Each one of these books, carefully chosen from my beloved book shelf, tells a transformative story about being trapped in a pretty awful situation that, with perseverance and strength, is overcome. I think my subconscious might be trying to tell me something about my own feelings towards the current lockdown but oh well… they are well worth reading! It is more understandable than ever to be feeling out of sorts in this very odd time and it is vital to find some light at the end of the tunnel. These books all tell amazing stories of resilience and courage in evocative, heart-wrenching and often darkly funny ways. I urge you to pick one up ASAP.
1. A Bit of A Stretch – Chris Atkins
Before you think this is a guide to mastering your yogic downward-dog in quarantine I ask you to pause. Inhale. Exhale. And now realise that this book’s title actually refers to the tiny cell that Atkins occupied during his sentence at Her Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth. Having been caught up in an illegal scheme to fund his documentary making he finds himself saying goodbye to the outside world and his beloved son to serve his time. A fascinating and witty read for those who want to know more about day to day life in prison without having to break the law themselves.
2. Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen – Amrou Al Kadhi
Prepare to laugh, cry, audibly gasp and then hold your breath. This book does it all. Al Kadhi was brought up in an Iraqi-British Muslim household where their difference wasn’t exactly welcomed. Educated at Eton College then at Cambridge University we see the power and importance of finding your people and the necessity of kindness. They found their non gender binary identity and created their drag act, Glamrou at Cambridge but this did not end the impacts of previous traumas. Written with sincerity and clarity this book takes you on a journey of how two seemingly contradictory worlds can actually be reconciled if we only learn to listen and accommodate a little more.
3. My Name is Why – Lemn Sissay
A deeply moving account of Sissay’s experience of the UK’s care system exposing a broken and unjust administration in which he was forcibly removed from his birth mother. This book’s beautifully written prose, interspersed with poetry, rethinks the meaning of home and family and will leave you angry and sad at the injustice of what happened. Sometimes difficult to read but the current of hope that underpins his writing makes it well worth a read.
4. Unfollow: A Journey From Hatred to Hope – Megan Phelps-Roper
The Westboro Baptists gained instant fame in Louis Theroux’s 2007 Documentary ‘The Most Hated Family In America’ in which Phelps-Roper was a central subject. A church who’s views on homosexuality and anti-semitism were indoctrinated into its members seemed stuck in the past. Written after she left the Westboro Baptists in 2012, we are given an extraordinary account of what it really means to leave everything and everyone you have ever known in order to seek your own truth. The courage needed to follow your convictions and start a new life is one to be marvelled at here.
5. How to Murder Your Life – Cat Marnell
Well this one was a roller-coaster. Marnell takes you on a tour of her life starting at 26 years old when she was associate beauty editor at a top magazine. Unfortunately she was also – in her words – “a weepy, wobbly, wildly hallucination-prone insomniac; a tweaky self-mutilator; a slutty and self-loathing downtown party girl; and – perhaps most of all – a lonely weirdo.” Her deeply honest account on the impact of drug addiction on her own life and those around her makes for a gripping read. Sharply written and extremely entertaining.
By Philippa Strahan