Well, Readers, our 2021 staff picks continue at pace. This time around, we’ve selected our non-fiction highlights for the year. From essays on the body to an exploration of one of life’s most crucial elements, we have an enormous range guaranteed to bring new perspectives and unexpected revelations. Why not have a browse?
(And if you haven’t already, see what we picked out in the way of graphic novels here)
Corpsing: My Body & Other Horror Shows by Sophie White was pitched as Nora Ephron meets Bram Stoker, which I found funny and appealing! Then I saw the book cover, which features the Bates Motel, bats, and some legs, equally unsettling and amusing. It’s a collection of literary non-fiction ‘horror stories’ about the reality of living as a woman in the 21st century. Sharp and hard-hitting, there are writings about grief, addiction, and mental health, among many other things, handled with seriousness and through the lens of the macabre. As well as being a best-selling writer, White is a podcaster who hosts The Creep Dive, an investigation into weird, bizarre, and horrible news stories. In the same vein Copsing can be weird and bizarre, using elements of horror to explore the relentlessness and cruelty of modern living while managing to make you lol at the same time.
Replace Me by Amber Husain
(9781913512064, p/b, £6, Peninsula Press)
The next in Peninsula Press’s incredible pocket essays series, Replace Me by Amber Husain is a timely and striking exploration of replaceability – from workers being threatened by their own replaceability to the unlimited choice of dating apps to the dangerous social media rhetoric spouted by white nationalists. Through lively, smart thinking, Amber Husain asks if our obsession with replaceability is the very thing that’s keeping the word from moving forwards, and how we can go about changing that. I really enjoyed this insightful little book and am very keen to read whatever Husain writes next.
Between Certain Death and A Possible Future edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
(9781551528502, p/b, £18.99, Arsenal Pulp Press)
I love everything that Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore has ever written, and was VERY into this book when I first heard about it, not least because it’s published by one of my favourite presses, Arsenal Pulp Press. Between Certain Death and a Possible Future is a collection of interviews, essays, and memoirs, edited by Sycamore and exploring the realities of how queer generations have been shaped by the AIDS crisis. The book collects over 35 voices from all over the world and looks at the generational distinctions of HIV and AIDs, showing how they are complicated by class, race, and gender, while exploring how the crisis has affected queerness and community. It’s an incredibly powerful and moving collection, and a really important addition to the queer non-fiction canon that is worth reading for Sycamore’s introduction alone.
Man in Furs by Catherine Sauvat, Anne Simon, Mercedes Claire Gilliom
(9781683964803, h/b, £21.99, Fantagraphics)
This graphic novel tells an amazing tale from history; full of lust, betrayal and sado-masochism. It focuses on the story of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch who wrote the erotic masterpiece Venus in Furs to share a personal story of desire, only to have the sexual proclivity “Masochism” very publicly named after him by psychologist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing years later. Years, which he had spent trying to distance himself professionally from a very real and personal loss surrounding his work – as well as some public embarrassment. Along with the great subject matter, the beautiful black and white illustrations work amazingly with the playful use of a rich red to hint at the eroticism of the period as well. If you have any interest in learning about a deeply intelligent and sexually liberated man from the late 1800s, you must read this comic today!
Foucault In Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryziński
(9781948830362, p/b, £13.95, Open Letter)
In 1958, Michel Foucault arrived in Poland to work on his thesis “The History of Madness”. While he was there, he became involved with the thriving gay community until he was ousted for his supposed crimes by the secret police there. This is the previously untold story of the love and betrayal that led to that exiling as researched through sealed police documents which the author, Remigiusz Ryziński – philosopher and academic lecturer on gender and queer theory, was able to recover. Along with being a moving and intriguing story about the secret police of Poland and the criminalization of queer identities throughout the 20th century, it is also a very well-researched book brought to us by a leading thinker in the subject. Foucault in Warsaw is an intense page-turner that just can’t be recommended enough.
How To Examine A Wolverine by Philipp Schott
(9781770415881, p/b, £11.95, ECW Press)
The sequel to the best selling “The Accidental Veterinarian”, which was shortlisted for multiple prizes last year, is an absolute laugh riot from Dr. Schott once again. Crammed with heartfelt stories from his 30 years in a small animal clinic. He speaks about helping everything from tiny honeybees to massive Burmese pythons and the everyday dogs and cats in between. Though it’s the stories of the stranger-than-fiction owners which are most likely to make you laugh out loud. Despite no longer practicing, he also talks about current topics like CBD oil, raw diets, and COVID-19 which should interest any modern pet owner. I would say that even if you don’t have a pet currently though, this is just such a lovely read to go through. We could all use some levity and that’s exactly what How to Examine a Wolverine will give you.
Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution by Liam Warfield, Walter Crasshole & Yony Leyser
((9781629637969, p/b, £15.99, PM Press)
I first encountered the queercore music revolution through writing an article on the movement around the start of 2020, and admittedly that first encounter has since spiralled into a full-blown fascination. If you’re looking for a book that covers the music, zines, photographs, and primary figures of the movement, then this is a book that will knock your socks off! This book traces queercore back to its origins with young queer punks in San Francisco, interviewing giants around the scene including Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Bruce LaBruce. Whether you’re looking to dive into some awesome queer history, or just want to read about some kickass music and art, I recommend you pick up QUEERCORE!
Fury: A Memoir by Kathryn Heyman
(9781912408641, p/b, £8.99, Myriad Editions)
This recommendation comes with a content warning: Heyman discusses sexual assault and violence in her memoir. After going through a traumatic sexual assault trial at the age of 20, Kathryn escapes to work on a fishing trawler in the Timor Sea. As the only woman among a group of tough working men, Kathryn is pushed physically and mentally, facing the abuse she’s suffered and finding new ways to recover. As a writer and teacher of storytelling, Kathryn knows the power of words and stories. This novel not only traces her rebirth, but also her salvation through reading and writing. This book is a gripping exploration of recovery and a reflection on class, gender and violence.
British Boutique Hotels by Gina Jackson
(9781914314032, h/b, £20, Hoxton Mini Press)
This handy title conveniently came out right before my mum’s birthday, and I knew I had to get my hands on a copy for her! We spent her whole birthday morning looking through all of the beautiful hotels and fantasising about trips to the Scottish Highlands. In the age of COVID, this book is perfect for picking where to go in the UK, and with each hotel Gina also includes what to do in the area to make the most of your trip. Don’t just listen to me though, here’s what my travel-expert mum had to say:
“If you’re like me and love a characterful, comfortable place to stay you’ll enjoy leafing through all the places and planning some fabulous getaways”.
Losers by Josh Cohen
(9781999922344, p/b, £6, Peninsula Press)
I was exposed to a lot of pop culture in the 1990s, and as a result I have a soft spot for the loser. George Costanza? Great. The slacker nihilism of grunge? Sign me up. Trent from Daria, Beavis and Butthead, Futurama‘s Philip J Fry? More, please. In this wide-ranging essay, Josh Cohen argues that far from being a sentimental moral virtue, humility – or, truly embracing our inner loser – might just be a radical act. It could help change our meritocratic culture, and go some way to finally freeing us of our toxic political culture. My friends; it is time to get back in touch with our inner dweeb.
Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles
(9781922330956, p/b, £12.99, Text Publishing)
Speaking of radical acts: how’s about love? It’s risky business. In this powerful and deeply affecting memoir, Sarah Sentilles writes about her experience adopting a child in the United States – with the ultimate goal of a reunion with the baby’s birth family.
My Body Keeps Your Secrets by Lucia Osborne-Crowley
(9781911648130, p/b, £12.99, The Indigo Press)
From gender identity, to sexual pleasure; to pregnancy or its absence, and to darker secrets of abuse or violation, the body keeps many secrets. In this polyphonic memoir, Lucia Osborne-Crowley combines her own moving testimony with the voices of women, trans and nonbinary people around the world to tell the story of the modern body. This is a widely-researched, powerful rejection of shame, and an absolutely vital read.
Carbon: One Atom’s Odyssey by John Barnett
(9781718501225, PB, £14.99, No Starch Press)
A gorgeous, two-tone tribute to one of life’s most essential elements, based on a short story by the Italian chemist and writer Primo Levi. We follow the journey of a single carbon atom from its birth in the Big Bang to its role in the millions of compounds that make up all known life – from the cells in a moth’s eye to the breath of a falcon. Accompanied by beautiful illustrations rendered in the pure carbon of graphite, this is a scientific and poetic ode both to Levi and to the connectedness of the universe.
Second Thoughts: On Having and Being a Second Child by Lynn Berger, translated by Anna Asbury
(9781912836383, PB, £10.99, September Publishing)
This fascinating book weaves together the latest findings from psychology, biology, and sociology to examine questions about the nature of second child-hood – is it important for children to have siblings? Does having more than one child affect the mother’s health and wellbeing? Does being a second child influence your personality? Full of surprising insight as well as vivid anecdotes from Berger’s own family life and from history, this is a deep dive into a subject that seems little-talked about. Rutger Bregman (Utopia for Realists, Humankind) called it ‘beautifully written, deeply humane, a gem of a book’ – and I wholeheartedly agree. Essential reading for first children, second children, and everyone else too.
Daft Punk’s Discovery: The Future Unfurled by Ben Cardew
(9781913231118, PB, £14.99, Velocity Press)
It’s the 20-year anniversary of French electronic music duo Daft Punk’s influential and prescient album Discovery, and Velocity Press have marked the occasion with a comprehensive, far-ranging retrospective. This incredible biography provides an overview of the album as the cultural phenomenon it was, while also examining its impact on music in general, and telling the story of Daft Punk’s rise from their early days to worldwide fame. Ben Cardew includes extensive interviews, takes into account the duo’s split earlier this year, and his talent for storytelling means there isn’t a dull moment.