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American Dirt

Incredible or insulting

When American Dirt came out, it was an Oprah’s book club pick and became The Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller. It was optioned for a film adaptation by Clint Eastwood and was lauded by many as the ‘great immigration novel’. However since then it has received harsh criticism, particularly from many Latinx writers for what they felt was its stereotypical portrait of migrants from Mexico and Central America.  The controversy caused Jeanine Cummins to cancel her book tour and all events due to death threats and more.

There’s so much to discuss about this novel, so in addition to reading the book why not enrich your book club meeting by exploring the US/Mexico crisis further with podcasts and videos from the frontlines and discussions about the potential consequences of telling a story that is not your own.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

Bad Blood

Unbelievable but true

Rigorously reported and fearlessly written by prize-winning journalist John Carryrou. Bad Blood is a fast paced and gripping story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron. A tale of ambition and hubris, set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the next Steve Jobs. A brilliant Stanford dropout whose start-up promised to revolutionize the medical industry with its breakthrough device that performed the whole range of laboratory tests from a single drop of blood. Backed by high profile investors, Theranos was valued at more than $9 billion. There was just one problem, the technology didn’t work.

After the book came the podcast series The Drop Out, followed by the documentary ‘The Inventor’ and now a film staring Jennifer Lawrence is in the works. It’s a story that we just can’t get enough of!

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

 

Book Collection

An audio fix for book lovers

There are some amazing literary podcasts that you can listen to when you’re not reading. Whether you are looking for lively book club discussions, in depth author interviews, candid book reviews or simply want to discover new gems to read next, there’s something bookish out there for everyone.

We have selected our favourite podcasts that discuss all things books, by book lovers for book lovers.

Enhance your book club discussions with our Book Club collection.

Or view all available Pods using our Pod Index

Dear Mrs Bird

Uplifting tale of friendship

London, 1941. Amid the falling bombs Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a fearless Lady War Correspondent. Unfortunately, Emmy instead finds herself employed as a typist for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt at Woman’s Friend magazine. Mrs Bird refuses to read, let alone answer, letters containing any form of Unpleasantness, and definitely not those from the lovelorn, grief-stricken or morally conflicted.

But the thought of these desperate women waiting for an answer at this most desperate of times becomes impossible for Emmy to ignore. She decides she simply must help and secretly starts to write back – after all, what harm could that possibly do?

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

Educated

Astonishing self-invention

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days in rural Idaho with radical survivalist Mormon parents. She didn’t get a birth certificate until she was nine and had no medical records because her father did not believe in doctors. She and her six older siblings worked in her father’s junkyard. As she grew older, her father’s beliefs became more extreme and one of her brothers grew violent.

At 17, she decided to educate herself as a means of escape. Within 10 years she had earned a PhD in intellectual history and political thought from Cambridge but was estranged from her parents and half of her siblings. Now 31 and still living in Cambridge, Educated is her first novel and is about the transformative power of education and the price she had to pay for it.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

Girl, Woman, Other

Dazzling and masterful

This is Britain as you’ve never read it. This is Britain as it has never been told. From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .

Winner of the Booker Prize 2019

‘Beautifully interwoven stories of identity, race, womanhood, and the realities of modern Britain’ 

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

 

 

Gutsy Women

Courage and resilience

Throughout history and around the globe women have overcome the toughest resistance imaginable to win victories that have made progress possible for all of us. That is the achievement of each of the women in this book. They are all gutsy women, leaders with the courage to stand up to the status quo, ask hard questions, and get the job done.

Be inspired by ordinary women who have gone on the achieve the extraordinary. Hillary and Chelsea Clinton have collated ‘The Book of Gutsy Women’ , a phenomenal collection of essays about women who have made a lasting difference in the world. Listen to their interview about the book with Fearne Cotton on the Happy Place podcast and then delve a bit deeper into the stories of nine of these amazing women.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

 

 

Hamnet

Tender and moving

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet is a fictionalised account of the short life of Shakespeare’s 11 year old son. Winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, the chair of judges Martha Lane Fox said O’Farrell’s novel was a “truly great” work of fiction and an “exceptional winner”.

England, 1580: The Black Death creeps across the land, an ever-present threat, infecting the healthy, the sick, the old and the young, alike. A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a tender and unforgettable re-imagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, and whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays of all time, Hamnet is mesmerizing, seductive, impossible to put down.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series View

Midnight Express

Gripping prison epic

Midnight Express is the true story of Billy Hayes, an American college student who was caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey in 1970 and thrown into prison. First released as a book in 1977, it quickly became a worldwide best-seller. The story was made into a movie in 1978, directed by Alan Parker, produced by David Puttnam and written by Oliver Stone. It went on to win two Oscars in 1979 for Best Screenplay and Best Original Score.

