The best books about conditions which people say don’t exist but do

Why am I passionate about this?

I used to be part of the establishment, working in Whitehall for the UK government. Then I became the ultimate outsider, with light sensitivity so extreme that many people dismissed it as “all in my head.” Years on, turns out I've had a physical illness all along – but one only recently recognised. Now I know what I’m dealing with (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome), I’m much better.  My journey’s made me fascinated by the way establishments of all kinds – corporate, political, scientific – react to new uncomfortable truths, and how often they’ll opt for gaslighting and "psychological" labels to keep those truths at bay.  


I wrote...

Book cover of Girl in the Dark: A Memoir of a Life Without Light

What is my book about?

I was in my early thirties when my skin gradually became excruciatingly sensitive to light. The condition grew so extreme that I had to spend most of my time in a totally blacked-out room. I tried everything to get out of the dark: doctor after doctor, hypnotherapy, weird diets, internet pills. Lying in darkness, my skin on fire, I often planned my suicide.

My book is about how - somehow - I survived. The love and humour of my partner and my family. The talking books which took me to different worlds. And, during brief periods of improvement when I could venture out (like Dracula) at dusk and dawn, the overwhelming, breathtaking beauty of our own.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Snowflake, AZ

Anna Lyndsey Why did I love this book?

A totally distinctive coming-of-age novel, set in a desert community where people with environmental illnesses are forced to live, far away from the everyday chemicals and wireless gadgets which make them sick. The author gets so much right about the emotional fallout of this falling away from the normal: the ache that never quite goes for the old life that has been lost; the new bonds that form between disparate characters finding themselves in the same boat; the corrosive extra layer of societal contempt and disbelief (“of course it’s all in the mind…”). which makes these already devastating illnesses even harder to bear - and the lurking temptation of suicide. I gasped with recognition on almost every page. It’s a YA novel, but who cares?

By Marcus Sedgwick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Snowflake, AZ as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ash boards a Greyhound bus heading to the place where Bly was last seen: Snowflake, Arizona. Six thousand feet up in the wide red desert, Ash meets Mona, her dog, her goat, and her neighbors, and finds stepbrother Bly, too.

In their ramshackle homes, the walls lined with tinfoil, almost all the residents of Snowflake are sick. But this isn't any ordinary sickness: the chemicals and technologies of modern life are poisoning them. They call themselves canaries, living warning signs that humans have pushed the environment too far, except no one seems to be taking their warnings seriously. The healthy…


Book cover of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

Anna Lyndsey Why did I love this book?

In the 1910s and 20s in the USA, young women were employed to illuminate the numbers on dials with radium paint. In the years that followed the women began to suffer mysterious agonising illnesses as their jaws rotted and their spines collapsed. So far so tragic – but what I found totally devastating and gripping were the monumental battles that followed as the companies and their paid doctors and scientists fought to deny what was happening to protect their profits. And I was absolutely inspired by the courage of the women who kept fighting for the truth even as one by one they died. What so shocks me is all the moves in the “corporate denial” playbook feel so modern – because hey, they’re still in use today.

By Kate Moore,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Radium Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Emma Watson's Our Shared Shelf book club choice
New York Times bestseller

'Fascinating.' Sunday Times
'Thrilling.' Mail on Sunday

All they wanted was the chance to shine.

Be careful what you wish for...

'The first thing we asked was, "Does this stuff hurt you?" And they said, "No." The company said that it wasn't dangerous, that we didn't need to be afraid.'

As the First World War spread across the world, young American women flocked to work in factories, painting clocks, watches and military dials with a special luminous substance made from radium. It was a fun job, lucrative and…


Book cover of Brazzaville Beach

Anna Lyndsey Why did I love this book?

The compromising of science in close-up, claustrophobic microcosm as determination to preserve reputation, funding, and status battles emerging, inconvenient, horrifying truth. I was gripped by the power struggle between the guru-like head of a chimpanzee research centre and a young uncompromising researcher observing chimp behaviour which does not fit the accepted narrative. It's incredibly specific and also at the same time incarnates something absolutely universal. I will never forget it – it got right into my head and stuck.

