Rejoice! The season of hunkering down is upon us. The time has come to switch your swim shorts for your classic cashmere knit, and those heady nights drinking in the sunset from the capital’s best roof terraces for a dash back to the duvet to binge Netflix’s new releases. And, as we pack up our deckchairs for another summer, there’s no better time to catch up on all that reading you promised yourself you’d make a priority this year.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s no shame in annually investing in the complete Man Booker shortlist with all the right intentions of broadening your mind, only to find that time has somehow escaped you. We get it – there’s been some great TV recently. But, as you nestle into your favourite armchair this autumn, it’s time to get lost in a rollickingly good read.
So, whatever your preferred genre, if you’re looking for a little literary inspiration, read on for our curated list of the best books for autumn 2019.
The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth by William Feaver, 5th September
Though ferociously private, artist Lucian Freud spoke every week for decades to his close confidante and collaborator William Feaver – about painting and the art world, but also about his life and loves. The result is this unique, electrifying biography, shot through with Freud’s own words.
In Youth, the first of two volumes, Feaver conjures Freud’s early childhood: Sigmund Freud’s grandson, born into a middle-class Jewish family in Weimar Berlin, escaped Nazi Germany in 1934 before being dropped into successive English public schools. Following Freud through art school, his time in the Navy during the war, his post-war adventures in Paris and Greece, and his return to Soho – consorting with duchesses and violent criminals, out on the town with Greta Garbo and Princess Margaret – Feaver traces a brilliant, difficult young man’s coming of age.
An account of a century told through one of its most important artists, The Lives of Lucian Freud is a landmark in the story of its subject and in the art of biography itself.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, 10th September
It’s hard to imagine a world before The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s genre-defining dystopian novel set in a totalitarian state and exploring themes of women in subjugation trapped within a patriarchal society. Since its publication in 1985, Atwood’s novel has sold over eight million copies in the English language, was shortlisted for the 1986 Booker Prize, and become a staple text across international literature classes. Oh, and it has also been adapted into a Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning TV series.
With all this in mind, you might have forgiven Atwood (now 79, with a further 20 books to her name) for taking a well earned rest and heading into a royalties-funded retirement. Happily, the author has done no such thing, and published a highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale last week. The Testaments is set more than 15 years after the events of the first novel, and the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
Already long-listed for the Booker Prize, and being heralded as the literary event of the year — don’t attend a dinner party this season without at least eight notes of commentary to share on this history-making release.
She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, 10th September
It is now hard to remember life before the Weinstein scandal, which lead to, among other things, #MeToo, the firing of a string of high-profile men, the international drama of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and, at the very least, a greater awareness of the widespread, systemically supported and always devastating nature of sexual harassment. Now, the journalists who broke the case which would change the world have published their account of exactly what happened.
For months ahead of the story breaking, Kantor and Twohey had been having confidential discussions with top actresses, former Weinstein employees and other sources, learning of disturbing, long-buried allegations. The journalists meticulously picked their way through a web of decades-old secret payouts and non-disclosure agreements, pressed some of the most famous women in the world – and some unknown ones – to risk going on the record, and faced down Weinstein, his team of high-priced defenders, and even his private investigators.
This is a book that reads more like a thriller than a thoroughly researched journalistic account, and has been described by The Washington Post as ‘All The President’s Men for the #MeToo era’.
The Body by Bill Bryson, 3rd October
“We spend our whole lives in one body and yet most of us have practically no idea how it works and what goes on inside it. The idea of the book is simply to try to understand the extraordinary contraption that is us.”
Bill Bryson sets off to explore the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself. Full of extraordinary facts and astonishing stories The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a brilliant, often very funny attempt to understand the miracle of our physical and neurological make up. A wonderful successor to A Short History of Nearly Everything, this new book is an instant classic. It will have you marvelling at the form you occupy, and celebrating the genius of your existence, time and time again.
“What I learned is that we are infinitely more complex and wondrous, and often more mysterious, than I had ever suspected. There really is no story more amazing than the story of us.” — Bill Bryson
Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay, 17th October
While the two books might be just about as different as it’s possible to be, this upcoming release from the UK’s funniest medic marks a close contender for The Testaments in terms of sheer, joyful anticipation.
Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas is a surgical-stocking-filler from the author of record-breaking million copy bestseller This Is Going To Hurt. Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat — but lest us forget that 1.4 million NHS staff are heading off to work. In this perfect present for anyone who has ever set foot in a hospital, Adam Kay delves back into his diaries for a hilarious, horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking peek behind the blue curtain at Christmastime.
This festive memoir is a love letter to all those who spend their festive season on the front line, removing babies and baubles from the various places they get stuck, at the most wonderful time of the year.
For The Record by David Cameron, 19th September
We told you it was a busy season for conversation-starting books. And this week, finally, former prime minister David Cameron has emerged, blinking, from his writing shed into a world still dealing with the aftershock of his 2016 decision to call a referendum — one of the most controversial political events of our times. As you might have noticed, Cameron has become something of a polarising figure since.
Now comes his side of the story — all 752 pages of it. Publishers are promising that he will provide, for the first time, his perspective on the EU referendum and his views on the future of Britain’s place in the world in the light of Brexit. Revealing the battles and achievements of his life and career in intimate and frank detail, For the Record seeks to be an important assessment of the significant political events of the last decade, the nature of power and the role of leadership at a time of profound global change.
Pravda Ha Ha: True Travels to the End of Europe by Rory MacLean, 31st October
In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, and it was also in that euphoric year that Rory MacLean travelled from Berlin to Moscow, exploring lands that were – for most Brits and Americans – part of the forgotten half of Europe. Thirty years on, MacLean traces his original journey backwards, across countries confronting old ghosts and new fears: from revanchist Russia, through Ukraine’s bloodlands, into illiberal Hungary, and then Poland, Germany and the UK. Along the way he shoulders an AK-47 to go hunting with Moscow’s chicken Tsar, plays video games in St Petersburg with a cyber-hacker who cracked the US election, drops by the Che Guevara High School of Political Leadership in a non-existent nowhereland and meets the Warsaw doctor who tried to stop a march of 70,000 nationalists. Finally, on the shores of Lake Geneva, he waits patiently to chat with Mikhail Gorbachev.
As Europe sleepwalks into a perilous new age, MacLean explores how opportunists – both within and outside of Russia, from Putin to Home Counties populists – have made a joke of truth, exploiting refugees and the dispossessed, and examines the veracity of historical narrative from reportage to fiction and fake news. He asks what happened to the optimism of 1989 and, in the shadow of Brexit, chronicles the collapse of the European dream.
Looking for more inspirational reads? These are the books that changed Jeremy Hackett’s life…