The 23 most popular books of the past year, according to Goodreads members

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  • If you're looking for a great new book, it can be difficult to know where to start.
  • The books on this list are the most popular reads among Goodreads members in the past year.
  • The titles range from new romances to classics and everything in between.

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Because there are nearly infinite books in the world, it can be difficult to know which one to pick up next. When I don't know what to read, I turn to fellow readers for the books they've read and adored, gravitating towards the titles I hear my friends mention over and over again. 

Similarly, the internet can provide plenty of word-of-mouth reviews and rankings. The books on this list come from the most popular Goodreads members picked up in the last year, according to the 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge (where readers aim to read as many books as they can in one year). Goodreads is the world's largest platform for readers to rate, review, and discover new book recommendations, with over 125 million members sharing their favorite reads.

If you're looking to start off the new year right with a great new read, here are some of the most popular books readers are snagging right now. 

The 23 most popular books right now, according to Goodreads members:

"the midnight library" by matt haig.

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $13.29

Nora Seed feels stuck in her life, bound to the choices she made that she still isn't sure were right. When Nora is ready to leave it all behind, she finds herself in a peculiar library, where each of the infinite books offers a portal to a parallel world, showing her all the many ways her life could have been slightly or drastically different, had she made other decisions.

"The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue" by V.E. Schwab

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.19

" The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue " is a genre-bending fantasy book about a young woman named Addie who, in 1714, makes a bargain with a dark god and becomes cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Addie's story spans three centuries and countless countries — until she meets a boy in New York City in 2014 who can finally remember her.

"The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $9.42

Evelyn Hugo was an iconic Hollywood actress, just as notoriously remembered for her seven marriages as she was for her movie performances. Finally ready to tell her story, Evelyn Hugo chooses a little-known journalist named Monique, who goes to Evelyn's luxurious apartment to hear the truth behind Evelyn's lifetime of friendships, ambitions, and many loves.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $7.19

Considered one of the greatest novels of all time , " To Kill a Mockingbird " is an unforgettable historical fiction novel from 1960 that follows young Jean Louise Finch during a time of great racial inequality in her community. Her father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer defending a Black man wrongly accused of a terrible crime as he faces a community desperate for a guilty conviction.

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $12.44

" The Great Gatsby " is a classic about the wealthy Jay Gatsby, set during the Jazz Age in New York. When Nick Carraway moved to Long Island to find a job in New York City as a bond salesman, he meets his next-door neighbor, Jay Gatsby, who throws extravagant parties and is constantly in pursuit of the stunning Daisy Buchanan.

"Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $9.98

Kya Clark is known to most as the "Marsh Girl," running barefoot and wild in her quiet fishing village, having attended only one day of school. When a popular young boy is murdered, Kya's story unravels as the town accuses her of causing his death.

"1984" by George Orwell

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $7.48

" 1984 " is an iconic science fiction novel that imagines a dystopian future ruled by a totalitarian state, perpetually at war and at the mercy of strong propaganda. Winston Smith works at the Ministry of Truth, rewriting historical records to conform to the state's version of events while secretly dreaming of rebellion and imagining what life would be like without Big Brother.

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $5.47

" Pride and Prejudice " is a cherished, classic Jane Austen romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Loved for their unique relationship comprised of witty banter and flirting, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy fall for each other in this story of class, wealth, and the duty of marriage.

"The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $10.35

In this Greek mythology-inspired tale , Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled by his father because of a misunderstanding when he meets the legendary Achilles. As the two form a unique relationship, Helen of Sparta is kidnapped and Achilles, along with all the heroes in Greece, joins the cause against Troy as they face a choice between love and fate.

"The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $15.70

Though the Vignes twin sisters grew up identical in their small, southern community, their lives split in young adulthood as one sister now lives in the same community with her Black daughter while the other passes for white in a white community. A beautiful story of influence and decisions emerges as their lives intersect over generations when their daughters finally meet.

"The Guest List" by Lucy Foley

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $13.09

Set on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, a fascinating group of friends and family converge to celebrate the marriage of a rising television star and an ambitious magazine publisher. When someone is found dead, everyone becomes a suspect with their own strange and mysterious potential motives.

"People We Meet on Vacation" by Emily Henry

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Alex and Poppy became best friends on a happenstance summer road trip in college, spurring a tradition of summer trips together — until two years ago, when everything changed between them. Though they haven't spoken since, Poppy desperately needs her best friend back and reaches out to Alex to see if they can try to rekindle their friendship in this adorable romance.

"It Ends with Us" by Colleen Hoover

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $12.99

Ryle Kincaid is a stunning, assertive neurosurgeon with a soft spot for only Lily, who can't believe her luck that there's a spark between them. As the two fall into a passionate relationship, Lily can't help but think of her first love, Atlas. As her relationship with Ryle becomes more and more complicated, Atlas reappears and further complicates everything.

"The Four Winds" by Kristin Hannah

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $14

" The Four Winds " is an award-winning historical fiction novel that illuminates the Dust Bowl era of the Great Depression, where farmers faced deadly droughts that often forced them from their land. To learn more about why we love this book, you can check out our review here.

"Malibu Rising" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.80

Famous surfer Nina Riva is preparing to host her iconic, annual party with her equally famous siblings, though she doesn't know the party will be literally up in flames by morning. As each sibling's story unravels, this historical fiction novel traverses from the party in 1983 to the Rivas' childhood, revealing long-buried secrets and spinning the present entirely out of control.

"The Silent Patient" by Alex Michaelides

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Alicia Berenson had a seemingly perfect life with a painting career, a beautiful home, and a photographer husband until one night her husband returned home and Alicia shot him five times in the face and never spoke again. As Theo Faber, a criminal psychotherapist, attempts to work with Alicia to get her to talk, his own twisted motives emerge in this gripping psychological thriller with many versions of the truth.

"Anxious People" by Fredrik Backman

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $13.12

When a bank robbery goes terribly wrong, eight strangers find themselves being held hostage in an apartment with more in common than they imagined. Each anxious for their own reasons, the tensions mount as the police surround the apartment in this thought-provoking story of compassion where all the pieces slowly fit together.

"Red, White & Royal Blue" by Casey McQuiston

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $9.97

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz has a long-running nemesis: Prince Henry. When the tabloids catch the two in a confrontation, the plan for damage control includes staging a fake friendship between the boys in this fun, fan-favorite Queer romance.

"Normal People" by Sally Rooney

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $9.33

Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other in school, dropping the facade when Connell picks his mother up from a housekeeping job at Marianne's house. The two form a peculiar connection, drifting apart and back together over the years in this story about class, friendship, and human nature.

"The Hobbit, or There and Back Again" by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $12.92

Originally written for the author's children, " The Hobbit " is a beloved prequel to the " Lord of the Rings " series where readers are introduced to the fantasy world of Middle-earth. When Bilbo Baggins is tricked into hosting a party, the wizard Gandalf convinces him to join him and a group of dwarves on an adventure to retrieve a treasure guarded by a dragon, igniting an epic tale adored by readers of all ages.

"Beach Read" by Emily Henry

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $7.35

January Andrews is a bestselling romance author, plagued with writer's block and staying at a beach house to try and write a new novel by her editor's deadline. When she meets the next-door literary fiction writer named Augustus, they decide to switch genres in an attempt to escape their creative ruts.

"The Last Thing He Told Me" by Laura Dave

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $13.50

Before Hannah's new husband, Owen, disappears, he manages to slip her a note reading "protect her," which she knows refers to his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey. When the FBI arrests Owen's boss and comes to their home unannounced, Hannah and Bailey realize Owen isn't who they thought and must uncover the truth behind his disappearance while building a future together of their own.

"The Duke and I" by Julia Quinn

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $8.27

" The Duke and I " is the first Regency-era romance in the " Bridgerton " series, about Daphne Bridgerton who agrees to a fake courtship with Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings. While Daphne needs her own prospects to soar and the Duke intends to avoid marriage altogether, their plan seems to be working perfectly — until the two can't deny the spark that seems to be igniting between them. If you love this book already, check out our list of other Julia Quinn novels to find your next great romance read. 

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The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2022

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T he best fiction released this year reminded us to value our relationships with one another, no matter what form they take. These books emphasized how we are shaped by the people who surround us, as well as those who are no longer physically present but whose memories we continue to carry. They are stories about friendship and love, growing up and growing older, loss and living, all centered on characters reckoning with how their people do and do not show up for them. There’s a bruising portrait of grief told through an adult daughter remembering her mother, a gritty account of a young woman who forms a community at the depths of her loneliness, a celebration of friendship between two creative geniuses, and more. Here, the top 10 fiction books of 2022.

10. Signal Fires , Dani Shapiro

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Signal Fires , Dani Shapiro ’s first novel in 15 years, begins with a horrible ending. It’s 1985 and three intoxicated teenagers go for a car ride that proves fatal. The details of the accident are kept secret—and will haunt one family forever. Decades later, the doctor who ran to the scene of the accident befriends his 11-year-old neighbor, right near the spot where it happened. As Shapiro draws connections between seemingly disparate threads, she creates a moving portrait of guilt, grief, and fate. And she shows, in aching terms, how life is made up of random moments—missed opportunities and curious circumstances—and that it only takes a second for everything to change.

Buy Now : Signal Fires on Bookshop | Amazon

9. Trust , Hernan Diaz

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In 1920s New York, everyone who’s anyone knows Benjamin and Helen Rask, the wealthy couple sitting pretty at the top of the financial world. But how exactly did they accumulate so much power and wealth? That question is the driving force of the immensely popular 1937 novel Bonds —one of four distinct texts within Hernan Diaz’s Trust . The story of the Rasks (or the Bevels, depending which book-within-the-book you’re reading) contains mysterious multitudes. Their relationship and their privilege are undermined, examined, and rewritten as Diaz spins a dazzling story about subjectivity and greed.

Buy Now : Trust on Bookshop | Amazon

8. Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century , Kim Fu

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The 12 stories that make up Kim Fu’s bold collection feature characters dealing with scenarios that border between reality and fantasy. In the spaces where lines blur, Fu reveals quietly profound commentary on the intersections of technology, love, and loss. In one narrative, a girl mysteriously sprouts wings, a development that forces her friend group to consider their ever-changing adolescent bodies. In another, an insomniac grows dependent on sporadic visits from a strange man made of sand who might be the secret to her finally falling asleep. And in a wildly twisted tale, a couple kills each other, over and over again, to keep their relationship alive. These stories, surreal and clever, all point to crises that sit below the surface. Fu brings magical realism to exciting heights, positioning her characters’ relatable emotional battles within wonderfully constructed worlds.

Buy Now : Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century on Bookshop | Amazon

7. Young Mungo , Douglas Stuart

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Douglas Stuart’s follow-up to his 2020 Booker Prize-winning debut Shuggie Bain is every bit as crushing as his first novel. Young Mungo is another visceral depiction of 20th-century working class Glasgow, this time centered on the impossible first love between two teenage boys. Homophobia and violence surround them, and the sensitivity that the young men possess is not welcome in their world of hostile masculinity. Through rich dialogue and rhythmic prose, Stuart brings to life a captivating portrayal of 1990s Scotland and the struggles faced by queer men who are learning how to live in the face of it all.

