Newly released: authors choose their favorite books for summer reading.
The writer behind Birnam Wood (Granta) and the recipient of the Booker Prize for The Luminaries (Granta). Recognized as one of Granta’s 2023 Best of Young British Novelists.
I have a fondness for stories centered on runaway couples – typically an improvement upon the traditional “man on the run” genre – and James M Cain’s bold and sultry novel, Serenade (Orion), culminates in an unforgettable conclusion; I was unable to set it aside. Jess Walter’s Citizen Vince (HarperCollins) was a recent find: a reformed criminal, now in witness protection, recognizes a familiar face and fears his cover has been compromised. A fantastic premise! However, my ultimate standard for vacation reading will always be Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (Sphere). Musty libraries, disappearances, family secrets, and a mounting sense of unease… what more could one desire?
The writer of Trespasses (Bloomsbury), her debut novel, which was a finalist for the 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Una Mannion’s novel, “Tell Me What I Am” (Faber), takes place in both Philadelphia and rural Vermont. It follows the story of a missing woman, her daughter, and her sister’s relentless search for them. The tone is sorrowful, the pace gripping, and the depiction of time and place is expertly crafted. “How to Build a Boat” (Random House) is a touching and delightful journey with 13-year-old Jamie O’Neill and his currach. Author Elaine Feeney has a poet’s way with words and a deep understanding of human vulnerability. “I Could Read the Sky” (Unbound) has recently been re-released. I highly recommend experiencing the magical fusion of Timothy O’Grady’s narrative and Steve Pyke’s photographs; no portrayal of the Irish immigrant experience has resonated with me as strongly.
The author of Great Circle (published by Doubleday) has been nominated for both the 2021 Booker prize and the 2022 Women’s prize for fiction. Their newest book is a collection of short stories titled You Have a Friend in 10A, published by Penguin.
During my flight from Los Angeles to New York, I spent hours reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s Romantic Comedy (Doubleday) on my phone, despite the strain on my eyes. The familiar story of a famous and attractive man falling for an ordinary woman is given a fresh and clever twist by Sittenfeld, making it a binge-worthy read. As summer approaches, I see it as an opportunity to dive into longer and more indulgent reading projects. Currently, I am engrossed in Marking Time (Pan Macmillan), the second book in the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard. My idea of a perfect summer would be spending time in a creaky coastal house, indulging in Howard’s family saga.
Caleb Azumah Nelson
The writer of Small Worlds (published by Viking) and recipient of the 2021 Costa first novel award for Open Water (also published by Viking).
I highly recommend The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (Pushkin) by Deesha Philyaw. The stories in this collection are filled with humor and tenderness, making each reread a delightful experience. Another novel that captivated me during the summer was Intimacies (Vintage) by Katie Kitamura. With its skilled writing and captivating voice, it has become one of my favorite novels in recent years. Lastly, I want to mention The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams, a more recent novel that follows a married couple and the wife’s best friend who has a strong dislike for the husband. This book not only had me laughing, but also admiring the portrayal of characters’ inner thoughts.
The writer of Penance and Boy Parts, both published by Faber, was awarded the title of Blackwell’s Fiction Book of the Year in 2020. This writer was also selected for inclusion on Granta’s 2023 list of the best young British novelists.
Yellowface (Harper Collins) by Rebecca F Kuang is already a lot of people’s book of the year, and rightly so. A literary plagiarism caper with sharp insight into the power dynamics of the publishing world, Yellowface is an extremely entertaining satire which I read in about two days. The Devil All the Time (Vintage Publishing) by Donald Ray Pollock should not be eclipsed by its mediocre Netflix adaptation. Sticky, violent and exhilarating – Pollock’s southern gothic tale of thrill killers, pervy preachers and vengeance is best read on a long road trip or at a seedy motel poolside. While The Name of the Rose (Everyman) by Umberto Eco may seem like an intimidating read, this historical murder mystery is often as charming and slapstick as it is thrilling and genuinely educational. A medieval Franciscan monk and his young Benedictine sidekick investigate a murder at a monastery – a must-read for fans of Sherlock Holmes, the video game Pentiment and the theoretical controversy over the absolute poverty of Christ of 1322.
