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by Staff at Bristol University Press
17th December 2020

2020 has changed the world and the way we live, with one impact being an increase in the amount we read.

The team at Bristol University Press can attest to this reading boom, and while we’re usually asking you to pick up our books and journals, this time we’d like to share some of the books we’ve read and enjoyed this year.

When it launched in November, Bristol University Press signed up to bookshop.org, an online retailer which supports independent bookshops. You can also browse this list there.

 

Cover of 'Fantasyland' by Kurt Andersen

Sarah Breaux – Senior Executive Assistant

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen (Ebury, 2018)

As an American living in Britain, I have often told people that Americans are more likely to believe weird and crazy things compared to British people. This observation was based solely on my personal experience, but I felt quite confident in my assertion. Trump’s election seemed to support my theory.

Then this book was published, and I finally had concrete evidence for the trend I had noticed. The book documents 500 years of the history of America’s relationship with what is now called ‘fake news’. If Trump’s election and documentaries like those of Louis Theroux have left you scratching your head and wondering what is wrong with America, this book will help you understand ‘how America went haywire’.

 

Cover of 'Shattered' by Rebecca Asher

Edwina Thorn – Senior Journals Executive

Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality by Rebecca Asher (Vintage, 2012)

Sadly, as relevant in 2020 as when it was published in 2012, this book uncovers the inequalities that manifest themselves between men and women when they become parents. Asher shows how everything from parental leave and flexible working policies, pre- and post-natal care, baby groups, breastfeeding, parenting manuals, informal advice and women’s own attitudes actively impede equality in more or less insidious ways. As a recent mother, I recognised all the inequalities she documented in my own experience and those of parents around me.

Equal parenting pre-COVID-19 required much more tenacity, commitment and privilege than many people realise. With the pandemic upending people’s lives and livelihoods and exacerbating existing inequalities, this exposé of modern motherhood needs to be read widely for it to effect change.

 

Cover of 'The Vanishing Half' by Brit Bennett

Jade Harris – Marketing and Conferences Assistant

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Little, Brown, 2020)

Set in the 1950s, this book tells the story of two sisters who leave their small town inhabited by only light-skinned black people where racism has been internalised as colourism. One has a child with the ‘darkest man she can find’ whilst the other passes for white, sacrificing her identity and family to escape oppression.

Underpinning their choices is the lynching of their father by a white gang. Reading this story in the year of the Black Lives Matter protests following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor amongst many others, we see how little has changed in society today. This brilliant book sheds light on difficult, nuanced topics like racism, colourism, gender and the fragility of identity, whilst remaining a page-turner full of love and hope.

 

Cover of 'The Sellout'

Shannon Kneis – Assistant Editor

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Oneworld, 2017)

It was a joy to be suspended in the often dizzying world of Dickens, the ‘agragian ghetto’ where The Sellout is set. Outrageously funny and wickedly smart, the book forces us to reflect on race relations, gentrification, class and masculinities. With every sentence a poem in its own right, the mayhem and beauty of The Sellout has stayed with me months later. I recommend being taken on the ride of this book, just don’t always expect to know where you’re going.

 

Cover of 'The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet'

Jess Miles – Digital Marketing Manager

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Hodder and Stoughton, 2015)

This was recommended to me this year. I’ve read it as a progressive science fiction take on the nature of humanity and diversity, so it seems a fitting choice in a year that’s seen so much global upheaval, and racial conflict in particular.

This is the first in a series of four books, in which Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the spacecraft The Wayfarer, a chaotic mix of species and personalities. The team’s job is to build hyperspace tunnels between planets and the story focuses on one particular, predictably tricky, mission. Chambers’s excellent but accessible writing allows you to get lost in the story and the disparate range of settings and characters are beautifully described.

It’s not immediately profound, but as you become immersed in this world, the author does a brilliant job of examining diversity and the complexity of relationships.

If I can add a non-fiction choice, I’d like to choose White Fragility by Robin diAngelo which has really shifted my understanding of race, antiracism and my own whiteness.

