What We’re Reading: Summer Edition
The NWN staff are looking forward to some great summer reads! Find out about the books we’re taking on our summer holidays – whether we’re taking the chance to travel, or soaking up the rays from our gardens.
I’m envisioning spending some of my summer continuing to read The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century by John Burnside. I’m about half-way through this amazingly insightful book, which I read in those cracks of time when the world around me is quiet enough for me to afford it the attention it deserves. Though undoubtedly scholarly, it’s less an academic text than a memoir of a life lived in, through and in response to poetry. Burnside’s close readings of poems and explorations of poets and poetry movements from a range of locations and points in history – the First World War, 60s America, pre-revolution Russia and many others – are illuminating and deeply felt, renewing the experience of reading familiar poems and introducing the reader to many new ones. It’s a pleasurable and rewarding experience and so distinctively characterised by Burnside’s unique, warm and expansive mind.
I am so looking forward to getting away from my screen and into my toppling TBR pile over the summer, and there are a few backlist titles I want to catch up on (mostly the fault of the podcast Backlisted – who are such enthusiasts for the titles they discuss, it’s catching!) The things I have my eye on that are out recently include: Assembly by Natasha Brown, described as Mrs Dalloway meets Citizen by Claudia Rankine, a black British woman questioning the stories we tell ourselves about our lives as she prepares to attend a Summer Garden Party.
Also widely lauded is Homeland Elegies, Ayad Akthar’s fiction/memoir about an immigrant family’s experience of the American Dream. Apparently it’s gripping, beautifully written and with echoes of The Great Gatsby. As a sucker for tales of posh eccentrics, I am also drawn to Kiss Myself Goodbye: The Many Lives of Aunt Munca by Ferdinand Mount, a memoir which unpeels the layers of his millionairess Aunt and according to Hilary Mantel, pursues her ‘through a career in which crime pays, marriage is for a week and children are lost like old gloves‘. I’m intrigued.
Finally, I love the sea and especially lighthouses – so The Lamplighters is on my list, an atmospheric mystery about the disappearance of 3 lighthouse keepers in the 1970s by Emma Stonex, and also The Foghorn’s Lament: The Disappearing Music of the Coast by Jennifer Lucy Allan. It’s a book about foghorns. It sounds great.
Help! I’ve lost my reading mojo. I’m tired, my kids never go to bed, and – since covid – I have no commute to facilitate my reading. Still, there is nothing like the promise of a pile of deliciously unread books: surely one of them can help me find my way?
Top of my stack, and not just because it has the most beautiful cover, is Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, a story of immigration, trauma, faith, science, hope and redemption, it has received rave reviews and if it lives up to Homegoing will definitely reward reading. Also on the Women’s Prize shortlist, Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This holds great appeal because I’ve spent too much time on social media in the past year and perhaps even more time thinking about the internet and what it means for society. (Oh, that’s why I’m not reading.)
One gift from lockdown is that someone’s put a little free library on my street, where someone else left Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World in amongst the cookbooks and gardening manuals. A fellow reader! I must not let them down. The writing is so evocative and tender, with moments of light amongst the substantial and quite disturbing shade.
This summer I’ll finally be finishing the Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante. After reading the second and third instalments last summer I realised that this is the optimum way to consume them so despite having The Story of the Lost Child on my shelf I’ve been holding off. As well as simply waiting for the sun to arrive (and have we been waiting) I also just don’t want this series to end. Ferrante’s style is unlike anything I’ve read and the world she has created for Lila and Lenu is so rich and captivating. Find me sitting in the yard with wine, pizza and Ferrante, pretending I’m in Italy.
Sticking with the theme of reading myself on imaginary holidays, I can’t wait to dive into The Five Wounds by Kristen Valdez Quade. This debut novel is set in Mexico during Holy Week, when Amadeo’s fifteen year old daughter turns up on his doorstep pregnant. Books about Holy Week are avery niche bookish interest of mine – blame The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey– and I’m always on the hunt for inter-generational family stories. Described as darkly funny and beautifully rendered, The Five Wounds comes out on 1 July.
Having just finished the incredible Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez, I’m turning to last year’s Gordon Burn Prize shortlist for inspiration and have lined up Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women for my next read. I’ve heard great things from friends and colleagues and am looking forward to delving into these women’s stories.
I also picked up a few treats from the bound in Whitley Bay (very excited to have a new bookshop to explore!), so I’ll be sinking my teeth into Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats and Sarah Moss’s Bodies of Light over the coming sunny weekends! I loved the humanity of Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and the haunting atmosphere of Moss’s Ghost Wall and Summerwater, so I’m looking forward to reading more of their work.
I’m really looking forward to taking some time this summer to do some reading. In my metaphorical suitcase I’m planning to pack: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (this book is getting lots of buzz), Ghosted by Jenn Ashworth (everything she writes is worth reading) and Animal by Lisa Taddeo, which I have on pre-order (I’m so excited).
Things I’ve read recently that I’d recommend for your summer enjoyment include: The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel (this novel transported me), The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (my first Ferrante and it did not disappoint), Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler (my favourite novel of the year so far), My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley (the best novel about family I’ve ever read) and Real Estate, Deborah Levy’s triumphant memoir (hell yes to women getting on high horses!).
I’ll be taking a few books away with me to Cornwall this summer; one will be Happy All the Time by the late Laurie Colwin, which was first published in 1978 and reissued as a modern classic with an introduction from Katherine Heiny earlier this year (if you haven’t yet read Heiny’s own witty and wise new novel, Early Morning Riser, I urge you to do so!). It’s a romantic comedy, set in New York, which for me makes for the perfect kind of holiday read. I’ll also be packing a proof copy of Lelia Slimani’s forthcoming novel, The Country of Others. Slimani is a Moroccan/French writer, whose tense thriller Lullaby was a global best-seller in 2018. Her new novel is a historical drama set in 1940s war-torn Morocco and looks absolutely fascinating.
This summer I’m looking forward to reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, which I discovered while googling ‘books about nostalgia’. It comprises a series of vignettes about a summer in the life of a boy living in a small town in 1928, based on Bradbury’s own childhood memories. I’m hopeful that it will be atmospheric, magical and suitably sentimental.
I’ll also be returning to my go-to summer author, Morgan Matson, who writes charming and heartfelt YA contemporaries – Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour is one of my all time favourite books. Her new release Take Me Home Tonight is about two friends and a chaotic night in New York City. ‘Books set in New York’ is also in my recent google searches as it’s a city that’s close to my heart, so I’m excited to see Matson’s take on it.
Finally, I hope to read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab, a fantasy about a girl who makes a bargain with the devil to gain immortality, and in return is forgotten by everyone she meets. Some of my favourite summer reading memories come from escaping into mesmerising fantasies with gorgeous prose; I can’t wait to sink into this one, and on closer reading of the blurb, I’ve discovered it’s also at least partly set in Manhattan!
While I don’t have the most extravagant holiday plans, I’ve still got quite a few summer reads that I want to delve into while I’m getting sunburnt in my garden. One of them is Raven Leilani’s Luster – I’m definitely late to the party on this one, but I’m excited for its razor sharp dry humour and dissection of race, class and gender politics. I will always love novels about people bumbling their way through their early twenties (I of course, could not possibly relate). Other books on my list are Masako Togawa’s The Lady Killer (a thriller about the seedy underbelly of 1980s Tokyo) and George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which I still have shamefully not read despite knowing it’s a tried and true classic.