With the government trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, being stuck at home can be a nightmare for some of us. After all, the house can only be cleaned so many times before boredom sets in. So why not pick up a book? We asked the authors of #TwentyIn2020 to recommend the best books to read on lockdown while waiting for this ordeal to pass. Check out their reading recommendations below, and tell us what essential reading you would you add to the list.
Katy Massey, author of Are We Home Yet?
I'd like to recommend Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon. It is a sweet YA romance that any age can enjoy with shades of Virginia Andrews' ‘Flowers in the attic’ series, for a touch of darkness and a great twist.
Hibaq Osman, author of Where the Memory Was
I recommend Love’s Work by Gillian Rose. I come back to this memoir often and feel it is worth recommending for all those navigating life and love amidst hardship. It’s a memoir written with grace and a sense of hope despite all that the author is coming to terms with.
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi is another book I recommend. As far novels about families go, this is one of my favourites. Selasi writes beautifully about the impact grief can have on a family, and how even the closest of us can be separated due to it. A very moving read.
Maame Blue, author of Bad Love
My book recommendation is Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò. One of the best books I've read in a long, long while. Adébáyò pulls you in with her prose; you feel every anxiety, every anguish, joy and desperate choice made. An emotional roller coaster of a book that I have recommended to all my friends.
Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm, author of Swimming with Fishes
I have so many books to recommend, but I'll choose two. Dorothy Koomson's The Girl From Nowhere and Jojo Moyes' Me Before You.
Both of these books have captivated me in different ways. Me Before You was thrilling, touching and gave me that feel-good-escapism read that I so enjoy on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Throughout the book, I was totally routing for Lou and Traynor to get it together.
Girl From Nowhere is what I'm currently reading and it suits my Saturday evenings as it's gripping and full of suspense and I have no idea where the journey will take me, but at this point, I'm liking Abi more than Smitty.
Lisa Bent, author of Symona's Still Single
My favourite book is In the Meantime by Iyanla Vanzant. It was the first book I read in story form that lead me to question my patterns, behaviours and belief systems. It led me to question what I really wanted for myself and from relationships overall. It was a game changer. I have given this book as gifts so many times; I wished I had shares.
Tolu Agbelusi, author of Locating Strongwoman
My book recommendation is A Small Silence by Jumoke Verissimo. It's a page turner that delicately explores darkness, silence and what it means to connect when you are no longer who the world expects you to be.
Shola von Reinhold, author of Lote
I recommend Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset. Jessie Redmon Fauset is often referred to as the 'midwife of the Harlem Renaissance.' She wrote four novels, of which Plum Bun is her most well-known but it is hardly known at all in Britain. It exhibits Fauset as a masterly stylist, wit, social observer, whilst doing a thousand things more. Her peer, Nella Larsen, who wrote about similar subjects such as passing and the mores of Black Society at the time, has had something of a wave of renewed interest and reexamination but as it stands the same can't really be said of Fauset - certainly not to the same extent, which is very strange!
Adjoa Wiredu, author of On Reflection
These are some of the recent books that I’m reading, and re-reading. For various reasons - form, voice, narrative - they all feel close and have helped me in my recent journey. They each push, challenge and inevitably inspire me to take my time, and value my journey.
Claudia Rankine's Citizen made me think about writing in a novel form. Throughout the lyric the reader feels like they know what’s been discussed - race - but that they are learning some crucial elements along with the writer. She examines many times, the trope ‘have I got this right or have I missed something here?’ The answer? You probably haven't missed anything. When I finished I felt firstly like I had to read it again. Secondly and most importantly, I felt like any form was possible and arguably crucial when on a quest to understand different parts of our identity in a new way. It’s encouraged me to go with my gut and whatever form flows forth.
Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart is a recent book I wish I could have written set in London and about my own community. The interconnected short stories are fresh, insightful and beautifully written about the nature of growing up as children of immigrants in a large city. The struggles, the very small things that you think haven't made an impact but indeed you later find out were quite traumatic, was heartwarming to read. I identified with her characters and rooted for them. I became an enormous fan of hers after finishing it. It’s written in a way that’s totally modern with the contradictions often found in families living in a place not originally their home. And yet at the same time it feels like it was written about another world, and another time.
Johny Pitts’ Afropean— I was so chuffed to read the words of a young black man on the road across Europe, by choice. Not only is it rare for my generation to read such scenes and see it in the mainstream but also because the ‘flaneur-hood’ feels reserved for the privileged and so for me it was a thrill. The research uncovered in the book has been important for me and I’m sure for many who have been inspired by other people and initiatives across Europe. It’s not just a UK thing, at all. We are black british, yes, but there’s so many others like us on the continent asking questions about their identity. It was a dream to read about the many shapes and forms the Afropean movement is taking. In one move the book dispels the notion that travel as a form of self-discovery is only for white, privileged people, Pitts learns more about his identity while travelling. And in the same move he finds many commonalities in Africans across Europe that pull us together.
Emmanuel Iduma’s A Stranger’s Pose is a revelation. What a goal, what ambition to travel across Africa and write about it while experiencing it with different artists and communities. Not such a delusion for Iduma, he did it. Many of those he encounters feature somehow in the book: in his inspired prose or in his own or borrowed photography. A dreamy tour of different cities on the continent, in the form of short stories about people, our ways, our strange perceptions and also simply what’s like to travel through kind, unfamiliar spaces where you may share the same colour but different cultures and language mean that you have to adjust. His unravelling prose has the reader wandering and day-dreaming about how to discover different parts of ourselves in our everyday experiences. I was, and am in awe.
Akala’s Natives is a conversational story about his life and Britain. After reading this I felt I was given a picture of his journey and a much wider picture of all our journeys, particularly the generation close in age to Akala. I’m the same age as the writer so I felt he was speaking about a Britain and a London that I recognised and that I lived through although I lacked the ability to name what was around me and what I was experiencing. With research and his personal experiences, he does it perfectly. I learned about his sense of humour, that he was clever even at a young age, and that his determination and will brought us this very important book about our recent history.
Tony Warner, author of Black History Walks
Brenda Garrick, author of Jamakespeare
Harris Joshua, author of A Circle of Five
Stella Oni, author of Deadly Sacrifice
The recommendation book links will direct you to Amazon for more information about the book, but please if you can, order from your local bookshop. In these difficult times, they need your support.
The photos are courtesy of Abi Oshodi, AO Photography.