This summer has certainly been a warm one so far, and what better way to enjoy the sunshine than by sitting outside with the company of a good book? We’ve compiled a list of our book recommendations for the season, with everything from romance novels to spy thrillers. Enjoy the sun, the sea, and NCW’s 10 must reads!
Big historical fiction fan? You’re in luck! Freya, our Operations Officer, and Gill, our Digital Marketing Manager, have some recommendations that are worth shouting about.
Freya’s pick is The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Armin, ‘an absolute summer classic‘. In the novel, two disenfranchised married women decide to hire a ‘Wistaria covered’ castle along the Italian Rivera for a month to escape the monotonous and unfulfilling realities of their drab, rainy home lives. Realising the cost, they enlist a rich young heiress and old curmudgeonous socialite name-dropper to stay with them and share the cost… and the space. Freya loves it because ‘the novel is dripping in whimsy and the saccharine – balancing beautiful imagery of the Italian setting with the kind of pithy wit you would expect from four mismatched London socialites cohabiting for a month…‘
Gill would like to recommend The 10,000 Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, the story of a Dutch merchant as the 1700s becomes the 1800s in a curious trading post off Japan. Gill describes it as ‘a straight novel from the king of interlinked short stories and what a beauty. Mitchell’s writing switches between airy and serene, and macabre and claustrophobic as we experience two alien cultures meeting: the traders, the Samurai, the diplomats, the translators and the wives.‘
Friendships and relationships
If you’re looking for something heart warming, Chris, our Chief Executive, and Laura, one of our Programme Managers, recommend books which explore the importance of relationships, family, and friendships.
Chris is recommending My Summer of Love by Helen Close: ‘It’s the hottest summer since forever in mid Eighties Yorkshire. You’re a bored and restless teenager trapped in the family pub with your grim father, vacant stepmother and PorkChop, a stepbrother no one would choose. Fruit machines, drink and sex offer the best escape. As the weather closes in and the storm clouds threaten, you meet the beautiful, troubled youngest daughter of the local posh family. My Summer of Love is a funny, dark and oppressively hot tale of a lightning strike that happens when two girls meet and trample over every boundary they encounter. I loved this novel when it came out in 2001 and still do.’
For comfort, Laura’s go-to summer read is The Summer Book by Moomin creator Tove Jansson (trans. from Swedish by Thomas Teal): ‘Told from a tiny Finnish island about a long summer between an elderly artist and her young granddaughter, The Summer Book is magical, warm and cheering – everything a great summer should be!‘
‘The Summer Book is magical, warm and cheering – everything a great summer should be!’
Mysteries and thrillers
In the mood for something more thrilling? Summer is the perfect time to get nose deep in a page-turning mystery novel, and we have some recommendations which you won’t want to put down!
Holly, our Head of Programmes and Creative Engagement, has a summer pick which will transport you to Greece. She recommends A Separation by Katie Kitamura, which follows a young woman who is separating from her husband, but reluctantly agrees to look for him when he goes missing in a remote region of Greece. While she searches, playing the dutiful wife, her position becomes quickly ambiguous: should she reveal their separation, especially when events take a shocking turn. She loves it because it’s ‘heaped with tension and unsettling revelations, this story deliciously picks apart a relationship while it begins to feel that neither ever knew each other at all.‘
Discord is brewing under the surface in The Colony by Audrey Magee, recommended by Peggy, our Executive Director! She says the novel ‘may have some of the trappings of a holiday read – it’s set on a rocky Irish island, host to two visitors arrived to explore the local language and landscape for the summer months. But there’s discord brewing in this ravishing Booker longlisted novel, and as autumn draws near, with it comes a powerful reckoning. Identity, art and oppression, freedom and colonialism are all bubbling beneath the serene surface of this spare and unforgettable read.‘
David, our Head of Finance, recommends I am Pilgram by Terry Hayes, a post 9/11 secret agent saving the world classic written in 2013. He says: ‘Although a tome of a book at over 900 hundred pages the rollercoaster pace of the story speeds along at breakneck speed. A three day read for me and probably the best spy thriller I have read since Kolomsky Heights (a 90s gem from Lionel Davidson). Couldn’t put it down!’
If you love non-fiction, Freya has another recommendation which is perfect for late summer.
She loves Naked in the Woods: My Unexpected Years in a Hippie Commune by Margaret Grundstein, which she describes as ‘a really engaging memoir of a young yale grad in the midst of the 70’s alternative-living counter culture movement – which always feels like a totally immersive late summer era to me. Grundstein recounts how she, her Indonesian prince husband and a well-educated group of bohemians and activist friends attempt to build a communal utopia in rural Oregon, detailing how their free-love-eco-hippy façade soon starts to slip, with rifts forming over resources, relationships and land ownership. The piece explores the tensions at play within the ideologies of the overlapping movements of the era, but more interestingly explores how Grundstein, despite the growingly apparent dogmatic, inauthentic and aesthetic motivations of her friends, manages to find power as a woman by focusing on traditionally masculine essential skills, learning to build her own home in nature.‘
Horrifying short stories
Interested in reading something a little darker? Steph, our Communications Manager, and Rebecca, our Emerging Translator Mentorships Programme Manager, have some summer reads which will give you chills…
Did you know August is Women in Translation month? Rebecca is celebrating by reading The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez (trans. by Megan McDowell), a short story collection which she loves because it ‘plunges you into the sweltering heat of Buenos Aires (and Barcelona), and to places beyond that which is immediately visible. Enriquez’ female protagonists encounter children returned from the dead, venture to cursed places, highlight morbid desires and the will to persist. If the summer months are a bit too bright and cheerful for your taste, these modern tales of Gothic horror are just the right thing.‘
Steph is currently reading Cursed Bunny, a collection of short stories written by Korean author Bora Chung and translated by friend of NCW, Anton Hur. She says: ‘From the first story, ‘The Head’ – about a woman haunted by a head made of waste in the toilet – I knew I was in for a creepy and surreal ride! The collection moves between horror and magic realism and has a lot to say about what it means to be a woman in society today. So far, no tale has disappointed – but they have left me feeling very uneasy…‘
Where can I buy?
Check out your local bookshop or head to Bookshop.org to support independent bookshops countrywide. Here’s a hand-pick of our favourites:
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