The writer of Love, Nina (Penguin) and three other novels, including Reasons to Be Cheerful (Penguin), is also responsible for the BBC adaptation by Nick Hornby. Her newest publication, Went to London, Took the Dog (Pan Macmillan), will be released this fall.
Elizabeth McKenzie’s novel, The Dog of the North (published by HarperCollins), follows the story of Penny Rush as she leaves her job and marriage after confronting her husband, Sherman, about his affair with Bebe Sinatra and cocaine use. She then hears that her grandmother has threatened someone with a gun and heads to Santa Barbara to investigate. On her journey, she is picked up by her grandmother’s accountant, Burt, who drives a worn out van called the Dog of the North and has a pomeranian named Kweecoats. Penny’s search leads her to Australia where she hopes to find her missing mother and stepfather who were presumed dead five years ago. The novel beautifully portrays moments of love, romance, and intricate details amidst the chaos of life.
Lucy Atkins’ Windmill Hill (published by Quercus) is a captivating read with a stunning backdrop, intriguing characters, well-crafted plot, emotional depth, humor, and unexpected twists. The protagonist, Astrid, was once a renowned stage actress until her husband Magnus framed her for a scandal. Now, at 82 years old, Astrid embarks on a journey to Scotland to stop Magnus from publishing a tell-all memoir from his deathbed. As she goes through airport security, she feels unwell, misses her dachshunds, and reflects on past arguments with her cleaner and companion, Mrs. Baker. Their complicated history is revealed through glimpses of a 1960s scandal and a recent “Awful Incident”. Mrs. Baker had always been the stabilizing force in Astrid’s life, but now both women seem to have lost their grip on reality.
The writer of To Be a Machine (Granta), which was the recipient of the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize, Notes from an Apocalypse (Granta), and, most recently, A Thread of Violence (Granta).
David Grann’s The Wager (Simon & Schuster) is the most relentlessly compelling book I’ve read in a very long time. Grann is a master storyteller, and he unfurls this tale of a disastrous sea voyage with almost unparalleled skill and subtlety. Paul Murray’s new novel, The Bee Sting (Hamish Hamilton), is funny, dark, moving and deeply humane. It’s also driven by an inexorable tragic force, and Murray’s intricate narrative dexterity makes it very easy to keep turning all those hundreds of pages. Shirley Hazzard’s 1980 novel The Transit of Venus (Little, Brown) is not a page-turner in the traditional sense, but her writing is so intoxicating, and her evocation of postwar England so rich, I was reluctant to tear myself away from it. A gorgeous, heartbreaking book.
The writer of Sympathy (One) and Asylum Road (Bloomsbury) is being considered for the Royal Society of Literature’s 2022 Encore award and has been included on Granta’s 2023 list of the best young British novelists.
I initially perused Lydia Davis’s The End of the Story (Penguin) during the summer when I attempted to write my own first novel. This book liberated me from my preconceived notions of how novels should function. It is captivating because it is written as a continuous monologue without traditional chapter breaks and delves into the intensity and longing of infatuation, as well as the desperation to end the torment when one’s desired object does not reciprocate. For those who admire Serena Williams, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Penguin) is a must-read. This book defies genre conventions and effectively utilizes second-person narration to immerse readers in a thought-provoking exploration of racism. It evokes the energy and buildup of a thrilling tennis match, leaving a sense of mounting tension that demands release.
The writer of the book That Reminds Me (Merky), which won the Desmond Elliott prize, has been selected for Granta’s 2023 list of the top young British novelists.
