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. 

16/12/2020
9 minutes to read

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

Eat to Save the Planet

by Annie Bell

Book cover for 9781529047592

Annie Bell, award-winning recipe writer for the Mail on Sunday YOU magazine and a registered nutritionist, delivers this ground-breaking cookbook to help you change your diet and the world for the better. Offering new recipes for your weekly menu from aubergine stuffed with lamb and buckwheat to speedy cauliflower, lentil and watercress risotto, this book provides recipes based on recommendations from the Planetary Health Diet which was commissioned by Lancet-EAT and written by an international group of scientists.

Vegan (ish)

by Jack Monroe

Book cover for 9781529005080
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This full-colour collection of one hundred simple, affordable recipes is perfect for committed vegans or anyone who wants to give vegan cooking a try. Packed with inventive, easy and 100% vegan dishes, this gorgeous book is sure to appeal – whether you want to be a little kinder to the planet, need ideas to cook for a vegan friend, or simply want to put some more plant power in your everyday cooking.

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Books to help you reduce your environmental impact

Clean & Green

by Nancy Birtwhistle

Book cover for 9781529049725

This beautifully illustrated guide is full of sustainable, natural cleaning hacks and tips to help you take small;l steps which will have a big environmental impact. Nancy Birtwhistle shares the simple recipes and methods she has developed since making a conscious effort to live more sustainably, from everyday cleaning and laundry tips to zero-effort oven cleaner.


Books to help you listen to and amplify marginalized voices

Brown Baby

by Nikesh Shukla

Book cover for 9781529032918
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This heart wrenching but hilarious memoir is dedicated to Nikesh’s two daughters, and explores themes of racism, feminism and parenting as Nikesh struggles to prepare his children for a world that is racist, sexist and facing climate crisis. Faced with all this, it can be hard to find hope, and even joy, in the world but through love, grief, food and fatherhood Nikesh shows it is possible. 

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Queer Intentions

by Amelia Abraham

Book cover for 9781509866175
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What is it like to be queer in the 21st century? With gay marriage legal in many countries across the west, and brands embracing pride celebrations, some might think it’s an easy life. Amelia Abrahams’s book delves into the experiences of those across the LGBTQ+ spectrum, beyond these positive but limited changes, and reveals the battles for progress queer communities continue to fight.

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It's Not About the Burqa

by Mariam Khan

Book cover for 9781509886425

Mariam Khan brings together the voices of seventeen Muslim women living in the west in the twenty-first century. The women tackle issues from arranged marriage to queer identity, racism to wavering faith. Each essay is a passionate call to end the oppression, misogyny and Islamophobia that Muslim women face in western society.

Watch the contributors to It’s Not About the Burqa discuss what it means to be a Muslim woman.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

by Emmanuel Acho

Book cover for 9781529064063
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This timely non-fiction book on race and racism from the host of the viral video series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man is an essential guide to systemic racism and how to address it. Emmanuel  Acho takes on all the questions, large and small, insensitive and taboo, many white people are afraid to ask – yet which everyone needs the answers to, now more than ever.

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Black and British

by David Olusoga

Book cover for 9781447299769

In his award-winning book Black and British, historian and broadcaster David Olusoga examines how black and white Britons have been intimately entwined for centuries. Drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, in Black and British shows how black British history is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation.