Back-to-school books for grown-ups

The Wild Side
by Ellie Pithers
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September always feels like a fresh start. Blank pages, sharp pencils, new shoes – they all point to renewed ambitions, boundless energy, the chance to do better. In the energising spirit of grasping summer’s close as a moment of opportunity, Ellie Pithers suggests eight books to set you on a wild, open-minded course – and all from the safety of a fireside armchair

THE BOOK TO PUT A SPARK IN YOUR LOVE LIFE: Future Sex: A New Kind of Free Love by Emily Witt

A fascinating guide to sex in the internet age, thirtysomething journalist Witt explores OkCupid, tries out orgasmic meditation, has sex in the “orgy dome” at Burning Man, and participates in a public BDSM performance in her quest to unpack the forces of sexual desire as well as stake out the boundaries of alternative sexuality. Her conclusion? Sex is a dark continent – but some of us are more enlightened than ever.

Faber & Faber, £8.99

THE NOVEL FOR ASPIRING NEW YORKERS: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

A spoilt, rich, thin New Yorker takes a break from her fledgling career in the art world (she’s a receptionist at a millennium-era gallery filled with semen-splattered canvases and stuffed pet dogs) to sleep, aided by prescription drugs. But sleep leads to nothing but a caustic, state-of-the-nation damning of modern-day America. If you’ve ever dreamed of packing it all in and moving to the Big Apple, read this darkly comic novel first.

Jonathan Cape, £12.99

THE CLASSIC FOR COUNTRYSIDE ESCAPISM: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

The least well-known of Thomas Hardy’s novels, the author nevertheless thought it his best story. Thwarted love, social snobbery, champagne-swilling French temptresses and country girls who cut off all their hair in a fit of heartbreak – Hardy’s erratic tale fizzes against a dramatic Dorset backdrop that will have you resolving to visit the coastline come half-term.

Penguin, £9.99

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY TO GET YOU DANCING: Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny by Nile Rodgers

The mastermind behind endless monster bass lines for Chic – as well as hits for Diana Ross, Madonna and David Bowie – Nile Rodgers has led a supremely colourful life packed with drug and sex addiction, teenage homelessness, prostate cancer and now a second wind thanks to Daft Punk. This brilliantly snappy autobiography, which starts with Rodgers’ birth to a 14-year-old, heroin-addict mother, is full of astonishing twists that will make you want to dig out his back catalogue and revel in the golden age of New York pop.

Penguin Random House, £9.99

THE BOOK TO REDISCOVER THE WILD: The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane

What constitutes wildness? And can silence still exist in a countryside where wild places are increasingly being ransomed? A Cambridge don’s diary of camping out is at its best when it urges us not to waste time. Wildness, Robert Macfarlane argues, can be a quality that settles on a landscape via a thick frost or bright moonlight. Pay a visit to Peter Storm, then head outdoors.

Granta, £9.99

THE READ FOR THAT LATE-NIGHT, WHAT-WILL-COME-OF-THIS-WORLD PANIC: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Cult thinker Yuval Noah Harari on why we need to prioritise our panic regarding artificial intelligence and climate change over that surrounding Trump and Brexit. Plumb the author of the best-selling Sapiens for thoughts on fake news, in particular, and prepare for autumn’s endless dinner parties with bon mots such as: “Nations and religions are football clubs on steroids.” Discuss!

Jonathan Cape, £18.99

THE DINNER PARTY CONVERSATION STARTER: One on One by Craig Brown

For fans of the cult Tumblr page Awesome People Hanging Out Together comes this daisy-chain of a book documenting 101 odd, funny, occasionally disastrous encounters between famous people. Brilliantly researched, Craig Brown’s descriptions of when Marilyn Monroe met Nikita Khrushchev, what happened when the Duchess of Windsor took tea with Hitler, how Harold Pinter managed to fall down the stairs after having watched porn with Princess Margaret, is a paean to serendipity and celebrity.

Harper Collins, £9.99

THE “YOU WERE LUCKY, I GREW UP IN A CARDBOARD BOX” BOOK: Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

A chilling account of urban poverty in the ghetto, this is the forensically observed story of a family living in the Bronx in the 1990s, the product of 11 years of patient observation by investigative journalist Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. The cycle of street-dealing, baby-making and jail time can seem unspeakably miserable, and the novelistic flavour of the prose throws up uncomfortable questions about the lawless underclass providing yet more fodder for liberal, middle-class, book-club members. But this is a life-changing read that will make you question everything you think you know about the class system in America – and force you to confront the desperate underbelly that persists beneath the manicured image of Trump’s billionaire presidency.

Simon & Schuster, £12.99