From gripping fiction to history, brilliant poetry to biography, our guest contributors offer their recommendations for the beach and elsewhere
The Guardian’s summer books special: Julian Barnes, Sarah Churchwell, Kazuo Ishiguro and more pick their holiday reads
Illustration: Øivind Hovland
Sunday 10 July 2016
Novelist and screenwriter
Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge (Simon & Schuster £7.99) is the best novel I’ve read for some time, a series of 13 interlocking short stories that combine to create an extraordinarily rich and detailed portrait of both a marriage and a community. Olive is an extraordinary creation – stubborn, rude, insensitive, irascible but also principled, well-meaning, full of thwarted love. Frances McDormand is wonderful in the role in the TV version which, for once, is just as good as the novel. There’s another troubled family at the centre of Anne Enright’s exceptional novel, The Green Road (Vintage £8.99) and I also enjoyed Jonathan Lee’s High Dive (William Heinemann £16.99), an ingenious and original mixture of the domestic and the political, set in the days leading up to the Brighton bombing of 1984. At its heart is a father-and-daughter relationship that feels uncannily real and wonderfully touching . Last summer, in France, I swore that I would finally read Middlemarch (available in Vintage, £6.99). This summer, in Sardinia, I’m going to read Middlemarch.
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I suspect in about 15 years, the young American novelist Tony Tulathimutte will start winning huge literary awards, but in the meantime, I recommend reading Private Citizens (Oneworld Publications £12.99), his bracingly smart first novel about messed-up millennials. As for me, this summer I’ll spend some time in Rhode Island, where I’ll treat myself to an advance copy of the memoir When in French (HarperCollins £12.99, out in September), by Lauren Collins, who’s a staff writer at the New Yorker living in Switzerland and married to a Frenchman – and apparently linguistic high jinks have ensued.
I’d warmly recommend At the Existentialist Café (Vintage £16.99), Sarah Bakewell’s study of Sartre, Heidegger, Camus, De Beauvoir et al (as they say in French – or is it Latin?). She is always very readable without succumbing to what seems to be established as a despicable ideal in nonfiction publishing: to write about complex subjects in a jaunty tone. Speaking of Heidegger (seriously), Kerry Howley’s account of her immersion in the world of mixed martial arts, Thrown (Hamish Hamilton £14.99), deserves a much wider audience. Not exactly holiday reading, but Matthew Desmond’s Evicted (Allen Lane £20) is an essential piece of reportage about poverty and profit in urban America. I’ll be in London for most of the summer where I’ll be making yet another attempt – my fourth – at Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities (Picador £16.99).
Poet and novelist
I heard Margo Jefferson speak at the Bristol festival of ideas and loved her blend of wit, intellect and feeling. Her memoir Negroland (Granta £12.99) is set in Chicago during the 1950s and 60s, where she grew up as a privileged child of the African American upper middle class. But as her mother drily observed, to white America the highly educated, professional and aspirational Jeffersons were “just more Negroes”. Jefferson writes with piercing clarity of a childhood which was full of love and opportunity at home but also saturated by contradictions, confusions and a racism which corrodes, like rust, to the heart’s core.
I’ll be going to Cornwall this summer and so I’m packing Melissa Harrison’s Rain: Four Walks in English Weather (Faber £12.99).
Ben H Winters’s new novel Underground Airlines (Century £12.99) makes the word “thrilling” seem inadequate. Not only could I not stop reading it, it changed the way I looked at everything around me once I was finished. I also thought Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (Viking £16.99) was terrific. She takes on so many characters, so much history, and such a vast sweep of time without a single unnecessary word. I’m on my way to Colorado next week to interview Lucy Kalanithi about her husband Paul’s book When Breath Becomes Air (Vintage £12.99). That’s still the best book I’ve read this year.
Pack a collection of fairytales from the region you’re visiting. They remind us how similar we all are.