 

Cover of 'Girl, Woman, Other'

Julia Mortimer – Journals Director

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (Penguin, 2020)

Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning novel was my perfect lockdown read in 2020. It transported me through black British female history, beautifully interweaving the voices, stories and experiences of 12 unforgettable and diverse characters. Vibrant and sassy, but also immensely moving, the book demonstrates the endless tactics the women employ just to survive in a white-dominated culture.

 

Cover of 'Women Don't Owe You Pretty'

Emma Cook – Publishing Assistant

Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given (Octopus, 2020)

This is a truly enlightening feminist read. Florence Given has created an open-minded space that dissects what it truly means to be a woman in the 21st century, from the most (seemingly) trivial to serious of topics. She not only discusses the extensive scrutiny women face simply by existing in female bodies, but also the added discrimination experienced by marginalised women when not conforming to the ‘white, thin, able-bodied, cisgender’ standard of beauty that society has set.

This book has encouraged me, as a 20-something feminist, to examine and question the many subtleties of everyday life that are reinforcing the status quo in our white male-dominated society.

 

Cover of 'The Midnight Library'

Kathryn King – Marketing Manager

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Canongate, 2020)

This is a novel about philosophy, mental health and the choices we make in life. On the brink of suicide, Nora Seed finds herself in The Midnight Library, which is stacked with endless books from which she can choose her ‘alternative life’ and try living it. Guided by her school librarian, Mrs Elm, Nora samples different variations of her life: as a famous rock star, working in an animal shelter, researching polar bears in the Arctic, as a successful author and even an academic; and others in which she is happily married, in relationships, a mother or alone. We follow her experiences which interweave and overlap with each other until she finds a life she would like to pursue and discovers the consequences of that. At once profound, amusing and moving, it is a thought-provoking story which I highly recommended (along with all Matt Haig’s books!).

 

Cover of 'Sister Outsider'

Sarah Bird – Development Editor

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde (Penguin, 2019)

In a year which saw the first woman, African-American and Asian-American elected to the office of US Vice President, I finally discovered Sister Outsider. I wish both of these things had happened many years ago – the world and my world would have been richer for it. The book is a collection of essays by black, radical, lesbian, feminist, warrior, mother, poet Audre Lorde. She writes from the perspective of outsider, with heart, power, humour and breathtaking clarity, helping me to see the system in which I live in a totally new way – as if for the first time, really. And she identifies a way through it which involves finding power from within and embracing difference. Truly a book for our times.

 

Cover of 'Unfollow'

Georgie Aldridge – Senior Sales Coordinator

Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper (Quercus, 2020)

A moving account about the life of the author growing up within the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, whose members were mainly her close family.

Her story explores how minds can be shaped, but also how they can be changed – it is a testament to the power of empathy and reaching out.

 

Cover of 'How to be Autistic'

Alison Shaw – Chief Executive

How to Be Autistic by Charlotte Amelia Poe (Myriad, 2019)

In this book, Poe describes her experience as a young woman who finds life challenging in many ways and who is eventually diagnosed as autistic. It is powerful, upsetting, heartening, funny and ultimately hopeful, providing an insight into neurodiversity, gender, sexuality and mental health that is rarely seen or understood. It felt like a privilege to share Charlotte’s experiences so directly with her and to understand a little more about how it feels when the world doesn’t seem to fit you in the way it does for other people. Charlotte created a video that won the Spectrum Art Prize 2018.

If I am allowed a second one then it would be White Houses by Amy Bloom, a fictionalised account of Eleanor Roosevelt’s lifelong affair with Lorena Hickock (Hick). It is a story that shines a light on Eleanor’s significant contribution to US politics and society revealing what it means to live in the public eye and be wife of the President of America, and the enduring power of love and friendship.

 

Cover of 'The Salt Path'

Helen Davis – Senior Commissioning Editor

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (Penguin, 2019)

I only started reading this book yesterday so I’m only a few chapters in, but I already feel like this might be my book of the year. I don’t know how it ends, but as a book which is about life changes, loss and finding a new path, maybe not knowing what’s coming next is the right theme for this particular book recommendation! The opening chapters are gripping and I’m keen to see where the journey takes this couple as, newly homeless, dealing with terminal illness and with only what they can carry on their backs, they embark on their 630-mile walk along the South West Coast Path.

 

 

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