Buy Now : Young Mungo on Bookshop | Amazon

6. If I Survive You , Jonathan Escoffery

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The first entry in Jonathan Escoffery’s lyrical and kaleidoscopic debut If I Survive You introduces the character at the short story collection’s center: Trelawny, the sole American-born member of a Jamaican family. In the seven linked narratives that follow, Escoffery follows Trelawny as he grapples with his identity as the son of Black immigrants living in Miami, where he never feels Black enough. Escoffery writes with urgency and heart as he illustrates his protagonist’s struggles to fit in, especially as his family falls apart in the wake of a devastating hurricane and recession. If I Survive You , longlisted for a 2022 National Book Award, is a timeless story of a young person wrestling with big questions about race and class, captured in intricately drawn scenes of everyday life.

Buy Now : If I Survive You on Bookshop | Amazon

5. Vladimir , Julia May Jonas

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The protagonist of Julia May Jonas’ electric debut novel , an unnamed English professor, is grappling with the public fallout of her husband’s past affairs with students at the college where they both teach. The narrator is more annoyed than anything else—she and her husband had an open marriage—and she is quite preoccupied with an extramarital activity of her own: crushing hard on her department’s latest recruit. As the professor grows closer to her young new colleague, her desire festers into gnawing obsession. Jonas’s explosive novel asks timely questions about power and campus politics.

Buy Now : Vladimir on Bookshop | Amazon

4. All This Could Be Different , Sarah Thankam Mathews

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In Sarah Thankam Mathews’ tender debut novel All This Could Be Different , a finalist for a 2022 National Book Award, recent college graduate Sneha has just moved to Milwaukee and started an awful job as a corporate consultant. Though the work is soul-crushing, there’s a recession swirling and the money keeps Sneha afloat. Plus, she can send some of it to her parents in India. But Mathews’ contemplative protagonist is desperately lonely in this new life, despite a burgeoning romance with an older ballet dancer named Marina. As Sneha questions why she finds it so difficult to open up to others, she is forced to confront the inescapable trauma that she’s buried deep inside. Mathews explores this tension, and the community that Sneha builds for herself in the Midwest, in an incisive and surprising coming-of-age narrative.

Buy Now : All This Could Be Different on Bookshop | Amazon

3. The Book of Goose , Yiyun Li

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Agnès has just heard the news that her childhood best friend, Fabienne, is dead. Now an adult living in America, Agnès reflects on growing up in France with Fabienne by her side and a decision Fabienne made that changed both their lives: when they were kids in the war-ravaged countryside, Fabienne wrote a fictional account of their experiences, and published it under Agnès’ name. The move catapulted Agnès to literary fame—and to a London finishing school where she suffered tremendously without Fabienne nearby—and now, she’s finally ready to tell her version of the events that defined her adolescence. Yiyun Li dissects the girls’ achingly intimate and, at times, unsettling friendship, and asks if Agnès ever really knew the person she was so devoted to. In detailing the answer, she unveils a cutting portrait of girlhood.

Buy Now : The Book of Goose on Bookshop | Amazon

2. The Hero of This Book , Elizabeth McCracken

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An unnamed writer arrives in London for a trip. She feels her recently deceased mother’s absence—and presence—everywhere she goes. As she walks around the city, she’s reminded of her mother’s complicated life, the memories they shared, and the curious, ever-evolving relationship between child and parent. But, the unnamed writer repeats, even though she’s constructing a deeply felt tribute to her mother, this is, in no way, a memoir. Her mother hated those. And so goes Elizabeth McCracken’s latest work of fiction, poking holes in the very idea of fiction itself as the story unfolds. The prolific author, whose own mother shared many similarities with the one described in the book, delivers a potent meditation on processing loss. Along the way, she makes startling revelations about what it really means to write, and how fiction can help us understand the most challenging parts of life.

Buy Now : The Hero of This Book on Bookshop | Amazon

1. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow , Gabrielle Zevin

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In his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur runs into Sadie Green on a subway platform. They’ve known each other since childhood, when they first bonded over a shared love of video games, but a rift set them apart. In Gabrielle Zevin’s inventive and sweeping novel, the estranged friends reconnect and rebuild their relationship, becoming creative partners on a video game that shoots them to fame before they turn 25. As Sam and Sadie wrestle with their growing ambitions over the years, they cultivate a friendship much more meaningful than any romance. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a celebration of the narratives, in video games and in life, that reinforce just how important connection really is. In following Sam and Sadie’s journey from Massachusetts to California and into the imagined worlds of their games, Zevin writes the most precious kind of love story.

Buy Now : Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow on Bookshop | Amazon

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Write to Annabel Gutterman at [email protected]

A composite image of some of the books of the century

The 100 best books of the 21st century

Dazzling debut novels, searing polemics, the history of humanity and trailblazing memoirs ... Read our pick of the best books since 2000

  • Read an interview with the author of our No 1 book
  • Read Ali Smith on Autumn
  • Read David Mitchell on Cloud Atlas

I Feel Bad About My Neck

By nora ephron (2006).

Perhaps better known for her screenwriting ( Silkwood , When Harry Met Sally , Heartburn ), Ephron’s brand of smart theatrical humour is on best display in her essays. Confiding and self-deprecating, she has a way of always managing to sound like your best friend – even when writing about her apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. This wildly enjoyable collection includes her droll observations about ageing, vanity – and a scorching appraisal of Bill Clinton. Read the review

Broken Glass

By alain mabanckou (2005), translated by helen stevenson (2009).

The Congolese writer says he was “trying to break the French language” with Broken Glass – a black comedy told by a disgraced teacher without much in the way of full stops or paragraph breaks. As Mabanckou’s unreliable narrator munches his “bicycle chicken” and drinks his red wine, it becomes clear he has the history of Congo-Brazzaville and the whole of French literature in his sights. Read the review

Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in the 2011 film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

By stieg larsson (2005), translated by steven t murray (2008).

Radical journalist Mikael Blomkvist forms an unlikely alliance with troubled young hacker Lisbeth Salander as they follow a trail of murder and malfeasance connected with one of Sweden’s most powerful families in the first novel of the bestselling Millennium trilogy. The high-level intrigue beguiled millions of readers, brought “Scandi noir” to prominence and inspired innumerable copycats. Read the review

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

By jk rowling (2000).

A generation grew up on Rowling’s all-conquering magical fantasies, but countless adults have also been enthralled by her immersive world. Book four, the first of the doorstoppers, marks the point where the series really takes off. The Triwizard Tournament provides pace and tension, and Rowling makes her boy wizard look death in the eye for the first time. Read the review

A Little Life

By hanya yanagihara (2015).

This operatically harrowing American gay melodrama became an unlikely bestseller, and one of the most divisive novels of the century so far. One man’s life is blighted by abuse and its aftermath, but also illuminated by love and friendship. Some readers wept all night, some condemned it as titillating and exploitative, but no one could deny its power. Read the review

Chronicles: Volume One

By bob dylan (2004).

Dylan’s reticence about his personal life is a central part of the singer-songwriter’s brand, so the gaps and omissions in this memoir come as no surprise. The result is both sharp and dreamy, sliding in and out of different phases of Dylan’s career but rooted in his earliest days as a Woody Guthrie wannabe in New York City. Fans are still waiting for volume two. Read the review

Bob Dylan in New York, 1963.

The Tipping Point

By malcolm gladwell (2000).

The New Yorker staff writer examines phenomena from shoe sales to crime rates through the lens of epidemiology, reaching his own tipping point, when he became a rock-star intellectual and unleashed a wave of quirky studies of contemporary society. Two decades on, Gladwell is often accused of oversimplification and cherry picking, but his idiosyncratic bestsellers have helped shape 21st-century culture. Read the review

by Nicola Barker (2007)

British fiction’s most anarchic author is as prolific as she is playful, but this freewheeling, visionary epic set around the Thames Gateway is her magnum opus. Barker brings her customary linguistic invention and wild humour to a tale about history’s hold on the present, as contemporary Ashford is haunted by the spirit of a medieval jester. Read the review

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

by Helen Dunmore (2001)

The Levin family battle against starvation in this novel set during the German siege of Leningrad. Anna digs tank traps and dodges patrols as she scavenges for wood, but the hand of history is hard to escape. Read the review

Light by M John Harrison

by M John Harrison (2002)

One of the most underrated prose writers demonstrates the literary firepower of science fiction at its best. Three narrative strands – spanning far-future space opera, contemporary unease and virtual-reality pastiche – are braided together for a breathtaking metaphysical voyage in pursuit of the mystery at the heart of reality. Read the review

by Jenny Erpenbeck (2008), translated by Susan Bernofsky (2010)

A grand house by a lake in the east of Germany is both the setting and main character of Erpenbeck’s third novel. The turbulent waves of 20th-century history crash over it as the house is sold by a Jewish family fleeing the Third Reich, requisitioned by the Russian army, reclaimed by exiles returning from Siberia, and sold again. Read the review

by Lorna Sage (2000)

A Whitbread prizewinning memoir, full of perfectly chosen phrases, that is one of the best accounts of family dysfunction ever written. Sage grew up with her grandparents, who hated each other: he was a drunken philandering vicar; his wife, having found his diaries, blackmailed him and lived in another part of the house. The author gets unwittingly pregnant at 16, yet the story has a happy ending. Read the review

Noughts & Crosses

By malorie blackman (2001).

Set in an alternative Britain, this groundbreaking piece of young adult fiction sees black people, called the Crosses, hold all the power and influence, while the noughts – white people – are marginalised and segregated. The former children’s laureate’s series is a crucial work for explaining racism to young readers.


By patricia lockwood (2017).

This may not be the only account of living in a religious household in the American midwest (in her youth, the author joined a group called God’s Gang, where they spoke in tongues), but it is surely the funniest. The author started out as the “poet laureate of Twitter”; her language is brilliant, and she has a completely original mind. Read the review

A telling description of modern power … Yanis Varoufakis.

Adults in the Room

By yanis varoufakis (2017).

This memoir by the leather-jacketed economist of the six months he spent as Greece’s finance minister in 2015 at a time of economic and political crisis has been described as “one of the best political memoirs ever written”. He comes up against the IMF, the European institutions, Wall Street, billionaires and media owners and is told how the system works – as a result, his book is a telling description of modern power. Read the review

The God Delusion

By richard dawkins (2006).

A key text in the days when the “New Atheism” was much talked about, The God Delusion is a hard-hitting attack on religion, full of Dawkins’s confidence that faith produces fanatics and all arguments for God are ridiculous. What the evolutionary biologist lacks in philosophical sophistication, he makes up for in passion, and the book sold in huge numbers. Read the review

The Cost of Living

By deborah levy (2018).

Dazzling memoir … Deborah Levy.

“Chaos is supposed to be what we most fear but I have come to believe it might be what we most want ... ” The second part of Levy’s “living memoir”, in which she leaves her marriage, is a fascinating companion piece to her deep yet playful novels. Feminism, mythology and the daily grind come together for a book that combines emotion and intellect to dazzling effect. Read the review

Tell Me How It Ends

By valeria luiselli (2016), translated by luiselli with lizzie davis (2017).

As the hysteria over immigration to the US began to build in 2015, the Mexican novelist volunteered to work as an interpreter in New York’s federal immigration court. In this powerful series of essays she tells the poignant stories of the children she met, situating them in the wider context of the troubled relationship between the Americas. Read the review

by Neil Gaiman (2002)

From the Sandman comics to his fantasy epic American Gods to Twitter, Gaiman towers over the world of books. But this perfectly achieved children’s novella, in which a plucky young girl enters a parallel world where her “Other Mother” is a spooky copy of her real-life mum, with buttons for eyes, might be his finest hour: a properly scary modern myth which cuts right to the heart of childhood fears and desires. Read the review

by Jim Crace (2013)

Crace is fascinated by the moment when one era gives way to another. Here, it is the enclosure of the commons, a fulcrum of English history, that drives his story of dispossession and displacement. Set in a village without a name, the narrative dramatises what it’s like to see the world you know come to an end, in a severance of the connection between people and land that has deep relevance for our time of climate crisis and forced migration. Read the review

Amy Adams in Arrival, the 2015 film based on a short story by Ted Chiang.