Novelist and short-story writer
William Finnegan’s absorbing surfing memoir, Barbarian Days (Little, Brown £9.99), will have you studying the ocean with new eyes, and Annie Proulx’s deforestation epic, Barkskins (4th Estate £18.99), will have you pondering the provenance of every piece of wood you come across. I highly recommend both. As for my own summer holiday, we’re moving into an old house on a hill, one with bookshelves built into the bedroom walls, and I’m sorting through our thousands of books. Each seems to unlock a dozen memories: Where was I when I bought this David Malouf, when I read this Marilynne Robinson, when I scribbled “amazing” on to page 99 of Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams (Granta £12.99)? My companion in this labour of love is The Library at Night (Yale University Press £10.99) by the Argentinian-Canadian Alberto Manguel, a series of beautiful, erudite essays about the histories, shapes, hidden lives and meanings of libraries, both public and personal.
Elizabeth Strout: ‘Her prose is like words doing jazz.’ Photograph: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Novelist and playwright
Two novels that stand out for me are Elizabeth Strout’s exquisite My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking £12.99) and Our Souls at Midnight (Picador £7.99) by Kent Haruf. Both are small – they will fit into your jacket pocket – and both speak, in the most pared language, of such complex things. Elizabeth Strout’s prose is like words doing jazz. As for nonfiction, Dadland (Chatto & Windus £18.99) by Keggie Carew is a rare new memoir. I finished it knowing more about history, dementia, men, daughters, sheds, diaries, an inquisitive mind and peeing in plastic bottles. This summer we will be spending time in a small village at the foot of Mont Ventoux, so I might just pack all those books and read them again, along with the Icelandic classic, Independent People (Vintage £9.99) by Halldór Laxness.
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I will, I’m sure, be only one person in a long queue of people recommending that you read Emma Cline’s The Girls (Vintage £12.99) and The Gene (Vintage £25) by Siddhartha Mukherjee. The first is shockingly assured for a first novel. The second takes a monumental and complex subject which is woven into every part of our lives and makes it both gripping and accessible. I’ve been driving a lot recently and Bleak House on audiobook has proved such good company that when I’m finished I’m going to revisit another old and trusted friend and have Harriet Walter read Middlemarch to me over the summer. though probably not on the plane to and from San Francisco where I shall, I hope, be dozing peacefully in the arms of Mrs Merlot and Mr Diazepam.
Historian and biographer
Ann Wroe’s Six Facets of Light (Vintage £25) is dazzlingly original. Poets and artists, from Dante to Eric Ravilious, are among the stars orbiting Wroe’s mind as she walks over Sussex’s chalk downs. Frances Wilson’s Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas de Quincey (Bloomsbury £25) is an ingeniously structured biography of a brilliant, ridiculously self-destructive man, and a beautifully written cultural history full of arresting insights into celebrity and hero-worship and the public’s prurient fascination with violence. And for those who, unlike me (I’ll be in Suffolk), need a treat for the flight – a collection of fizzingly funny short stories by Katherine Heiny – Single, Carefree, Mellow (4th Estate £12.99).
Co-founder, Second Home, entrepreneur
I haven’t been able to plan a holiday yet, but I’m desperate for one! Fortunately, I know exactly what I’ll be reading when I finally get time off, starting with Tahmima Anam’s latest novel The Bones of Grace (Canongate £14.99), which she finished writing at [my workspace and cultural venue] Second Home last autumn. I’ve also become obsessed with the brilliant Irish writer Kevin Barry – you simply have to read his novels City of Bohane (Vintage £7.99) and Beatlebone (Canongate £12.99), and I’ve been saving his first short story collection There Are Little Kingdoms (Stinging Fly Press £9) for my long-awaited break. I should really get around to reading Middlemarch, The Red and the Black (available in Penguin Classics, £9.99) and To the Lighthouse (available in Vintage, £6.99), which have been on my to-do pile for years now. So, if I manage to have more than a couple of days away, I’ll add them to my suitcase too. Can’t bloody wait.
Poet and author
Graham Swift’s novella Mothering Sunday (Scribner 12.99), set in a country house in 1924, can be read in a couple of hours – but you have to reread it to appreciate its subtle dissection of love, loss and social class. I’ve been slow coming to Frederick Seidel’s poetry but better late than never: his latest collection, Widening Income Inequality (Faber £14.99), is a characteristic blend of transgressive ideas and provocative rhymes. To mark this year’s two big literary anniversaries, I’m going to have a staycation rereading Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (available in Vintage, £6.99) and catch up on James Shapiro’s acclaimed study 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear (Faber £9.99).