Michael Magee is a natural-born storyteller. In his book Close to Home, he effortlessly transports you to the world of Belfast and creates a strong connection with each character he introduces. By the end of the novel, I found myself wanting to visit Ireland just to explore the places mentioned in the book. The characters are so well-developed that it feels as though you are surrounded by them, each one deserving of their own novel. I couldn’t put this book down and only finished it last month, but I’m already planning to reread it during my travels. Sometimes I have a sudden urge to read an author that I’ve heard a lot about, seen in bookstores, or on award lists. This was the case with Elizabeth Strout (yes, I’m late to the party). I decided to read a few pages of My Name is Lucy Barton before bed, but ended up reading half of the book and staying up late because I was so engrossed in the story. The writing was so compelling and the story so heartwarming that the next day, I went to my local bookstore and bought more of her books than I could afford.
The writer of the compilation of short stories Show Them a Good Time (Bloomsbury) and the novel Nothing Special (Bloomsbury) is the author.
The novel “The Guest” by Emma Cline, published by Chatto & Windus, is a thrilling beach read that could easily be a film directed by the Safdie brothers. The protagonist, Alex, makes a living as a discreet companion for wealthy older men. After getting kicked out by her boyfriend, she must find her way on her own, moving from one summer home to another. Despite its fast-paced plot, the writing in “The Guest” is controlled and stylish. Cline skillfully portrays the wealthy characters and their ignorance of their own privilege. This novel is everything I want in a book – cool, subtle, and precise. I am a big fan of Lorrie Moore’s writing and often wonder what it would be like to be her – giving public readings and having women like me eagerly waiting for her to reveal all her secrets, as well as the secrets of the universe. “IAm Homeless If This Is Not My Home” by Lorrie Moore, published by Faber, explores the secrets of the universe such as love, grief, death, decay, ghosts, and loneliness. It takes readers on a road trip to unexpected places. While it may not be her best work, it is only because she has set such a high standard for herself. I would choose to spend time with her over anyone else on Earth. Welsh writer Thomas Morris recently made Granta’s 2023 Best of Young British Novelists list, and his upcoming story collection “Open Up” from Faber proves that he deserves this recognition. His stories are sharp, peculiar, and precise. Morris is a thoughtful writer, and each story packs an emotional punch. “Aberkariad” is possibly the best story I have ever read about seahorses.
The writer of Little Scratch (Faber), which was transformed into a theatrical production in 2021.
I devoured Shirley Hazzard’s novel The Transit of Venus (published by Little, Brown). The story follows two sisters from Australia who move to England after World War II. Hazzard’s writing is filled with condensed, sharp descriptions that are invigorating. It’s like when a friend points out a specific detail about someone and it’s so accurate that you can’t help but laugh. The precision has a strange sense of humor. Currently, I’m reading Anne Carson’s Nox (published by New Directions), which takes the meaning of a page-turner to a new level: the pages unfold like an accordion. Carson wrote the book after her brother’s death, and it is a fragmented collection that examines how to preserve the past (or a person), using scanned notes and photos. It’s thought-provoking, philosophical, and unexpected.
The writer of Mister, Mister (Tinder) and In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder) is the recipient of both the 2019 Dylan Thomas prize and the Jhalak prize.
Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes (Daunt) is a bold and brave piece of work, following in the footsteps of esteemed authors Dionne Brand and Margo Jefferson. Jenny Erpenbeck’s Kairos (Granta), translated by the talented Michael Hofmann, is a personal tale of new beginnings and endings, taking place before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Additionally, I have rediscovered my admiration for Derek Jarman’s films and writing, making me ecstatic about the launch of his sole long-form narrative fiction, Through the Billboard Promised Land Without Ever Stopping (Prototype).
The writer has written many fiction and nonfiction books, such as Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, and Again, Rachel. She was the recipient of the Author of the Year award at the 2022 British Book Awards.
