 body lengths per second — a speed that’s faster than previously reported for other soft swimming robots and that is about the same speed as active phytoplankton moving in water. The researchers showed that the swimming fish robot could repeatedly adsorb nearby polystyrene microplastics and transport them elsewhere. The material could also heal itself after being cut, still maintaining its ability to adsorb microplastics. Because of the durability and speed of the fish robot, the researchers say that it could be used for monitoring microplastics and other pollutants in harsh aquatic environments.
The authors acknowledge funding from a National Key Research and Development Program of China Grant, National Natural Science Foundation of China Grants and the Sichuan Provincial Natural Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars.
Leszno: A growing gem of the European air show calendar.
We’ve been worryingly observing the Polish air show calendar this year. Leszno has always been and still is, one of its highlights, nonetheless, the cancelation of the LOTOS Gdynia Aerobaltic (caused by the war in Ukraine) has brought in some concern as to what would happen to the second most significant aviation event planned in Poland, at the small Leszno Flying Club. Leszno-Strzyżewice (EPLS) is a small, but growing GA (General Aviation) airport, with a grass strip. Now it also has a hardened runway, and a set of runway lights which is unusual for a Polish GA airstrip, but seems to be a natural way to go, given the fact that the venue is the home of the Antidotum Airshow – currently one of a very few, and certainly the biggest of the Polish air shows that consistently organizes day and sunset/night display programs.
The show took place on Jun. 17 and Jun. 18, 2022. It is an afternoon/evening event, with the displays scheduled between 4 PM and 11 PM. The airfield’s location, with the beautiful sunsets providing a stunning backdrop for the spectacle in the air only adds to the spectacular, stunning nature of what was happening in the air.
Not everything according to the plan
Unfortunately, the organizers this year also had to overcome some obstacles.
For instance, neither did the pre-announced A-26 Invader, nor the original Yak-3 come to perform at the show – the owner of both aircraft is still working on the A-26’s transatlantic transit tackling relevant formalities with the FAA. This was somewhat causing distress among the show’s social media crowd, but that matter remained out of the hands of the organizers. They, righteously, focused on what they could have done. Last-minute confirmations resulted in the appearance of the single-seater Lim-2 (MiG-15) and Yak-3UPW in the Leszno sky – so all credit for saving the program gaps go to the Antidotum Air Show team. The Red Bull’s P-38 and B-25 – even though their participation was also confirmed – also could not have made it to Leszno because of technical problems.
Red Bull Special – Trojan is back
The highlights of the show included the new Red Bull’s T-28 Trojan. The airframe wears its original US Navy livery – and for now, at least – it also does not have the smoke system that was one of the trademarks of the former RB T-28. The Red Bull flying department seems to like the air show at Leszno – despite the tragic accident en route back last year, with the loss of the T-28 – the Austrian aviation heritage restorers came to Leszno in numbers. Apart from the T-28 they also brought the F-4U Corsair and Cessna Push-Pull to perform at Leszno. Red Bull also brought its Piper Carbon Cub with the Air Race’s Luke Czepiela flying it in a comedy act – copying Kyle Franklin’s drunk pilot comedy routine.
Additionally, the show also included Luca Baumann, who did RC model aerobatics, and Blacky, who performed a hang glider aerobatic routine, with smoke and pyro – an unusual sight at an airshow of any kind.
In the warbirds department, we also had the chance to watch the OV-10 Bronco display during the day, and night portion of the show as well. The aircraft wore a very special Desert Storm livery, whilst the night display also involved lights and pyro show. It could have come by as a surprise how dynamic that airframe is, and how agile the Bronco can be!
The program also involved skydivers, and they were using a very unique platform in their display – a Hungarian Lisunov Li-2 (Soviet-made DC-3 copy), which is a very unique aircraft, and a rare treat at any air show.
This year’s Leszno helicopters line-up was quite rich, with five very different dynamic displays performed. The first was the Czech Air Force W-3 SAR role display demo. This has to be one of the best SAR/helicopter displays in Europe right now. Not only are the Czechs showing what a proper SAR operation should look like, but the Sokol’s pilot also seems to squeeze every inch of performance out of his ride. The second helicopter display came in a form of the Red Bull’s Cobra – a very challenging aircraft to photograph given its twin-blade main rotor. One needs a slow shutter speed to show it move.