Journalist and playwright
Why go light and frothy when you can go heavy and dark with your summer reading? I’d recommend taking on holiday all those beautiful, rereleased editions of Anita Brookner’s tender and cruel and sad novels. Lewis Percy (Penguin £8.99) is especially good. I’m also going to read – seriously – Svetlana Alexievich’s Chernobyl Prayer (Penguin £9.99) and the great new edition of her Second-Hand Time, put out by Fitzcarraldo Editions (£14.99). To stick with an emerging theme of collapse and despair (with a few shoots of hope), I’ve also got this fat edition of Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry (edited by Karen Van Dyck, Penguin £10.99). Before we know it, grim winter will be back to envelop us all. I’m not actually going on holiday this summer. Perhaps that’s what’s influencing my choices. I’ll be in New York throughout the hot months.
Anna Raverat: ‘Lover tells the story of an affair with unflinching truthfulness.’ Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images
Real, delicious summer reading, one for your suitcase, but with the bite of truthfulness – Anna Raverat’s second novel, Lover (Picador £12.99), manages the difficult feat of telling the story of a husband’s adulterous affair with unflinching truthfulness but also wit and generosity of spirit. A wise novel with values – honesty in love and business, loyalty – that is also elegantly written and a gripping read. I will be taking in my suitcase Colin Grant’s wonderful A Smell of Burning (Vintage £16.99, out in August), which I am reading in proof – a brilliant and touching story about brotherly love and the mystery of even those people we know best. Grant interweaves the story of epilepsy with the story of his own Jamaican-origin birth family and in particular his brother Christopher. I’ll be rereading that one as well. And my classic? The Bible, actually, for bedtime. My holiday will be in Kent, but then I’ll be off to work in Gibraltar, writing about Neanderthals.
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Journalist and novelist
I loved two newish novels which mix realistic elements with fantasy, have a strong undertow of elegy, and which also, weirdly, both have “eleven” in the title: Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven (Picador £12.99) and Jonathan Coe’s Number 11 (Viking £16.99). In terms of what’s next, my summer reading is more fixed than the rest of my holiday plans: I’m very much looking forward to Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill (Faber £16.99), Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women (Picador £16.99) and – fixing a gap in my education – John E Woods’s translation of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks (Everyman’s Library £12.99).
I recommend squeezing in: 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories (40 stories, 723 pages, Houghton Mifflin), edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor; Everywhere I Look (Text Publishing £12.99), compulsively readable essays from Australia by Helen Garner; Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich, one of the most humane and terrifying books I’ve ever read. I have saved for my own suitcase Rachel Cusk’s latest novel, Transit (Vintage £16.99), guaranteed to be worryingly addictive, along with Guilty Thing (Bloomsbury £25), Frances Wilson’s biography of literature’s most famous addict, Thomas De Quincey. I will also be packing a cagoule as I’m off to the Black Isle via Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Historian and writer
Rowan Moore’s Slow Burn City: London in the Twenty-First Century (Picador £20) is an architectural study in the noble tradition of Ian Nairn: a vivid, knowledgable, argumentative tour of a city changing perhaps faster than at any time in its history. Complementary and equally stimulating is Barnabas Calder’s Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism (Cornerstone £25). That particular “ism” is undeniably having a moment, however misguided, and Calder makes as persuasive a case as any advocate could. For myself, with a book to finish, no summer holiday, but I hope to plug on with Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe novels: emotional depth combined with the consoling pleasures of the quotidian.
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish (Oneworld £14.99) is a superb novel to pack in any suitcase, as is Ferdinand Mount’s nonfiction work, English Voices: Lives, Landscapes, Laments (Simon & Schuster £25): a wonderful, intelligent, sly, informed book about a collection of writers and divines and old masters, including Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens, Bagehot, Rosebery, Arthur Balfour and more. Mount is particularly good in his chapter On Statesmen, which looks at figures such as Margot Asquith, Oswald Mosley and Roy Jenkins. He has a wonderful talent for getting at the essence of people and comes at it with a wide literary knowledge. I am planning to go to Sicily in July and the book I most want to read on my holidays is A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin (Bloomsbury £18.99).
