Michaela Coel: TOP TEN BOOKS

Michaela Coel copy

“I’m very nervous about doing this,” says Coel with admirable candor. “My memory is really bad, to the point that I forgot how bad my memory was.” She does, however, recall being spurred to spend a summer reading books by her local library which gave a medal to anyone who reached a goal of reading ten books. Coel, the child of an immigrant Ghanaian mother, won that library medal after devouring Marieke Nijkamp’s series of graphic novels for kids, Goosebumps. “I wasn’t really into things like sports, I didn’t dance, so reading really occupied me that summer and took my brain somewhere else, for which I’m forever grateful.” The actress, screenwriter, and director, who found acclaim in the UK with her series, Chewing Gum, and then as the lead in Black Earth Rising, Hugo Blick’s intense political thriller for Netflix, is a keen writer herself: she went through 191 drafts of her autobiographical HBO-BBC series, I May Destroy You, before she felt ready to release it into the world. The series won her a British Academy Award, and she is nominated for four Emmys this year, including for actress, writer, and director. If that was not enough, she has just published her first book, Misfits, based on a wry, moving, often witty lecture she was invited to give at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 2018 (you can watch it online here) in which she talked about the racism she’d encountered in drama school and the wider entertainment industry. Her book expands on and deepens the themes of that lecture. 

Below, are Michaela Coel’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


Society Within

Courttia Newland
The first book I read that was adjacent to the world in which I lived. It’s about a girl on a west London housing estate, who is a conduit to the lives of all the other people in her orbit. Until reading this, I didn’t realize that books in which I could recognize people from my own life, could be written.
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Homo Deus

Yuval Noah Harari
I was drawn to the book because of the subtitle: A History of Tomorrow. It had been a year since I left church and I was having what I now understand was an existential crisis and spinning out of my mind: what the fuck is going on, where am I, what is happening? I didn’t understand anything because I’d so whole-heartedly adopted the Bible’s account of reality Reading Homo Deus helped me understand that nobody really knows what's going on. Hariri’s theory of where we might be heading made me feel OK about uncertainty.
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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Mark Manson
Because it helped me give less of a fuck.
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The Three-Body Problem

Liu Cixin
Originally published in China in 2006, but now translated into English, this took me about eight months to read because I had to keep going back. It’s a book that I struggle to explain—it flashes back and forth in time over a million years and across solar systems—but it totally helped me escape this planet. It’s not offering a utopian vision—the future it imagines is fucking terrifying—but it’s so rooted in science that it’s all very plausible. If I can read this book and get it, while also being completely gripped, anyone can.
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The Dark Forest

Liu Cixin
The second in Liu’s trilogy (see above), that takes off in new and wonderful ways.
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Flowers for Algernon

Daniel Keyes
The story of a mouse in a lab undergoing an experiment to make it more intelligent is juxtaposed with a parallel story in which Charlie Gordon, a cleaner in a bakery with learning difficulties, undergoes the same experiment. It may mean different things to different people; for me it was about what you lose when you trade naivete for intelligence—being smart isn’t everything.
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Breakfast of Champions

Kurt Vonnegut
Reading this reminded me of people who approach life like a video game, without consequence. I love it so much that I included a homage to Kurt Vonnegut in I May Destroy You, in episode two when Arabella is at the clinic and meets a woman who is covered in blood, having been assaulted. The woman says, ‘Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts,’ which is written on Kurt Vonnegut’s gravestone.
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Ted Chiang
I’m usually drawn to novels, but this beautifully-written collection of short stories was recommended by the same person who recommended Three-Body Problem, and they weren’t wrong.
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Caleb Femi
I’ve never read about life on a housing estate written with such beauty. Femi is a poet, and this is a combination of short stories and poems and photography, and—a little like Society Within--it’s about life for people in working class London who are Black, so again it’s a book in which I saw myself.

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The Book of Eels

Patrik Svensson 
I never thought I would see myself in an eel, until I read Svensson’s beautiful book, in which he anthropomorphizes eels and shows how mysterious they are, and how little we know about them. It’s a beautiful book that makes you realize that the eel is our cousin—we are the eel, and the eel is us.
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