Our thoughts have recently turned to summer and books we have enjoyed in the past and intend to enjoy in the coming months. You may remember from our April newsletter that Fiona wrote about the Hay Festival and The Pool collaborating to produce a list of 100 books by 100 women that deserve a lot more attention than they receive. So I decided to ask my colleagues to employ the same tactic – I asked for two of their summer reads (have read and to read) but written by women. And this is what they said.
Embarrassing confession here, I’m not that much of a reader. Well, I’m not much of a ‘proper’ reader.
Voracious as a child, my teenage years were spent devouring films, comics and magazines at a frightening pace, my attention span for books dwindling as a result. However, I’m addressing this and have bought a proper reading chair and aim to start with the classics and branch outwards…and a ton of comics of course. They are a legitimate art-form, Dad.
A recommendation from Fiona, Life Moves Pretty Fast analyses the impact that 80s cinema had on Freeman as a precocious Jewish teen growing up in New York.
Presented as a series of short essays, each on a specific film, Freeman analyses the messages she took from each film and whether they have any relevance 30+ years later. I adored this book, and burned through it on a couple of long train journeys, nodding in quiet agreement at the problems of John Hughes and how Ghostbuster Peter Venkman seems like a refined gentleman compared to the ‘bro’ culture prevalent in modern Hollywood comedies.
If you were a teenage film geek like me, then make sure you read this. And if your attention span is crap, then this will ease you back into long-form reading.
I know, I know. A classic through and through which I’m going into completely blind (I’ve not even seen the Gregory Peck adaptation, which for a lapsed film obsessive is an even worse admission).
When it was raised in the office that a startling number of men don’t actively read work by women I could see why it could be a viewpoint some men choose to take, even though I don’t condone it myself. I am as unlikely to read a Mills and Boone sweaty romance novel as I am a Tom Clancy novel where everyone is called Dirk and the President needs rescuing from snake soldiers, or something equally as ‘manly’. I couldn’t give two sods who wrote something, as long as it is worth reading.
So yeah. To Kill a Mockingbird. Starting my list with this as I am told it is utterly brilliant, and a classic is a classic for a reason. After this, I’m off to read some Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, Thomas Hardy, and then the controversial Ayn Rand (I am so intrigued by Atlas Shrugged, but need to work my way up to a divisive 1000 word plus epic). Hopefully, I’ll make up for lost time, and yes, I am open to suggestions.
I bought this book whilst still in a complete headspin about my son growing up in a world of growing extremism, Donald Trump in the White House and the UK crashing out of Europe. Not only did the book lay out some of the causes for these things in a rational way, but it also offered me a bit of hope that I can contribute to fixing things before my son gets to 18, and therefore avoid him wondering if I did enough to stop the tories flogging off the NHS to their spouses. (Editor’s note: Read on to see which member of the Wordscapes team is planning to read this book next…)
The Year of Living Danishly by the same author made me laugh uncontrollably and want to eat pastries, play with lego, buy boxes of candles for the house and move to Denmark with Amy and Max. The topic of this book feels relevant and timely for a read at the end of Summer and before the real new year starts in September.
I’m a big fan of American author, Diane Chamberlain. She’s a fairly prolific writer, writing a novel a year. I was recommended her books after reading all of Jodi Picoult’s and enjoying them. But I think I prefer Chamberlain’s books now, as I always felt Picoult’s ended ‘right’ no matter how she was able to bring that about. Chamberlain usually bases the books on strong female leads. The Midwife’s Confession was the first of hers I read, and I was hooked from the off.
The story tells of Noelle, a well-respected local midwife who has died by suicide. Her friends find a letter amongst her things as they are clearing out her home, the contents of which change everything they thought they ever knew about her. Diane Chamberlain can certainly spin a good yarn, and this book comes with a delicious twist. Perfect beach reading.
You may be aware of Wamariya doing the press interview rounds on TV and radio recently, following the publication of her book. It tells the remarkable story of her fleeing from Rwanda as a six-year-old during the early 90s civil war, leaving behind her parents. She and her older sister travelled across Africa as refugees, before eventually reaching the US. Her story once she arrives in the States is even more remarkable, as she becomes an Oprah-obsessive, puts herself through Yale, and ends up working for the Obamas.
I can only imagine what this young woman went through to achieve what she did, and I’m looking forward to finding out how she did it, what motivated her, and what happened when she was reunited with her parents after 20-odd years… on Oprah’s TV show.
Set partly during the turbulent unrest of Pakistan’s civil war in the early 1970s, the novel jumps between two time periods, as narrator Raheem – who is telling her story from a post-war Karachi in 1986 – tries to discover the truth of her roots in a war-torn world.
The novel opens with the two main protagonists, Raheem and Karim, a young girl and boy who are seemingly inseparable – they cry each other’s tears, speak in their own shared language, and whose parents swapped partners in an ambiguous ‘fiancée swap’ sometime after the war.
The novel unfolds as Raheem leaves Pakistan to study in the USA; abandoning Karim as she does so. The novel is a beautifully-written love story to a country; of rebuilding a culture following a bloody and drawn-out war; and of the strength of human relationships against the backdrop of ethnic prejudice.
An urgent and timely look at our current political climate, posing the question: can it get any worse? With recent events sending shockwaves around the world – Brexit and Trump spring to mind – Klein looks at how these recent shock politics are shaping the world, and how they will cause lasting and devastating effects on our economies, national security and our environment.
The book is an international call-to-arms to turn those from refusal to resistance, and denial into diligent action. In Trump’s world, there are only winners and losers. He’s a winner – of course… *eye roll emoji* – this book sets out to re-instill hope in all of those who have made a concerted effort to avoid the news in recent times.
I love anything Caitlin Moran writes. But, pressed to choose, I’ve gone for this one for three reasons. 1: the title. Punning is an underused art form, and it’s perfect. 2: an anecdote about an interview with Paul McCartney – and, later, his gig – which literally made me weep with regret at having given away tickets to see him play at Anfield, in Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year. (I know. I know. I’m just not a big Beatles fan. I have seen the error of my ways.) And 3: her obsession with – and my subsequent love of – the BBC’s Sherlock.
It’s like a conversation with a much-trusted friend. Recommendations about stuff you’ll like, some thoughts to provoke and challenge and the chance to laugh like a drain.
Moran is whip smart, warm, challenging and fair. Never one to shy from a taboo, she’ll spring from positive discrimination, tax and abortion, wheeling to Welsh caravan holidays, trolling and the aforementioned Paul McCartney gig. She’s about the same age as me, and I’ve devoured everything she writes for over 20 years now. To me, she’s one of the funniest, most thought-provoking and best writers around. And it’s pronounced Catlin. (Her biog, not just me being a finicky copywriter.)
This summer I’m looking forward to reading Anna Hart’s Departures. Subtitled ‘a guide to letting go, one adventure at a time’, it’s a comedic whirl of her globetrotting adventures, so ticks all my ‘proper summer read’ boxes. I also got into a great Twitter chat with her – her alter ego writes erotic novels, so she tracked her down in LA. The resulting conversation and friendship is a joy and full of great insights about writing and publishing. Lovely stuff.
Editor’s note: If you’re on Instagram then for more summer reads recommendations, give News from Nowhere (an independent bookshop in Liverpool run by a women’s collective) a follow. There have certainly been some cracking books suggested so far.