The show organizers in Leszno like to improvise, and Cobra flew a duo display with Bronco this year. The third helicopter display was the Polish Bolkov Bo-105 display team, with smoke and pyro – the Bolkov did two, fantastic displays solo – at night, and during the day, and also one display together with the British Aerosparx display team – that one was arranged in Leszno ad hoc. If there’s one lesson that this air show teaches its audience, it is that you may expect the unexpected.
The fourth, and the most expected of the helicopter displays was the Swiss Super Puma Demo Team, the display of which also involves a massive flares drop in its final phase – especially spectacular when done in the late part of the show, with the sun beginning to set. The fifth helicopter partaking in the show was a Polish military Mi-17, showing off a spectacular display, showcasing some elements of SOF flying tactics.
Jets – Vintage
Unusually for an “air picnic” at a small GA airport, the Antidotum Air Show distinguishes itself by the fact that jet displays may also be expected. And both vintage aircraft invited to Leszno this year were unique in their own way. The first one – the Polish MiG-15/Lim-2 is unique because it, for now, remains the only single-seat MiG-15 aircraft in Europe. Its participation was unexpected, but the aircraft filled in the gap left in the program by the A-26 – this shows great flexibility and willingness to put on the best show of the organizers – even if one piece of the puzzle disappears, the Leszno airfield team still has an ace up its sleeve.
The uniqueness of the second aircraft stems from the fact that it landed at Leszno, using a grass strip – this refers to the L-29 Delfin. It did this last year as well, but still, seeing a military trainer aircraft land at a small GA airport is a sight to behold.
Jets – Modern
Modern military aviation is not a very usual sight at a small air show – yet, the Antidotum Air Show in Leszno featured two acts of the kind: the Polish Air Force F-16 Tiger Demo Team, and the Luftwaffe’s Eurofighter Demo. Both of these aircraft were reaching the venue flying from the Krzesiny (EPKS) airbase.
The personnel at the Krzesiny base helped the organizers in securing these displays, as both aircraft can be proudly distinguished as members of the NATO Tigers community. The personnel from Krzesiny openly said they were amazed by the air show, and this may be a sign that Leszno would host more military aircraft in the future. Possibly, this could mean that there would be a necessity to reformulate the air show and arrange it as a classic, weekend (Saturday and Sunday) event, but we will see what the future may bring.
Also, one more military highlight came in a form of a Slovenian PC-9 demo – with copious amount of impressive negative G maneuvers being the highlight of the routine.
Gliders and Wilgas
One of the more interesting displays was performed by a trio of Leszno-based Wilgas, towing the Flying Club’s gliders and flying in a 6-aircraft formation. Wilga alone is an exotic sight to behold, three Wilgas towing gliders are a treat. Wilga was also used as a tow plane by Guy Westgate, in his GliderFX act including a pyro-take-off, and roll-on-tow elements. Notably, the Leszno show has its roots in the Glider Picnic series of events held there, and it is nice to see that the organizers are not forgetting their sailplanes heritage. A pair of Alon A2 Ercoupes was another act performed on behalf of the Aeroklub Leszczyński.
Polish Military Props
The Polish 33rd Airlift Base also made a unique contribution to the Leszno program. First, we have seen a dynamic display of the Polish Air Force’s C-130 Hercules and M-28 Bryza STOL aircraft. And this was during the daytime portion of the show. Secondly, the C-130, as it did last year, also has shown its spectacular flares drop, releasing all of its flares at once, in a single pass, leaving the audience amazed. The C-130’s flare display has now, undoubtedly, become a trademark of the Leszno show and no images or videos do it justice – it must be witnessed live.
