Do you fancy finding something new to read? Or giving a thoughtful gift? I recommend novels, poetry, children’s books and just a little bit of non-fiction. This list is ever-growing, as it will be updated every time I post more suggestions on my blog – which you can also follow. I’ve underlined ones that have particularly stuck with me.
The President’s Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli. This book broke my heart all the way through. The prose is stunning and devastating, and the circular nature of the ending, which repeats the beginning but with a novel’s worth of context, is genius.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I so enjoyed this tapestry-esque novel, woven together with such skill. Novels from the perspective of older people, talking about their youth, are spellbinding when they’re done well – and I never doubted Atwood would do it excellently.
The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong. At a protest about the classist way that grades were originally assigned last year, a girl carried a sign saying ‘justice for scheme weans’.
Madeleine Miller’s Circe. I absolutely adored it in a way I loved reading as a kid, sneaking out of conversations to finish my chapter, reading ‘just one more page’ until my eyes ached. Miller’s prose sparkles; it is beautiful and exciting, and I am fervently hoping the rumours of a TV show are true.
Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships. I love a bit of reimagined mythology, especially from a more female perspective. I liked this novel a lot, with its variety of women narrators, but I didn’t find it as all-consuming as Miller’s Circe. I am going to read Haynes’ new book, though.
John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. The style of this made me itch to write prose! It felt very biblical, and doomed, and it made my heart feel tender.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, particularly its narration. As always with Ishiguro, it filled me with intrigue and confusion and it has stuck in my brain.
Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I’m very behind the game on this one, but I read it overnight and the underlying tension and narrative style dragged me along until far past my bedtime. I thought it ended quite suddenly, but this may be a good thing as it has left me pondering it.
Emma by Jane Austen. I listened to this audiobook, and enjoyed it very much. It’s a classic that still absolutely slaps. Funny, romantic, made me cry at work.
Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. Look, I knew this book would be good. It won the Booker prize. But OH MY GOD IT IS SO GOOD. I loved and hated every character, lost myself in each setting, and thought about it for days. The way the characters intertwined but were each so unique and flawed blew me away, and it made me desperately want to write a novel.
The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson. I chose this as a Burns’ night book, but only in the sense that it is set in 18th century Scotland. I have a soft spot for books that combine historical accuracy with something like fairies, so this novel was excellent for me. I gasped so much reading this that it felt like there was no air left in the room, and never thought I would care so much about civil engineering.
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton. This is the most original book I’ve read in SO long; I absolutely couldn’t put it down. If you’d asked me a week ago I would’ve told you I was sick of apocalypse fiction, but a foul-mouthed crow was the narrator to change my mind on this. My whole family passed this book around so we could all discuss it.
Abi Daré’s debut The Girl with the Louding Voice a book that makes my chest hurt. Written from the perspective of a 14-year-old third wife, it is achingly sad, with moments of hope and joy making the darkness even more potent. A brilliant read, but not a lighthearted one.
Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister the Serial Killer. Touching and surprising in equal measure, but most of all funny, this is a book I’d recommend whether you’re an avid reader or not.
Andrea Cohen’s ‘The Committee Weighs In‘. This poem is very short, touching, and excellent. Just read it!
‘Limbo‘ by Lauren Bender. I really enjoyed the form of this poem and the way it reinforces rather than detracts from the content. “A you by any other choice is decidedly / someone else’
‘Geophagia‘ by Taylor Byas. Every line of this poem is like a punch to the face. It is beautiful, and horrifying. ‘Bribe/ the sun to set on you instead, let/ it light you aflame.’
Leyla Josephine’s ‘Stepping into Love’. The description of smitten in this makes me laugh and the idea of deliberately choosing to love one another is one that strikes me deeply.
‘A Hand Out’ by Leslie Grollman. ‘How to blue the bronze of can’t / into a summer’s moon, into a naked swim’.
‘wild blueberry scones’ by Raina K. Puels. Sexy, gay, romantic, and with lots of slant rhyming. What’s not to love?
‘My Walt Whitman’ by Aleah Dye, (law student, poet, and master selfie taker). God, poems are good, aren’t they? ‘pray I let you touch the grass with me,/ the dead and the gone and the living’.
