Summer is an excellent time for catching up on some overdue book maintenance. You know, those piles on the bedside table who keep growing and growing. But which summer read should we bring on vacay? There is so much to choose from. Let’s check what our peers – who feature in our Life & Style after Fifty Portraits series – recommend as there best read.
What is their answer to the question Which book shaped or changed you and why should we read it?
1. The grass is singing – Doris Lessing
Anita Willemars: ‘The grass is singing’ by Doris Lessing (first published in 1950) touched me deeply. It encouraged me to face life with an optimistic approach, whatever happens.
It’s the story about Mary Turner who had led a somewhat limited life in her sleepy South African town. She was happy until she overheard some friends say that she would never marry. At those words, her delicately balanced little world overturned, and she suddenly realized that it was desirable to have a husband, to be like the rest of her circle. Unconsciously she began to look for a man to marry, and she found one. He was a farmer – a hard-working sensitive man with an intense love of his land, a stubborn pride – but with a fatal weakness. This novel takes place in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in southern Africa, during the 1940s and deals with the racial politics between whites and blacks.
2. A prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Danielle van Berkel: There are plenty of books I like and remember so this is a difficult question. If I have to choose one summer read then it ‘ll be ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ by John Irving. Written in 1989 and still high on my favorite list today.
‘If you care about something you have to protect it. If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.’ Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend’s mother. Owen doesn’t believe in accidents; he believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is both extraordinary and terrifying.
3. The Chin Kiss King – Ana Veciana Suarez
Tamara Hoetasoit: the book that touched me deeply is ‘The Chin Kiss King’ by Ana Veciana Suarez (first published in 1997). It’s about strong women who deal with that thing called life in their own, peculiar way and always keep the faith.
The Chin Kiss King is a heart-wrenching novel that chronicles the lives of three generations of Cuban-American women in Miami: Cuca, zealous believer in the hovering presence of spirits; her daughter, Adela, a superstitious,gambling cosmetologist with a weakness for men; and Adela’s daughter, Maribel, a marketing research assistant who does not know the power of dreams yet draws spiritual nourishment from the older women.
4. My name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout
Liddie Austin: So many! The most recent book that impressed me was ‘My name is Lucy Barton’ by Elizabeth Strout. In this novel a woman looks back on an important week in her life, the only time she was able to reconnect with her mother as an adult woman. Strout manages to say a lot with little words in this book, which coloured my mood for a couple of days.
An exquisite story of mothers and daughters. Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Her unexpected visit forces Lucy to confront the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of her life: her impoverished childhood in Amgash, Illinois, her escape to New York and her desire to become a writer, her faltering marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable. .
5. Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay
Caroline van Metelen: The book that really touched me is ‘Sarah’s Key’ by Tatiana de Rosnay, first published in 2007. A tragic story about a journalist who unravels the life of Jewish girl in WWII. It’s a story of loss and family secrets which takes you from past to presence and back again.
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
6. A little life – Hanya Yanagihara
Kate Hume: So many good reads! Most recently ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara, first published in 2015. It starts in New York in the 80’s so that resonated with me. It’s one of the best books I have ever read – I recommend it to everyone (I am famous for pushing my poor friends to read what I am reading).
When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.
7. Tender is the night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sue Virgina Smith : I love the grandeur of the Roaring Twenties, still visible in the South of France. My favourite hangout. The story of ‘Tender is de night’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald (first published in 1934!) is still going strong today
Set on the French Riviera in the late 1920s, Tender Is the Night is the tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver. A brilliant young psychiatrist at the time of his marriage, Dick is both husband and doctor to Nicole, whose wealth goads him into a lifestyle not his own, and whose growing strength highlights Dick’s harrowing demise. A profound study of the romantic concept of character, this book is lyrical, expansive, and hauntingly evocative.
8. Mothering Sunday – Graham Swift
Last summer read tip is my own, this little book tells a great – love – story. ‘Mothering Sunday’ by Graham Swift is published only this year but has everything that makes it a timeless novel. Beautifully written and although I don’t always like the structure of going back and forth in time and characters, here it really intensifies the subtilty and delicacy of the story of an impossible affair. Told in one day.
It is March 30th 1924. It is Mothering Sunday. How will Jane Fairchild, orphan and housemaid, occupy her time when she has no mother to visit? How, shaped by the events of this never to be forgotten day, will her future unfold? Beginning with an intimate assignation and opening to embrace decades, Mothering Sunday has at its heart both the story of a life and the life that stories can magically contain. Constantly surprising, joyously sensual and deeply moving, it is Graham Swift at his thrilling best.
Happy Summer, happy reading! If you have a summer read book tip to share, please leave your comment below. To make sure that our bedside piles stays in tact.