Stories of Your Life and Others

By ted chiang (2002).

Melancholic and transcendent, Chiang’s eight, high-concept sci-fi stories exploring the nature of language, maths, religion and physics racked up numerous awards and a wider audience when ‘Story of Your Life’ was adapted into the 2016 film Arrival . Read the review

The Spirit Level

By richard wilkinson and kate pickett (2009).

An eye-opening study, based on overwhelming evidence, which revealed that among rich countries, the “more equal societies almost always do better” for all. Growth matters less than inequality, the authors argued: whether the issue is life expectancy, infant mortality, crime rates, obesity, literacy or recycling, the Scandinavian countries, say, will always win out over, say, the UK. Read the review

NK Jemisin explores urgent questions of power in The Fifth Season.

The Fifth Season

By nk jemisin (2015).

Jemisin became the first African American author to win the best novel category at the Hugo awards for her first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. In her intricate and richly imagined far future universe, the world is ending, ripped apart by relentless earthquakes and volcanoes. Against this apocalyptic backdrop she explores urgent questions of power and enslavement through the eyes of three women. “As this genre finally acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalised matter and that all of us have a future,” she said in her acceptance speech, “so will go the world. (Soon, I hope.)”

Signs Preceding the End of the World

By yuri herrera (2009), translated by lisa dillman (2015).

Makina sets off from her village in Mexico with a package from a local gangster and a message for her brother, who has been gone for three years. The story of her crossing to the US examines the blurring of boundaries, the commingling of languages and the blending of identities that complicate the idea of an eventual return. Read the review

Thinking, Fast and Slow

By daniel kahneman (2011).

The Nobel laureate’s unexpected bestseller, on the minutiae of decision-making, divides the brain into two. System One makes judgments quickly, intuitively and automatically, as when a batsman decides whether to cut or pull. System Two is slow, calculated and deliberate, like long division. But psychologist Kahneman argues that, although System Two thinks it is in control, many of our decisions are really made by System One. Read the review

Spoor, the film adaptation of  Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

By olga tokarczuk (2009), translated by antonia lloyd-jones (2018).

In this existential eco-thriller, a William Blake-obsessed eccentric investigates the murders of men and animals in a remote Polish village. More accessible and focused than Flights , the novel that won Tokarczuk the Man International Booker prize, it is no less profound in its examination of how atavistic male impulses, emboldened by the new rightwing politics of Europe, are endangering people, communities and nature itself. Read the review

Days Without End

By sebastian barry (2016).

In this savagely beautiful novel set during the Indian wars and American civil war, a young Irish boy flees famine-struck Sligo for Missouri. There he finds lifelong companionship with another emigrant, and they join the army on its brutal journey west, laying waste to Indian settlements. Viscerally focused and intense, yet imbued with the grandeur of the landscape, the book explores love, gender and survival with a rare, luminous power. Read the review

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy

By barbara demick (2009).

Los Angeles Times journalist Barbara Demick interviewed around 100 North Korean defectors for this propulsive work of narrative non-fiction, but she focuses on just six, all from the north-eastern city of Chongjin – closed to foreigners and less media-ready than Pyongyang. North Korea is revealed to be rife with poverty, corruption and violence but populated by resilient people with a remarkable ability to see past the propaganda all around them. Read the review

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

By shoshana zuboff (2019).

An agenda-setting book that is devastating about the extent to which big tech sets out to manipulate us for profit. Not simply another expression of the “techlash”, Zuboff’s ambitious study identifies a new form of capitalism, one involving the monitoring and shaping of our behaviour, often without our knowledge, with profound implications for democracy. “Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us.” Read the review

Jimmy Corrigan- tThe Smartest Kid on Earth

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

By chris ware (2000).

At the time when Ware won the Guardian first book award, no graphic novel had previously won a generalist literary prize. Emotional and artistic complexity are perfectly poised in this account of a listless 36-year-old office dogsbody who is thrown into an existential crisis by an encounter with his estranged dad. Read the review

Judi Dench, left, and Cate Blanchett in the 2006 film adaptation of Notes on a Scandal.

Notes on a Scandal

By zoë heller (2003).

Sheba, a middle-aged teacher at a London comprehensive, begins an affair with her 15-year-old student - but we hear about it from a fellow teacher, the needy Barbara, whose obsessive nature drives the narrative. With shades of Patricia Highsmith, this teasing investigation into sex, class and loneliness is a dark marvel. Read the review

The Infatuations

By javier marías (2011), translated by margaret jull costa (2013).

The Spanish master examines chance, love and death in the story of an apparently random killing that gradually reveals hidden depths. Marías constructs an elegant murder mystery from his trademark labyrinthine sentences, but this investigation is in pursuit of much meatier questions than whodunnit. Read the review

Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes in the 2005 film adaptation of  The Constant Gardener.

The Constant Gardener

By john le carré (2001).

The master of the cold war thriller turned his attention to the new world order in this chilling investigation into the corruption powering big pharma in Africa. Based on the case of a rogue antibiotics trial that killed and maimed children in Nigeria in the 1990s, it has all the dash and authority of his earlier novels while precisely and presciently anatomising the dangers of a rampant neo-imperialist capitalism. Read the review

The Silence of the Girls

By pat barker (2018).

If the western literary canon is founded on Homer, then it is founded on women’s silence. Barker’s extraordinary intervention, in which she replays the events of the Iliad from the point of view of the enslaved Trojan women, chimed with both the #MeToo movement and a wider drive to foreground suppressed voices. In a world still at war, it has chilling contemporary resonance. Read the review

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

By carlo rovelli (2014).

A theoretical physicist opens a window on to the great questions of the universe with this 96-page overview of modern physics. Rovelli’s keen insight and striking metaphors make this the best introduction to subjects including relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology, elementary particles and entropy outside of a course in advanced physics. Read the review

Ben Affleck in the 2014 film adaptation of Gone Girl.

by Gillian Flynn (2012)

The deliciously dark US crime thriller that launched a thousand imitators and took the concept of the unreliable narrator to new heights. A woman disappears: we think we know whodunit, but we’re wrong. Flynn’s stylishly written portrait of a toxic marriage set against a backdrop of social and economic insecurity combines psychological depth with sheer unputdownable flair. Read the review

by Stephen King (2000)

Written after a near-fatal accident, this combination of memoir and masterclass by fiction’s most successful modern storyteller showcases the blunt, casual brilliance of King at his best. As well as being genuinely useful, it’s a fascinating chronicle of literary persistence, and of a lifelong love affair with language and narrative. Read the review

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By rebecca skloot (2010).

Henrietta Lacks was a black American who died in agony of cancer in a “coloured” hospital ward in 1951. Her cells, taken without her knowledge during a biopsy, went on to change medical history, being used around the world to develop countless drugs. Skloot skilfully tells the extraordinary scientific story, but in this book the voices of the Lacks children are crucial – they have struggled desperately even as billions have been made from their mother’s “HeLa” cells. Read the review

Benedict Cumberbatch in the TV adaptation of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels.

Mother’s Milk

By edward st aubyn (2006).

The fourth of the autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels finds the wealthy protagonist – whose flight from atrocious memories of child abuse into drug abuse was the focus of the first books – beginning to grope after redemption. Elegant wit and subtle psychology lift grim subject matter into seductive brilliance. Read the review

This House of Grief

By helen garner (2014).

A man drives his three sons into a deep pond and swims out, leaving them to drown. But was it an accident? This 2005 tragedy caught the attention of one of Australia’s greatest living writers. Garner puts herself centre stage in an account of Robert Farquharson’s trial that combines forensic detail and rich humanity. Read the review

A mesmerising tapestry of the River Dart’s mutterings … Alice Oswald.

by Alice Oswald (2002)

This book-length poem is a mesmerising tapestry of “the river’s mutterings”, based on three years of recording conversations with people who live and work on the River Dart in Devon. From swimmers to sewage workers, boatbuilders to bailiffs, salmon fishers to ferryman, the voices are varied and vividly brought to life. Read the review

The Beauty of the Husband

By anne carson (2002).

One of Canada’s most celebrated poets examines love and desire in a collection that describes itself as “a fictional essay in 39 tangos”. Carson charts the course of a doomed marriage in loose-limbed lines that follow the switchbacks of thought and feeling from first meeting through multiple infidelities to arrive at eventual divorce.

by Tony Judt (2005)

This grand survey of Europe since 1945 begins with the devastation left behind by the second world war and offers a panoramic narrative of the cold war from its beginnings to the collapse of the Soviet bloc – a part of which Judt witnessed firsthand in Czechoslovakia’s velvet revolution. A very complex story is told with page-turning urgency and what may now be read as nostalgic faith in “the European idea”. Read the review

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

By michael chabon (2000).

A love story to the golden age of comics in New York, Chabon’s Pulitzer-winner features two Jewish cousins, one smuggled out of occupied Prague, who create an anti-fascist comic book superhero called The Escapist. Their own adventures are as exciting and highly coloured as the ones they write and draw in this generous, open-hearted, deeply lovable rollercoaster of a book. Read the review

Robert Macfarlane’s Underland (Hamish Hamilton).

by Robert Macfarlane (2019)

A beautifully written and profound book, which takes the form of a series of (often hair-raising and claustrophobic) voyages underground – from the fjords of the Arctic to the Parisian catacombs. Trips below the surface inspire reflections on “deep” geological time and raise urgent questions about the human impact on planet Earth. Read the review

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

By michael pollan (2006).

An entertaining and highly influential book from the writer best known for his advice: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The author follows four meals on their journey from field to plate – including one from McDonald’s and a locally sourced organic feast. Pollan is a skilled, amusing storyteller and The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed both food writing and the way we see food. Read the review

Mary Beard, whose slim manifesto Women & Power became an instant feminist classic.

Women & Power

By mary beard (2017).

Based on Beard’s lectures on women’s voices and how they have been silenced, Women and Power was an enormous publishing success in the “ #MeToo ”’ year 2017. An exploration of misogyny, the origins of “gendered speech” in the classical era and the problems the male world has with strong women, this slim manifesto became an instant feminist classic. Read the review

True History of the Kelly Gang

By peter carey (2000).

Carey’s second Booker winner is an irresistible tour de force of literary ventriloquism: the supposed autobiography of 19th-century Australian outlaw and “wild colonial boy” Ned Kelly, inspired by a fragment of Kelly’s own prose and written as a glorious rush of semi-punctuated vernacular storytelling. Mythic and tender by turns, these are tall tales from a lost frontier. Read the review

Small Island

By andrea levy (2004).

Pitted against a backdrop of prejudice, this London-set novel is told by four protagonists – Hortense and Gilbert, Jamaican migrants, and a stereotypically English couple, Queenie and Bernard. These varied perspectives, illuminated by love and loyalty, combine to create a thoughtful mosaic depicting the complex beginnings of Britain’s multicultural society. Read the review

The 2015 film adaptation of Brooklyn.

by Colm Tóibín (2009)

Tóibín’s sixth novel is set in the 1950s, when more than 400,000 people left Ireland, and considers the emotional and existential impact of emigration on one young woman. Eilis makes a life for herself in New York, but is drawn back by the possibilities of the life she has lost at home. A universal story of love, endurance and missed chances, made radiant through Tóibín’s measured prose and tender understatement. Read the review

Oryx and Crake

By margaret atwood (2003).

