What we’re reading: Summer edition
I’ve read some excellent books so far this year and would like to particularly recommend White Tears by Hari Kunzru (Penguin), a mind-bending fiction inspired by musical appropriation – it feels urgently contemporary and has stayed with me for months.
Two books to fit the mood if you are on the move this summer: Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey (Granta). Lacey is one of my new favourite authors (please read The Answers so we can discuss the meaning) and this novel deals with feeling lost and finding a way back through difficult feelings, it’s wonderful.
Turbulence by David Szalay (Jonathan Cape) is a series of short stories that involve flights from European cities. As with all of his work it’s deftly written, light on its feet in terms of length but as deep as the ocean.
And finally, three books for those who like to read about people behaving badly: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (Jonathan Cape) is about taking a narcotic sabbatical with the blackest humour and then the saddest ending; Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start Up, John Carreyroo’s (Picador) utterly gripping expose of the Theranos business scandal is jaw-dropping and in An Unexplained Death (Canongate), a suicide happens in Mikita Brottman’sapartment building and she sets out to work out if it was murder and along the way paints an intriguing picture of the City of Baltimore.
I was speaking to my colleague Rebecca about Summer Reads, and it turns out she always selects the exact books she is actually going to read. Instead, like the best nights out, I want my reading to feel unplanned and serendipitous. A book in every room and every handbag; one for every mood. (Ironically, we usually end up reading the same books, when I eventually get round to them). So, these are the books I’ll be adding to the pile at the end of my bed this summer.
I always look to the Women’s Prize for Fiction, where so many of my favourite books have been recognised. This year’s winner An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is described by judge Kate Williams as ‘an incredible examination of America and American life, focusing on the intimacy of a marriage but on a huge political canvas’, which sounds like the kind of book I love.
Speaking of incredible examination, a new book by Toni Morrison is always cause for celebration and her new book of essays, speeches and meditations, Mouth Full of Blood, looks to be as vital and incisive as any of her fiction.
Sometimes the pile at the end of my bed falls over and is rebuilt, revealing all the books I am still intending to read. I’ve just started The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst, and fancy stopping for a while in the summery garden of its English country house, where I’ll take tea, or perhaps gin, on the lawn and drink in the loveliness of his language.
Which reminds me that somewhere in that pile must be All Change, the fifth and final book of The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard, which I have been saving for a rainy day – I think this might be it.
When I heard last year that Kate Atkinson was writing a new Jackson Brodie novel I was overcome with joy and then grief that I couldn’t devour it immediately. But thankfully, the time has come, and Big Sky will be available to everyone in a matter of days. I adore the Jackson Brodie novels: Case Histories (Jackson Brodie #1) is one of the books I continually press into friend’s hands. For me, they’re the perfect cocktail of crime, humour and just great writing. What’s more – after his nine-year-long hiatus from our pages, Jackson is now living in the North. Can’t wait.
Another long time favourite author of mine is David Nicholls. Historically, I’ve tried to ration his books so that I always have another to read, but I recently took Us on holiday and enjoyed it so much I’m going to dive straight into his new release. Sweet Sorrow comes out in July and is a coming of age story set across one summer, following a shy teenage boy called Charlie who meets a girl and begins to hope. I don’t know too much about the plot but I whole-heartedly trust Nicholls to make me L O L and C R Y.
Finally, an author I haven’t read before but I’m very excited to – Elizabeth Day’s The Party. This came out in 2017 so I’m a bit late to the party (ha ha ha) but by all accounts it’s a psychological thriller about secrets and lies in a group of high society friends. I’m hoping that this book will be consumed ravenously in one lazy summer afternoon.
It’s been a really brilliant year for books, and I’m definitely stumped for what to take for my coveted holiday reads. With some intense deliberation and a few biscuits, I’ve managed to cut down my list. My first pick is My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Shortlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019, the setup is a classic love triangle with a twist – the protagonist’s sister (if you hadn’t yet guessed) uses a rather morbid method to dispatch of her boyfriends. I’m really interested to find out how the relationship between the sisters works out, and how far they’ll push that sibling bond.
To balance out the dark premise of My Sister I decided to pick up something older that would tap into my childhood nostalgia. I loved Diana Wynne Jones’ novels growing up, so I’ll be reading her 1984 work Fire and Hemlock this summer. A retelling of the old folk ballad Tam Lin, the novel follows Polly as she struggles with two sets of wildly contradicting memories. Has she fabricated the mysterious cellist Thomas Lynn? Or has she been living a lie? I won’t find out until I pick up the book, so I’m sure to flip through it at a lightning pace. With that in mind, maybe I should be packing more books…
I’m excited to finally read Ordinary People by Diana Evans this Summer, as it’s been on my reading pile for a while now. I’m looking forward to nostalgically returning to the South East London of 2008 (a time and location I know well) and am looking forward to immersing myself in this tale of identity and relationships from the pen of a brilliant writer. Even though I’m too old really, last summer I read and loved Laura Wood’s gorgeous coming-of-age Cornish novel, A Sky Painted Gold, written in the tradition of my beloved Eva Ibbotson and Dodie Smith. I can’t wait to read Laura’s new book Under a Dancing Star – it’s a prequel to Much Ado about Nothing and set in 1930s Italy – pretty much my idea of summer reading heaven.