The Hercules was opening the night pyro portion of the show. This part has been a usually spectacular (however ridiculous it may sound) part of Leszno’s magic – AeroSPARX, OV-10 Bronco, and The Flying Dragons Team on paramotors, all performed a stunning, night spectacle. So far the evening/night portion of the show has been the main reason to go to Leszno, it seems now that the organizers are starting to strike the right balance between the night and day sections (with the daytime section now being so expansive and rich).
Overall, it is great to witness the growth of this small, Polish GA show, to the size of a proper international display. We do hope, and we have our fingers crossed, that Leszno would soon become a solid element of the European air show calendars, attracting more than just the local audiences. A show like that deserves to evolve and grow at a rapid pace, considering the amount of effort and passion the small team of organizers has for this event.
The moon has a strange, new crater. But this one’s not natural.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which began mapping the moon in 2009, spotted the impact site of a recent rocket crash on the far side of the moon, which occurred in early March. The space agency published imagery of the impact on Friday, which actually resulted in a double crater: a 19.5-yard crater overlapping with a 17.5-yard crater.
“The double crater was unexpected and may indicate that the rocket body had large masses at each end,” NASA wrote in a description of the image. “Typically a spent rocket has mass concentrated at the motor end; the rest of the rocket stage mainly consists of an empty fuel tank. Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may indicate its identity.”
Whoever is responsible, the damage to the moon’s surface, while not nearly catastrophic, underscores a part of humanity’s growing space junk problem, and how this affects or pollutes other worlds. Some rockets, after blasting their satellites or spacecraft into space, are left in “chaotic” orbits, with the potential for the spent rockets to fall to Earth or potentially get flung out into deeper space.
The white square shows the location of the double crater left by the rocket impact on the moon. Credit: NASA / Goddard / Arizona State University
Prior to this rocket impact, humanity had already left its mark on the moon. Rocket boosters from the Apollo missions (parts of NASA’s colossal Saturn V rocket) left a number of craters some 40 yards wide on the moon’s surface. There are bags of astronaut poop on the moon. And a few years ago, Israel’s crashed Beresheet spacecraft scattered debris on the lunar surface.
The playwright and screenwriter Lucy Kirkwood was born in east London in 1983. She studied English at Edinburgh, where she wrote and starred in her first play. Kirkwood is perhaps best known for Chimerica, about the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests, which opened at the Almeida in 2013 and won best new play at the Olivier awards. She has also written for TV, contributing to Skins and adapting Chimerica for Channel 4 in 2019. Her latest play, That Is Not Who I Am, written under the pseudonym Dave Davidson, is at the Royal Court until 16 July.
An impulse-buy that’s so good it makes me a bit angry, which is the highest compliment I can give any writing. It is poems and photographs about growing up on a Peckham estate, but while there is devastating lament and political fury here, the feel of the thing as a whole is a celebratory ode to a group of people in a certain place. Every line of imagery is beautifully wrought, and it is so full of laughter, desire, emotional acuity and deft indictments of how racism permeates every layer of life. It is just exhilarating.
I love the first two seasons of this show with a burning passion and was really excited to hear they are producing a new season. It has got a load of people who have since become more famous, such as Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan. It follows the staff of an LA catering company who are all desperately trying to make it in some way and largely failing. Each week you get to be in a completely different world, including, memorably, Steve Guttenberg’s 40th birthday. While relentlessly funny, it also contains some of the most tragic scenes I have ever seen on TV.
The New Zealand artist is number one in our house right now – my husband has played Fever [from Harding’s latest album, Warm Chris] so many times to our two-year-old that she now sings along with the chorus. I think silliness is a highly underrated quality in art and I adore the fact she can sing lyrics like “show the ferret to the egg” with a straight face. But the music is also poetic and plangent, and her videos are extraordinary: sometimes theatrical, sometimes cinematic, but always breathtaking.
Wakelyns Farm, Suffolk
This agroforestry farm in Suffolk is a beautiful place and a source of hope that we might find ways to grow food in this country that don’t depend on monoculture and pesticides. The aerial maps of it are so arresting – it is a small oasis of avenues of trees inter-planted with mixed crops. They have open days throughout the year including tree walks, bird walks and apple days, and in recent years [baker and cookery writer] Henrietta Inman has opened a really wonderful bakery there.