In the first book in her dystopian MaddAddam trilogy, the Booker winner speculates about the havoc science can wreak on the world. The big warning here – don’t trust corporations to run the planet – is blaring louder and louder as the century progresses. Read the review

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

By jeanette winterson (2011).

The title is the question Winterson’s adoptive mother asked as she threw her daughter out, aged 16, for having a girlfriend. The autobiographical story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit , and the trials of Winterson’s later life, is urgent, wise and moving. Read the review

Night Watch

By terry pratchett (2002).

Pratchett’s mighty Discworld series is a high point in modern fiction: a parody of fantasy literature that deepened and darkened over the decades to create incisive satires of our own world. The 29th book, focusing on unlikely heroes, displays all his fierce intelligence, anger and wild humour, in a story that’s moral, humane – and hilarious. Read the review

The 2008 film adaptation of Persepolis.

by Marjane Satrapi (2000-2003), translated by Mattias Ripa (2003-2004)

Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel follows her coming-of-age in the lead up to and during the Iranian revolution. In this riotous memoir, Satrapi focuses on one young life to reveal a hidden history.

Human Chain

By seamus heaney (2010).

The Nobel laureate tends to the fragments of memory and loss with moving precision in his final poetry collection. A book of elegies and echoes, these poems are infused with a haunting sense of pathos, with a line often left hanging to suspend the reader in longing and regret. Read the review

Levels of Life

By julian barnes (2013).

The British novelist combines fiction and non-fiction to form a searing essay on grief and love for his late wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh. Barnes divides the book into three parts with disparate themes – 19th-century ballooning, photography and marriage. Their convergence is wonderfully achieved. Read the review

Hope in the Dark

By rebecca solnit (2004).

Writing against “the tremendous despair at the height of the Bush administration’s powers and the outset of the war in Iraq”, the US thinker finds optimism in political activism and its ability to change the world. The book ranges widely from the fall of the Berlin wall to the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, to the invention of Viagra. Read the review

Claudia Rankine confronts the history of racism in the US.

Citizen: An American Lyric

By claudia rankine (2014).

From the slow emergency response in the black suburbs destroyed by hurricane Katrina to a mother trying to move her daughter away from a black passenger on a plane, the poet’s award-winning prose work confronts the history of racism in the US and asks: regardless of their actual status, who truly gets to be a citizen? Read the review

by Michael Lewis (2010)

The author of The Big Short has made a career out of rendering the most opaque subject matter entertaining and comprehensible: Moneyball tells the story of how geeks outsmarted jocks to revolutionise baseball using maths. But you do not need to know or care about the sport, because – as with all Lewis’s best writing – it’s all about how the story is told. Read the review

James McAvoy in the film adaptation of Atonement.

by Ian McEwan (2001)

There are echoes of DH Lawrence and EM Forster in McEwan’s finely tuned dissection of memory and guilt. The fates of three young people are altered by a young girl’s lie at the close of a sweltering day on a country estate in 1935. Lifelong remorse, the horror of war and devastating twists are to follow in an elegant, deeply felt meditation on the power of love and art. Read the review

The Year of Magical Thinking

By joan didion (2005).

With cold, clear, precise prose, Didion gives an account of the year her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, collapsed from a fatal heart attack in their home. Her devastating examination of grief and widowhood changed the nature of writing about bereavement. Read the review

White Teeth

By zadie smith (2000).

Set around the unlikely bond between two wartime friends, Smith’s debut brilliantly captures Britain’s multicultural spirit, and offers a compelling insight into immigrant family life.

The Line of Beauty

By alan hollinghurst (2004).

Oxford graduate Nick Guest has the questionable good fortune of moving into the grand west London home of a rising Tory MP. Thatcher-era degeneracy is lavishly displayed as Nick falls in love with the son of a supermarket magnate, and the novel records how Aids began to poison gay life in London. In peerless prose, Hollinghurst captures something close to the spirit of an age. Read the review

The Green Road

By anne enright (2015).

A reunion dominates the Irish novelist’s family drama, but the individual stories of the five members of the Madigan clan – the matriarch, Rosaleen, and her children, Dan, Emmet, Constance and Hanna, who escape and are bound to return – are beautifully held in balance. When the Madigans do finally come together halfway through the book, Enright masterfully reminds us of the weight of history and family. Read the review

Martin Amis recalls his ‘velvet-suited, snakeskin-booted’ youth.

by Martin Amis (2000)

Known for the firecracker phrases and broad satires of his fiction, Amis presented a much warmer face in his memoir. His life is haunted by the disappearance of his cousin Lucy, who is revealed 20 years later to have been murdered by Fred West. But Amis also has much fun recollecting his “velvet-suited, snakeskin-booted” youth, and paints a moving portrait of his father’s comic gusto as old age reduces him to a kind of “anti-Kingsley”. Read the review

The Hare with Amber Eyes

By edmund de waal (2010).

In this exquisite family memoir, the ceramicist explains how he came to inherit a collection of 264 netsuke – small Japanese ornaments – from his great-uncle. The unlikely survival of the netsuke entails De Waal telling a story that moves from Paris to Austria under the Nazis to Japan, and he beautifully conjures a sense of place. The book doubles as a set of profound reflections on objects and what they mean to us. Read the review

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Outline by Rachel

Cusk (2014).

This startling work of autofiction, which signalled a new direction for Cusk, follows an author teaching a creative writing course over one hot summer in Athens. She leads storytelling exercises. She meets other writers for dinner. She hears from other people about relationships, ambition, solitude, intimacy and “the disgust that exists indelibly between men and women”. The end result is sublime. Read the review

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

by Alison Bechdel (2006)

The American cartoonist’s darkly humorous memoir tells the story of how her closeted gay father killed himself a few months after she came out as a lesbian. This pioneering work, which later became a musical, helped shape the modern genre of “graphic memoir”, combining detailed and beautiful panels with remarkable emotional depth. Read the review

The Emperor of All Maladies

By siddhartha mukherjee (2010).

“Normal cells are identically normal; malignant cells become unhappily malignant in unique ways.” In adapting the opening lines of Anna Karenina , Mukherjee sets out the breathtaking ambition of his study of cancer: not only to share the knowledge of a practising oncologist but to take his readers on a literary and historical journey. Read the review

The Argonauts

By maggie nelson (2015).

An electrifying memoir that captured a moment in thinking about gender, and also changed the world of books. The story, told in fragments, is of Nelson’s pregnancy, which unfolds at the same time as her partner, the artist Harry Dodge, is beginning testosterone injections: “the summer of our changing bodies”. Strikingly honest, originally written, with a galaxy of intellectual reference points, it is essentially a love story; one that seems to make a new way of living possible. Read the review

The Underground Railroad

By colson whitehead (2016).

A thrilling, genre-bending tale of escape from slavery in the American deep south, this Pulitzer prize-winner combines extraordinary prose and uncomfortable truths. Two slaves flee their masters using the underground railroad, the network of abolitionists who helped slaves out of the south, wonderfully reimagined by Whitehead as a steampunk vision of a literal train. Read the review

Uncomfortable truths … Colson Whitehead.

A Death in the Family

By karl ove knausgaard (2009), translated by don bartlett (2012).

The first instalment of Knausgaard’s relentlessly self-examining six-volume series My Struggle revolves around the life and death of his alcoholic father. Whether or not you regard him as the Proust of memoir, his compulsive honesty created a new benchmark for autofiction. Read the review

by Carol Ann Duffy (2005)

A moving, book-length poem from the UK’s first female poet laureate, Rapture won the TS Eliot prize in 2005. From falling in love to betrayal and separation, Duffy reimagines romance with refreshing originality. Read the review

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

By alice munro (2001).

Canada’s observant and humane short story writer, who won the Nobel in 2013, is at her best in this collection. A housekeeper’s fate is changed by the pranks of her employer’s teenager daughter; an incorrigible flirt gracefully accepts his wife’s new romance in her care home. No character acts as at first expected in Munro’s stories, which are attuned to the tiniest shifts in perception. Read the review

Capital in the Twenty First Century

By thomas piketty (2013), translated by arthur goldhammer (2014).

The beautifully written product of 15 years of research, Capital made its author an intellectual star – the modern Marx – and opened readers’ eyes to how neoliberalism produces vastly increased inequalities. Full of data, theories and historical analysis, its message is clear, and prophetic: unless governments increase tax, the new and grotesque wealth levels of the rich will encourage political instability. Read the review

Sally Rooney focuses on the uncertainty of millennial life.

Normal People

By sally rooney (2018).

Rooney’s second novel, a love story between two clever and damaged young people coming of age in contemporary Ireland, confirmed her status as a literary superstar. Her focus is on the dislocation and uncertainty of millennial life, but her elegant prose has universal appeal. Read the review

A Visit from The Goon Squad

By jennifer egan (2011).

Inspired by both Proust and The Sopranos , Egan’s Pulitzer-winning comedy follows several characters in and around the US music industry, but is really a book about memory and kinship, time and narrative, continuity and disconnection. Read the review

The Noonday Demon

By andrew solomon (2001).

Emerging from Solomon’s own painful experience, this “anatomy” of depression examines its many faces – plus its science, sociology and treatment. The book’s combination of honesty, scholarly rigour and poetry made it a benchmark in literary memoir and understanding of mental health. Read the review

Tenth of December

By george saunders (2013).

This warm yet biting collection of short stories by the Booker-winning American author will restore your faith in humanity. No matter how weird the setting – a futuristic prison lab, a middle-class home where human lawn ornaments are employed as a status symbol – in these surreal satires of post-crash life Saunders reminds us of the meaning we find in small moments. Read the review

Chart-topping history of humanity … Yuval Noah Harari.

by Yuval Noah Harari (2011), translated by Harari with John Purcell and Haim Watzman (2014)

In his Olympian history of humanity, Harari documents the numerous revolutions Homo sapiens has undergone over the last 70,000 years: from new leaps in cognitive reasoning to agriculture, science and industry, the era of information and the possibilities of biotechnology. Harari’s scope may be too wide for some, but this engaging work topped the charts and made millions marvel. Read the review

Life After Life

By kate atkinson (2013).

Atkinson examines family, history and the power of fiction as she tells the story of a woman born in 1910 – and then tells it again, and again, and again. Ursula Todd’s multiple lives see her strangled at birth, drowned on a Cornish beach, trapped in an awful marriage and visiting Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden. But this dizzying fictional construction is grounded by such emotional intelligence that her heroine’s struggles always feel painfully, joyously real. Read the review

A stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night‑Time

By mark haddon (2003).

Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone becomes absorbed in the mystery of a dog’s demise, meticulously investigating through diagrams, timetables, maps and maths problems. Haddon’s fascinating portrayal of an unconventional mind was a crossover hit with both adults and children and was adapted into a very successful stage play. Read the review

The Shock Doctrine

By naomi klein (2007).

