This Christmas we’ve decided to make your present buying a lot less stressful by asking the 4th Estate team to hand-pick books for all your relatives. Hopefully this will mean less umming and ahhing in the bookshop, and more oohing and ahhing on Christmas Day…
Not quite a fresh out of uni graduate and not yet a fully-fledged professional, your sister returns home to do some serious thinking – where is she going? What is she doing? And worst of all – what does she even want to do? It’s hard being young, and even harder being young, qualified and unemployed. Here are a selection of thoughtful and thought-provoking books to help and to guide her through that quarter-life existential crisis…
Ex-activist and prolific author on books concerning the environment, gender politics and story-telling, Rebecca Solnit is a pioneering voice for any young woman trying to find her bearings in the world. Solnit’s ability to tie together the intellectual, spiritual and topological is sure to ground your sister, while also offering escape from the mundane confines of the family home. From the author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking and A Field Guide to Getting Lost comes a book less likely to make your troubled sister simply take to the road: the meandering narrative – part fiction, part anecdote and part meditation – of Solnit’s prose will reflect the inner wanderings of your sister, guiding her through such turbulence without being didactic. As she is immersed in Solnit’s delicately plotted map, she will explore uncharted territory and find confirmation in the inter-connectedness of the world around her.
With one of the most powerful literary voices of the twenty-first century, yet one of the most elusive faces, Pynchon is the emblem of authentic ‘artist’ – defined by the strength of his work and not his celebrity status. This in itself will strike a chord with your sister, appealing to her predilection for artistic integrity and desire for a strong work ethic. Inherent Vice will then throw her into a foggy seventies haze of insanity, death and drugs just to mix things up and shake her out of her own neurotic casing. As one of Pynchon’s more plot driven novels, it has some narrative footholds to grip onto, while still enveloping its reader lengthy contemplative sentences: it’s basically a detective story with surreal flights and wacky trips that lead to further mystery and intrigue. It will give her both the psychedelic release and indulgent dose of fatality she needs right now. With the recent release of Paul Anderson’s film adaptation, it is also very on trend – and we know just how much she likes to be up to date.
A book centred on the self and its expression, Ali Smith’s Man Booker longlisted bipartite novel will engage with your sister’s own search. Smith’s unusual novel requires the reader to make a choice about what comes first: part one or part one. Now, while she may have a mini-break down when faced with such a decision, once made, your sister will enjoy the complex literary implications of her action. Piecing together the puzzle yourself is always satisfying and Ali Smith’s new novel both places such agency in the reader’s hands while also scrutinising such a quest for meaning and order.
An enthralling tale of spiritual fulfilment, H is for Hawk will give your sister something dense and nourishing to latch onto. MacDonald’s novel is an autobiographical account of how she learned to be a falconer in response to the deep grief she experienced with the death of her father. As MacDonald tames her goshawk, the untamed nature of her own life is put into relief – drenched in folklore, arcane practice and intense emotion, this offers unique foresight for a young and untamed woman.
Moving back home and beginning ‘life’ is both empowering and infantilising: the simplest of rituals like putting on make-up or getting dressed take on a whole new symbolism. Not only do you think differently from when you were a teenager but you look different. Sali Hughes’ unconventional beauty book Pretty Honest offers that helping hand and empathetic voice when navigating this defining time. Throw-backs to adolescence and glances toward old-age, it is both funny and comforting – a guiding light in a disorienting age.
As one of the leading figures, along with Sartre and Camus, of the existentialist movement and formative thinkers in European and Left Bank thinking, De Beauvoir will most definitely express and reframe your sister’s concerns. Her debut novel, and long-lasting classic, She Came to Stay describes a young woman’s struggle for self-determination in the midst of intellectual and sexual radicalism and on the brink of World War II – freedom, angst, ‘the other’, all big concepts dominating a young woman’s life as much now as they did then. De Beauvoir is a kindred spirit to any young woman making their way in the world.
Words by Madeleine Dunnigan.