I nicked this collection of short stories from my husband before he could read it and inhaled it in two or three late-night sessions, which is an act of foolhardy love when you have a toddler who gets up at 5am. By the end of the first paragraph, you know Sams is the real deal. The stories are all about female characters, and while they contain desolation and trauma, there is not a sniff of lazy sentimentality or surrender anywhere, just sensual, witty, audacious, belligerent, dangerous brilliance.
Thorington theatre, Suffolk
We saw a fantastic standup set by Simon Amstell at this new theatre on the Suffolk coast last summer, and if I hadn’t been at my own press night this month I would have watched Daniel Kitson there for sure. But the structure itself is a thing of beauty. It is an open-air amphitheatre set in a woodland and constructed so thoughtfully – trees still grow through the space and the amps are mounted on trunks. For a playwright it is a very inspiring place.
This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
As I dip my toes into the wide world of reading manga, I’ve found nonfiction to be my favorite place. It’s a fun way for me to get to know people on the other side of the world with their distinct illustration style and direction of reading (right to left!). The pool of nonfiction manga currently available in English is quite small, though it is growing larger these days. Hooray for that!
Much of the nonfiction manga I came across was strictly educational: biographies of historic or religious figures or guides on how to draw in manga art styles. But I’m much more interested in the personal stories. I’m delighted to have found a bunch of memoirs to share because they all touch on things that are deeply personal and emotional. A trans woman getting married. A child whose father is an alcoholic. An introvert who wants to understand human connection. Stories of people with developmental disorders and disabilities. And to top it off, we have two fun educational manga: a history of Western fonts and a guide to makeup and skincare. Fun!
I hope you find something in this list of nonfiction manga to brighten your day or widen your world.
Former beauty consultant Ikumi Rotta is here to teach you everything you ever wanted to know about makeup and skincare. She breaks down the fundamentals, answers frequently asked questions, and shows how to turn the basics into not-so-basics. Because makeup isn’t magic — it’s an art form.
Check Your Shelf Newsletter
Sign up to receive Check Your Shelf, the Librarian’s One-Stop Shop For News, Book Lists, And More.
Thank you for signing up! Keep an eye on your inbox.
My Brain is Different is a beautiful manga anthology of stories from nine people living with various developmental disorders and disabilities. It covers people of all age groups with neurodivergence. A junior high dropout finds another way to get an education, a man learns to see the world anew thanks to a new medication, and more inspiring — though not always optimistic — stories are here.
Anxious and reclusive Nagata Kabi seeks out an escort agency to help bring her out of her shell. In this deeply introspective memoir, she works through her mental illnesses and learns how to be intimate with another person. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is the first in a series of manga memoirs with our author and artist divulging her deepest fears and struggles.
Togame and her partner have opposing sex drives, and it sends their marriage into a spiral. Secretly, I’ve Been Suffering About Being Sexless is a candid memoir about all the ways Togame tries to seduce her husband — losing weight, wearing extravagant makeup, buying new lingerie — to no avail. In the end, it turns out all they needed was a little communication.
Follow Marusu, a sales rep who has to learn about graphic design when a designer at her work disappears, through the history of Western fonts via anthropomorphized depictions of each font! Helvetica is a cool, helpful guide. Gill Sans is serious. Garamond is happy to be here. For any font nerd, this is a super delightful way to get to know the history — and a vague timeline — of common fonts.
Bernardine Evaristo More Fiya: A New Collection of Black British Poetry, edited by Kayo Chingonyi, brings together a wonderful array of outstanding poets whose linguistic flair and wide-ranging perspectives excite, inspire and challenge in equal measure. As a companion, Canongate is also republishing the 1998 anthology The Fire People: A Collection of British Black and Asian Poetry, edited by Lemn Sissay.
Hilary Mantel A novel featuring the young Joseph Stalin might not sound like summer entertainment, but Stephen May’s Sell Us the Rope is fresh and original: jaunty, cunning, thought-provoking but never solemn. For nonfiction, and a venture into the strange world of coincidence and prediction, try Sam Knight’s The Premonitions Bureau. It’s a book hard to classify, but wholly fascinating: lively, nimble, its subject poised on the frontiers of the possible.
David Nicholls On Agoraphobia by Graham Caveney took me by surprise: simultaneously a memoir and a fascinating cultural history of the condition, it’s entertaining and erudite. I was similarly gripped by Sarah Polley’s essay collection Run Towards the Danger: frank, sometimes painful stories about growing up, exploitation and recovery from a really fine actor, director and writer. And one of my favourite novels of last year is out in paperback. Bleakness and anxiety aren’t emotions everyone wants to experience on a sun lounger, but Gwendoline Riley’s My Phantoms is brilliantly funny, sharp and slender. She’s an exceptional writer, a modern Muriel Spark.
Anne Enright Readers love characters but writers love structure because the structure is the answer – it is the story. Jennifer Egan is a genius of structure, and The Candy House is a thrilling read. It is a narrative dance, and like all great dances it is done with pleasure and with heart. It also makes your brain go doinnggg. Take it slowly: turn this multifaceted jewel of a thing in the light. Emilie Pine is a great writer to read when you don’t know why you are sad. Ruth & Pen is about two people who face their ordinary, heartbreaking problems with tenacity and grace, and Pine seems to hold the reader safe in a way that feels right for the times – a truly compassionate book.
Sara Collins Reading Elizabeth Day’s Magpie gave me the kind of noir-ish high I usually only get from reading the best of Gillian Flynn. Heavily pregnant Marisa, who has just moved into a gorgeous house with her doting partner, Jake, appears to have the life she has always dreamed of – except that the menacing new lodger, Kate, seems intent on stealing it for herself. Day’s novel is a psychological thriller with a strong thematic pulse: it brilliantly co-opts genre conventions to evoke the way both motherhood and infertility can sometimes be experienced as a sort of fever dream. Nothing beats a summer afternoon in the company of a book as addictive as this.
Ali Smith Kamila Shamsie’s Best of Friends will be out in early autumn, and is a shining tour de force about a long friendship’s respects, disrespects, loyalties and moralities. Shamsie never compromises. This novel is of a rare quality, and even more evidence of her ability to write fiction that’s simultaneously vividly alive to its time and so good and true that it’s as if it has always been with us. The other recent pleasure for me was Irene Solà’s When I Sing, Mountains Dance. Translated from Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem, this novel about, well, everything, is fine-tuned to a kind of astonished and astonishing connectivity that’s an act of revolutionary revitalisation up against the odds of any despairing.
Jonathan Franzen Easily the most exciting new book I’ve read in the past year is Jo Ann Beard’s Festival Days. It is a knockout – a collection of nonfiction narratives that read like short stories, plus one short story that makes you wonder if it, too, is nonfiction. Masterly sentence by sentence, entirely original in method, the pieces are full of death and the threat of it, but their effect is the opposite of funereal. Beard’s wry voice and her clear-eyed compassion make her the best sort of company.
Pankaj Mishra Two books, Anuradha Roy’s novel The Earthspinner and Sumana Roy’s meditation How I Became a Tree, from an India befouled by chauvinists and their will to power, offer some release from today’s human-made ordeals. With their tender attentiveness to the non-human, these narratives speak of more compassionate and resilient modes of existence than those devised by the perennially agitated makers of history.
Colm Tóibín A while ago, an astute friend recommended an American poet called Mary Ruefle. She is 70 and lives in Vermont – she’s a big discovery who is going to keep me going all summer. Her tone is wry and knowing, ironic and angled. She likes statements, or what seem like statements, but nothing is certain. She can move from jokes to dead seriousness in a single seamless second, as though John Ashbery met Wisława Szymborska in a dark Vermont wood. Ruefle is also a great essayist – see her book Madness, Rack, and Honey – with insights on literature and life that are unexpected, original, witty and sharp.