In this urgent examination of free-market fundamentalism, Klein argues – with accompanying reportage – that the social breakdowns witnessed during decades of neoliberal economic policies are not accidental, but in fact integral to the functioning of the free market, which relies on disaster and human suffering to function. Read the review

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

A father and his young son, “each the other’s world entire”, trawl across the ruins of post-apocalyptic America in this terrifying but tender story told with biblical conviction. The slide into savagery as civilisation collapses is harrowing material, but McCarthy’s metaphysical efforts to imagine a cold dark universe where the light of humanity is winking out are what make the novel such a powerful ecological warning. Read the review

The Corrections

By jonathan franzen (2001).

The members of one ordinarily unhappy American family struggle to adjust to the shifting axes of their worlds over the final decades of the 20th century. Franzen’s move into realism reaped huge literary rewards: exploring both domestic and national conflict, this family saga is clever, funny and outrageously readable. Read the review

The Sixth Extinction

By elizabeth kolbert (2014).

The science journalist examines with clarity and memorable detail the current crisis of plant and animal loss caused by human civilisation (over the past half billion years, there have been five mass extinctions on Earth; we are causing another). Kolbert considers both ecosystems – the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon rainforest – and the lives of some extinct and soon-to-be extinct creatures including the Sumatran rhino and “the most beautiful bird in the world”, the black-faced honeycreeper of Maui. Read the review

Sensuous love story … Sarah Waters.


By sarah waters (2002).

Moving from the underworld dens of Victorian London to the boudoirs of country house gothic, and hingeing on the seduction of an heiress, Waters’s third novel is a drippingly atmospheric thriller, a smart study of innocence and experience, and a sensuous lesbian love story – with a plot twist to make the reader gasp. Read the review

Nickel and Dimed

By barbara ehrenreich (2001).

In this modern classic of reportage, Ehrenreich chronicled her attempts to live on the minimum wage in three American states. Working first as a waitress, then a cleaner and a nursing home aide, she still struggled to survive, and the stories of her co-workers are shocking. The US economy as she experienced it is full of routine humiliation, with demands as high as the rewards are low. Two decades on, this still reads like urgent news. Read the review

The Plot Against America

By philip roth (2004).

What if aviator Charles Lindbergh, who once called Hitler “a great man”, had won the US presidency in a landslide victory and signed a treaty with Nazi Germany? Paranoid yet plausible, Roth’s alternative-world novel is only more relevant in the age of Trump. Read the review

My Brilliant Friend

By elena ferrante (2011), translated by ann goldstein (2012).

Powerfully intimate and unashamedly domestic, the first in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series established her as a literary sensation. This and the three novels that followed documented the ways misogyny and violence could determine lives, as well as the history of Italy in the late 20th century.

Half of a Yellow Sun

By chimamanda ngozi adichie (2006).

When Nigerian author Adichie was growing up, the Biafran war “hovered over everything”. Her sweeping, evocative novel, which won the Orange prize, charts the political and personal struggles of those caught up in the conflict and explores the brutal legacy of colonialism in Africa. Read the review

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

David mitchell (2004).

The epic that made Mitchell’s name is a Russian doll of a book, nesting stories within stories and spanning centuries and genres with aplomb. From a 19th-century seafarer to a tale from beyond the end of civilisation, via 1970s nuclear intrigue and the testimony of a future clone, these dizzying narratives are delicately interlinked, highlighting the echoes and recurrences of the vast human symphony. Read the review

by Ali Smith (2016)

Smith began writing her Seasonal Quartet, a still-ongoing experiment in quickfire publishing, against the background of the EU referendum. The resulting “first Brexit novel” isn’t just a snapshot of a newly divided Britain, but a dazzling exploration into love and art, time and dreams, life and death, all done with her customary invention and wit. Read the review

A meditation on what it means to be a black American today … Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Between the World and Me

By ta-nehisi coates (2015).

Coates’s impassioned meditation on what it means to be a black American today made him one of the country’s most important intellectuals and writers. Having grown up the son of a former Black Panther on the violent streets of Baltimore, he has a voice that is challenging but also poetic. Between the World and Me takes the form of a letter to his teenage son, and ranges from the daily reality of racial injustice and police violence to the history of slavery and the civil war: white people, he writes, will never remember “the scale of theft that enriched them”. Read the review

The Amber Spyglass

By philip pullman (2000).

Children’s fiction came of age when the final part of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy became the first book for younger readers to win the Whitbread book of the year award. Pullman has brought imaginative fire and storytelling bravado to the weightiest of subjects: religion, free will, totalitarian structures and the human drive to learn, rebel and grow. Here Asriel’s struggle against the Authority reaches its climax, Lyra and Will journey to the Land of the Dead, and Mary investigates the mysterious elementary particles that lend their name to his current trilogy: The Book of Dust. The Hollywood-fuelled commercial success achieved by JK Rowling may have eluded Pullman so far, but his sophisticated reworking of Paradise Lost helped adult readers throw off any embarrassment at enjoying fiction written for children – and publishing has never looked back. Read the review

by WG Sebald (2001), translated by Anthea Bell (2001)

Sebald died in a car crash in 2001, but his genre-defying mix of fact and fiction, keen sense of the moral weight of history and interleaving of inner and outer journeys have had a huge influence on the contemporary literary landscape. His final work, the typically allusive life story of one man, charts the Jewish disapora and lost 20th century with heartbreaking power. Read the review

From left:  Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield in the 2010 film adaptation of Never Let Me Go.

Never Let Me Go

By kazuo ishiguro (2005).

From his 1989 Booker winner The Remains of the Day to 2015’s The Buried Giant , Nobel laureate Ishiguro writes profound, puzzling allegories about history, nationalism and the individual’s place in a world that is always beyond our understanding. His sixth novel, a love triangle set among human clones in an alternative 1990s England, brings exquisite understatement to its exploration of mortality, loss and what it means to be human. Read the review

Secondhand Time

By svetlana alexievich (2013), translated by bela shayevich (2016).

The Belarusian Nobel laureate recorded thousands of hours of testimony from ordinary people to create this oral history of the Soviet Union and its end. Writers, waiters, doctors, soldiers, former Kremlin apparatchiks, gulag survivors: all are given space to tell their stories, share their anger and betrayal, and voice their worries about the transition to capitalism. An unforgettable book, which is both an act of catharsis and a profound demonstration of empathy.

by Marilynne Robinson (2004)

Robinson’s meditative, deeply philosophical novel is told through letters written by elderly preacher John Ames in the 1950s to his young son who, when he finally reaches an adulthood his father won’t see, will at least have this posthumous one-sided conversation: “While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been.” This is a book about legacy, a record of a pocket of America that will never return, a reminder of the heartbreaking, ephemeral beauty that can be found in everyday life. As Ames concludes, to his son and himself: “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.” Read the review

Hilary Mantel captures ‘a sense of history listening and talking to itself’.

by Hilary Mantel (2009)

Mantel had been publishing for a quarter century before the project that made her a phenomenon, set to be concluded with the third part of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light , next March. To read her story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell at the Tudor court, detailing the making of a new England and the self-creation of a new kind of man, is to step into the stream of her irresistibly authoritative present tense and find oneself looking out from behind her hero’s eyes. The surface details are sensuously, vividly immediate, the language as fresh as new paint; but her exploration of power, fate and fortune is also deeply considered and constantly in dialogue with our own era, as we are shaped and created by the past. In this book we have, as she intended, “a sense of history listening and talking to itself”. Read the review

  • Best culture of the 21st century
  • Hilary Mantel
  • Marilynne Robinson
  • Fiction in translation
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates

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20 new books you need to read this summer

A composite image of the covers for "The Heart in Winter," "Queen B," "The Phoenix Ballroom" and "The Striker and the Clock."

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There was a time when “summer books” meant popcorn reads you consumed in a sunbaked afternoon — disposable books devoured and left behind for the next hotel room guest.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the joy of a high-paced thriller, the passionate heights of romance or the horror that raises goosebumps in the heat. We love them ourselves. But summer is also a time for slowing down to taste lots of literary flavors, whether it’s the spiciness of a globe-trotting adventure, the sweetness of late-life companionship or the bite of salt-and-vinegar short stories. Summer 2024 is an overflowing picnic basket of choices.

Here are 20 forthcoming books — publishing between late May and August — that we recommend to kick off the reading season. For those of us unable to travel this year, nothing beats the simple pleasure of a great book with a cold drink on a summer afternoon.

current best books

Ah, summer. The time of year when school lets out, days grow long and grills fire up. Even in places like L.A., though, where rain can be scarce, there are plenty of reasons (too hot, too lazy, too sunburned) to stay inside and curl up with some AC. That’s where The Times’ 2024 Summer Preview comes in: As you check out our guides to the movies, TV shows and books we’re looking forward to this season, be sure to read the stories below about some of the most highly anticipated.

  • We strap in with director George Miller, the ‘Mad Max’ mastermind, back with ‘Furiosa’
  • ‘I relive it every night’: Jeremy Renner reflects on the day he almost died, and why he’s alive

A gender-fluid childhood at an RV park in the desert. Zoë Bossiere wouldn’t change a thing

Kittentits By Holly Wilson Zando-Gillian Flynn Books: 368 pages, $28 (May 21)

Ten-year-old homeschooled Molly is bored with life at the nun-haunted House of Friends. Scuzzy daredevil Jeanie arrives at their living community after a disastrous fire, leaving Molly enthralled. When Jeanie fakes her own death, Molly runs away to find her at the 1992 Chicago World’s Fair and to connect with their dead moms. Molly learns a passel of thinpgs in this surrealist, carnivalesque bildungsroman.

"Swift River" by Essie Chambers

Swift River By Essie Chambers Simon & Schuster: 304 pages, $28 (June 4)

Chambers’ funny debut is set in a 1980s New England mill town in decline. Seven years after her father’s disappearance, Diamond Newberry and her mother are struggling, but Diamond’s observations provide comic leavening. During the summer of 1987, her mom files to have Pop declared dead, which is when things get complicated. Diamond receives a letter from an unknown relative, which starts her on a path to learn her family — and the nation’s — history.

Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre in Pasadena, California on Wednesday, April 10, 2024.

Kathleen Hanna is a troubadour unafraid to speak out

Kathleen Hanna’s memoir, ‘Rebel Girl,’ is a bold portrait: a crucial book about feminist politics and art and a tender examination of a woman who survived abuse and sexual assault.

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Godwin By Joseph O’Neill Pantheon: 288 pages, $28 (June 4)

“The next Pelé” or “the next Messi” are words sure to ignite the fantasies of soccer fans anywhere. When tech writer Mark is contacted by his sports agent, half-brother Geoff, Mark leaves Pittsburgh to join him on a madcap adventure to find such a phenom: an African teenager known only as “Godwin.” O’Neill combines the brothers’ exploits with sharp observations about international business and issues like greenwashing and corruption that have tarnished the world’s game.

"The Phoenix Ballroom" by Ruth Hogan

The Phoenix Ballroom By Ruth Hogan William Morrow: 320 pages, $19 (June 11)

How late is too late for a woman to change her life? In Hogan’s novel of life during widowhood, Venetia Hargreaves searches for a new self in her 70s. After 50 years of marriage, Venetia, who used to be an accomplished dancer, embraces her newly independent life. On a walk, she passes by an old building that had once been the Phoenix Ballroom, which she buys and restores. In hopes of a return to her youthful days, Venetia finds community in an entertaining motley crew of lost souls.

Summer Books Preview

20 books to keep you reading through August If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from , whose fees support independent bookstores.

