8 brilliant books (by women) to distract you from the WTF week

What to read if you can’t bear reading one more article with the C-word

Adele Barlow
9 min readMar 17, 2020
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

If your brain feels like it’s rotting from a Netflix overdose and you’re looking for new authors to curl up on the couch with — each of the below was easy to binge-read, sharp, funny, and on my recent favourites list.

[1] My Friend Anna: The true story of the fake heiress of New York City (Rachel DeLoache Williams)

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‘This is the true story of Anna Delvey, the fake heiress whose dizzying deceit and elaborate con-artistry deceived the Soho hipster scene before her ruse was finally and dramatically exposed.’

You think you know the people you’re closest to. But what if you don’t? And what if the friend you’re spending the most time with is actually the one you need to be the most careful of? I read this in one sitting and it got me thinking about female friendships, loyalty, and how toxic relationships can come in many forms. An excerpt:

“Once upon a time, not long ago, I had been living my life and doing just fine. Anna’s presence in my world had occurred suddenly and quickly expanded. Her influence spread undetected. While she bought me dinners and invited me on vacation, I deluded myself into thinking that, as reciprocity, my understanding, time, and attention would be enough. Meanwhile, under the guise of friendship, she tethered herself to my core. With every hour we spent together, her power grew. Where I felt connection, she felt control.”

[2] From the Corner of the Oval Office: One woman’s true story of her accidental career in the Obama White House (Beck Dorey-Stein)

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‘Set against the backdrop of a White House full of glamour, drama and intrigue, this is the story of a young woman making unlikely friendships, getting her heart broken, learning what truly matters and discovering her voice in the process.’

What was it like to work in the Obama administration? And not just that — to make friends, form relationships, etc? What I loved about this book is how relatable and observant it was. The same week I read it, I went to meet the author at a signing she was doing in Central London (she is just as cool and hilarious in real life). An excerpt:

“The funny thing is, nobody cares what you do. They don’t ask because they’re curious about how you spend your day or what you’re interested in. What D.C. creatures really care about is whether you’re important or connected or powerful or wealthy. Those things can help advance a career. But a jobless girl getting buzzed at the bar can’t do anything for anyone.”

[3] Expectation (Anna Hope)

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‘Hannah, Cate and Lissa are young, vibrant and inseparable. Living on the edge of a common in East London, their shared world is ablaze with art and activism, romance and revelry — and the promise of everything to come. They are electric. They are the best of friends. Ten years on, they are not where they hoped to be.’

Your twenties are all about chasing something, and your thirties are all about accepting the choices you made. I loved how this novel followed three very different women and I also really liked that it was set in contemporary millennial London. An excerpt:

“It is Saturday, which is market day. It is late spring, or early summer. It is mid-May, and the dog roses are in bloom in the tangled garden at the front of the house. It is still early, or early for the weekend — not yet nine o’clock, but Hannah and Cate are up already. They do not speak much to each other as they take turns at the kettle, making toast and tea. The sun slants into the room, lighting the shelves with the haphazard pans, the recipe books, the badly painted walls.”

[4] Why Mummy Drinks (Gill Sims)

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‘It is Mummy’s 39th birthday. She is staring down the barrel of a future of people asking if she wants to come to their advanced yoga classes, and polite book clubs where everyone claims to be tiddly after a glass of Pinot Grigio and says things like ‘Oooh gosh, are you having another glass?’’

I picked this book up in a bookstore because the title made me smile — even if you’re not a mother, it’s still a brilliant read. Earlier this year, pre-corona madness, I was sick with flu and bed-bound for a week. When I couldn’t watch any more TV, all I wanted to do was to read the other books in this series (which I did). The narrator has a very distinct voice and reading the book feels like you’re chatting to a friend on the phone. An excerpt:

“The men in the playground usually take the form of either Super Busy And Important Daddies In Suits who burst in and out, either throwing the children in at the gate or dragging them out at high speed while talking loudly on their mobile telephones so we are all aware that they are Super Busy And Super Important and only here because The Nanny was so inconsiderate as to get appendicitis.”

[5] Uncanny Valley: A Memoir (Anna Wiener)

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‘A coming of age story set against the backdrop of our generation’s very own gold rush. It’s a story about the tension between old and new, between art and tech, between the quest for money and the quest for meaning — about how our world is changing forever.’

