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Photograph: Courtesy of the Mayor of London’s office
Photograph: Sadiq Khan, Courtesy of the Mayor of London’s office

Londoners recommend the books that have got them through lockdown

Revealing memoirs, stories of hope and studies of Black British history – five Londoners share the books that have defined their summer of staying at home, and those that are still at the top of their reading lists

Written by
Katie McCabe

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Favourite bookshop: The Riverside Bookshop, Hay’s Galleria

Lockdown reads:

‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo
‘This incredible book shines a light on the rich diversity of Black womanhood and gave me an insight into experiences and perspectives too rarely explored in literature.’

‘NW’ by Zadie Smith
‘Zadie Smith once said London is “a state of mind” and this novel – vivid and affirming, yet unflinching in its portrayal of ordinary Londoners – offers us a flavour of what that means.’

‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’ by David Olusoga
‘Recent conversations about racism, slavery and historical injustice have exposed gaps in our collective understanding about the contribution Black people have made to life in Britain for centuries. David Olusoga’s book provides a comprehensive overview of a long and complex history.’ 

‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge
‘This book has seen a surge in popularity following the brutal killing of George Floyd, and rightly so. If you want to understand why racism isn’t simply about cruel words or personal prejudice but structures and systems, this is a great place to start.’

‘Noughts & Crosses’ by Malorie Blackman
‘People of colour are shamefully under-represented in books for children and young adults, which is why a whole generation credit Malorie Blackman with giving them relatable characters to read about. This groundbreaking novel, recently adapted into a TV series by the BBC, reframes the conversation on racism in an alternate reality where Black people form a ruling class.’

Amika George, activist and founder of @Free_Periods

Amika George; photograph by Mollie Rose

Favourite bookshop: Daunt Books, Belsize Park

Lockdown reads:

‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi 
‘This book will make you cry a lot and think a lot. It’s a memoir by a doctor who is diagnosed with cancer, reflecting on illness, religion and regret. The writing is incredible, and the epilogue by his wife will devastate you.’

‘Hope in the Dark’ by Rebecca Solnit 
‘Spanning the realms of political history, social injustices, environmental activism and feminist criticism, this book, centered on how to extract hope from a dark, despairing world, belongs at the top of any list about recreating a post-Covid world and building back better.’ 

‘Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India’ by Shashi Tharoor 
‘A necessary read for anyone who wants to learn about the reality and ongoing legacy of British imperialism in India. In his powerful account of ‘What the British Did to India’, Tharoor dismantles our romanticised remembrance of empire by debunking myths and emphasising the complexity of our postcolonial age.’ 

‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates
‘Coates’s portrayal of race in America, in the form of a letter to his son, feels more urgent and needed than ever right now. Toni Morrison described it as “required reading”, so I’m quite embarrassed I haven’t read this yet.’

‘Intimations’ by Zadie Smith 
‘I can’t wait to read these essays, written during lockdown, on how global suffering and the experience of isolation during the pandemic has prompted a reassessment of the world and our role in it.’ 

Emma Gannon, author of ‘Olive’ and host of ‘Ctrl Alt Delete’ podcast 

Emma Gannon; photograph by Paul Storrie

Favourite bookshop: ‘Pages of Hackney and Libreria, my locals in East London, and Lutyens & Rubinstein if I am ever in Notting Hill. I also thoroughly recommend checking out The Second Shelf in Soho, a snug independent bookstore focusing on works by women, including rare and first editions.’

Lockdown reads: 

‘Brit(ish)’ by Afua Hirsch
‘This book should be mandatory reading for all: on Britain, race, identity and belonging. Hirsch explores “the question” – ie people constantly asking you where you’re from – in such a poignant, urgent and detailed way. It is a book that discusses racism, colour-blindness and the importance of uncomfortable conversations with family members. I loved that the book includes so much information, meticulous research and eye-opening statistics, plus memoir-style writing from Afua also.’

‘Finding Your Own North Star’ by Martha Beck  
‘I’ve been reading lots of self-help books in lockdown and I find Martha Beck to be a very soothing voice. She is Oprah’s life coach and her books enable you to get outside of your own mind and look objectively at the ways you can make change in your life and the world around you.’