Sons of El Rey By Alex Espinoza Simon and Schuster: 384 pages, $29 (June 11)

Lucha libre took its hold in Mexico, and its high-flying masked performers are the superstars in its freestyle wrestling rings. In Espinoza’s entertaining and poignant novel, he writes of Ernesto Vega’s fame and fortune as a luchador known to his fans as El Rey Coyote. In East Los Angeles, his son, Freddy, fights to save his dad’s gym while Freddy’s gay son, Julian, seeks purpose. As Ernesto reaches the end of his life, his son and grandson will find their own answers in the streets of 1980s L.A. and the present reality of West Hollywood.

Bear By Julia Phillips Hogarth: 304 pages, $28 (June 25)

One of “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” inspired Phillips, a 2024 Guggenheim fellow and lauded author of “Disappearing Earth.” Sisters Sam and Elena live on an island off the coast of Washington, their birthplace that’s become a dead end for them both. When Sam spies a swimming bear from the ferry where she works, she is shocked, but it’s an even bigger surprise when the bear shows up at their house. A retelling of “Rose Red and Snow White,” “Bear” is a fantabulous delight.

"Another North" by Jennifer Brice

Another North By Jennifer Brice Boreal Books: 240 pages, $18 (June 25)

Brice previously chronicled her Alaska youth in “Unlearning to Fly.” In “Another North,” she returns to Fairbanks as a divorced woman longing for a sense of home. The new collection takes readers from her life as a professor in New York‘s Leatherstocking Country to her days piloting small planes in the Alaska bush. Brice is a beautiful prose stylist, and her book navigates the turbulence of middle age with a steady — and elegant — hand.

S.J. Rozan, John Shen Yen Nee, Nova Jacobs and Sarah Langan

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Pink Slime By Fernanda Trías Scribner: 240 pages, $24 (July 2)

Trías won the National Uruguayan Literature Prize in her native country, and “Pink Slime,” newly translated by Heather Cleary, is a great display of her chops. Set in a city diminished by plague and a poisonous algae bloom, the narrator focuses her attention on her remaining relationships. In writing about the ways folks hold together during difficult times, Trías untangles the myths and realities of resilience.

"The God of the Woods" by Liz Moore

The God of the Woods by Liz Moore Riverhead: 496 pages, $30 (July 2)

Moore takes readers to an Adirondack summer camp in the mid-’70s. When Barbara Van Laar’s bunk turns up empty one morning, it sets off a frenzied search by the surrounding community. Barbara appears to have suffered the same fate as her brother, who disappeared 14 years prior. Moore’s familiarity with the Adirondacks — and the area’s long history as a playground of the rich — inspired this multilayered novel about wealthy wilderness camp people and the blue-collar folks who must accommodate them.

All This & More By Peng Shepherd William Morrow: 512 pages, $30 ` (July 9)

Shepherd, a finalist for a 2023 L.A. Times Book Prize, returns with another clever novel that plays with time and space. Here readers meet Marsh (short for Marshmallow), a 45-year-old woman who is disappointed with her lot in life. Happiness beckons when she is selected to star in a reality show where all of her past mistakes can be fixed, if she is willing to accept the consequences. Shepherd includes “choose your own adventure” moments for readers so Marsh’s fate is in their hands.

"The Heart in Winter" by Kevin Barry

The Heart in Winter By Kevin Barry Doubleday: 256 pages, $28 (July 9)

Irish Booker Prize nominee Kevin Barry traverses the Atlantic in this story set in 1891 Montana. Immigrant workers toil in the copper mines that build Butte’s fortunes. In the midst of the archetypical frontier town, Tom Rourke fuels himself by drinking, doping and writing. When he falls head over heels for the mine captain’s new wife, Polly, a cadre of crazy Cornishmen take off in hot pursuit of the poet and his muse.

A black and white photo of Don Winslow looking into the camera.

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Bad Tourists by Caro Carver Avid Reader: 336 pages, $29 (July 9)

In addition to malfunctioning airplanes, one of the hazards of traveling is getting caught up in a group of bad tourists. In Carver’s tropical paradise of a book, a trio of friends heads to the Maldives to make over their 40-something lives. What should be fun turns dangerous when a body shows up on the white beaches outside their resort. In both a romp and a thriller, Carver immerses readers in secret-filled waters.

"The Striker and the Clock" by Georgia Cloepfil

The Striker and the Clock: On Being in the Game By Georgia Cloepfil Riverhead: 208 pages, $27 (July 16)

A watershed moment in women’s sports this past spring has cast a light on the athletes who, instead of riches, face uncertain futures after graduation. In this riveting memoir by professional soccer player Cloepfil, she takes readers on a trip with her to find a living playing in South Korea, Australia, Lithuania and other far-flung locations. A paean to the beautiful game, the book chronicles how Cloepfil overcame adversity to strike joy.

Sugar on the Bones By Joe R. Lansdale Mulholland: 336 pages, $29 (July 16)

Lansdale makes a triumphant return to his Hap and Leonard novels with this scorcher. When Minnie Polson comes to the duo’s PI agency seeking help, things go south after an ill-timed remark causes her to storm out. She later turns up dead and the guilt-stricken pair seeks her killer. Minnie’s family — full of eccentricities and petty grievances — are the unusual suspects.

"The Bright Sword" by Lev Grossman

The Bright Sword By Lev Grossman Viking: 688 pages, $35 (July 16)

Grossman follows up his wildly successful “The Magicians” trilogy with this tale of misfits at King Arthur’s Round Table. Arthur is dead and just a few of his knights remain in Camelot. Enter Collum — two weeks too late to serve Arthur — a young knight who teams up with Merlin’s former apprentice and Sir Bedivere, Sir Palomides and Sir Dagonet. Their journey through a land riven by conflict in search of Arthur’s successor will reveal the country’s bloody origins.

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The Wilds By Sarah Pearse Pamela Dorman Books: 400 pages, $30 (July 16)

Detective Elin Warner can’t get a break from her job. Each time she goes on a vacation or retreat, murder follows. She travels to Portugal to immerse herself in nature but her sojourn is interrupted by a young woman’s disappearance. The missing woman’s map leads Elin into the wilderness where scenes of great beauty turn dark and threatening. Pearse has written another intriguing page-turner.

"Queen Bee" by Juno Dawson

Queen B: The Story of Anne Boleyn, Witch Queen By Juno Dawson Penguin: 224 pages, $18 (July 23)

Dawson is the queen of young adult fiction in the U.K., and her nonfiction works have explored LGBTQ+ issues. Set in the court of Henry VIII, “Queen B” follows Lady Grace Fairfax as she seeks the traitors who betrayed Anne Boleyn. When witchfinders are sent to root out members of the condemned queen’s coven, court intrigue follows. Juno summons a tale that is the perfect length for a sultry weekend read.

The Modern Fairies By Clare Pollard Avid Reader: 272 pages, $28 (July 23)

Those in search of a bawdy fairy tale should look no further than Pollard’s novel set during the reign of Louis XIV. Intellectuals from Versailles gather at the home of Madame Marie D’Aulnoy. They bring court gossip and romantic desire with them, and they entertain each other with ribald tales of missing glass slippers, beauties and beasts, while remaining oblivious to the wolf that waits outside their salon door. Pollard imagines the origins of many of the tales gathered by Charles Perrault.

"The Future Was Now" by Chris Nashawaty

The Future Was Now: Madmen, Mavericks, and the Epic Sci-Fi Summer of 1982 By Chris Nashawaty Flatiron: 304 pages, $30 (July 30)

The summer of 1982 took moviegoers on epic rides through the sci-fi worlds of a future L.A. and the Australian desert, and introduced a lost extraterrestrial trying to get home. In all, eight sci-fi adventures were released that summer, and Nashawaty, former Entertainment Weekly film critic, expertly covers their behind-the-scenes conflicts and (not surprising) ego clashes. Hollywood boldly went where it hadn’t gone before and Nashawaty chronicles the journeys.

"Mystery Lights" by Lena Valencia

Mystery Lights By Lena Valencia Tin House: 256, $18 (Aug. 6)

Kelly Link has praised the “gorgeous” “Mystery Lights.” It’s the debut short story collection by former L.A. resident Valencia. Among the collection’s delicious bonbons are stories about an anxious screenwriter trapped in an SUV; 20 women who need a retreat from the business retreat they’re on; and an obsessed artist who longs to capture an otherworldly light. In the umbra of these darkly tinged stories, readers will experience late-night fears and the sweet relief of daylight.

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Peter Baker

This article is part of a regular series of conversations with the Review ’s contributors; read past ones here and sign up for our e-mail newsletter to get them delivered to your inbox each week.

Two thirds of the way into Peter C. Baker’s review of a recent translation of The Wall , a 1963 postapocalyptic novel by Marlen Haushofer, he arrives at a series of questions that underlie mysteries, science fiction, and, implicitly, literature as a whole: “Why write? Why describe your life for others? Why do anything at all?” In The Wall , Baker observes, Haushofer comes at these questions “sideways”: the narrator, writing in her journal while trapped alone in the Austrian forest, discovers that “her worries over life’s purpose . . . ring louder and louder, too loud to possibly ignore.”

Baker is a critic and novelist; he has covered music, Silicon Valley, and books for The New York Times Magazine , The New Yorker , and The Guardian . For our pages, he has written about the rise in pedestrian fatalities in America , Nicholson Baker , and the Chicago Police Department’s history of torturing Black people . His first novel, Planes , was published in 2022. I e-mailed him this week to ask about genre fiction, Chicago, and how to get any reading done when you have small children.

Daniel Drake: When did you first encounter The Wall ? What struck you about the book at the time, and what changed in your understanding of it upon rereading?

Peter C. Baker: I stumbled on The Wall fifteen years ago in a used bookstore in Rome. I was on vacation by myself and tore through it in a day, having one of those totally absorbing reading experiences that seem to get rarer as we get older. I wasn’t doing much analysis at all, just reading, reading, reading. Completely immersed. On subsequent readings, and especially after becoming a novelist myself, I made more of an attempt to look under the hood at the book’s machinery. As far as I can tell, Haushofer produced its disorienting (but completely absorbing) atmosphere by combining the mood of a parable with the moment-to-moment density of closely observed realism. And then it turns out not to be a parable at all. There’s no lesson, no moral. Over time, I’ve come to see this void—the space into which the novel lures us on a search for easy meaning—as the source of its gravity.

Do you otherwise have an attachment to sci-fi or last-man stories? It seemed in your review that some of what you liked about the book was how it bucked genre conventions, but are there literary genres that appeal to you?

I’ve read a lot of sci-fi, including my share of last-man stories, but my “genre” reading has been even more random than my “literary” reading. (I count myself among those who believe that “literary” fiction is just another genre, but I haven’t solved the problem of what to call it.) My knowledge of the genre landscape is much spottier, although I’ve never felt much insecurity about that.

Lately, to my surprise, I’ve been reading lots of detective novels. My interest in the crimes and their solutions is fairly minimal. It’s more about how the structure of a mystery—the constant awareness, as a reader, that at any moment you could be encountering a clue—makes everything sparkle a little, even if it’s just the detective deciding which diner to go to, or what kind of drink to have, what kind of music to put on. It’s amazing how much of the writing in some detective novels is about this kind of stuff. Quotidian life caught in prose: this is exactly the effect a lot of “literary” writing is after, and detective fiction has this basically built-in shortcut. In fact, I’ve been so taken with the genre that for my next novel I’ve decided to try my hand at it.

I know you also as a Chicago writer—you have written for our pages about the legacy of the Chicago Police Department’s torture policies. Do you identify with the city? What might distinguish a Chicago writer, if such could be said to exist?