The short preview for Strange Sally Diamond (Penguin Sandycove) written by Liz Nugent might sound like: Imagine the movie Room mixed with Eleanor Oliphant, but this captivating novel offers so much more. Sally Diamond is a peculiar character, yet she also brings humor and emotion to the story. Although marketed as a “crime” book, this gripping read goes beyond any one genre. Demon Copperhead (Faber) by Barbara Kingsolver is a modern retelling of David Copperfield, an epic tale that is both politically charged and fiercely angry, but thanks to the beautifully crafted narrative, it remains engaging throughout. An incredible read. Between Us (HarperCollins) by Mhairi McFarlane is her newest and finest work. Roisin’s partner Joe is a screenwriter. When his new TV series reveals secrets based on Roisin’s family, her life starts to unravel. This thoughtful, charming, and intense story of love captured my heart.
The creator of Acts of Desperation (published by Jonathan Cape) and Ordinary Human Failings (published by Vintage)
Emma Cline’s second novel, The Guest (Chatto & Windus), is the perfect combination of summertime allure and underlying danger, making it a must-read for a day at the beach. The protagonist, Alex, is a clever sex worker who is struggling to maintain her facade of confidence and stability as she faces the harsh reality of her precarious lifestyle. This gripping and unsettling book is reminiscent of The Talented Mr Ripley (Penguin Random House).
Big Swiss (Faber) by Jen Beagin has an irresistibly juicy premise: a transcriptionist working for a sex therapist in cosy, smug Hudson Valley becomes fixated on one of the voices she hears over tapes. When she recognises it out in the wild, she begins an intoxicating affair without revealing her deception. Hilarious and consistently surprising about trauma, sex and friendship, I took it with me on a solo holiday and finished it before leaving the house on the first day.
The writer of The Bee Sting, published by Hamish Hamilton, as well as three other novels. In 2016, he was awarded the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for The Mark and the Void, published by Penguin.
A biography of a 17th-century metaphysical poet may not sound like the ideal beach read, but Super-Infinite (Faber) is absolutely compulsive. Boasting pirates, plague, numerous executions, doomed love and some of the greatest poetry ever written, Katherine Rundell’s life of John Donne revels in the man’s many paradoxes and is a joy to read.
At first, I was hesitant about Nicole Flattery’s Nothing Special (Bloomsbury) since I was skeptical of Warhol’s work. However, after reading it, I realized my worries were unfounded. The story follows two girls working at Warhol’s Factory in 1960s New York, tasked with typing his experimental novel. It beautifully captures the difficult teenage years and the powerful bonds of friendship that help us survive them. Flattery’s writing style is dry and sarcastic, adding depth to the story.
During the summer, I often feel compelled to revisit Emmanuel Carrère’s haunting novel, The Adversary (Vintage). Though typically categorized as true crime, it delves into themes of murder and deceit that touch on the very essence of humanity. Reading it is akin to being stuck in a descending elevator within an abandoned skyscraper. It’s the ideal remedy for an overwhelming amount of sunshine.
The writer of Cursed Bread, Blue Ticket, and The Water Cure (all published by Hamish Hamilton), which was nominated for the 2018 Booker prize. She has been recognized on Granta’s 2023 list of the top young British novelists.
I was recently captivated by Claire Kilroy’s powerful book Soldier Sailor (Faber), which delves into the intense experiences of early motherhood and manages to be both terrifying and darkly humorous. Another standout for me was Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s moving third novel, The Sleep Watcher (Sceptre), which explores the fragile dynamics of a family with a perfect balance of tension and tenderness. In terms of nonfiction, I have repeatedly been drawn to Amina Cain’s recent work A Horse at Night (Daunt), finding wisdom, beauty, and relatability in her concise reflections on writing and creating art.
The writer of “I’m a Fan” (Granta), which has been nominated for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Svetlana Alexievich’s book, Chernobyl Prayer (Penguin), may not be a typical summer read, but it is incredibly important and impossible to put down. The book is a collection of different voices that come together to tell the story of the deep trauma caused by the explosion. It is a timeless work that has prompted deep contemplation on topics such as infinity, sacrifice, love, and unspeakable grief. While not exactly the same, the overwhelming chorus of pain in these testimonies reminded me of the anguish expressed by those affected by the pandemic. Chernobyl is a unique and devastating event, unlike anything else on this planet. However, what stands out most from these stories is the power of love – the kind of love that can drive people to do incredible things.