By William Boyd,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Brazzaville Beach as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Utterly engaging. A novel of ideas, of big themes.William Boyd is a champion storyteller. - New York Times Book Review William Boyd's classic Brazzaville Beach has been called as a bold seamless blend of philosophy and suspense [that] nevertheless remains accessible to general readers on a level of pure entertainment.(Boston Globe). Released to coincide with Boyd's latest novel, Ordinary Thunderstorms, Brazzaville Beach tells the story of a British primate-researcher who relocates to war-torn Africa in the wake of her husband's tragic descent into mental illness. Intense, exhilarating, and engrossing, Brazzaville Beach is rich in action and thought, and William Boyd,…


Book cover of Zed

Anna Lyndsey Why did I love this book?

A dystopian future that's so close to now it made me squeal. Mega-techcorp Beetle is in charge of – well, basically, everything: CCTV, your household appliances, virtual assistants, robot cops, predicting the future... Only one problem: individual human cussedness/autonomy – the elusive variable Zed – keeps gumming up the algorithms and really shouldn't exist. I love the way the Beetle founder and his assiduous employees just can't see why their beautifully controlled society is quietly driving its citizens nuts with despair. Apart from my constant horror-laughter of embarrassed recognition, there's a scene involving robot hospital orderlies which is one of the most chilling things I have ever read.  Do we really want a future like this?

By Joanna Kavenna,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Zed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Fun and erudite' Sunday Times
'Snort-inducingly funny' Daily Mail
'One of the cleverest books you'll read this year' Telegraph

Every system, however immaculate, has a few little glitches.

The latest in domestic tech should have predicted that businessman George Mann was about to murder his family. But instead it crashes and leads to the wrong man being caught and punished.

Are there gremlins in digital giant Beetle's ubiquitous wearable tech, talking fridges and Dickensian droids? Have they been hacked, or is something even more sinister going on?

With the clock ticking philandering Beetle CEO Guy Matthias, conflicted national security agent…


Book cover of Incandescent: We Need to Talk about Light

Anna Lyndsey Why did I love this book?

A warm, glowing book, like having a conversation with a sane, intelligent friend. I learned so much about light (and I thought I was an expert!): for example how modern LEDs produce light in a fundamentally different way from all previous human light sources. And I learned about politics too: how a fudge of obfuscated health risks, dodgy carbon-saving assumptions, and eco-virtue-signalling led to other bulbs being banned while light pollution soars. Levin, a wildlife journalist (her descriptions of the rhythm of light in the natural world are just beautiful) was motivated to explore all this because of her own painful, disabling reactions to low-energy bulbs (a deeply politically incorrect problem to have). She soon found she was a) absolutely not alone and b) no one else wanted to know…

By Anna Levin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Incandescent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Light is changing, dramatically. Our world is getting brighter - you can see it from space. But is brighter always better? Artificial light is voracious and spreading. Vanquishing precious darkness across the planet, when we are supposed to be using less energy. The quality of light has altered as well. Technology and legislation have crushed warm incandescent lighting in favour of harsher, often glaring alternatives. Light is fundamental - it really matters. It interacts with life in profound yet subtle ways: it tells plants which way to grow, birds where to fly and coral when to spawn. It tells each…


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Book cover of Liddy-Jean Marketing Queen and the Matchmaking Scheme

Mari Sangiovanni

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Introducing the irrepressible Liddy-Jean Carpenter, a young woman who has learning disabilities but also has a genius plan.

While Liddy-Jean spends her days doing minor office tasks with nobody paying attention, she sees how badly the wand-waving big boss treats the Marketing Department worker bees. So, she takes lots of notes for a business book to teach bosses to be better. Liddy-Jean likes office-mate Rose and Rose’s new friend Jenny, but she doesn’t like Rose’s creepy boyfriend. So how can she save Rose?

Liddy-Jean knows with certainty that love is love, and she concludes that Rose should be with Jenny, bosses should do better, and everybody needs the services of Liddy-Jean, Marketing Queen.

Liddy-Jean Marketing Queen and the Matchmaking Scheme

By Mari Sangiovanni,

What is this book about?

Novelist and filmmaker Mari SanGiovanni introduces readers to the irrepressible Liddy-Jean Carpenter, a matchmaker with special talents who will charm readers with her wit, wisdom, and sensibilities in this warm, enchanting love-is-love office romance.

Liddy-Jean Carpenter has learning disabilities. But she also has a surprisingly genius plan.

While she spends her days doing minor office tasks with nobody paying attention, she sees how badly the wand-waving big boss treats the Marketing Department worker bees. So, she takes lots of notes for a business book to teach bosses to be better.

While compiling pages of bad behavior notes, she finds she…


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