Joanna Walsh’s Grow a Pair: 9½ Fairytales About Sex is surreal, bawdy and inventive – wickedly so…
Author and journalist
I’m currently enjoying two very different nonfiction books: Release the Bats by DBC Pierre, a characteristically entertaining and eccentric how-to-write book by the author of Vernon God Little, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Random House US £18.99), a must-read for insight on race and America. In their own ways, both books use autobiographical anecdote to illuminate the complex subject of what we are, why we do what we do. It’s been a sparkling year for debut novels so far and the ones I am keenest to catch up on while I’m on the sun lounger are My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal (Viking £12.99), Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney (Legend Press £8.99) and The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd (Hodder & Stoughton £16.99). I will have to take an e-reader, though: I’m appearing at the Byron Bay festival in Australia followed by a trip to the Kakadu National Park and Uluru, so no room for hardbacks this year.
Author and journalist
I just got back from my wedding in Jamaica, for which I packed an optimistic number of books: Alexander Maksik’s riveting and disturbing novel Shelter in Place (Europa), which is a totally original exploration of mental illness, sexual politics, family and violence; Ann Patchett’s beautiful novel Commonwealth (Bloomsbury £12.99, out in September), about love and family and tragedy, and Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers (Michael Joseph £12.99), about middle-aged former musicians living in Brooklyn, which was a perfect lounge chair and piña colada book. I never got to my last books, which were Simone de Beauvoir’s Letters to Sartre (Vintage) and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Taylor & Francis £16.99), but am planning to bring them to another beach later in the summer.
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Novelist and poet
It’s not new but I recently read The End of Alice by AM Homes (Granta £8.99) and thought it was incredible. Given that many of the terrifying moments in the book take place on holiday, this is a guaranteed way to make any summer break profoundly sinister, if that’s your thing. I also loved Luke Kennard’s brilliantly inventive new poetry collection, Cain (Penned in the Margins £12.99), and Jenny Offill’s debut novel, Last Things (Bloomsbury £8.99), which is now back in print.
For my part, I’m going to Corsica with Don DeLillo’s latest, Zero K (Picador £16.99), and the new collection of poems by Denise Riley, Say Something Back (Picador £9.99).
This is a summer of short sojourns – to Arran, Copenhagen and Mallorca with joyous hours on flights (did I really write that?) undisturbed by the tyranny of mobile technology – the perfect time to read. I will be rereading Simon Mawer’s Tightrope (Abacus £8.99), his second novel featuring his brave and flawed wartime heroine Marian Sutro. I find it fascinating that both he and William Boyd have written such rounded, buccaneering female characters this year and dealt with their old age so poignantly. They are two women who lived through the second world war in such different ways. I’ll also tuck into Neil Gunn’s The Silver Darlings (Faber £9.99), something to connect me to Scotland when I am away, and because he was a favourite of my father’s.
Anthony Mortimer’s translation of The Flowers of Evil is marvellous. Poetry is perfect for la plage.
Journalist and author
You couldn’t go wrong packing Mark Haddon’s luminous story collection The Pier Falls (Vintage £16.99), Deborah Levy’s memorably strange Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton £12.99), or Hannah Kohler’s improbably accomplished first novel, The Outside Lands (Picador £12.99). Me, I may continue to revisit Richard Yates – Disturbing the Peace, The Easter Parade, Cold Spring Harbor (all Vintage, £8.99). Although I’ve read these books, one of the joys of encroaching senility is returning to favourite novels and failing to recognise a word of them. Paperbacks in tow, I’ll hit Brooklyn for plenty of tennis and Iowa to help harvest my brother’s peach orchard, then ruin a fortnight in Australia with a book tour.
I can’t recommend enough Nicholas Shaxson’s Treasure Islands (Vintage £10.99), which I finished just before the Panama Papers revelations – it’s an account everyone should read, not only of the offshore system, but also of the dark genius that has built it. Another recent marvel: Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev (Faber £8.99), whose style and prose reach the heights without which it is not possible to do justice to what he calls “the surreal heart of the new Russia”. For those who like their holidays particularly tortured: A Higher Form of Killing by Diana Preston (Bloomsbury, £9.99) is a wonderful reflection on three excesses of the first world war. I have to admit that my own holiday in rural Sicily will be devoted to slightly more peaceful pleasures. The Gene, first of all, by the brilliant Siddhartha Mukherjee (Vintage £25), and Zero K, the latest work by that most stupendous of contemporary novelists, Don DeLillo.
