In this series we ask authors, Guardian writers and readers to share what they’ve been reading recently. This month, recommendations include some brilliant short story collections, impressive Irish writing and an unflinching tale of war. Tell us what you’ve been reading in the comments.
Sinéad Gleeson, writer
Gwendolyn Brooks was an extraordinary poet and until this year, I didn’t know she also wrote fiction. Her episodic novella Maud Martha is a coming-of-age story told through the prism of race and class. Every page says something familiar in a new way.
I discovered Stephen Ellcock’s work via Instagram, where he curates images from art, folklore and history. A Visual Journey through Albion’s Psychic Landscape explores England’s population, rituals and myths through art and photography, with accompanying text by writer and Suede bassist Mat Osman. Relatedly, PJ Harvey has made something beautiful in Orlam, a dialect-heavy ode to the land.
Ireland, where I’m from, is not short of great writers and recent impressive work includes short stories from Lauren Foley – Polluted Sex, a pithy, transgressive collection of gender and bodies – and Wendy Erskine’s comic brilliance in Dance Move. A contender for novel of the year also happens to be Irish: Louise Kennedy’s aching Troubles-set, Trespasses. In poetry, there were standout works from Jessica Traynor in Pit Lullabies and Victoria Kennefick’s Eat or We Both Starve.
Berlin-based Jesse Darling is a deep-thinking, disruptive artist whose work means a lot to me. Virgins, their experimental and vital poems, challenge modes of desire, politics and representation.
I’m a long-time admirer of Sarah Manguso’s non-fiction and her debut novel – Very Cold People, about a creepy town – does not disappoint.
My own book This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music is not alone in telling stories of women in music, particularly unheard voices. This year, it sits alongside Vashti Bunyan’s quietly philosophical memoir, Wayward, Kate Molleson’s Sound Within Sound, Arusa Qureshi’s Flip The Script (a superb account of women in British hip-hop), Jude Rogers’ poignant The Sound of Being Human, Stephanie Phillips’ Why Solange Matters and Cosey Fanny Tutti’s Re-Sisters, a triptych about her own life in music, alongside other pioneers, Margery Kempe and Delia Derbyshire.
I’ve just re-read Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1926 feminist classic Lolly Willowes, and given the current state of the world, who wouldn’t want to renounce patriarchy and go and live in the woods as a witch?
And finally, Amina Cain’s A Horse At Night – out later this year – is a deft, playful dive into writing and books that filled up my brain and made me want to read and write more.
This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music is published by Orion (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.
Asha, Guardian reader
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson is, at one level, a book about a family. At another, it is about immigration, identity and perception. The storytelling is amazing, its short chapters unravelling the story slowly as diverse storylines develop and blend together as a fused narrative. This is a beautifully told story with characters that stay with you for a long time. I would highly recommend it.
Gurnaik Johal, writer
Despite being a writer myself, I’m not very good at reading. I try to read on my commute – you might have seen me on the Central line, an unopened book in my bag, about to fall asleep. But recently I’ve been introduced to some brilliant writers whose books have been keeping me awake on the tube.
I loved Sheena Patel’s I’m a Fan, an urgent and unfiltered novel about “fuckboys”, influencers and Instagram-stalking written in punchy chapters. Focusing on cheating characters making questionable decisions, it’s unrelentingly intense, often scathing and consistently funny. Patel’s writing about desire and jealousy is particularly raw, and at times we feel almost too close to the unnamed narrator’s inner thoughts, as if we’re scrolling through her Notes app without permission.
Another book with a striking title and a great cover full of obsessive characters is Paul Dalla Rosa’s short story collection, An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life. Like Patel, Dalla Rosa manages to get the internet right. There’s a bleak satisfaction here in watching lonely characters spiral out at rock bottom, but beneath the cutting sentences and biting humour, there’s something more. I think fans of Saba Sams’ Send Nudes and Jem Calder’s Reward System will love this – all three seem to portray a certain brand of (sorry to be that guy) millennial ennui. But there’s nothing to be bored about here – its pared-back prose burns.
While Dalla Rosa and Patel have striking, singular voices, what’s so impressive about Nana Nkweti’s collection of stories, Walking on Cowrie Shells, is just how many different voices she manages to pack in. It’s rare to read such a wide-ranging collection, especially one this short. Nkweti jumps from genre to genre as if bored with perfecting them, from horror to sci-fi, YA to mythical romance. You get a lot of bang for your buck on the sentence level too – Nkweti is wonderfully (and refreshingly) maximalist, throwing out the tired writing maxim that “less is more”. If that’s not enough to sell it, there are also zombies, which are sadly hard to come by in literary fiction.
We Move by Gurnaik Johal is published by Profile (£12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.
Apu, Guardian reader
I recently read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The narrator (the illegitimate offspring of a French priest and a very young Vietnamese girl) reveals the unequal power dynamic she is subject to on a personal level but that also exists in a wider geopolitical arena via French colonialism and US imperialism.
The writer does not flinch from describing the depth of human tragedy, from the loss of his childhood friend’s family during the evacuation to the obscene outcome of American bombing. However there are also lighter moments which satirise white America’s relationship with its south Asian minorities.