‘Elegy for Spring’ by Taylor Byas. Okay, this woman can WRITE. Every section of this 5 part poem is astounding, and it adds up to make a wonderful poem: ‘I couldn’t explain the importance / of the spring morning, how I remembered / my father’s gentleness most clearly / in its simmering.’
Wendy Cope’s ‘The Orange‘. A peaceful poem that seems apt for both the start of spring and for the anniversary lockdown: ‘I love you. I’m glad I exist.’
Isaura Ren’s ‘you can call me daddy if you want’ is a sexy little number that you might not want to read on the bus. Send it to a lover!
‘Address to a Haggis’ by Rabbie Burns. For Burns’ night I forced my lovely poetry friends to read this, and we discussed its elements of class and nationality, as well as parallels in different stanzas, and the seemingly varied speakers. Suffice it to say, I will be UNBEARABLE at my next Burns’ night.
C. M. Taylor’s ‘Bird Bodies‘. This delicate, snow-soaked poem has many standout lines (hello, ‘my kindness / is wounded again’!), but the one that really ached my heart was “that absent snow is a metaphor for all the ways / he & I invented to be wrong for each other.”
‘Tess and Friends Try on Selves Like Swimsuits‘ by Dia Roth is a perfect example of the amazing queer poem made so welcome by the Selkie.
Maggie Smith’s ‘Good Bones‘. I’m trying to avoid mentioning too much politics, but this poem, like much of Smith’s work, is infused with hope – something we could all do with at this time.
‘Daisies‘ by Kathleen Jamie. One of her many nature poems with a simple title, but this one has weaselled its way into my brain, perhaps for good. I’ve read it maybe 50 times and keep being stunned by different lines. My current favourite excerpt: “surely it’s better / to renew ourselves than die / of all that openness?”
T.S Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ Feel free to groan, but when I was seventeen, this was the first poem I felt like I really Got, or didn’t Get at all. I read it over and over, and spent hours googling every reference and weeks using each line as the first line of a new poem. I’ve always been a writer but without ‘Prufrock’ it might have taken me a lot longer to realise I’m a poet. Here also, a confession: I hated ‘The Waste Land.’
Alycia Pirmohamed’s ‘My Body is a Forest.’ Find it here.
Tara Willoughby’s ‘Crows Can’t Talk’ Check it out.
Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times. This anthology, edited by Neil Astley, is probably my favourite poetry anthology. I got the short ‘essential’ version for uni, then after reading Arundhathi Subramaniam’s ‘Prayer’ before bed every night for a week, I requested the three longer ones for Christmas, going from 100 poems to 1500. Whatever your mood or your relationship with poetry, there’s something in here that will make you feel what it is to be human.
Bloodwarm by Taylor Byas. This chapbook is absolutely stunning, from the flecks of gold on the cover, to lines like ‘The kettles whistle is not a whistle, but a mother crying’ to the closing poem, ‘Geophagia’.
20 love poems and a song of despair by Pablo Neruda. I am getting through this very slowly, as I am reading them in Spanish first. It’s my first experience of reading non-English poems in their native language, and it is bringing a strange new dimension to a poet I have always loved.
Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing. Cohen’s sketches add extra spark to this already original collection, filled with sex, music and politics. I’m shocked how few of these poems I’ve read! My highlight so far: The Collapse of Zen.
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz. A beautifully written mix of experiences with race, basketball, and love. Definitely one to re-read a hundred times.
Kathleen Jamie’s Selected Poems. Having read many of Jamie’s more recent poems, it’s fascinating to see her development on the page. I love the poems in Scots scattered through without apology, and although there is a surprising variety of themes in the book, it is clear why she is best known as a nature poet. After I have read this book through, I’ll dip in and out of it for years.
Dearly by Margaret Atwood.
Short Story Collections
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes. While these short stories don’t grip me as much as his novels, the man has a mastery of character that makes every story interesting.
Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan. These spooky, feminist short stories experiment with form in a way I adored. I was inspired to write a ghost story about my not-dead neighbour!
