Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round up the new books you should, and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock, and How it Can Revolutionize Your Sleep and Health by Russell Foster, Tenants: The People on the Frontline of Britain’s Housing by Vicky Spratt and The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. 

For more books take a look through our Books Digest Archive.

Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock, and How it Can Revolutionize Your Sleep and Health by Russell Foster (Penguin Books, £12.09)

Lily Pagano

Overstimulated and overworked, we are all guilty of falling victim to the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Jet lag, night shifts and artificial light all conspire to throw our bodies off-kilter, disrupting our in-built biological clocks and making it harder to get a decent night’s sleep. In Life Time, Professor Russel Foster — a world-leading expert on circadian neuroscience — takes the reader on a journey of days and nights, explaining the science behind our body clocks. 

Our biology is governed by a 24-hour biological clock with daily internal adjustments made for optimal functioning in our dynamic world, the book explains. But when it comes to health, sensible advice is often transformed into “strident orders”, and the media is flooded with imperative demands of “musts” and “must nots” around the topic of sleep as a result. Rather than presenting our biological rhythms as something to conquer or cure, Foster suggests that we need to understand and embrace them. 

Only once we begin to realign ourselves with our internal clocks can we begin to work harmoniously with our bodies to create the optimum personal routine, he says, and his enthusiasm for the science of sleep is contagious. We could all benefit from this revelatory guide to our body clocks. A refreshing mix of knowledge and humour, this is the science of sleep made accessible. 

Tenants: The People on the Frontline of Britain’s Housing by Vicky Spratt (Profile Books, £14.29)

Caitlin Allen 

Roughly 22 million people across the UK are currently without a safe, secure or stable home. That’s one in three. Over the past 20 years, the number of people in England living in precarious privately rented accommodation has doubled. Private renters spend, on average, a third of their pre-tax earnings on rent. Thus, while helping a landlord pay off their mortgage, most renters struggle to save. For homeowners, each monthly mortgage payment is an investment in their future security. For tenants, their place in the world becomes neither legally nor financially more stable over time.

Britain’s housing inequality is shaping our country — socially, politically and economically, argues journalist Vicky Spratt — the i paper’s housing correspondent, who fronted the successful 2016 campaign to ban letting fees in England and Wales and cap deposits. In her new book, Spratt delves deep into this national crisis, laying out how decades of bad housing policy has destroyed the dream of homeownership for so many and caused the safety net of social housing to unravel, making homelessness a constant threat for a large chunk of the population. 

Tenants is the culmination of five years of research, and hundreds of interviews with charity workers, policymakers and tenants themselves, who let Spratt into their homes. While determined to stick to journalistic accuracy, Spratt acknowledges that this is no objective piece of work: she is invested in change. She is also clear that landlords are convenient villains but blaming them alone obstructs real change. Our politicians have “outsourced a vital service — the provision of housing — to unqualified individuals,” she writes. Increasingly we rely on private landlords because homeownership is unaffordable, and social housing is scarce. 

Fortunately, Spratt offers us short and long-term solutions to tackle Britain’s housing emergency. Covid-19, she argues, “laid bare the severity of our weakened social safety net.” But it also demonstrated that radical action — to give everyone the chance of a secure home — is possible. The pandemic was a once-in-a-generation disaster, but it presents us with “a once-in-a-generation opportunity for change and innovation”. 

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (Pushkin Press, £11.09)

Grazie Sophia Christie 

Among the many narrators of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is a woman who says: “I build monuments to my impulses and desires.” Deesha Philyaw’s book, shortlisted for the National Book Award, can be read as nine such monuments, nine stories of daughters and mothers and lovers whose bodies offer the most powerful kind of back-talk. 

The not-so-secret lives of church ladies are spent in worship, of course: getting saved, being good. Philyaw shows us that their secret lives are spent that way too, though in prayers of another kind. Eula looks for love in Bible study but finds it in her friend. Olivia mistakes her mother’s lover for God. Jael doesn’t believe in God, anyways. Their prayers, and Philyaw’s prayers, are to the body, “quivering, lush, unafraid.” 

And Philyaw’s prose is close like a prayer, close to the skin, under the clothes, in phrases that are hard to resist quoting. The book’s only limitation is also its strength, with sex a shorthand for emotional and spiritual reckonings which could have been just as interesting played out literally, played out all the way.