As Halloween has been and gone and Edinburgh rapidly gets chillier by the day, it’s hard to ignore the rat-tat-tat of winter at the door. To celebrate the final month of the autumn, we asked our writers which books they recommend cosying up with this November. We strongly suggest enjoying them with a roaring fire and a sugary seasonal Starbucks drink close at hand.
Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales (P.D. James)
Autumn is the perfect time for settling down with some gothic mysteries to quicken the heart and chill the blood. This collection of short stories from the so-called ‘queen of crime fiction’ is an excellent choice for staving off the cold with an atmospheric bitesize thriller. Precisely sculpted whodunits sit amongst curious tales with vengeful misdeeds at their core.
Published posthumously, Sleep No More embodies what made P.D. James so successful. With the wit of Christie and Waugh’s flair for the grotesque, such writing positively shines with intelligent authorial control.
James doesn’t set out to exalt the victims or damn the perpetrators, however. Her genius lies in warping the reader’s conscience, justifying the fates of the victims as fitting punishments. Especially as most are meted by unseen forces of justice, rather than the legal judicial process. Exemplifying this perfectly is ‘The Victim’, wherein by inhabiting the mind of a scorned husband hellbent on revenge, one can become seduced by his motives. His obsession becomes yours as you will him to succeed.
These are six haunting and lyrical tales of gothic beauty by a master of her craft. As Val McDermid professed in her touching eulogy to the writer, “she faced the darkness head on” and therefore could conjure such stories of substance that will stay with you long after you put them down.
Crazy Rich Asians (Kevin Kwan)
With the film adaptation having come out this summer, you won’t struggle to find a copy of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians in your local bookshop.
Inspired by the author’s own experiences growing up in Singapore, the novel revolves American-Chinese Rachel Chu who discovers that her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, is the heir to one of the biggest fortunes in Asia when he brings her to his family home in Singapore for the wedding of the year. As the name suggests, the novel follows Rachel as she has to navigate the scheming, gossiping and backstabbing of Singapore’s elite, all the while facing the wrath of Nick’s disapproving mother Eleanor.
While the story mainly revolves around Nick and Rachel’s relationship, the novel is told from the perspective of five characters. This really helps to immerse you within the story and really lends to the world building. While the plot can get a little outlandish, the characters and their actions always remain believable and more importantly, sensible, which is really refreshing for a romantic comedy.
And while it could be easy for a reader to lose track of details like the long lines of Nick’s family tree or niche facts about the Singaporean lifestyle, Kwan avoids this by adding annotated facts throughout the novel, which is a really nice touch.
Despite being the first instalment of a trilogy, the outrageously funny characters, incredibly detailed world-building, and rollercoaster of a plot all mean that Crazy Rich Asians is strong enough to be a fantastic stand on its own read.
Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller)
Originally banned in the US, Henry Miller’s first novel Tropic of Cancer is perhaps not quite what you would call a ‘cosy’ autumn read.
It tracks Miller’s down-and-out life in 1930s Paris as a struggling writer wandering in and out of dingy streets and sordid apartments, as well as describing in striking detail his numerous sexual encounters. Yet whatever your initial reaction to this small introduction is, don’t be put off. If anything, it is worth reading just for experiencing the brutal honesty of Miller’s writing as he ferociously condemns, celebrates, spits on and laughs at the absurd world around him and himself in it. It’s this honesty which I especially admire in the book – Miller presents a vivid duality between his idealism of bohemian life accompanied with an utter lack of responsibility for anyone or anything, and his inner sense of desolation.
To me, there appears to be a self-created isolation at heart, which he doesn’t seem to even want to escape from – and it’s this unveiling without holding anything back which provides an unapologetic nobility in the face of all his crass pig-headedness. Granted, this book may take you down labyrinths where you are uncomfortable at first, but believe me when I say you’ll leave Miller’s Paris enlightened.
The Future (Neil Hibron)
“The worst thing about being naked – and then being hit by a car – is that road rash is a problem for skin” and many other first lines of poetry can be found in this candid collection.
Written on the road during two years of touring, this is Neil Hilbron’s second poetry book and a mindful depiction of his personal experiences which he considers as he travels from petrol stations to motel rooms, effortlessly combining his present with bittersweet nostalgia. Hilbron went viral in 2013 with his performance of the poem ‘OCD’ at Button Poetry (which to date has almost 15 million views), and from then on has evolved into one of the most popular slam and performance poets, filling gigs across the world.
His writing is a silver lining, a hopeful exploration through the struggles that many of us may come across, from the ache of heartbreak to fighting our personal demons. This is, one would argue, the perfect autumnal poetry if going through a case of ennui, as Hilbron faces life’s challenges head on and addresses them with endearing and vulnerable style, promising a brighter future.
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies) (Scarlet Curtis)
Scarlet Curtis’ vibrant collation of essays, written by an assortment of empowered women, is a heart-felt explanation of the true meaning of feminism. Published both in the wake of and in response to the #MeToo movement, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies) generates a space for the exploration of both public and personal female activism.
With musings from big names in the feminist sphere of influence, such as Deborah Frances-White and Jameela Jamil, Curtis’ book delivers an inspiring insight into what it is to be a feminist, whilst challenging common misconceptions.
The book reflects upon many of the common struggles faced by women on a daily basis whilst sparking a discussion of wider systemic concerns. Highlights include Gemma Arterton’s reimagining of the Bond-Girl trope in her essay ‘Woke Woman’, Liv Little’s honestly introspective ‘Feminism, My Vulva and Me’ and Jodie Whittaker’s heart-warming yet hilarious ‘An Interview with My Mum’.
All the royalties from the book’s sales go towards Girl Up, a brilliant campaign set up by the UN, which aims to empower girls across the globe to make positive social change. Feminists Don’t Wear Pink is an encouraging, yet relatable reflection of feminism today and should be at the very top of anyone’s reading list as the autumn months continue to roll in.
Image: PublicCo via Pixabay