Spanning 30 years, Mantel Pieces: Royal Bodies and Other Writing From the London Review of Books delivers a wonderful sampling of Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel’s nonfiction work, which includes essays, reviews and autobiographical writings. In these erudite yet accessible pieces, Mantel tackles a variety of topics, from Anne Boleyn’s sister-in-law and other figures of Tudor history, to pop singer Madonna, to England’s current royal family. Mantel’s commanding intelligence and inimitable style are on full display throughout. Her examinations of history, female identity and popular culture make this collection an excellent book club pick.
Zadie Smith reflects on an unprecedented time in America in Intimations, a collection of six essays focusing on the year 2020. Despite its brevity, this powerful book gives book clubs plenty to talk about. In sharply observed, compassionate prose, Smith examines politics, the murder of George Floyd and its repercussions, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and life under lockdown. Themes of isolation, social justice, family and the writing process will provide points of connection for all types of readers as Smith draws on personal experience to create essays that are moving and resonant.
In The End of the End of the Earth, Jonathan Franzen explores environmental concerns and reflects on writers past and present. Franzen, who is a passionate birder, visits locales across the globe to indulge his passion, and his travels supply wonderful material for some of the book’s central pieces. There are also essays on authors Edith Wharton and William T. Vollmann, which offer new perspectives on both authors. Written with humility, humor and visionary insight, Franzen’s wide-ranging collection is certain to generate rewarding dialogue among book club members.
The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations brings together key nonfiction writings by Toni Morrison (1931–2019). Covering four decades, the volume collects more than 40 pieces including Morrison’s eulogy for James Baldwin, her Nobel Prize lecture on the importance of language, commencement speeches and works of political analysis and literary criticism. Morrison’s impassioned views on race, feminism and American society ensure that this book will stand the test of time. Reading groups will find no shortage of rich discussion material here.