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Jane Mayer: ‘ Dark Money is political journalism at its best.’ Photograph: PR
Given the state of the world, I’ve been consuming nonfiction in an effort to make sense of things. Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Scribe £9.99) is political journalism at its best, an epic and terrifying story that grips the reader like a Stephen King thriller. And The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, And Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer (St Martin’s Press £12.99), an illuminating portrait of the cold war secretary of state and his equally influential brother, the director of the CIA. I’m spending the summer in New York, and very much looking forward to Rose Tremain’s Gustav Sonata (Vintage £16.99) and Joyce Carol Oates’s recent memoir The Lost Landscape (4th Estate £14.99), which describes how her early years formed her as a writer. Also Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Viking £16.99, out in January 2017).
My first suggestion is: pack a collection of fairytales from the region you’re heading for. Fairytales are time machines. They tell us about forgotten cities, landscapes, creatures, gods. They remind us of how similar and different at the same time we all are. My next suggestion is Germany: Memories of a Nation by the wonderful Neil MacGregor (Allen Lane £30). I owe him so many insights into my home country and the culture I grew up with. What will get into my bag, which I’ll be taking to the North Island of New Zealand with my daughter Anna, and then to Sydney? I am currently researching Japanese fairytales, so there will be Tales of Old Japan by AB Mitford (Dover Publications), plus The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey (Profile £20) and The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien (Faber £7.99).
Novelist and historian
Joanna Walsh’s Grow a Pair: 9½ Fairytales about Sex (Readux Books) is surreal, bawdy and inventive (wickedly so); Mary Jacobus, in Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint (Princeton), carries us on a marvellous voyage through the artist’s mind and beyond. On a darker note, I hugely admire Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich (Fitzcarraldo Editions 14.99), where she builds a Greek tragic chorus of memories about the Soviet Union. I’m hoping to join my two-year-old grandchild in Portofino for a few days and I want to read Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill (Faber £16.99), and Unholy Land (Skyscraper £16.99), a most strange, ambitious rap romance set in Israel/Palestine, composed by Aidan Andrew Dunn, a poet and musician known as the William Blake of King’s Cross.
underground airlines by ben winters cover
Underground Airlines by Ben H Winters (Random House £12.99) is one of the most thoughtful and inventive books I’ve read. Part alternative history and part detective novel, the book takes place in an America where slavery never ended. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (HarperCollins £14.99)is a pitch-perfect adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and was pure joy from the very first page. This is Darcy and Liz for our age (complete with booty calls and endless deciphering of texts). It’s a beautifully written satire that is never cynical when it comes to romance. I didn’t want it to end. I will spend my summer between Los Angeles and the Empire set in Chicago, where I am a screenwriter and have been known to read between takes.
Journalist and presenter
Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s Waking Lions (Pushkin £12.99) is a tense thriller set among Israel’s illegal immigrant community. My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal (Viking £12.99) is a poignant and life-affirming account of two young brothers in care. Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Bloomsbury £13.99) is a troubling story of a political cartoonist who finds his convictions tested when a traumatic past event returns to haunt him. Even if you’re not travelling this summer, these novels will take you far away into different and secret worlds, which is what I love a good book to do. As for me, I’m lugging Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet (Faber £16.99) with me again, though this time as an ebook to save space in my luggage. I’m hoping after three previous attempts to be seduced that this last Herculean effort will pay off and I’ll be transported by Justine et al. I’m off to Greece to retrace the route of The Odyssey on a sailing boat with my husband and kids.
This summer I won’t be travelling because there’s a new baby in the house, and I’m mainly reading short things intently on the subway. I admired Anne Boyer’s collection Garments Against Women (Ahsahta Press) and I’d never read Robert Lowell’s Life Studies (Faber £11.99). Next up I have two recent novels – Álvaro Enrigue’s Sudden Death (Vintage £14.99) and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (Granta £7.99). Summer holidays are usually for long books, books to dwell inside, like the John E Woods translation of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (Everyman’s Library £12.99).
