The best books to read right now

GQ staff have put their heads together and come up with a definitive list of books no man (or woman) should be without. From drunken poets to record-breaking boxers, sci-fi pioneers to master stylists, these are the paperbacks you should have gathering dust on your bedside table

As John Waters once said, “If you go home with somebody and they don't have books, don't fuck ’em!” But even worse: imagine bringing somebody home – friend, family or future partner – and seeing them look at your books with disdain.

Nobody is obliged to read the classics, but having a few big names – both from the pantheon of greats and recent titans of the award season – is a great conversation starter, a mark of your engagement with the cultural sphere and a sign of your willingness to explore alternate viewpoints.

So while we’re not going to tell you that an avoidance of these books makes you a less cultured, interesting person... well, reading these books will absolutely make you more of both of those things. And that’s never a bad thing.


La Garçonne by Victor Margueritte

In 1922, on the same day that the French senate denied women the right to vote, Victor Margueritte published La Garçonne, a novel that challenged received notions of womanhood. It follows the story of Monique Lerbier, who, after finding out her fiancé is having an affair, moves to Paris and embraces what was then a controversial way of life. She cuts her hair short, wears boyish clothes, smokes cigarettes and has lesbian love affairs – quelle scandal. It caused such an uproar that Margueritte lost his Legion d’honneur, the highest order of merit in France, but there was a silver lining: La Garçonne quickly became a bestseller. It was adapted into three films, inspired artists such as Kees van Dongen and encouraged French women to fight the good fight. If you’re interested in knowing where established freedoms in women’s fashion first came from, this novel is an essential point of call. Faye Fearon


Bluets by Maggie Nelson

What does the colour blue signify? Sadness? Depth? Wisdom? Whatever enters your mind, it’s likely you’ll find an exploration of it in Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. She’s an American poet, critic and nonfiction writer who rightfully won the MacArthur “Genius” grant in 2016, and this book alone proves why. Nelson deeply associates herself with blue, and throughout this arrangement of 240 prose poems she explores all of its associations, from depression and grief to hope and beauty. Most importantly, she delves into its links to solitude, referencing artists such as Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell as part of her personal sense of the colour. Despite its intangible theme, Nelson’s writing is assured and electrifying throughout. Faye Fearon


Perfume by Patrick Süskind

You'd think it would be impossible to obtain such a keen idea of a scent without actually using your nose, but Süskind's novel shows that in the right hands you can. His historical fantasy, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, delves into the world of fragrance through a man who has a keen affinity for it. Growing up as an orphan in Paris, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille has no desire to follow a conventional path in life. Rather, he is infatuated by his exceptional sense of smell, and makes it his mission to become the greatest perfumer in history. His obsession with finding the most unsurpassed scent leads to some callous actions (namely murder), but Süskind relays his journey in a way that keeps you deeply entranced by both his character and his work. Long-lasting perfumes are wonderful, but this book is guaranteed to linger on the mind for much longer than anything ever could on the skin. Faye Fearon


The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince may look like a children's book (and for the record it can be), but the older you are, the more you'll take from its life lessons. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's pinnacle novella was first published in the US in 1943, then posthumously in France following the Second World War (during which time his works were banned by the Vichy Regime). The story is narrated by an airplane pilot who, after crashing in the Sahara desert, meets a little prince and hears about his journey through space. It was written after Saint-Exupéry's experiences in the French Air Force, making the book a parable for its times. Loneliness, loss, love, friendship – the little prince has experienced them all, and Saint-Exupéry's beautiful way of expressing them has made this one of the most translated and bestselling books ever published. Meet someone else who has read it, and you'll immediately have a connection. Faye Fearon


A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Christoper Isherwood produced many literary masterpieces during his lifetime, but for us A Single Man secures the top spot. Sure, he thrived in the late Thirties with his Berlin fiction (wonderful, for the record), but as the Sixties commenced, he shifted his attention to Los Angeles: both literally and fictionally. The reason for A Simple Man's brilliance is this: throughout, Isherwood grapples with identity, bereavement and an understanding of self-development while also being a pioneer of gay fiction in America. The book focuses on George Falconer, an English professor living in California who is struggling to find his place in society following the death of his partner, Jim. If you recognise the title, it's likely because you've seen the film adaptation, directed by Tom Ford and starring Colin Firth. But the brilliance of the film stems from the brilliance of the book: Isherwood delves into the depths of the human soul, producing a prose that both captivates you and offers vital insight. Faye Fearon


Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon

If you've ever seen Sonic Youth concert film Daydream Nation, you can't help but feel compelled by their pure experimentation with rock music. They took it to a whole new level and that was largely down to Kim Gordon: the no wave band's only female member who played bass, guitar and topped tracks with her tongue-in-cheek vocals. Gordon's life story is a brilliant one, which you can discover for yourself through her memoir Girl In A Band. Detailing her experiences in New York's music and art scene in the Eighties, which coincided with her growth from a normal girl to a rock icon, her outlook is a must-read for anyone curious about the evolution of women in music. Just make sure you blast Sonic Youth's “Kool Thing” after finishing. Faye Fearon


The Bass Saxophone by Josef Skvorecky

If your ideal Saturday evening involves drinking wine in an underground bar while listening to a jazz band, this is the type of book for you. Josef Skvorecky was a Czech-Canadian writer who devoted his life to publishing banned Czech literature throughout the communist era. Often tackling the impacts of totalitarianism and experiences as an expatriate in his work, there is also a recurring appreciation for the wonders of jazz. Never is this stronger than in The Bass Saxophone. Through this novella, Skvorecky traces the life of a young Czech student who is subject to the Nazi regime and adores their most forbidden form of music: jazz. Entranced by the genre of total expression, he begins to play with a German band in secret. This short story is one of Skvorecky's finest. Faye Fearon


Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert

You hear the name Gustave Flaubert, you likely think of Madame Bovary: it is, after all, his bestselling novel and still considered one of the greatest works in literary history. But a writer is much more than their most-known masterpiece, so for a deeper delve into the French novelist's work, open up Sentimental Education. Split into three parts, it follows the life of Frédéric Moreau, who lives through the French Revolution of 1848 and, as a result, the emergence of the Second French Empire. It's not solely centred on politics though – Moreau is infatuated with the idea of embracing passionate (albeit damning) love affairs, yet he remains completely infatuated with a significantly older and married woman all throughout his trysts. Another critically acclaimed novel of Flaubert's, you learn a lot about morality in an age of turmoil. Just prepare yourself for a fair bit of adultery. Faye Fearon


What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

The moment we clock the passing of time can often be a wake-up call to live more fearlessly. Or, it can go in the total opposite direction, with a real appreciation of the simple things in life. It's the latter that inspired Raymond Carver’s series of short stories, entitled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Detailing the occasions that most of us wouldn’t bat an eye at – bingo, fishing, drinking and yelling behind closed doors – Carver’s colloquial writing style adds a strange sort of power to these mundane days: a powerful look at the odd beauty of basic communication. Faye Fearon


The Fall by Albert Camus

You hear the word monologue, you likely think of Shakespeare. Fair enough if so – he is the king of all things dramatic. But for a modern and more relatable take on the dramatic monologue, we suggest you invest in a copy of Albert Camus’ The Fall. Published in the late 1950s, it’s the final novel from the French writer, and boy is it philosophical. It focuses on the life of Jean-Baptiste Clamence, who goes from being a successful lawyer to a man in turmoil, experiencing the most dramatic fall from grace. Camus’ words delve into the fragility of existence without restraint, and that’s probably the reason why he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature right after its publication. Faye Fearon


The Piano Shop On The Left Bank by Thad Carhart

If you have ever experienced a serious love affair with the piano, this book will be music to your mind. Thad Carhart is an American living in Paris and his first book explores the binding relationship between the city and his instrument. Every time Carhart takes his children to school, he passes a piano atelier nestled on a street on the Left Bank. As a former player, he becomes transfixed by the idea of owning a restored piano and upon stepping into this one-of-a-kind workshop, he rekindles his relationship with the instrument. Blending atmospheric prose about Paris with a real understanding of the most eloquent of instruments, Carhart’s text is a vital addition to any musician’s library. Faye Fearon


In Search Of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

Disclaimer: this one may take you a solid decade to read. But that’s OK, because it took Marcel Proust 14 years to publish in its entirety. In Search Of Lost Time is the longest novel in literary history (topping the likes of War And Peace with double the word count). If you choose to embark on its extensive journey, it’s worth it for Proust’s insights into the human condition. Throughout each of the seven volumes, via different people and places, the book explores the deepest crevices of existence. Proust’s take on involuntary memory has long been regarded as a classic and is well worth picking up if you’re starting to panic about the passing of time. Faye Fearon

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