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Michaela Coel Recommends Some of Her Favourite Books

Posted on 9th September 2021 by Mark Skinner

Creator and star of acclaimed television shows I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum, Michaela Coel is also the author of Misfits: A Personal Manifesto - a blazingly articulate clarion call for radical honesty, inclusivity and greater transparency. In this piece, Michaela provides a reading list of books that she has recently enjoyed.

The following piece is courtesy of One Grand Books/Grand Journal.

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

I was drawn to the book because of the subtitle: A History of Tomorrow. It had been a year since I left church and I was having what I now understand was an existential crisis and spinning out of my mind: what the fuck is going on, where am I, what is happening? I didn’t understand anything because I’d so whole-heartedly adopted the Bible’s account of reality. Reading Homo Deus helped me understand that nobody really knows what's going on. Harari’s theory of where we might be heading really grounded me, and made me feel OK about uncertainty.

£10.99
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The acclaimed author of Sapiens analyses the modern human condition and how becoming masters of the planet has transformed our conception of ourselves and provided us with the ambition to embark on ever more grandiose - and potentially destructive - projects.
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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Because it helped me give less of a fuck.

£18.99
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Peppered with both expletives and invaluable advice, Manson's bestselling antidote to the cult of mindless positivity is a refreshing, no-nonsense manual to getting the most out of less-than-perfect situations.
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The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Originally published in China in 2006, but now translated into English, this took me about eight months to read because I had to keep going back. It’s a book that I struggle to explain—it flashes back and forth in time over a million years and across solar systems—but it totally helped me escape this planet. It’s not offering a utopian vision—the future it imagines is fucking terrifying—but it’s so rooted in science that it’s all very plausible. If I can read this book and get it, while also being completely gripped, anyone can.

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Linking the Cultural Revolution to a sinister online game, Liu’s mesmeric science fiction opus opens the critically acclaimed Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.
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The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

The second in Liu’s trilogy, see above, that takes off in new and wonderful ways.

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Liu's sequel to the mighty The Three Body Problem is an equally cerebral and richly rewarding slice of science fiction, as an unexceptional Chinese astronomer finds himself targeted by a race of aliens on a collision course with Earth.
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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The story of a mouse in a lab undergoing an experiment to make it more intelligent is juxtaposed with a parallel story in which Charlie Gordon, a cleaner in a bakery with learning difficulties, undergoes the same experiment. It may mean different things to different people; for me it was about what you lose when you trade naivete for intelligence—being smart isn’t everything.

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A heartbreaking classic of the science fiction genre, Keyes' parable of the deadly dangers of trying to alter human intelligence is an impeccably crafted novel with one of the genre's most empathetic and engrossing characters at its core.
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Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Reading this reminded me of people who approach life like a video game, without consequence. I love it so much that I included a homage to Kurt Vonnegut in I May Destroy You, in episode two when Arabella is at the clinic and meets a woman who is covered in blood, having been assaulted. The woman says, “Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts,” which is written on Kurt Vonnegut’s gravestone.

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A gleefully demented smorgasbord of ideas about free will, suicide and social injustice, Vonnegut's cult classic hinges on the meeting of two deeply troubled souls in a hotel cocktail lounge and the subsequent existential crises that both undergo.
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Exhalation by Ted Chiang

I’m usually drawn to novels, but this beautifully-written collection of short stories was recommended by the same person who recommended The Three-Body Problem, and they weren’t wrong.

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Fantastically rich and varied, the pieces gathered in Exhalation abound in philosophical enquiry and nuanced approaches to the human condition and are every bit the equal of his groundbreaking first collection, Stories of Your Life and Others.
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Poor by Caleb Femi

I’ve never read about life on a housing estate written with such beauty. Femi is a poet, and this is a combination of short stories and poems and photography, and it’s about life for people in working class London who are Black, so again it’s a book in which I saw myself.

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Exploring the lives of young Black men in twenty-first-century Peckham through poetry and image, Poor is a staggering feat of visual storytelling, rooted in love of community, language and form.
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The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson

I never thought I would see myself in an eel, until I read Svensson’s beautiful book, in which he anthropomorphizes eels and shows how mysterious they are, and how little we know about them. It’s a beautiful book that makes you realize that the eel is our cousin—we are the eel, and the eel is us.

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In this fascinating blend of nature writing, memoir and philosophy, Svensson explores human attempts to understand the elusive life of eels, as well as what it means to live with questions we can’t answer.
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