I highly recommend The Exchange of Princesses by Chantal Thomas (Other Press £12.99). Based on a real historical event, it relates how Philippe d’Orléans, the regent of France, arranges the marriage of the 11-year-old Louis XV to the infanta, daughter of the king of Spain, who is only four – and likewise for his own 12-year-old daughter to marryied the heir to the Spanish throne. I loved James Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (Faber £9.99) and in the 400th year of Shakespeare’s death his 1606 … The Year of Lear (Faber £9.99) is a brilliant successor – rich in scholarly detail yet always engaging and enlightening. I shall be taking to my annual retreat in Corfu Peter Parker’s inviting new book, Housman Country: Into the Heart of England (Little, Brown £25), which has the Shropshire Lad poems helpfully appended. Housman, to whom I was introduced aged nine at my state primary school, remains one of my favourite poets. Nicky Morgan take note.
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Critic and historian
For those holidaying in an urban setting, I’d recommend Olivia Laing’s brilliant The Lonely City (Canongate £16.99), which is a joyful celebration of lost, radical art that also has the benefit of making you less lonely if holidaying alone. If you’re heading to the beach, Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton £12.99) is a wonderfully dreamlike tale of the strange, dangerous pleasure possible by the sun-infused sea. I’m going to be spending much of the summer in the Suffolk countryside, where I’ll start by reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (Vintage £12.99) and Doris Lessing’s The Summer Before the Dark (HarperCollins £11.99).
Travel author and biographer
On Reading, Writing and Living With Books (Pushkin £4.99) consists of 100 pages of pleasure culled from the shelves of the London Library, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year. Authors extracted range from Dickens to Woolf. Other titles in this heavenly little series include On Corpulence: Feeding the Body and Feeding the Mind, by the undertaker William Banting (Pushkin £4.99) – most suitable for assuaging holiday indulgence. I shall be quietly broiling in Mexico this summer so am packing Ed O’Loughlin’s new novel Minds of Winter (Quercus £16.99). As it is set in the polar regions it might cool me down.
summer books illustration by oivind hovland
Illustration: Øivind Hovland
Alexander McCall Smith
This summer I’ll be taking with me to the western Highlands Karl Sabbagh’s account of botanical fraud, A Rum Affair (Birlinn £9.99) and Hugh Aldersey-Williams’s Tide (Viking £18.99), which is all about… well, tides. Those who would like an engaging summer read should pack James Runcie’s latest tale of clerical detection, Sydney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation (Bloomsbury £14.99). Also consider Darryl Bullock’s timely biography, Florence Foster Jenkins (Duckworth £7.99) – delightfully cheering.
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Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails (Chatto & Windus £16.99) is an unexpectedly jolly work. She takes her subject – existentialism – seriously but not solemnly, and is a master of the irreverent one-liner. The Flowers of Evil (£9.99), Baudelaire’s masterpiece, is marvellously translated by Anthony Mortimer in a new edition from Alma Classics; be not afraid, poetry is perfect for la plage. I will be holidaying in Westport, the loveliest town in the west of Ireland, where I’ll be reading David Rieff’s In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies (Yale £14.99), a controversial but timely work, and rereading the timelessly timely The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (NYRB £9.99), by Mark Lilla. Even on its hols, the brain needs feeding.
Author and critic
The books that have impressed me so far this year are slender yet powerful volumes that won’t weigh your suitcase down. Julia Leigh’s devastating memoir Avalanche (Faber £12.99) is a brutal and graphic account of her increasingly desperate attempts to make a baby. And Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking £12.99) and Tommy Wieringa’s A Beautiful Young Wife (Scribe £7.99) are quite simply fiction at its most precise and potent. Meanwhile, I’m going to be lazing on a sea-view terrace in East Sussex with the brilliant Natasha Walter’s A Quiet Life (HarperCollins £14.99) – it’s so nice when someone you always thought should write a novel writes one. And even though I wasn’t mad about John Williams’s Stoner, I’m going to try his Butcher’s Crossing (Vintage £8.99). It comes highly recommended by Rachel Cusk whose taste I rate – and whose new novel, Transit (Vintage £16.99, out in September), I can’t wait to read.
