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Paperback Non-Fiction to Look Forward to in 2021 (January-April)

2021 is turning out to be a fantastic year… for publishing. In this series of blog posts, we want to highlight the titles we at The Portobello Bookshop are most excited about this year. Starting off with some of the best new paperback non-fiction coming in 2021, this list features well-known authors as well as debuts and books you may not have heard of yet but you should definitely check out.

Just a note that because this is a list of forthcoming titles, some purchases will be pre-orders and you will receive your books as they are published over the coming months.

Shapeless Unease, The: My Year in Search of Sleep by Samantha Harvey

Published: 7th Jan '21
Paperback / softback
£9.99

Sleep. Like money, you only think about it when you have too little.

Then you think about it all the time, and the less you have the more you think about it. It becomes the prism through which you see the world, and nothing can exist except in relation to it. Samantha Harvey’s insomnia arrived, seemingly, from nowhere; for a year she has spent her nights chasing sleep that rarely comes.

She’s tried everything to appease it but nothing is helping. What happens when one of the basic human needs goes unmet? For Samantha Harvey, extreme sleep deprivation resulted in a raw clarity about life itself.

Original and profound, The Shapeless Unease is a startlingly insightful exploration of memory, writing and influence, death and grief, and the will to survive.

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How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

Published: 7th Jan '21
Paperback / softback
£12.99

When the technologies we use every day collapse our experiences into 24/7 availability, platforms for personal branding, and products to be monetized, nothing can be quite so radical as… doing nothing. Here, Jenny Odell sends up a flare from the heart of Silicon Valley, delivering an action plan to resist capitalist narratives of productivity and techno-determinism, and to become more meaningfully connected in the process.
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Way Through the Woods, The: overcoming grief through nature by Barbara Haveland, Long Litt Woon

Published: 14th Jan '21
Paperback / softback
£9.99

Long Litt Woon met Eiolf a month after arriving in Norway from Malaysia as an exchange student. They fell in love, married, and settled into domestic bliss. Then Eiolf’s unexpected death at fifty-four left Woon struggling to imagine a life without the man who had been her partner and anchor for thirty-two years. Adrift in grief, she signed up for a beginner’s course on mushrooming –
a course the two of them had planned to take together – and found, to her surprise, that the pursuit of mushrooms rekindled her zest for life.
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She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh

Published: 19th Jan '21
Paperback / softback
£9.99

Dolly Parton is the reigning queen of country music, an iconic artist in command of her own career and image, and a thriving business empire to boot. But her rise was not an easy one: born into poverty in east Tennessee, she left for Nashville at 18 with her belongings in three paper bags. Even as she shot to fame and conquered a male-dominated world that underestimated her at every turn, she never lost her connection to the working-class community she sprang from.

In this affectionate, sharply insightful book, Sarah Smarsh draws on her own experience growing up in rural Kansas to craft a resonant portrait of Parton’s cultural importance, above all for the often unheard women who populate her songs: struggling mothers, pregnant teenagers, diner waitresses with deadbeat boyfriends. At once candidly intimate and searchingly analytical, She Come By It Natural captures the enduring appeal of this singular star.

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World I Fell Out Of, The by Andrew Marr, Melanie Reid

Published: 21st Jan '21
Paperback / softback
£9.99

On Good Friday 2010 Melanie Reid fell from her horse, breaking her neck and fracturing her lower back. She was 52. Paralysed from the top of her chest down, she was to spend almost a full year in hospital, determinedly working towards gaining as much movement in her limbs as possible, and learning to navigate her way through a world that had previously been invisible to her.

As a journalist, Melanie had always turned to words and now, on a spinal ward peopled by an extraordinary array of individuals who were similarly at sea, she decided that writing would be her life-line. The World I Fell Out Of is an account of that year and of those that followed.

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Bessie Smith: A RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK by Jackie Kay

Published: 18th Feb '21
Paperback / softback
£9.99

Bessie Smith was born in Tennessee in 1894. Orphaned by the age of nine, she sang on street corners before becoming a big name in travelling shows. In 1923 she made her first recording for a new start-up called Columbia Records.

It sold 780,000 copies and made her a star. Smith’s life was notoriously difficult: she drank pints of ‘bathtub gin’, got into violent fist fights, spent huge sums of money and had passionate love affairs with men and women. She once single-handedly fought off a cohort of the Ku Klux Klan.

As a young black girl growing up in Glasgow, Jackie Kay found in Bessie someone with whom she could identify and who she could idolise. In this remarkable book, Kay mixes biography, fiction, poetry and prose to create an enthralling account of an extraordinary life.

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Wayfinding: The Art and Science of How We Find and Lose Our Way by Michael Bond

Published: 4th Mar '21
Paperback / softback
£9.99

The physical world is infinitely complex, yet most of us are able to find our way around it. We can walk through unfamiliar streets while maintaining a sense of direction, take shortcuts along paths we have never used and remember for many years places we have visited only once. These are remarkable achievements.

In Wayfinding, Michael Bond explores how we do it: how our brains make the ‘cognitive maps’ that keep us orientated, even in places that we don’t know. He considers how we relate to places, and asks how our understanding of the world around us affects our psychology and behaviour. The way we think about physical space has been crucial to our evolution: the ability to navigate over large distances in prehistoric times gave Homo Sapiens an advantage over other species.

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Gargoyles by Harriet Mercer

Published: 8th Apr '21
Paperback / softback
£9.99

Six weeks after her fortieth birthday, Harriet is struck by a rare and life-threatening illness. What follows is a long and arduous stay at Charing Cross Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit. From the first day in Critical Care, whenever she tries to sleep, the backs of her eyes come alive with soul-sucking gargoyles; she remains awake for the entire six weeks.

Such wakefulness produces its own hallucinations: the gargoyles become metaphors for lurking demons, fear of death, the relationship she had with her late father, and her dream of having a family. A stunning blend of poetic memoir and explorative essays, Gargoyles explores the effects of illness, grief, love, and loss and it touches on memory, what we learn from our parents, understanding out pitfalls. Most of all, the book encourages us to celebrate that which is in front of us, not taking our lives and health for granted. Sometimes, we have to learn to live with the gargoyles.

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