New Year’s resolutions for the greater good – and the books to help you stick to them
Leah Cowan on the inspiring books which can help us make a change for the better in 2021.
The events of 2020 have galvanized many of us into action – whether it was the Australian bush fires driving home the urgent need to tackle climate change or the Black Lives Matter protests rousing people around the world to confront the racial inequality in our society. As 2021 dawns, Leah Cowan has some inspiring suggestions for New Year’s resolutions for a better world, and we share the books which can help you make a change in the coming year.
If nothing else, 2020 has revealed the interconnectedness of all things. We have seen how without properly-funded access to healthcare, protections for workers, and meaningful action on justice for all marginalised people, a pandemic was always going to hit those with least resources (working class people, trans people, people of colour and black people in particular) the hardest. However, the power to change this state of affairs is in our hands. As we slither into the next decade, I’ve decided to take a more holistic look at my ‘New Year's resolutions’. Why not join me in kick-starting 2021 by dreaming beyond the limitations of the status quo, and towards a more loving, caring world? I’ve handpicked a few books to help us materialise our visions for a different world, characterised by justice and safety for all.
Organise for a better world
After George Floyd was pinned to the ground and murdered by police officers in Minneapolis, protesters filled the streets, chanting and re-affirming that black lives have always mattered. In the context of a global pandemic, this overt demonstration of state violence awakened many to the urgent need for mass resistance to systems of inequality and injustice. With such hefty and important goals, it can be hard to know where to start. Joshua Virasami’s new handbook How to Change It, is a brilliant blueprint for getting stuck in via three simple steps: educate, organise and agitate.
For the vast majority of us, making a change will begin at home, in the conversations we have with our friends and family. Challenging discriminatory or judgemental viewpoints can be done gently and with compassion, enabling others to learn and adapt their behaviour. Nikesh Shukla’s Brown Baby is a memoir written to his children, threaded through with guidance for gently nudging those around you onto a path of deeply, radically supporting and valuing the self as well as those around us.
Listen and learn
As we plunge into the next decade, we’ll have no hope of knowing where we’re going without understanding where we’re coming from. David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History is an in-depth chronicle of Black British history, filling the gaping holes in the British school curriculum which largely comprises misogynistic Tudor kings and little else.
Lifting hidden histories from the footnotes and bringing them firmly into the living and breathing narratives of our lives is vital and powerful for building better futures. Writer and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon, whose book Beyond the Gender Binary encourages readers to understand gender as a fluid and creative form of expression, reflects that, for marginalised people, learning our history brings ‘a kind of intimacy where you begin to feel less lonely’.
Eat more plants (ideally, for free)
Eating a vegan diet can seem impossible to those on a tight budget. Expensive (and potentially planet-destroying) meat-free favourites aren’t accessible to everyone, particularly if you are one of a reported million people in the UK living in ‘food deserts’ – big neighbourhoods where residents rely on small, expensive corner shops with limited fresh produce. Enter food writer and activist Jack Monroe. Their cookbook Vegan (ish) is a collection of recipes that are ‘simple, affordable and accessible’, in recognition of the positive impact that plant-based eating can have both on the planet, and our bank balance. From hearty casseroles to meat-free ‘fakeaways’, Jack’s cookbook has something for all cravings and every budget. In a similar vein, foraging is a great way to find nutritious no-cost treats from nature, and John Rensten’s The Edible City is a month-by-month handbook for foolproof urban grazing. Hand-pickled mushrooms and home-made sloe liqueur won’t erase the horrors of the past year, but connecting with our surroundings and making the most of nature’s bounty is a decent place to start.
Refill your tank
When Audre Lorde wrote that ‘caring for myself is [...] self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare’, she wasn’t setting her sights on HR scheduling a cross-departmental yoga class on World Mental Health Day. Self-care, in its original incarnation, is about Lorde as a black, lesbian woman refuelling herself in order to go back into battle against white heteropatriarchy. Self-care is not something we do in isolation; we must also practice community care in order to build and strengthen new ways of connecting to each other.
To my mind, the long-term solution to rising levels of anxiety and depression is less work and comfortable living standards for all. Therefore in 2021, those of us who are seeking to make changes big and small in the world around us need to prepare for a long road ahead. This will necessarily involve scheduling time to relax and reset in ways that make sense to us. This care looks different for us all: I’ve found solace in joining a trade union, and sending animated voice notes to colleagues in order to let off steam and recognise that I am not alone in the daily issues I face. My sister is a firm advocate of mindful colouring; I’ve also recently been turning to poetry to find a moment of escape from the chaotic four walls of my multi-purpose bedroom-office. Jericho Brown’s third poetry collection The Tradition offers compelling meditations for the struggle ahead: ‘Rather be radical/Than a fool.’
Books to help you make a change in 2021
Books to help you eat a more sustainable diet
Books to help you reduce your environmental impact
Books to help you listen to and amplify marginalized voices