Novelist and editor
I’ve planned my summer reading but not my holidays: a sad reflection. Wherever I am, I will read Han Kang’s intriguing The Vegetarian (Granta £7.99); Miriam Toews’s All My Puny Sorrows (Faber £7.99), because dark family stories are what fiction is for; Angela Carter’s short stories and as much twisty murder as I can get my hands on. Nell Zink’s Mislaid (4th Estate £8.99) is funny, sexy and daring; if only I still had it to discover. Only Sally Wainwright’s collected television scripts could console me. I hope she reads this.
Author and journalist
In my suitcase I have Jonathan Bates’s Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life (Harper Collins £10.99); having read so many outraged feminist biographies of Sylvia Plath, I felt I should read the parallel narrative. I also plan to reread the classic Class (Ingram International £14.99) by Paul Fussell – a scathing exploration of the American status system, still fresh and funny; and the across-the-pond iteration of a similar subject, Owen Jones’s The Establishment and How They Get Away With It (Penguin £9.99). I have already arrived at my summer destination – Rhodes House in Oxford, where I am teaching Rhodes scholars and other students op-ed writing and also speaking about feminism. In between, I’m taking peaceful walks by the canals near Port Meadow, heading eventually to the old pub by the river, the Trout; and perfect if shameful cream teas at the Rose on High Street.
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Andrew Michael Hurley: ‘The Loney is a chilling exploration of faith, misplaced and otherwise.’ Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
Writer, columnist and playwright
As one of the judges for this year’s Wellcome prize I overdosed, happily, on books exploring our relationship with illness and medicine. Our winner was the controversial but utterly compassionate memoir It’s All in Your Head (Vintage £9.99) by Suzanne O’Sullivan, who describes patients suffering fits, blindness, amnesia – crippling conditions that cannot be physically explained but feel real to them. The Loney (John Murray £14.99) by Andrew Michael Hurley is a chilling exploration of faith, misplaced and otherwise. A family arrive in a marshy Lancashire hamlet seeking divine intervention for their disabled son. God isn’t listening but the devil might be; it contains a scene so horrifying I almost wish I’d never read it. Garth Greenwell’s lyrical and semi-autobiographical debut What Belongs to You (Picador £12.99) explores the thrilling, sexy, dirty world of cruising via the American-in-Europe trope as an academic picks up a hustler in the toilets of a museum in Sofia, Bulgaria. I’m packing The Essex Serpent (Serpent’s Tail £14.99) by Sarah Perryct for a weekend in Budapest.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’d like to recommend two gorgeous books that I have recently read and loved: a novel, The Past by Tessa Hadley (Vintage £8.99); and a poetry collection, Bastards of the Reagan Era by Reginald Dwayne Betts (Oxbow £12). I’ll be in Lagos this summer and plan to reread two books I admire very much: John Gregory Brown’s Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, and Passbook Number F47927: Women and Mau Mau in Kenya by the remarkable writer Muthoni Likimani.
Author and journalist
Mary James of the Aldeburgh Bookshop – one of my favourite places on Earth – pressed upon me Thomas Savage’s The Power of the Dog (Vintage £8.99), first published in 1967. I’ll pack it along with another forgotten gem, AE Ellis’s The Rack (Ashgrove £14.99). I read the latter a few years ago and it moved and thrilled me as much as The Magic Mountain, to which it owes a debt. Also accompanying me on a leisurely fortnight driving down to my mother’s house near Collioure [in south-west France] will be Jessie Burton’s The Muse (Picador £12.99), about which I’m terribly excited; Dan Richards’s sublime Climbing Days (Faber £16.99); and Brian Catling’s The Vorrh (Coronet £20), which I’ve been told is Mervyn Peake meets Alasdair Gray.
Scientist and author
Sean Carroll’s lucid The Big Picture (Random House £28) reveals how the universe works and our place in it. Carroll, a philosophically sophisticated physicist, discusses consciousness without gimmicks, and deftly shows how current physics is so solid that it rules out ESP for ever. In Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future (Oneworld £16.99), the Swedish journalist Johan Norberg entertainingly presents the case for something every expert knows but most newsreaders will find hard to believe: the world is getting richer, healthier, freer, and more peaceful. Blame our psychology: we are overly impressed by news stories about misery and mayhem. I’m writing a book of my own, alternating with biking and kayaking with the other author in the house, Rebecca Goldstein, in Truro, Massachusetts, near the tip of Cape Cod.