In more recent times, Billy has travelled round the world with a one man show Riding the Midnight Express, which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013. He has written two sequels to his original book both published in 2013: Midnight Return (Escaping Midnight Express) and The Midnight Express Letters – from a Turkish Prison, 1970 – 1975, a collection of letters written to his friends and family from prison. In the same year, the story was made in to a ballet, which was the subject of much speculation when the lead dancer, Sergei Polunin, left the show one week before opening. In 2016, the story was the subject of a documentary, Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey. 

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

My Dark Vanessa

A darkly, compelling debut

My Dark Vanessa is the harrowing tale of fifteen year old Vanessa Wye’s relationship with her forty five year old English teacher, Jacob Strane and the lasting impact it has on her life.  Kate Elizabeth Russell resists the insistence on black and white in sexual dealings – instead inhabiting the mind of a vulnerable teenager, offering insight into how black might feel like white, how abuse may be taken for romance – and how this lie could be desperately clung onto into adulthood.  My Dark Vanessa reveals a slow journey towards a different understanding

Although this book seems very current, with its themes of manipulation by an older man, Kate Elizabeth Russell actually took 18 years to write this novel that has been labelled Lolita for the #MeToo society.  Like American Dirt, this novel too has courted controversy: a seven figure advance, allegations of plagiarism that got it dropped from Oprah’s book club,  and questions about whether the novel was based on Russell’s own experience and the implication that she needed to prove her credentials for writing about sexual trauma.  It is somewhat ironic that in writing a book about a woman who doesn’t want to come forward about abuse, she is then forced to reveal her own trauma. As she says on her website, “my greatest wish is that My Dark Vanessa will spark conversation about the complexity of coercion, trauma, and victimhood, because while these stories can feel all too familiar, victims are not a monolith and there is no universal experience of sexual violence”.  See her website (link in Xtra) for the complete piece.

Stephen King described it as ‘A hard story to read and an even harder one to put down … a package of dynamite’.  See what you think.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

One Of Us Is Lying

Breakfast Club with a twist

An award-winning young adult, mystery/suspense novel by author Karen M. McManus. One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five students, with contrasting personalities walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Bronwyn the brain. Addy the beauty. Nate the criminal. Cooper the athlete and Simon the outcast. The victim, known for exposing everyone’s darkest secrets through a gossip app, has plenty of enemies, but who has the biggest motive? Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide and one of them is definitely lying. Pay close attention and you might solve this. Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

Lying is an inherent part of being human and we all do it, take a deeper look in our Why We Lie Pod View 

Recursion

Mind-bending thriller

Recursion is a New York Times Bestseller by Blake Crouch, author of Dark Matter and the Wayward Pines triology. Described as mind-bending, action-packed and deeply emotional, Recursion is science fiction thriller set in New York, exploring love, grief and the nature of memories.

When Barry Sutton fails to stop the suicide of a women suffering with False Memory Syndrome, a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived, his search for the truth is more terrifying than any disease. Neuroscientist Helena Smith, whose mother has Alzheimer’s disease, has dedicated her life to creating a technology that will preserve our most precious memories forever. As their stories collide, Barry and Helena are trapped together in a loop of ever-growing chaos.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

The Color Purple

Iconic modern classic

Set in the deep American South between the wars, The Color Purple is the classic tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.

Published in 1982, The Color Purple went on to win both the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. In 1985, the book was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey, and in 2005 it was adapted into a Broadway musical.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

The Nickel Boys

Heartbreakingly good

Colson Whitehead is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad, which in 2016 won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. The Nickel Boys, his follow up book, won Colson a second Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2020. He brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.  The book was named one of Time Magazine’s 10 best fiction books of the decade.

Th story is set at a time when the civil rights movement was spurring change, but progress was slow and certainly didn’t infiltrate the book’s fictional Nickel Academy where much of the story takes place. The Nickel Academy, a segregated reform school for boys, is based on the true story of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Florida.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

The Vanishing Half

Family and identity

From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white. Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, Brit Bennett produces a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past, as it shapes decisions, desires and expectations, and explores the multiple reasons why people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

 

Where the Crawdad

Striking and evocative

Where the Crawdads Sing is an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heart-breaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising murder mystery all in one. Delia Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

With themes of abandonment, loneliness, resilience and the power of nature, there’s plenty to discuss about this book. Find out more about the author, her story and the landscape of the marches in the resources below.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View

 

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