Bolu Babalola’s Love in Colour. A collection of short stories: some modernised fairytales, and some Babalola originals. This book has the most beautiful cover I’ve ever seen,
Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up!. I enjoyed this book on so many levels. It is beautifully written, and puts into words thoughts I have never managed to articulate, as well as introducing me to ideas I’ve never considered. The first meal I made after I read this book was just pasta, but it felt brand new: I savoured the crushing of the garlic, the cheap tin of tomatoes, and the grated bits of cheese I snuck before I served it. Eat Up! is gorgeous, feminist, and mindful.
‘Warriors and Witches and Damn Rebel Bitches’ by Mairi Kidd.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy. A beautiful gift I received that made my heart soar, the same way that spring does.
‘Guess How Much I Love You’ by Sam McBratney. This is a beautiful book, the first one I remember, and I’ve been feeling all mushy since my baby niece was born.
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. This is one of the first books I actually remember reading, and struggling with, and not understanding, and re-reading, and discussing. My boyfriend bought it for himself, and I thought I would have a quick skim through Chapter Two (the first chapter as they are exclusively prime numbers) and ended up devouring the full thing. As sad, stressful, and gripping as I remember.
Sabriel from Garth Nix’s ‘Old Kingdom’ series grabbed me only slightly less than it did as a child, when I was convinced I could be a Charter Mage if I only tried hard enough. My boyfriend teased me as I gasped at every twist and turn, and laughed aloud.
I have to cheat here because I’ve recently read The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time, after watching the films on repeat since I was tiny (Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn is my first and most enduring crush). Despite the lack of Viggo, I found the books to be a lovely lockdown adventure.
Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet. It was just such fun! I’d never read any Le Guin before and thoroughly enjoyed adventuring through these stories.
‘Offerings‘ in Full House. This is a poem about giving everything to someone you love. One of my workshop group said they ‘loved it, but just wanted to tell the narrator to get a grip’. This poem has been nominated for Best of the Net.
‘March 2020- March 2021‘ in the Scottish Book Trust’s new collection. A poem about all the celebrations, big and small, in such a year of struggle.
‘Please Scream Inside Your Heart’ in Stellar Quines’ HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD. This is a found poem, made up from fragments of emails I sent and received during my MSc and COVID-19. The title comes from a sign at a Japanese theme park.
‘The day we move in together’ in perhappened mag (perhaps my favourite lit mag). My partner and I have had a bit of a Time trying to get permanent jobs since finishing uni during the pandemic, so this dreamy lil poem is about the day we finally have a job & home.
‘Game Day‘ in Stymie. A poem about rugby, to which my friends and teammates contributed. God, I miss playing.
‘Some Fears‘ in Vagabond City Lit. A prose poem about rational and irrational fears.
‘Unsaid‘ in Sauer Zine. A poem about my relationship with my best friend, framed via food, which is appropriate as she is an incredibly talented chef! Feel free to follow her cooking Instagram @catbroughcooks.
‘A poem about going climbing (and falling in love with you)‘ in Royal Rose: The Castle. Being in love has made me disgusting and sappy, but I’m proud of this poem.
National Book Week is approaching here in Scotland, and the Scottish Book Trust has chosen my poem ‘Hopes for a New Decade’ to close out this year’s book, “Future.” This means not only will my writing be sent to people all over the country, but my work is also sharing a home with Val McDermid! If you’d like a free physical copy, let me know and I can organise one for you.
‘Cooking‘ and ‘Demolishing a Kitchen Wall with My Dad and His New Girlfriend’ in Another New Calligraphy. I’d like to clarify that these are both fictional poems, as my mum’s friend very gently pulled her aside to ask if things are okay between her and my dad after reading. Knocking kitchen walls down is just rich with metaphor!
‘Hyperbole‘ in Emerge Literary Journal. A furious, sarcastic little piece about the harassment and assault women so often face.
‘The world is ending. It is still springtime.’ My first quarantine poem found a home in the gorgeous Spoken Word Scratch Night zine, a lovely and witty creation that brings all the energy of a good spoken word night to the page. Access it free here – mine is the first poem!
If you haven’t yet bought my MSc cohort’s anthology, From Arthur’s Seat is a gorgeous mix of prose and poetry by talented up-and-coming writers. It has a few of my poems, including one of my favourites I’ve written, ‘the girls are laughing in the gym.’ Find a copy.