I recently began reading Penance (Faber) by Eliza Clark and I am already captivated. The story delves into the underlying violence of teenage girls as they come of age, and the seemingly innocent games they play that can have sharp consequences. Clark tells the tale of a girl’s murder in the fictional town of Crow-on-Sea through the perspective of an investigator, examining themes of social class, the blurred lines between reality and fiction, and the idea of a picturesque seaside town as a facade. It could be described as a seaside version of the TV series “Happy Valley.”
Screenwriter and author of Really Good, Actually (HarperCollins)
All I’m interested in reading about are relationships – how people meet, hurt each other, flirt, get together, break up, and even go against the wishes of their loved ones. I recently finished Annie Ernaux’s book “Getting Lost” from Fitzcarraldo Editions, which I found extremely captivating. Her novel “Simple Passion” from the same publisher, about an affair with a younger married man in her 40s, is a personal favorite of mine. However, her diary written during the time of the affair was even more raw, immediate, and devastating. On a train ride, I read Naoise Dolan’s “The Happy Couple” from Orion and was so engrossed that I stopped at a station to finish it on a bench before reaching my destination. This concise novel about relationships reads like a mystery, except the mystery is figuring out what’s wrong with everyone. It’s also refreshingly humorous, which is especially important during the summer season. As a fan of Lorrie Moore, I was thrilled to learn about her new book release. She has a unique ability to capture small moments between people with great clarity. A few weeks ago, I spent four lovely hours on a patio with a glass of wine, some snacks, and “I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home” from Faber.
The author has written six novels, one of which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011, titled A Visit from the Goon Squad. Her most recent novel is called The Candy House and was published by Corsair.
Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White” is a captivating thriller from 1859 that can keep you up all night. The story is filled with brooding gothic vibes, unexpected plot twists, and a memorable villain. Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” is considered her best work. The mystery is narrated by Poirot’s strict neighbor, a doctor who lives with his nosy sister. For audiobook fans, Hugh Fraser’s performance is superb. “The Maid” by Nita Prose is a comedic mystery with a clever narrator who knows more than anyone realizes. It’s a satisfying tale of an unlikely detective.
Rebecca F Kuang
The creator of Babel, The Poppy War trilogy, and Yellowface (all published by HarperCollins).
During my frequent work-related flights, I have come across some books that have captivated me from beginning to end. Mieko Kawakami’s All the Lovers in the Night (Picador) is a concise yet engaging exploration of isolation and companionship; I devoured it in one sitting. Mark Haber’s novella Saint Sebastian’s Abyss (Coffee House) is a satirical take on art criticism and academia, which had me laughing out loud. Currently, I am thoroughly enjoying Andrew Hurley’s translation of Jorge Luis Borges’ Short stories – these thought-provoking philosophical tales are like little puzzle boxes that keep me pondering long after I’ve finished reading.
Sean Thor Conroe
The creator of Fuccboi (Wildfire)
Megan Nolan’s debut novel, Acts of Desperation, delves fearlessly into the tumultuous love affair between a young woman struggling with alcoholism and a brooding man who is still hung up on his ex-girlfriend. As with most works in this genre, it is unclear whether the book serves as a cautionary tale or glorifies this type of relationship. Emmanuel Carrère’s My Life as a Russian Novel (Vintage) follows a similar narrative, chronicling a recently divorced man’s volatile romance with a younger woman while he publishes an explicit story about her and delves into his complicated relationship with his mother and her father. This one is slightly more unsettling than Nolan’s as it is presented as a memoir and does not romanticize such relationships as much. I devoured both books.
The author of “Mrs March” from 4th Estate.
“Experience the world of horses, worms, and magic in Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (Oneworld). This book will captivate you as you try to unravel its mysteries and face its terrifying elements. Despite knowing that Maggie O’Farrell has survived her near-death encounters in order to write her memoir I Am, I Am, I Am (Headline), the stakes remain high and the intense tension in each chapter makes for a gripping read, rivaling any great thriller. Maggie, I am deeply sorry for all that you have endured. Set in the Hamptons over the course of seven tense days, Emma Cline’s The Guest (Chatto & Windus) is a thrilling examination of survival and the lengths one may go to achieve it.”