Tech startups are weird places. Saying that they’re sexist just over-simplifies an incredibly multi-layered reality. This book was such an interesting glimpse into what tech startup life in San Francisco is like. It’s thoughtful, lyrical and paints a really clear human picture of what goes on behind some of the tech headlines we see in the press. An excerpt:

“Lightly hungover one afternoon, eating a limp salad at the literary agency, I read an article about a startup that had raised three million dollars to bring a revolution to book publishing. The story led with a photo of the three cofounders, men who smiled widely against a pastoral background, like fraternity brothers posing for a graduation shot. All three wore button-down shirts; they looked like they had just shared a good chuckle. They looked so at ease, so convincing. They looked like the sort of men who used electric toothbrushes and never shopped at thrift stores, who followed the stock market and kept their dirty napkins off the table. The sort of men around whom I always felt invisible.”

[6] Girl, Wash Your Face (Rachel Hollis)

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As a working mother, a former foster parent, and a woman who has dealt with insecurities about her body and relationships, she speaks with the insight and kindness of a BFF, helping women unpack the limiting mind-sets that destroy their self-confidence and keep them from moving forward.

I was very, very skeptical before I read this book, yet I had it mentioned to me three times in a two-week period — by women who were also very, very skeptical (and ended up loving it). Hollis is like Tony Robbins for young American women, so she’s got her critics, but she’s also got this wholesome sass that gets you thinking, YEAH, I CAN DO THIS.

“Stop medicating, stop hiding out, stop being afraid, stop giving away pieces of yourself, stop saying you can’t do it. Stop the negative self-talk, stop abusing your body, stop putting it off for tomorrow or Monday or next year. Stop crying about what happened and take control of what happens next.”

[7] The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P (Adelle Waldman)

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‘In Nate’s 21st-century literary world, wit and conversation are not at all dead. Is romance? Novelist Adelle Waldman plunges into the psyche of a flawed, sometimes infuriating modern man — one who thinks of himself as beyond superficial judgment, yet constantly struggles with his own status anxiety, who is drawn to women, yet has a habit of letting them down in ways that may just make him an emblem of our times.’

When you’re done with this book, I promise you, what you’re going to be gobsmacked by is the fact that it was written by a woman. The author gets inside the mind of Nate so cleverly that you’ll wonder if ‘Adelle Waldman’ is a pseudonym. I loved this novel to the point where I tried to slow down near the end because I didn’t want it to be over.

“I feel like you want to think what you’re feeling is really deep, like some seriously profound existential shit. But to me, it looks like the most tired, the most average thing in the world, the guy who is all interested in a woman until the very moment when it dawns on him that he has her. Wanting only what you can’t have. The affliction of shallow morons everywhere.”

[8] American Wife (Curtis Sittenfeld)

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‘In the year 2000, in the closest election in American history, Alice Blackwell’s husband becomes president of the United States. Their time in the White House proves to be heady, tumultuous, and controversial. But it is Alice’s own story — that of a kind, bookish, only child born in the 1940s Midwest who comes to inhabit a life of dizzying wealth and power — that is itself remarkable.’

Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my all-time top favourite authors, so naturally I think everyone should read all of her books — Prep, The Man of My Dreams, the list goes on… I am jealous of people who haven’t read her, because they get to discover her for the first time. When I was thinking of which book to recommend first, American Wife had the best ratings online. This shouldn’t really factor into my decision as much as it did, but I genuinely felt stuck as I respect and admire all of her books so much.

“I did not care if Ella went to Princeton, if she was exceptionally pretty, if she grew up to marry a rich man, or really if she married at all — there were many incarnations of her I felt confident I could embrace, a hippie or a housewife or a career woman. But what I did care about, what I wanted most fervently, was for her to understand that hard work paid off, that decency begat decency, that humility was not a raincoat you occasionally pulled on when you thought conditions called for it, but rather a constant way of existing in the world, knowing that good luck and bad luck touched everyone and none of us was fully responsible for our fortunes or tragedies.”

Shameless plug: in May, my own book will be out too! I hope life has returned to normal by then. If you enjoyed any of the books above, you might like ‘The Almost Girlfriend’ too — sign up to read it here.