NS Recommends: New books from Brandon Taylor, James Suzman, Diane Cook and Wayne Holloway-Smith

Taylor's Real Life, Suzman's Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time, Cook's The New Wilderness, Holloway-Smith's Love Minus Love.

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Real Life
Brandon Taylor 

In this debut Booker-longlisted novel, Wallace, a queer black man from a small town in Alabama, struggles to find his place at university in the American Midwest. In his biochemistry lab, he feels worthless. Among his friends, at dinner parties and tennis matches, he grows withdrawn. That Taylor writes with the precision of a scientist makes Wallace’s plight all the more cruel: “The most unfair part of it, Wallace thinks, is that when you tell white people that something is racist, they hold it up to the light and try to discern if you are telling the truth.”

Daunt Books, 336pp, £9.99

Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time
James Suzman 

It may surprise some readers to learn that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is one of relative leisure. Because hunter-gatherers have no interest in satisfying more than their immediate needs, they rarely work more than 15 hours a week. It was the advent of farming that caused humans to start worrying about future scarcity and radically altered our relationship to work, and to each other. In this illuminating “deep history”, the anthropologist James Suzman interrogates mainstream economic assumptions about human nature and argues that to make sense of our modern culture of rising  inequality we must first understand our past. 

Bloomsbury Circus, 464pp, £25

The New Wilderness
Diane Cook 

When five-year-old Agnes can no longer survive the city’s pollution, her mother becomes a reluctant volunteer in a dangerous new experiment: an attempt to live alone in the world’s “last wilderness”. This Booker-longlisted novel’s driving questions – who will live and who will die? And which kind of leadership will triumph along the way? – remind us, in a compelling fashion, why we read at all: to learn how better to survive. 

Oneworld, 416pp, £16.99

Love Minus Love
Wayne Holloway-Smith

Wayne Holloway-Smith’s second collection, made up of unnamed poems, mostly in lowercase, merges memories of his childhood with fragmented scenes of the present day. The Wiltshire-born poet’s primary concerns – masculinity, abuse, disease – are threaded with wit and a disinterest in sentimentality. He is as playful with form as he is honest with language: in one poem, “the pain of childhood” is literally crossed out on the page, its letters welded together, no spaces between the words. But look closely and you’ll find the grief, hidden in plain sight.

Bloodaxe Books, 64pp, £10.99

This article appears in the 11 September 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Saving Labour

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