sarah crossan portrait
Sarah Crossan: ‘Her young adult verse novel One is funny, touching, sensitive and daring, and expertly tore me into confetti.’
an island of our own by sally nicholls cover
I thoroughly recommend two children’s books – Sarah Crossan’s One (Bloomsbury £7.99), and Sally Nicholls’s An Island of Our Own (Scholastic £6.99). One is a young adult verse novel about conjoined twins. It is funny, touching, humane, sensitive and daring, and expertly tore me into confetti. Warning: you may find yourself sniffling on the train, and trying to pretend you have hay fever. An Island of Our Own is an incredibly charming but down-to-earth treasure hunt romp. It handles some serious situations with pragmatic directness, but also a huge helping of wit and positivity. My holiday won’t be until the autumn, and will probably be somewhere that allows for diving or volcano-chasing. I’m planning to pack Marcus Sedgwick’s The Ghosts of Heaven (Indigo £10.99) and Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Orbit £8.99).
trump art of the deal cover
Journalist, author and film-maker
I’m taking an early summer holiday right now, driving from Los Angeles to Scottsdale, Arizona via Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. As it’s a driving holiday all my books are audiobooks: The First Bad Man (Canongate £6.99)by Miranda July; Trump: The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump (Random House £16.99); and You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat] (Scribe £12.99) by Andrew Hankinson. I feel confident about all my choices, although I wish Trump had taken a few days off campaigning to voice the audiobook himself. The chapter about how much he loves his father is making me suspect he hates his father.
Poet, novelist and biographer
Last summer my wife and I moved to America, so there wasn’t much time for reading. This summer we’re heading south for the first time, and among old favourites I’ll take with me is Henry James’s coiling and compulsive travel book The American Scene (Penguin £6.99). And my new recommendations? Denise Riley’s long-awaited collection of poems Say Something Back (Picador £9.99), Frances Wilson’s brilliantly possessed Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas de Quincey (Bloomsbury £25), and David Szalay’s boldly sad-funny and clear-eyed new novel, All That Man Is (Vintage £14.99).
abir mukherjee portrait
Abir Mukherjee: ‘A Rising Man, a whodunnit set in 1919 Calcutta, is a thought-provoking rollercoaster.’ Photograph: Nick Tucker
Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man (Vintage £12.99) is a whodunnit set in the social and political tinderbox of 1919 Calcutta – a thought-provoking rollercoaster. Steve Cavanagh’s The Plea (Orion £12.99) is a rip-roaring legal thriller set in the US. Twisty, bloody, and convincing. Lucy Ribchester’s The Amber Shadows (Simon & Schuster £7.99) is a spooky and complex psychological thriller set in Bletchley Park during the second world war. Atmospheric and engaging. This summer I’ll be in Greece, New York, and Cromarty rereading one of my favourite novels, Bleak House (Penguin £8.99). I also plan to have a go at my teetering to-be-read pile, including Sarah Hilary’s Tastes Like Fear (Headline £7.99), Louise Doughty’s Black Water (Faber £12.99) and Oliver Harris’s The House of Fame (Vintage £12.99) – three tremendous and reliable novelists.
The Guardian Books Podcast Summer reading with Mark Lawson and Lisa McInerney – books podcast
As clouds gather over public life, we turn to the books shining brightly this summer with Mark Lawson, Lisa McInerney and pack in a host of recommendations from Guardian writers
Lady Antonia Fraser
Historian, biographer and novelist
I will be in Cornwall where the waves of Porthgwarra are eagerly awaiting my annual appearance. The most enjoyable book to take on holiday would undoubtedly be Juliet Nicolson’s A House Full of Daughters (Vintage £16.99). It combines history with memoir in a way that both historians and memoirists should envy. Juliet Nicolson is the latest in a long female line stretching down through the Sackvilles, including Vita Sackville-West, who was her father’s mother. There are stately homes enough for a television series and although the narrative is at times painful, it is ideal holiday reading. John Preston’s A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment (Penguin £16.99) is more for night-time reading perhaps than the beach, given its (accurate) subtitle. Where classics are concerned, I shall be taking Tolstoy’s The Cossacks (Penguin £6.99) on my Kindle – the holiday saviour of those who can no longer read the very small print of classic paperbacks, because you can enlarge the font.
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