Sarah Waters Kate Charlesworth’s Sensible Footwear is a lively graphic memoir that doubles as a comprehensive history of modern British LGBTQ+ life: it’s a wonderful reminder of just how much fun, love and friendship has been had in the fight for queer rights. Julia Armfield’s novel Our Wives Under the Sea, about a woman whose wife returns a bit peculiar from a submarine expedition gone wrong, is terrifically odd. And I defy anyone not to be utterly beguiled by Nell Stevens’s Briefly, a Delicious Life. A story of George Sand, Chopin and a teenage Spanish ghost, it’s a lush, gorgeous, really special read.
Olivia Laing My Dead Book by Nate Lippens is the most electrifying thing I’ve read in a long time, a poetic, compressed novella about queer loss and addiction that reminded me of Gary Indiana and William Burroughs. And while we’re on the subject of queer excess, do not miss Bad Gays by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller: a tour de force of the shadowy side of gay identity.
Ian Rankin For those who enjoyed this year’s TV adaptation of Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life, Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister is the thriller equivalent. A loving and law-abiding son stabs a stranger to death in the street. His mother awakes next morning to find she has gone back in time to the previous day. And it keeps happening, the gaps of time widening. Can she work out why the crime took place – and maybe even stop it? This is a phenomenally clever brain teaser with a lot of heart. I also loved The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola, set in Paris in 1750. A king obsessed with automata, a genius inventor, court intrigues, vanishing children and a charismatic young heroine determined to uncover the truth: this is historical fiction with a fantastical twist, done with verve and skill.
Robert Macfarlane As a spy-thriller addict, I roared through Mick Herron’s new Slough House novel, Bad Actors, with the odious, odorous genius Jackson Lamb at its heart, and a couple of loathsome main characters who surely only coincidentally resemble well-known British political figures of our time. I’ve also recently read back to back the Basque writer Dolores Redondo’s superb BaztánTrilogy of (sort-of) noir/crime novels, starting with The Invisible Guardian, as well as the trilogy prequel, The North Face of the Heart. In poetry, I highly recommend Jason Allen-Paisant’s superb first collection, Thinking With Trees; and I’m also deep in the newest translation of the oldest poem: Sophus Helle’s version of the ancient BabylonianEpic of Gilgamesh, which Helle has translated from the Akkadian, with verve and drama.
Katherine Rundell Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi is so beautiful and so strange. Set in a fantastical labyrinthine house, it has a daring and a grace that are quietly, transportingly spectacular. If you were looking for a book that distils the concept of wonder, this is the one: it feels like a work of pure generosity. For children’s books, I love everything Sharna Jackson has written: her most recent, The Good Turn, is a sharp, deliciously witty mystery, which salutes community and compassion without ever moralising.
MohammedHanif Goat Days by Malayalam writer Benyamin is an epic little novel about an immigrant trapped in the Saudi desert, learning to love goats and planning a very risky escape. The Quilt and Other Stories by the late Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai gives us a glimpse into thrilling fictions created out of domesticity and the perils of intimacy.
Polly Samson Alexandra Heminsley’s Under the Same Stars, out in July, is a satisfying family mystery set on a remote and starkly beautiful Norwegian island in the Arctic Circle. I’ve also enjoyed travelling to Mexico in three timeframes with Anna Hope’s insightful and elegiac new novel The White Rock. Two of my favourite prose stylists have new books this summer: Emma Forrest’s Busy Being Free, a heart-rending and acerbic memoir of appetite and abstinence, and Cressida Connolly’s masterful novel Bad Relations – it has been a joy to see it garnering the ecstatic reviews it deserves.
Fatima Bhutto I am obsessed with the poet Frank O’Hara. Meditations in an Emergency, his 1957 collection, reprinted in March, really is my book of the year. Right now, I’m reading Also a Poet by Ada Calhoun, a memoir about her father, the art critic Peter Schjeldahl, and his obsession (there are many of us) with O’Hara. It’s a wonderful book about a daughter imitating her father who’s busy imitating O’Hara, and about New York and the magic of O’Hara’s poetry. Also, Pakistan is producing incredible films, music and literature right now. Other Names for Love by Taymour Soomro comes out in July and is a moving first novel about fathers and sons, longing and the struggle of being at home in the world.