‘I Am Not Your Baby Mother’ by Candice Brathwaite 
‘An incredibly moving (and sometimes funny) memoir all about Black British motherhood. This book covers so much, from micro-aggressions to family complications, and from how Black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth to knife crime and teaching children about racism. It is a must-read.’

‘Olive’ by Emma Gannon 
‘My debut novel is out on July 23 and even though it’s been a strange time to release a book, I’m very excited about it. The novel centres around Olive and her three best friends, Bea, Cecily and Isla. They are all going through their different versions of motherhood (pregnancy, IVF, child-free by choice), and the book explores the obstacle course of adulthood, navigating key life milestones and how friendships grow and change.’

‘The New Girl’ by Harriet Walker 
‘This book is about female competition, rivalry and jealousy at work. The main character, Margot, is going on maternity leave, and her replacement, Maggie, seems to have stolen her life – and Margot is terrified she won’t get it back. This book reminded me of how gripped I felt when I first read ‘Gone Girl’ — it’s a real page-turner.’ 

Elizabeth Uviebinené, co-author of ‘Slay in Your Lane’

Elizabeth Uviebinené

Favourite bookshop: Kirkdale Bookshop, Sydenham

Lockdown reads:

‘Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion’ by Jia Tolentino
‘One of the most interesting and enlightening books I’ve read in a long while. In her collection of essays, Jia writes with such wit and warmth on a lot of what has been on my mind about today’s society. I was nodding throughout.’  

‘How to do nothing’ by Jenny Odell
‘I’ve just started this and it’s made me think of things differently. This very well-researched book is a reminder of how important it is to come up for air as often as possible in this crazy and intense world.’ 

‘It’s About Damn Time’ by Arlan Hamilton
‘You can’t not read Arlan’s book and not be inspired by her grit, her wisdom and empathy. She is formidable and this book is a gift. If you’ve ever felt underestimated, then this is for you.’ 

‘The Chiffon Trenches’ by André Leon Talley
‘André is an icon and I can’t wait to read this memoir, as he is one of the most legendary voices and faces in fashion. Did someone say behind-the-scenes tea?’

‘Superior: The Return of Race Science’ by Angela Saini
‘This book has been on my list for a while but I’ve been waiting for the right time. No better time than now, when you read this line from the book’s blurb: “When you see how power has shaped the idea of race, then you can start to understand its meaning.”’

Sara Jafari, editor of Token magazine and author of forthcoming novel ‘The Mismatch’ 

Sara Jafari

Favourite bookshop: Review Bookshop in Peckham

Lockdown reads:

‘The Switch’ by Beth O’Leary
‘‘The Switch’ is a charming novel about a young woman who feels stuck in life, and her grandmother who is newly single. Their plan to switch lives for two months is heart-warming and funny. If you’re in a lockdown reading slump, like I had been, I would certainly recommend this book to get you out of it.’ 

‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett
‘Having read ‘The Mothers’ by Brit Bennett last year, and discovering what an exceptional writer she is, I’ve been eagerly awaiting her new novel published in June. ‘The Vanishing Half’ is about estranged twin sisters who live very different worlds, one black and one white.’

‘Ordinary People’ by Diana Evans
‘Set in London, ‘Ordinary People’ explores complex relationships, identity and what it is to be human. Evans is such a talented, skilful writer that this should be on your to-read list.’ 

‘Out of Love’ by Hazel Hayes
‘Told in reverse, ‘Out of Love’ starts at the end of a relationship and each chapter takes us back in time, from a break up at the beginning to the couple’s first kiss at the end. It’s a bittersweet romance with an original twist that dissects relationships in an artful way.’  

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has relaunched his #LondonIsOpen campaign to help kickstart the economy safely by encouraging Londoners to visit their local shops while following public-health guidance. The campaign is part of the Mayor’s package of measures to support businesses in the capital as they recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic and take steps to avoid a deadly second wave of the virus.

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