11 books that have seen us through summer
Some friends I’ve spoken to have said they’ve found reading books quite difficult throughout the pandemic. And I get it. In the first lockdown everyday tasks such as grocery shopping became such a big event, just getting through the day took all our powers of concentration. Plus, working from home means no commuting and, er, more working. But I’ve found escapism via fiction quite helpful. It takes my mind off the bigger issues. And I’ve finally managed to make my way through that pile of books gathering dust on the shelf. Though I’m not sure how much of the information I’ve retained, but hey…
If you’re in need of a book recommendation, here are team TNMA’s favourite summer 2021 reads:
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (Fiction) – recommended by Adrienne Wyper
With nothing left to lose, the author and her husband embarked on an epic walk, the 630-mile South West Coast Path from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, wild camping along the way. This autobiographical tale is full of evocative description, the restorative powers of walking and the natural world and our place in it. (And there’s a sequel: The Wild Silence.)
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Fiction) – recommended by Angela Kennedy
A best-seller and rightly so. This moving testament to friendship, albeit between a robot and human, would not generally be a theme to lure me in but Ishiguro’s prose is such sheer joy to read. Klara is an Artificial Friend, purchased for Josie, a fragile teenager with an undisclosed illness. She is solar powered, intelligent, astute yet unselfish. Revolving around the warmth of the sun and the warmth of their relationship, the book explores a dystopian world. Complex, symbolic, and quite unexpectedly moving. It truly is a masterpiece, a tender story that brought a tear to my eye.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Fiction) – recommended by Alyson Walsh
This is a compelling story of identical twins from a small town Southern black community, where light skin is prized. Aged 16, Stella and Desiree, the Vignes sisters, run away to New Orleans together. When Stella changes her identity and ‘passes’ as white, the sister’s lives diverge forever…. The Vanishing Half is a thought-provoking family saga covering race, gender and identity, across three decades in the mid-20th century. It’s a real page-turner – you won’t want to put it down.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey (Fiction) – recommended by Angela Kennedy
Before glorious Persephone Books recently closed shop in Bloomsbury (their original literary home) and moved to Bath I purchased this witty novella, tempted by the beautiful cover and because the subject, weddings, was on my mind . My son is finally getting married after three abortive attempts due to ‘you know what’. The book’s whimsical, sardonic prose is highly entertaining and full of period charm, evoking a nostalgic 1930s. It’s a full-on family saga set around the BIG day, bridal angst, wedding guest’s misdemeanours, prankish children plus plenty of eccentric relatives. Utterly hilarious.
The Mission House by Carys Davies (Fiction) – recommended by Alyson Walsh
Carys Davies’ second novel is the poignant tale of a middle-aged Englishman abroad. Feeling lost after losing his job at the library, Hilary Byrd from Petts Woods travels to India, finds it too hot and ends up staying in a mission house in the hills. Where he befriends the Padre, his adoptive daughter Priscilla and a local rickshaw driver Jamshed (who he treats more like a therapist). This Sunday Times novel of the year is quietly political, brilliantly crafted and incredibly moving.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (Non-fiction) (Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy) – recommended by Angela Kennedy
This new slim volume is a modern take on German poet Rilke’s words of wisdom and enlightening to dip in and out of. I’m inspired by his reassuring generosity of spirit. If there’s one thing lockdown has taught us, it’s to reflect more on the meaning of life – as Rainer Maria Rilke did almost a century ago. His philosophical advice to young would-be poet Franz Xaver Kappus still stands true today; take for example a quote about reading, ‘Live for a while in these books, learn from them what you feel is worth learning, but most of all love them.’ And note the translators; both wise literary women in their own right too…
I Feel Bad About My Neck… and other thoughts on being a woman by Nora Ephron (Non-fiction) – recommended by Adrienne Wyper
I’m re-reading this collection of oh-so sharply observed thoughts on life from the writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron; the perfect format for picking up and putting down at will. Witty and wise, it all rings so true you can’t help smiling in recognition – from hating handbags to loving certain cookbooks, getting lost because you can’t find your reading glasses to read the map, being in a state of rapture while reading a book… and she made me feel less of a freak because she, like me, had two frozen shoulders simultaneously!
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Fiction) – recommended by Alexia Economou
Where the Crawdads Sing is an escape to the North Carolina marshlands of the 1950s-60s and the life of a young, abandoned Kya Clark – aka Marsh Girl. This book has elements of two of my all-time favourites: To Kill a Mockingbird and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Readers can practically feel the coastal heat and proximity of majestic wildlife; taste the mouth-watering Southern cooking; and share in Kya’s abject loneliness, as she learns hard truths about love, survival and human hierarchies. She has to rely on sheer grit and swamp-smarts to live life on her own terms – a must-read before the film comes out next summer, starring Daisy-Edgar-Jones, fresh from her success in Normal People.
The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper (Fiction) – recommended by Helen Johnson
This book vividly conjures up the hot, dusty streets of ancient Pompeii, through the story of Amara, once the beloved daughter of a doctor now a ‘she-wolf’ slave in the city’s most notorious brothel. Forced to endure horrific abuse, her only comfort is the solidarity, kindness and friendship of her female colleagues. Determined to survive, Amara decides that she will do whatever it takes to escape life in the brothel. The Wolf Den is a tale of sisterhood, hope and courage. It’s utterly captivating and I’ve never ready anything quite like it.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré (Fiction) – recommended by Katie Owen
You can’t help but fall in love with Abi Daré’s charismatic protagonist, 14-year-old Nigerian Adunni. A compelling first-person narrative quickly introduces her world as one without agency. Set against the backdrop of an insular rural village and Lagos’ throbbing metropolis, Adunni’s future looks destined to be one solely of exploitation and drudgery. But appearances can be deceptive and, through sheer strength of character, Adunni navigates a system pitted against her and in the process becomes both pupil and teacher. A life-affirming story.
The Thread by Victoria Hislop (Fiction) – recommended by Helen Johnson
I love picking up one of Victoria Hislop’s novels during summertime. Her wonderfully immersive descriptions transport me to the shores, market squares and hillsides of Greece – which is much needed after a summer spent in my little one-bed in London. Set in Thessaloniki, The Thread goes from the great fire of 1917 to the present day, through the lives of the inhabitants on one particular street. Written with meticulous detail, at times it feels like you’re reading historical fiction, I really enjoyed it.
What have you been reading this summer?
*Please note: That’s Not My Age uses affiliate links to gain a small commission on items purchased through the site