Summer is here and with it hopefully some more time for reading…
This year has been like no other and, to be honest, the thought of a long school holiday following months of homeschooling is more than a little daunting. Especially given the fact that travel is pretty much off the cards.
So this is why we need to find time to read! Find a beach towel, spray yourself with sun tan lotion and, with a book in your hand, you can at least imagine you’re by the beach….
Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo
Winner of the Man Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives of twelve black British women. Through their struggles Evaristo raises questions about race and feminism. But there are joys too and Evaristo’s portrayal is beautiful as well as honest. If there’s one book I would pass on to a friend at the moment, it would be this.
Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell
Oh, how I love Maggie O’Farrell! I bought this book a while ago and saved it so I could really savour it…
Hamnet was Shakespeare’s son who died, aged eleven, in 1596. Four years later Shakespeare wrote his masterpiece, Hamlet. Naming coincidence? Apparently not – at that period, ‘Hamnet’ and ‘Hamlet’ were interchangeable. The beating heart of this story, through, is Agnes, or Anne, Hathaway – Shakespeare’s wife. She comes alive in this story – O’Farrell’s version of her – and the writing which moves between time periods is fluid, vivid and completely engrossing. This is, of course, a tragic tale and one of grief. But it is, most of all, a story about love.
Olive, Again, Elizabeth Strout
This book got me out of my lockdown reading slump. The sequel to Olive Kitteridge, Strout takes us back once more to Maine and the life of much-loved grumpy anti-heroine Olive. The characterisation is fantastic and the writing is so beautifully perceptive. Like the prequel, it takes the form of thirteen linked but discontinuous short stories told from different perspectives which has the effect of making this slim book seem so much bigger. Regret, failure, love, mortality. I was crying by the end – and wanted to go back to the beginning and start again.
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett
The Dutch House is Patchett’s eighth novel and possibly my favourite. It is a family drama – the tale of two siblings – that spans five decades, and at the heart of the novel lies the folly of the Dutch House. I just loved the storytelling and was swept away by it. Patchett is really good at looking at mistakes made, choices we have to live with but regret. It’s incredibly poignant and with characters that really stick in your mind.
Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams
This is one of those books that is easy to read and funny – but packs a hefty emotional punch. The characters jump right off the page and the writing is fresh and breezy, but these characters – young black women – are noticeably absent from the books of this genre. Dubbed ‘the black Bridget Jones’ this is a searingly honest novel about love, sex, friendship and what it means to be a black woman today.
Flat Share, Beth O’Learly
This book came highly recommended from several bookish friends as a very enjoyable and fun light read. I haven’t read it but I know that many of us are looking for just this kind of escapism!
The Narrow Land, Christine Dwyer Hickey
And onto another book that I haven’t yet read but is on my list for this summer, The Narrow Land recently won the Walter Scott prize for fiction.
It drew me in when I realised it was about Edward Hopper (the American artist – if you don’t know his name you will definitely recognise his paintings) and his difficult relationship with his wife, Jo, who was also an artist and his muse and model.
This is from the publisher:
￼‘1950: late summer season on Cape Cod. Michael, a ten-year-old boy, is spending the summer with Richie and his glamorous but troubled mother. Left to their own devices, the boys meet a couple living nearby – the artists Jo and Edward Hopper – and an unlikely friendship is forged.‘
Redhead by the Side of the Road, Anne Tyler
So many of my favourite authors are on this list…and Anne Tyler is definitely up there. I can’t wait to read her latest; this is the blurb from the publisher.
‘Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work – his TECH HERMIT sign cheerily displayed on the roof of his car – maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs (7:15, every morning). He is content with the steady balance of his life.
But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction because of a cat. And when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle.
Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.’
Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
I read this a while back, after picking it up on a whim in a bookstore – I was wearing a sweatshirt that said ‘Brooklyn’ on it so it felt like fate. I hadn’t heard of Jacqueline Woodson before; she’s an American author of mainly children’s books, has written over thirty novels and won tons of prizes. Another Brooklyn was her first novel for adults and it’s beautiful – a lyrical, haunting depiction of the coming of age of a group of black girls in Brooklyn.
She has recently published her second novel for adults, Red At the Bone, which I will also be adding to my list for this summer…this is from the publisher and it sounds brilliant:
‘Brooklyn, 2001. It is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress – the very same dress that was sewn for a different wearer, Melody’s mother, for a celebration that ultimately never took place.
Unfurling the history of Melody’s family – from the 1921 Tulsa race massacre to post 9/11 New York – Red at the Bone explores sexual desire, identity, class, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, as it looks at the ways in which young people must so often make fateful decisions about their lives before they have even begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.’
I have been reading a lot more non-fiction recently and here are some of the books I have really enjoyed and a couple of others that are on my lost
Notes To Self
I heard about this book of personal essays by Irish writer Emilie Pine on a podcast; it was being raved about and, after having read it, I can see why. It’s part memoir, part social critique. It is honest – painfully, heart clenchingly so. It made me cry, it made me nod in agreement, it made me want to read bits out loud. It made me want to send copies to all my friends. Writing this now makes me want to go and read it again…
I’m Still Here…Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown
This book has just been picked by Reese Witherspoon for her book club and has powered on to the best sellers list. Austin Channing Brown’s memoir of growing up black, Christian and female in America is eye opening, shedding light on racial injustice and offering hope for the future.
Lady in Waiting, Anne Glenconner
If I were going to be by a beach any time soon I would want this in my beach bag…instead I will be savouring it in our back garden if and when the sun shines. Anne Glenconner was Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret and a Maid of Honour at the Queen’s Coronation. I think this would be a bit like ‘Behind the Scenes of the Crown’.
House of Glass, Hadley Freeman
I have been wanting to read this since I read about it before it was published. I enjoy Hadley Freeman‘s journalism and this, the story of her family’s history, sounds fascinating. I have got this pegged for a future Expat Book Club monthly read.
This is from the publisher:
‘After her grandmother died, Hadley Freeman travelled to her apartment to try and make sense of a woman she’d never really known. Sala Glass was a European expat in America – defiantly clinging to her French influences, famously reserved, fashionable to the end – yet to Hadley much of her life remained a mystery. Sala’s experience of surviving one of the most tumultuous periods in modern history was never spoken about.