Summer reading recommendations from the Library: part two
We asked our Library team to give us their summer reading suggestions. In part two, Sarah and Tessa share their hot reads for the Long Vac.
When I was 15 I took Anna Karenina on holiday to a small village on the coast of Portugal as a ‘beach read’ so I’m not sure how well equipped I am to advise on summer reading, but some suggestions below:
I’ll start with the very aptly titled The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (of Moomin fame). It’s a lovely little book which chronicles a summer spent on a small island in the Gulf of Finland by an artist and her young granddaughter. It’s a very warm book in all senses.
Whilst summer often involves trips to the seaside to languish on the beach, we recently acquired at the library Julia Armfield’s debut novel Our Wives Under the Sea, which chronicles a very different kind of marine adventure. It tells the story of Leah, a marine biologist returned from a submarine expedition gone wrong, and her wife Miri, living with the aftermath. I found it very moving and raced through it in a few days – you can find it in our leisure reading collection at Gen Arm.
At the moment I’m reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s latest Lapvona which will hit the library shelves shortly (once I bring it back…). It’s dark and disgusting – not unlike her previous works, but amped up to a new level, and brings me back to my initial point that I’m not sure I’m the best to advise on hot summer reads, so best proceed with caution…
Tharik Hussain, Minarets in the mountains: a journey into Muslim Europe
I was prompted to read this as a prelude to my August road trip in an elderly VW from Oxford to Northern Greece via Albania so that I might better understand the region and the people.
Hussain embarks on a journey to the Western Balkans with his wife and two young daughters to discover more about the cultural identity of the region as well as his Muslim heritage. Whilst this might prompt thoughts of a desiccated history the whole is leavened by his two daughters who are more interested in finding cool places to swim and their quest to find ‘the best’ ice cream.
Hussain seeks to counter his own prejudices and fears and is straightforward in acknowledging these. He reveals a part of the world which is steeped in Muslim history - the mountains and the minarets – both through the landscape and the architecture but also through individuals – their reaction to him and his family are as insightful as his are of them.
He encounters outright hostility and ignorance but the whole is shot through with warmth, humour and humanity and a recognition that much of the Muslim history of that region is of rebuilding and coming together and not of destruction and tearing apart.
John Lanchester, The Wall
The Wall is set in a dystopian future world, one which is very recognisable and alarmingly topical. A seismic climate event has augured in The Change. Beaches across the globe have vanished, border crossings are no longer permitted and the entire coastline is encased behind The Wall, a massive coastal defence. National service has been reinvented with youthful conscripts required to spend two years on the Wall as ‘Defenders’. It is cold, very cold, it is boring and it is a landscape of relentless concrete, even the sea is the colour of concrete. There are more than a few hints of Auden’s ‘Roman Wall Blues’.
The rigid hierarchy which has emerged pits old against young, Defenders against the Others. The Others are seaborne climate change migrants – the Wall is built to keep them out. Anyone who makes it over the Wall is identified as ‘Help’. There is no civil aviation as there is a global shortage of fuel and ‘Flight’ is the defence arm in the skies. The ‘Elite’ – those who run the country are led by a ‘blond baby’. You are no doubt beginning to pick up on the motifs.
The protagonist is Kavanagh, a Defender and Hifa, one of the ‘Others’ and their relationship, their survival runs through the novel. There is humour despite the bleakness and Lanchester is a great storyteller.
Recommended in the furnace-like heat of this summer if you want a read that will chill you to the bone.