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
The writer of The Sleep Watcher, Starling Days, and Harmless Like You (all published by Hodder & Stoughton), recipient of the 2017 Betty Trask Award.
Penance (Faber) written by Eliza Clark is a captivating mystery that transported me back to the tumultuous emotions of my teenage years. Each character in the book felt so authentically real that I couldn’t help but wonder if they were based on people from my own past. Another book that left a lasting impression on me was Assembly (Hamish Hamilton) by Natasha Brown, which I’m eager to read again. Brown’s writing is akin to that of a skilled photographer, offering a unique and unfiltered perspective of the world. It’s truly mesmerizing. Finally, I devoured the short story “How I Fell in Love with the Well-Documented Life of Alexander Whelan” from Yan Ge’s collection Elsewhere (Faber), and I can’t wait to read the rest of the stories.
A writer of poetry and novels, with works such as “Death Valley” and “Milk Fed” published by Bloomsbury.
In my opinion, an irresistible book is one that is humorous, filled with yearning, and has a touch of the fantastical. If a novel possesses all three qualities, I am immediately drawn to it. Henry Hoke’s Open Throat (Pan Macmillan) is a prime example of an unputdownable book for me. It is an allegorical story about a queer mountain lion battling for survival and love in the mountains of Los Angeles. Another book that captures these same elements is Y/N (Europa) by Esther Yi. It is a clever, perceptive, and self-aware story about a woman’s infatuation with a younger man in a K-pop group and the peculiar journey it leads her on.
Writer of short stories and novels, whose latest book is Ghosted: A Love Story (Sceptre)
Eoghan Walls’ The Gospel of Orla, published by Seven Stories Press, follows a teenage girl who is grieving and angry as she meets Jesus on the Lancaster canal towpath. This story is filled with cleverness, kindness, compassion, and rage, making it one of the most original novels I’ve come across in a while. Okechukwu Nzelu’s Here Again Now, published by Dialogue, is a beautifully delicate and emotionally charged exploration of love, tenderness, family, and loss. This book left a lasting impact on me, with lines from it staying with me in my heart. Noreen Masud’s A Flat Place, published by Hamish Hamilton, is a must-read for the vivid description of Morecambe Bay as “a dreamy amphibian” – striking, thoughtful, and enlightening.
The individual responsible for the books Dept. of Speculation and Weather (both published by Granta)
Meghan O’Gieblyn’s book, God, Human, Animal, Machine (Doubleday), delves into the intersection of technology, metaphor, and the human search for meaning. However, its subtitle barely scratches the surface of the profound insights contained within. Using artificial intelligence as a starting point, O’Gieblyn examines the ways in which humans have both enchanted and disenchantment of the world. Yuri Herrera’s Ten Planets (And Other Stories) is a collection of sparse and thought-provoking short stories that read like philosophical fables and left a lasting impact on me. Finally, in Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma (Hodder & Stoughton), Claire Dederer boldly explores the complexities of admiring art created by morally reprehensible artists. Spoiler alert: this book offers no easy solutions.
The writer of The Rabbit Hutch (Oneworld) was awarded the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction and the Waterstones Debut Fiction prize.
Noor Naga’s “If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English (Graywolf)” explores the intense drive of its main characters, an American girl and a boy from Shobrakheit, to overcome socioeconomic barriers in order to connect with each other. The writing is powerful, the political themes are complex, and the honesty is unwavering. Natasha Brown’s “Assembly (Hamish Hamilton)” is a masterpiece. Despite being only 100 pages, it is filled with centuries of wisdom, artistic experimentation, and historical context. Brown skillfully navigates her debut with precision and a keen ear for sound. “Fever Dream (Oneworld)” by Samanta Schweblin is a captivating novella that delves into environmental horror and will leave readers breathless.
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