I live in Evanston, a small suburban city just across Chicago’s northern border. I’ve lived here for just over a decade. Which I think, by local metrics, makes me a fairly recent arrival. What Chicago needs is the same thing every place in America needs: more storytellers who, instead of using the place as a readymade symbol of X or Y (especially of “The Midwest,” in Chicago’s case), help us shrug off these lazy shorthands and see how weird and varied our country is.

Of course, I hope that my eventual detective novel will make some kind of contribution. Much of the country is obsessed with ideas about “crime in Chicago.” How do you tell a Chicago crime story that doesn’t play into those simplistic narratives, that’s aware of but floats free of a shallow national discourse populated by the laziest tropes imaginable? And how do you do that without ending up with something that just reads like media criticism? A novel can’t be an exercise in correcting misconceptions: it needs more, it needs an energy and spirit and style of its own.

As a novelist and critic, how do you find that either practice informs the other?

My gold standard for a novel is whether it’s doing something that only a novel can do, or that a novel can do best. The most obvious example is that novels shouldn’t read like movie treatments: they should behave, at least some of the time, in ways that are fundamentally unfilmable. Otherwise the writer isn’t really doing their job as a steward of their own tradition.

Writing literary criticism over the years—being forced to think hard about why something works or doesn’t, and by virtue of which textual properties—helped me articulate this standard. Which, as a fiction writer, I’m grateful for. I think it helps me stay on a path that leads to work I’m going to be able to live with.

Incidentally, I don’t apply anything like the same standard to my criticism. I’m not trying to tend to or advance the tradition of the book review, I’m just trying to be clear and engaging within a format that I take, for my purposes, to be relatively fixed. There are other critics— Patricia Lockwood is a good example—who do more pioneering stuff. I really admire those writers, and sometimes I envy them too. But it’s just not me! Sometimes I think maybe the particular pressure I put on my fiction is so intense that I don’t have any left for my criticism and magazine writing. I keep my goals much more modest, and I’m more content with the simple idea of giving readers some information or context or perspective about a book that they might not already have.

What have you been reading lately?

Part of my answer is that I’m reading short essays people have sent me for Tracks on Tracks , a new project of mine. It’s a magazine that comes out one piece at a time, via an e-mail newsletter; each piece sees a writer (often but not always me) describing their relationship to an individual song. I imagine it like a grown-up version of sitting up late in a dorm room listening to new friends play their favorite music.

Beyond that? I’m a parent to a three-year-old and a one-year-old, and I’m reading less than I have at any point since I was nine or ten. It’s been a big adjustment, a huge change in my daily mental inputs. And the question of what I’ll read next has become a mystery to me. I pick things up that look good—big stacks of books from the library—and I don’t read more than a few pages of most of them. Something has to feel just right in a way I can’t articulate. It’s often, as I said, detective fiction that does the trick. I recently got into Lawrence Block. His main character, the private eye Matthew Scudder, starts out as a heavy drinker, but then, a few books in, starts going to Alcoholics Anonymous. The mystery he’s working on is always running parallel to his sobriety journey. It’s great.

It’s occurring to me that freelance writers are a lot like private eyes. We work alone. We get paid by the job. Some assignments are better than others, and some end up being dreadful, and there’s no foolproof way of screening out the dreadful ones. What we learn from one job carries over to the next, or at least we hope it does.

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Peter C. Baker’s first novel, Planes , was published in 2022. He is currently working on a detective novel set in Chicago. (April 2024)

Daniel Drake is on the editorial staff of The New York Review of Books .

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Business titans privately urged NYC mayor to use police on Columbia protesters, chats show

A WhatsApp chat started by some wealthy Americans after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack reveals their focus on Mayor Eric Adams and their work to shape U.S. opinion of the Gaza war.

A group of billionaires and business titans working to shape U.S. public opinion of the war in Gaza privately pressed New York City’s mayor last month to send police to disperse pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University, according to communications obtained by The Washington Post and people familiar with the group.

Business executives including Kind snack company founder Daniel Lubetzky, hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, billionaire Len Blavatnik and real estate investor Joseph Sitt held a Zoom video call on April 26 with Mayor Eric Adams (D), about a week after the mayor first sent New York police to Columbia’s campus, a log of chat messages shows. During the call, some attendees discussed making political donations to Adams, as well as how the chat group’s members could pressure Columbia’s president and trustees to permit the mayor to send police to the campus to handle protesters, according to chat messages summarizing the conversation.

One member of the WhatsApp chat group told The Post he donated $2,100, the maximum legal limit, to Adams that month. Some members also offered to pay for private investigators to assist New York police in handling the protests, the chat log shows — an offer a member of the group reported in the chat that Adams accepted. The New York Police Department is not using and has not used private investigators to help manage protests, a spokeswoman for City Hall said.

The messages describing the call with Adams were among thousands logged in a WhatsApp chat among some of the nation’s most prominent business leaders and financiers, including former CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz, Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman and Joshua Kushner, founder of Thrive Capital and brother to Jared Kushner, former president Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

People with direct access to the chat log’s contents supplied them to The Post. They shared the information on the condition of anonymity because the chat’s contents were meant to stay private. Members of the group verified the chat’s existence and their comments.

The chat was initiated by a staffer for billionaire and real estate magnate Barry Sternlicht — who never joined directly, instead communicating through the staffer, according to chat messages and a person close to Sternlicht. In an Oct. 12 message, one of the first sent in the group, the staffer posting on behalf of Sternlicht told the others the goal of the group was to “change the narrative” in favor of Israel, partly by conveying “the atrocities committed by Hamas … to all Americans.”

Israel estimates 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. In the months since the war began, the death toll in Gaza has risen above 35,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry .

The chat group formed shortly after the Oct. 7 attack, and its activism has stretched beyond New York, touching the highest levels of the Israeli government, the U.S. business world and elite universities. Titled “Israel Current Events,” the chat eventually expanded to about 100 members, the chat log shows. More than a dozen members of the group appear on Forbes’s annual list of billionaires; others work in real estate, finance and communications.

Overall, the messages offer a window into how some prominent individuals have wielded their money and power in an effort to shape American views of the Gaza war , as well as the actions of academic, business and political leaders — including New York’s mayor.

“He’s open to any ideas we have,” chat member Sitt, founder of retail chain Ashley Stewart and the global real estate company Thor Equities, wrote April 27, the day after the group’s Zoom call with Adams. “As you saw he’s ok if we hire private investigators to then have his police force intel team work with them.”

Sitt declined to comment through a spokeswoman.

A half-dozen prominent members of the group confirmed on the record their participation in the chat. Multiple people familiar with the group confirmed the names of other members.

Cypriot Israeli real estate billionaire Yakir Gabay, a chat member, wrote in a statement shared by a spokesperson that he joined the group because he wanted to “share support at a difficult and painful time,” to aid the victims of Hamas attacks and to “try and correct the false and misleading information intentionally spread worldwide to deny or cover up the suffering caused by Hamas.”

Asked about the Zoom meeting with chat group members, the mayor’s office did not address it directly, instead sharing a statement from deputy mayor Fabien Levy noting that New York police entered Columbia’s campus twice in response to “specific written requests” from university leadership. “Any suggestion that other considerations were involved in the decision-making process is completely false,” Levy said. He added, “The insinuation that Jewish donors secretly plotted to influence government operations is an all too familiar antisemitic trope that the Washington Post should be ashamed to ask about, let alone normalize in print.”

Adams demonstrated a willingness to send law enforcement to deal with campus protesters from the beginning . He sent police to Columbia’s campus to disperse pro-Palestinian demonstrators on April 18, at the university’s request — about a day after protesters erected their Gaza solidarity encampment. Officers arrested more than 100 protesters . The mayor has subsequently alleged student activists were affected by “outside influences” — and that police intervention was needed to prevent “children” from being “radicalized.”

Both he and Columbia’s president have since drawn criticism — but also support — for involving police, adding to a fraught stretch for Adams, who is up for reelection in 2025 and faces an FBI corruption investigation into whether his 2021 campaign received illegal donations from Turkey. Adams has defended that campaign, saying he held it to “the highest ethical standards.”

Four days after chat members held the video call with Adams, student protesters occupied a campus building and Columbia’s president invited police back to campus to clear the building . Officers removed and arrested dozens of protesters, pushing, striking and dragging students in the process, The Post reported . One officer accidentally fired his gun.

Months before the protests at Columbia this spring, some chat members attended private briefings with former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett; Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli war cabinet; and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, according to chat records.

Members of the group also worked with the Israeli government to screen a roughly 40-minute film showing footage compiled by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) — titled “Bearing Witness to the October 7 Massacre” — to audiences in New York City. The film portrays killings committed by Hamas. A chat member asked for help from other members to show the film at universities; it was later screened at Harvard , a showing chat member Ackman helped facilitate , attended and promoted publicly.

Sternlicht declined to comment on the record, although a person close to him — speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the chat group publicly — confirmed the real estate tycoon initiated the chat. Other members of the chat, including Ackman and Schultz, confirmed their membership.

A spokesman said Ackman had not participated in the chat since Jan. 10, adding Ackman never spoke to Adams about the Columbia protests or donated to Adams’s campaign, although Ackman “likes and is supportive of the Mayor.” Joshua Kushner declined to comment.

On Oct. 12, a staffer for Sternlicht relayed a message from his boss outlining the group’s mission: While Israel worked to “win the physical war,” the chat group’s members would “help win the war” of U.S. public opinion by funding an information campaign against Hamas. The campaign was referred to in the chat as "Facts for Peace.”

The news site Semafor reported in November that Sternlicht was launching a $50 million anti-Hamas media campaign with various Wall Street and Hollywood billionaires. The people involved, per Semafor’s reporting, include some members of the WhatsApp chat, a review by The Post found. The chat messages, the contents of which have never before been reported, appear to reveal the start of the campaign, as well as separate pro-Israel activities undertaken later by chat members. It is unclear to what extent the chat group and media campaign overlapped.

Some of the media campaign’s activities were public, including its website , Instagram , TikTok , YouTube , Facebook and X accounts, which together attracted more than 170,000 followers.

High-level contacts, private briefings

At a moment of rising antisemitism, the staffer for Sternlicht wrote in one of the first chat messages that his boss was proud of his Jewish heritage and wanted to support Israel, but was also concerned about security. Anonymity, the staffer wrote Oct. 12 on Sternlicht’s behalf, “is a practical need and concern for safety of my family in an increasingly complex world.”

The staffer wrote that Sternlicht understood if other members felt similarly and promised that all contributions to the media campaign would remain anonymous. “I’m sensitive to concerns about being less effective if it appears that this is a Jewish initiative,” the staffer wrote, speaking for Sternlicht.

From the start of the chat, members sought guidance and information from officials in the Israeli government.

Some of the WhatsApp chat members said in the chat they attended private briefings about the Gaza war with Israeli war cabinet member Gantz, former prime minister Bennett and Herzog, the ambassador. The chat log shows Zoom invites for these meetings.

“Most appreciative for the behind the scenes briefing by Naftali Bennett,” Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, wrote to the group on Oct. 16. “Quite extraordinary!”

Bennett did not respond to a request for comment. Gantz could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said the briefing Herzog gave chat members was “one of dozens” the ambassador delivered that month, adding that “communities here in the U.S. understandably wanted to learn more about what was happening on the ground in Israel.”