This summer I attempt to break my almost two year streak of stopping halfway through every book I pick up. I thought I’d start with something I already know I’ll like in Raymond Chandler’s The High Window, continuing my journey through the Marlowe series. Will I solve it before the end? Absolutely not, but hopefully I’ll find many a wonderful 40’s turn of phrase along the way.
I’ll also be reading through Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?, an exploration of the link between design and health, everywhere from hospital interiors to cigarette packaging. I find few things more satisfying than looking at good design, and reading through the thought process often brings a welcome new dimension to the work.
Finally, in an effort to better myself, I will be attempting to read El Principito – The Spanish language translation of Atoine De Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. Having read the English translation many times I’m hoping that it’ll prove to be an upsetting but beneficial learning experience.
As I write I am about to get on a plane in 3 hours time. In my suitcase is: All Among The Barley by Melissa Harrison, I am half way through it and absolutely love it. She writes so beautifully about nature, evoking a now lost rural England of the 1930s. It is also completely gripping. As well as the central character’s coming of age, there is the looming menace of nationalism throughout the book, it has a lot to tell us about our contemporary situation. Also in my bag is The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins. A debut novelist, we saw her speak about her book at our Newcastle Writing Conference in May, and I was sold! It’s a gothic romance about a doomed love affair between a Jamaican maid and her French mistress in 19th century London, and I can’t wait to start it. Finally I’ve got Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. It’s set in a Japanese convenience store, and explores the expectations society has of single women. It’s deadpan and apparently very funny.
I’ve long been looking forward to reading Rebecca Goss’s third collection, Girl. There’s so much clear-eyed observation and precise intelligence in her poems, which can capture the elusive space between image and emotion. They feel like truth. Her debut, The Anatomy of Structures, which blends imagined narratives with personal experience, and her astonishing and deservedly acclaimed second book, Her Birth, have long lived with me. In Girl, Rebecca celebrates and interrogates female identify, responding through poetry to the work of the artist Alison Watt.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James looks utterly intriguing and original. I don’t know where you start with Marlon James’s mind-blowing imagination, stylistic adventurousness and epic sense of scope. This is the first in a fantasy trilogy set in precolonial Africa that draws deeply into mythology and history. Like any good fantasy epic, this book has an enticing map and dauntingly long list of characters who appear in the story; I’m willing to see where it takes me.
I’ve had Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerad for years but haven’t got around to reading it, possibly because I spend so much time with my headphones on listening to the bands featured in the book. This is essential reading for anyone interested in the US indie underground scene in its golden years between 1981 and 1991, with chapters focused on pioneering exponents of alternative music like Beat Happening, the Replacements and Hüsker Dü. Of course, I’ve already skipped though bursting with excitement to read the chapter on Dinosaur Jr, but I don’t think that’ll spoil the story.
Although I may not be setting off for foreign shores this summer, there are still plenty of books on my horizon. I rarely veer towards non-fiction, but Three Women by Lisa Taddeo has certainly caught my attention. Taddeo’s intimate portrait of female desire is the result of an astonishing eight years of immersive journalism. Taddeo masterfully charts the lives of three American women – Lina, Maggie and Sloane – to produce a deeply affecting feat of storytelling. I can’t wait to be gripped by its twists and turns.
I have a weakness for unsettling short stories (Machado, Jackson, Enriquez, Carter…), so I was thrilled to learn that Samanta Schweblin released a collection earlier this year. Schweblin is the author of Fever Dream, one of my favourite books of 2017, and I’m excited to see what she has done with a shorter form. Translated from Spanish, Mouthful of Birds is full of shadows – the perfect contrast to a day in the sunshine. I’ll follow it up swiftly with Anjali Sachdeva’s All the Names They Used for God, another short story collection which has been patiently sitting on my bookshelf.
Finally, if I have time, I’m eyeing up Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler – all of which should see me nicely through to Autumn.
As I look towards wading through the sea with my nose in a book (much more preferable to poolside reading), my reading list grows longer and longer.
My picks for this year’s holidays include James Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain. I fell in love with Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room whilst at university and have been meaning to read Go Tell It on the Mountain for some time. Baldwin is critical of the church, and explores the role the Pentecostal church plays in encouraging saint/sinner divides.
The novel is set over the course of one day and follows John Grimes as he tries to reconcile his heavily religious upbringing with his burgeoning sexual awareness. Albeit a slightly heavier mood for a holiday book, GTIOTM is a relatively quick read and one that still maintains cultural relevance today.
I’ve also had Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend on my list for ages. I have heard great things from everyone I talk to about this book, set against a sumptuous Italian backdrop and charting the lives of two girls growing up in 1950’s Naples.
Rounding off my trio of must-reads is One Hundred Years of Solitude. After promising to read it for years so I can discuss it with my partner, I’m finally ready to commit to Garcia-Marquez’s meticulously detailed love story. Grounded firmly in the realms of magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the multi-generational story of the Buendia family and the ever-present struggle between a yearning for solitude and a need for human companionship I know I will love this book and it’s just a matter of learning the sprawling Buendia family tree before I can conquer it.
I’m also really excited to read Andre Aciman’s sequel to Call Me By Your Name; Find Me. After Oliver and Elio’s relationship played out on screen last summer upon a gorgeous Italian backdrop, Find Me will gather up all the loose threads we were left with after the first book, and film, finished.