Following on from my blog post about book clubs, I thought I’d share some book recommendations for your summer reading. Because we all now that now that school’s out and summer’s here we all have acres more time to read, right?!
What makes for great summer reading?
Well, that’s about as good a question as ‘what makes a good holiday’. We all like different things, thank goodness. A lazy beach holiday might be anathema to some; to others the idea of an ‘active holiday’ is an oxymoron. I personally haven’t met a sun lounger I didn’t like…
For me, summer reading should be engrossing and pleasurable. And it should make me think. A bit.
But not too much thinking…we all have our limits, but I reached mine when I took Samuel Beckett to Italy last year. Obviously not the man himself, that would have been weird, although he would have been a dab hand at playing the ‘let’s bury ourselves in the sand’ game. Anyway, I digress – it was WAY too much brain strain for by the beach…so much so that it was preferable to go and jump about on the water trampoline than to read. (Only time I’m ever safe on a trampoline is when it’s in the water…)
So, in this list – nothing too hard, too long, or boring.
And, given that this is a blog devoted to all things about moving and living away from home, most of these books have an ‘expat’ element to them.
My best book club ‘finds’
Being in a book club has made me read books that I ordinarily wouldn’t have chosen.
Some have been good and some have been…meh. But some have had me staying up until the wee small hours and then desperately trying to force said book upon anyone who would listen.
Here’s my selection. From the ‘couldn’t put it down’ category, obviously.
Oh, how I enjoyed this book! It’s a story narrated by two characters – Nao, a 16 year old Japanese girl in Tokyo, who had previously lived in America (expat kid!) and Ruth, a Japanese American writer living on an island off British Columbia. Ruth finds Nao’s diary, which has been washed up after the tsunami, wrapped up in a Hello Kitty lunchbox. She becomes as engrossed as we do in Nao’s story.
This novel has a huge scope and real emotional weight. Ozeki weaves together lots of different stories to fantastic effect… Zen buddism, quantum physics, and World War II (via Nao’s Grandfather) all come together seamlessly. There’s also a lot here about the struggles of repatriation that will speak volumes to any expat.
This really is the kind of book that makes you feel like a better person for having read it.
Ok, bit of a cheat to add in one of the books I chose for book club – but this is SO GOOD!
This is the first of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, a series of books that revolve around the lives of two friends, Elena and Lila.
The story starts in Naples, Italy and charts the girls’ childhood. It is beautifully written and compellingly realistic – sometimes shockingly, heartrendingly so.
But this is not just a story of two women, it is also the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country as it undergoes massive change.
I could not put this book down and, while I wouldn’t class it as a lightweight read (in terms of content and size), it is utterly compelling and had me racing to buy the next one…and the one after that…and the one after that. I literally ate all four books up over the course of a few weeks last summer – and then felt sad that it was finished.
I am a fan of Aussies generally (wherever I live I also end up gravitating towards the Australians…whether they like it or not) and, after having been introduced to ‘Cloud Street’ I am now also a fan of Tim Winton.
This a book about the ups and downs of two rural families – the Pickles and the Lambs – who move to Perth and end up living in the same house. Their fortunes ebb and flow throughout the novel, much like the river which plays an important part in the narrative.
There is a whole world within this book – and an afterworld too as it veers off occasionally into the supernatural – but it is one that is infused with warmth and, ultimately, love.
What I really loved about the book was the wonderful, inventive language – the dialect, the slang, the Aussie-isms. A word of warning: this was a Marmite (Vegemite?) love-it-or-hate-it book at book club. I was firmly in the love camp.
Not content with one Aussie, so here’s another. This is the first Liane Moriarty book I have read – and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
It’s definitely an easier read than Cloud Street, but it’s funny, clever and the characterisation is absolutely spot on.
Part of the fun of reading this, for me, was thinking which of my school Mum friends best resembled the characters…
And to crowbar another expat-ism in there…it’s a good reminder that, when you meet someone new – be kind! You never know what’s going on with them. Ok, that’s not really an expat-ism, but there is a character here who moves somewhere new, and not everyone is welcoming. I think we can probably all relate to that.
And yes, it’s now a massive TV series. But, as is so often the case the book is SO much better
I am grateful to my Bangkok book club for introducing me to W. Somerset Maugham. This is a wonderful read especially for any Asian expats.
Walter and Kitty are British expatriates living in Hong Kong during the 1920s. Kitty is not a happy expat, and is having an affair…which her husband finds out about. He then forces her to go with him to China, in the middle of a cholera epidemic.
This is a beautifully written story of love, betrayal, redemption…and, I think, a search for meaning.
If you are not usually a fan of ‘classics’, here’s another word in it’s favour – it’s short.
Recent Reads that I’d Recommend…
I lost count of the number of times I laughed out loud reading this. I ended up reciting bits to my husband and kids because they were just so funny.
Eleanor Oliphant is desperately lonely, but she doesn’t quite realise it. An oddball and an outsider, she has no friends, no family. And then she falls in love…
Here’s some great advice from Eleanor:
Remember that next time. Although I thought ferrets pretty much just ran up peoples’ trouser legs…
When I was having a particularly bad day last year in the the middle of the long, grey winter, I ordered this book and read it in one sitting. And I felt all the better for it.
This is another extremely funny book which, coincidentally, also has a central character named Eleanor.
Following on from her hilariously screwball debut, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, Semple is again on outrageously funny form.
Today Will Be Different is set over the course of a single day but is packed comedy and memorable characters. To be honest, it had me hooked with its opening lines –
“Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I’ll play a board game with Timby. I’ll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my appearance. I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won’t swear. I won’t talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being. Today will be different.”
If you haven’t yet read any Maggie O’Farrell then you’re in for a treat. This is her seventh novel and, for me, her best.
It’s a sprawling tale of a marriage in decline and it jumps from decade to decade, and country to country. I loved the authenticity of the different characters’ voices and the wonderfully astute observations about a relationship going off the rails.
At the centre of the story is a former film star turned recluse and her husband. But I also think that, at its heart, this is a story about the search for home and all that ‘home’ means.
I found this moving, funny and searingly honest. One of those books that was such a pleasure to read that, afterwards, I didn’t want to pick anything else up for a little while.
So, I hope you find the time to dive into some summer reading. I would love to hear what you think of this list, and any of your recommendations.