A spokesperson for Schultz confirmed in a statement that he attended the briefing with Bennett, but said Schultz “did not participate in, or contribute financially to, any of the group’s work.” Schultz was neither involved in discussions about Adams and the Columbia protests nor screenings of the film, according to a spokesman.

In late October, the chat records show, chat members appear to have suggested to Israeli officials they should hold a private New York City screening for media of “Bearing Witness,” the IDF film featuring graphic footage recorded by Hamas gunmen on body cameras and cellphones as they attacked Israel. Sitt wrote in a message to the group on Oct. 27 that Israeli officials wanted to thank them “for coming up with the concept of the press event in NYC.”

The next month, the group showed the film in New York, records show. Sitt wrote on Nov. 10 that the Israeli government “arranged for us” to screen the film in Gotham Hall on Nov. 17, adding in a later message the showing “will be listed as a IDF event not affiliated to Facts for Peace to keep them separate.”

In ensuing months, group members wrote in the chat to flag news articles or social media posts about Israel, events in Gaza or, later, college campus protests.

‘So NYPD can return’

Columbia students first set up an encampment April 17 , eventually leading some Jewish students to allege the protests had forged a hostile and harassing atmosphere. Police stepped in to clear the encampment at the Columbia president’s request on April 18, arresting more than 100 demonstrators.

In the chat, discussion of how Adams was handling the Columbia protests — and how group members could help — took off the following day, after student protesters built a new encampment to replace the demolished one.

Lubetzky, of the snack company Kind, posted in the chat sharing a link to an Instagram video showing an Israeli Arab journalist getting hit by a man the video caption claims is an “anti-Israel protester.” Not long after, billionaire Blavatnik posted a picture of Adams and wrote, “He needs help.”

Sitt responded that he had already “been helping but can use more support.” He asked if others were “open to giving” to Adams.

Gabay, the Cypriot Israeli real estate billionaire, replied: “Pls send the info. Thanks.” Then Blavatnik posted an ActBlue link allowing donations to the Eric Adams 2025 committee.

Lubetzky messaged: “If there is a group to contribute through, or a way to ensure our contributions are known to be related to his efforts to fight antisemitism and hate, pls let us know and I will support meaningfully alongside you guys.” Sitt replied that he was arranging a “code” for such donations; asked about this message, Vito Pitta, counsel to Adams’s 2025 campaign, said “there is no ‘special code’ for contributions.”

A spokeswoman for Blavatnik said he contributed $2,100 to Adams’s reelection campaign in April. She said the donation was given “to endorse Mayor Adams’ stalwart support of Israel and firm stand against antisemitism.”

Spokespeople for Lubetzky, Sitt and Gabay said they did not donate to Adams. Loeb declined to comment.

In the chat, discussion turned to the fact that Columbia had to grant Adams permission before he could send city police to the campus.

One member asked if the group could do anything to pressure Columbia trustees to cooperate with the mayor. In reply, former congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), CEO of the American Jewish Committee, shared a PDF of a letter his organization had sent that day to Columbia President Minouche Shafik calling on her to “shut these protests down.”

“Also in touch with the board,” Deutch wrote to the chat group. “So NYPD can return.”

Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for Deutch wrote in an email to The Post that the American Jewish Committee “values all opportunities to engage with various individuals and institutions who support the Jewish people and the State of Israel.” Asked about the chat group and its activities, a Columbia spokesperson wrote, “We have no knowledge of this.”

A Zoom video call with chat group members and Adams took place a little after 11 a.m. April 26, according to chat records.

It is unclear how many members attended the meeting, which lasted for roughly 45 minutes, chat records show. Those present included at least Blavatnik, Sitt, Loeb and Lubetzky, according to the chat logs.

Sitt wrote minutes after the call ended to summarize items “discussed today,” including donating to Adams, using group members’ “leverage” to help persuade Columbia’s president to let New York police back on campus and paying for “investigative efforts” to assist the city.

Lubetzky replied listing concrete actions group members should take. These included resharing a link to offer financial support to Adams, calling and writing to Columbia’s president and board of trustees, and “getting Black Leaders to condemn Anti-Semitism.” He named several people he would contact and asked if anyone in the group knew Jay-Z, LeBron James or Alicia Keys.

Asked about his comments, Lubetzky wrote in a statement to The Post that “building bridges between the Black and Jewish communities … is more important than ever.”

Blavatnik, through a spokeswoman, confirmed he attended the Zoom with Adams but said he did not “participate in a conversation about private investigators and is unaware of discussions related to that subject.” The spokeswoman noted other people on the Zoom said things Blavatnik “did not weigh in on or agree with.” She said the billionaire, a Columbia alumnus and donor, only joined the Zoom to understand how Adams “was thinking about the Columbia protests.”

The evening after the call, Sitt shared the ActBlue link for donations to Adams’s 2025 committee.

The chat does not record who donated money to Adams nor how much. The New York City Campaign Finance Board website shows donations sent only up to January of this year; more recent donations will not become public until July .

Pitta, the Adams campaign lawyer, said the campaign had not received donations from Lubetzky, Loeb, Sitt or Gabay. He confirmed Blavatnik had donated but did not respond to questions asking about the timing of Blavatnik’s donation.

A day after the April 26 Zoom with Adams, Loeb wrote the chat group to share reflections on what transpired during the call. He wrote that it was “a sad state that we feel the need to grovel to ask our elected officials to do their jobs.” He added, “I’ll be grateful when the perpetrators are dragged off campus.”

Police returned to Columbia on April 30, arresting dozens of demonstrators who had occupied a university building. Columbia President Shafik had requested law enforcement’s aid in a letter, writing that the takeover of Hamilton Hall raised “serious safety concerns.” She asked police to remain on campus at least through May 17.

The morning afterward, Adams gave a news conference summarizing the action. “We went in and conducted an operation,” he said, “to remove those who have turned the peaceful protests into a place where antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes were pervasive.”

In early May, seven months since its inception, the chat was shut down. A person close to Sternlicht said he decided to shutter the group because the activities were moving beyond the initial objectives and the people who started it — including himself — were no longer actively participating, and hadn’t been for months.

“We are incredibly grateful for the dialogue and support that this group has provided over the past 7 months,” wrote a staffer for Sternlicht. The staffer wrote that members should not hesitate to reach out if they needed anything.

“We are stronger together,” the staffer wrote in closing.

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Adultery Gets Weird in Miranda July’s New Novel

An anxious artist’s road trip stops short for a torrid affair at a tired motel. In “All Fours,” the desire for change is familiar. How to satisfy it isn’t.

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ALL FOURS, by Miranda July

Erica Jong’s Isadora Wing feared flying , but womanned up to attend the first psychoanalytic conference in Vienna since the Holocaust. Fifty years later , the unnamed heroine of Miranda July’s new novel, “All Fours” — let’s call her Amanda Huggenkiss — can barely begin a cross-country road trip.

Huggenkiss — aah, never mind — the anonymous narrator is five years from 50 herself: a “semi-famous” artist with a desk that’s a little wobbly and a career to match. “I worked in so many mediums that I was able to debut many times,” she recounts. “I just kept emerging, like a bud opening over and over again.”

She’s married to a music producer, Harris, who divides people up not into hedgehogs and foxes but Drivers and Parkers. The former, like himself, are functional and content. The latter, like his wife, are bored by ordinary life but, craving applause, thrive in tight spots and emergencies.

One was the birth of their baby, Sam (a nonbinary “ theyby ”), after the kind of fetal-maternal hemorrhage that often results in stillbirth. Mrs. Harris is ecstatic about her child, now a second grader — taking weekly candlelit baths with them, she weeps with love — but she feels her parenting efforts, which include massaging kale for a five-part bento box lunch, go underrecognized or criticized. And her sex life, which is dependent on fantasy, a.k.a. “mind-rooted,” has suffered. Sometimes when she delays initiating, she can hear her body-rooted husband’s penis “whistling impatiently like a teakettle.”

After a whiskey company unexpectedly licenses one of her saucy sentences for $20,000, she decides to splurge for her birthday on a room at the Carlyle, the fancy-pants hotel on New York’s Upper East Side. But, starting from Los Angeles, she only makes it as far as a motel in the nearby suburb of Monrovia. And that’s when things get weird in that Miranda July way that some critics find the ne plus ultra of twee (Harris twee?) and I happen to enjoy very much, with a few caveats.

Angst about the change of life — what Jong would call “ Fear of Fifty ” — seems a family curse. At 55, the narrator’s paternal grandmother had fatally flung herself out the window, first considerately placing herself in a garbage bag; an Aunt Ruthie followed; and her own mother is cognitively impaired and hard of hearing (while her father perpetually occupies a “deathfield” of depression and panic). But she is most immediately concerned with losing her looks and libido: of falling off, what she sees on a graph of shifting hormones over a life span, the “estrogen cliff.”

She blows her windfall to redo Room 321 in lavish and idiosyncratic style, carpeted in New Zealand wool and scented with tonka beans, then begins a torrid and all-consuming romance with the decorator’s husband, a hip-hop hobbyist named Davey who works at Hertz and resembles Gilbert Blythe from the “Anne of Green Gables” series. (Blythe and a Grand Parterre Sarouk carpet are the kinds of allusions July drops for her cultivated audience without explanation.)

A few words about the sex in “All Fours,” which is titled for what the narrator’s best friend, a sculptor, calls “the most stable position. Like a table.” (Well, not a wobbly one.) It is gaspingly graphic, sometimes verging on gross (urine, tampons and a suspected polyp — “hopefully benign”— all come into play), and supplemented with masturbation galore. Compelled to read these definitely not twee-rated passages, I briefly considered filing a complaint with human resources. Then I remembered the protracted and messy sex scenes released with such fanfare into the culture by Philip Roth, Harold Brodkey, et al., and decided I was being discriminatory and prudish.

Jong popularized the idea of “zipless” intercourse (more snappily than that); July’s term is “bottomless.” Her perimenopausal protagonist’s desire is insatiable, unfathomable, roving across genders and generations: a kind of supernova of lust preceding what she anticipates will be the black hole of senescence.

Even more than this adulterous appetite, her casual ageism, in a milieu where preferred pronouns are sacred, can shock. “Nobody except the doctor knew — or could even conceive of — what was going on between her legs,” she thinks of a woman in her 70s glimpsed in the gynecologist’s office, imagining “gray labia, long and loose.” ( Paging Arnold Kegel !) And, buying a 1920s bedspread from a “free spirit” at an antique mall: “Sometimes my hatred of older women almost knocked me over, it came so abruptly.”

Hatred is fear-based, of course — and you come to understand that the main character’s real journey will not be on Route 66, but the path to self-acceptance. In order to ride shotgun comfortably, though, you have to accept her preoccupation with the reflection in the rearview mirror; her indifference to any current affairs but her own.

When this unnamed She spray-paints “CALL ME” on a chair for the now-estranged Davey, it’s like John Cusack’s boombox serenade in “Say Anything.” When she posts a wild dance on Instagram after firming her own body at the gym, frantically seeking his Like, it’s like the boombox turned up to arena volume.

Are the mental-health professionals back from Europe yet? One pops up late on Harris’s arm, as the marriage reconfigures, but otherwise they’re strangely absent from “All Fours,” whose woman on the verge of chronological maturity has the intense focus of an artist, sure — but also a yearning adolescent.

ALL FOURS | By Miranda July | Riverhead | 336 pp. | $29

Alexandra Jacobs is a Times book critic and occasional features writer. She joined The Times in 2010. More about Alexandra Jacobs

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