Need a new companion for your daily commute? We’ve got you covered in three very different directions.
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I picked this book up on a whim at Foyles and didn’t realize until I was halfway through that I had encountered a clip from a Ted Talk by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in my newsfeed a few weeks earlier. In it, she lightly but thoroughly tackled the racist preconceptions a college roommate had about her home country of Nigeria (go watch The Danger of a Single Story). I’ve since learned you can’t go wrong with reading anything Adichie puts to paper.
In many ways a story about how some connections and relationships both define and never leave you, Americanah is stunning from its tangible main characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, to their experience of culture and race in several settings, to the vibrancy of those settings themselves. Whether it’s the streets of central London, an American hole-in-the wall hair salon, or a crammed outdoor food market in Lagos, Adiche’s descriptions satisfy every sense, instantly transporting you as needed. Given the far-reaching global stage of Ifemelu and Obinze’s stories, that’s quite a feat.
Bonus: if, like me, you enter the novel unfamiliar with the music of Onyeka Onwenu, you’ll exit it with the IMPOSSIBLY FUN Living Music stuck in your head for days.
Nobody Cares – Anne T. Donahue
A totally different timbre from Americanah, Nobody Cares is a collection of zingy and heart-felt essays by Canadian author Anne T. Donahue. I owe my knowledge of this particular author to my shameless continued use of Tumblr, and am the better for it. I now follow her on Instagram and was duly aware (and thrilled) when she debuted her first book, and I grabbed a copy as soon as it was available in the UK.
When you need a sharp, funny, ten page pick-me-up, from social pressures, to mental health, to dealing with the best and the shittiest friends and life circumstances, you can do no better than sitting down with any one of the essays in Nobody Cares. It’s like having a motivational speaker in your bag. It may be a motivational speaker that functions a little like a quirky, snarky aunt stuck in the late 60’s, but as Anne’s Insta will attest, she’s the first to admit that. And as I will attest, it’s an absolute blast.
Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior
Most people don’t think historical reading is accessible, and most of the time, I can agree with you. A lot of it isn’t. But books like Helen Castor’s She Wolves have popularized a more digestible version of history books, valiantly outshining those of the past that rock that strange dichotomy of theoretically, deeply fascinating material, but literally, written in a way that’s anything but. Catherine Hanley’s fresh biography of my favorite local 12th century feminist is happily of the She Wolves vein.
Hanley walks us through the entire life of the Empress Matilda, from child-bride of the Holy Roman Emperor to Queen-of-England hopeful in her own right. Better yet – especially since Matilda’s story is so unknown and difficult to detail based on the male-leaning chroniclers of the time – Hanley’s writing is well-researched, always stuck firmly in the female perspective, and best of all, just fun. Hanley is insightful and funny, sharing Matilda’s experience as Empress, Queen, and Warrior in an engaging, contemporary style without getting bogged down in the twelfth-century details. (Favorite line: “..Matilda gave birth – to her immense relief – to a healthy son. In one of the least surprising moves of the Middle Ages, the boy was named Henry.”)
If you’ve been avoiding history books until now, I urge you to dive headfirst in with this one.