Hello Findettes… Gemma here!
I’m stripping this post back to basics. See, I read a LOT. I’ve also just discovered that I’m a speed reader, apparently, and I normally get through five to seven books a week. I live for fiction, and I’m not afraid to be seen on the train with a Penny Vincenzi. However. The first draft of this summer reading list would wallpaper our flat. So I’ve stripped it back to five books, and five only. I’ve tried to avoid things that are getting a lot of press at the moment and instead categorise them into the five different things I’m looking for in a holiday read at the moment. (I’ve was told I could only take five with me to Spain on holiday.) I’m also not going to tell you too much about the plot of each – what’s the point? I hope you’ll find something here you’d like to try for yourself. Here goes!
1. “Literary fiction” which is easy to read. Maybe you’re going on holidays this year with a scarily-well-read friend, colleague or in-law. Maybe you are just a bit fed up with the standard of free books available on the kindle. Whatever the case, Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman, is impossible to put down and in my humble opinion, he was robbed of the Booker prize for it.
Harri, the 11 year old protagonist, is a Ghanian immigrant living with his family on a council estate. Moving between Harri’s adaptation to life in the UK and his small daily triumphs and tribulations and a broader perspective on modern-day gang culture, it is hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure. If you’ve not already, read it now before the TV series comes out. (the BBC have commissioned an adaptation directed by Adam Smith of Skins fame.)
2. Something your boyfriend/husband/dad/brother can borrow from you: The Other Hand, by Chris Cleeve, (published in America as Little Bee) is so good, so funny, so powerful, easy to read and yet so quirky and insightful into various issues, including that of working mums, that I find it very surprising that it was written by a man. This book will definitely spark discussions between you and whoever you’re on holiday with, so make sure you time the lending of it carefully – I finished it in one sitting and then stood over Mr C-S while he read it so that we could talk about it. Little Bee is a young Nigerian refugee who comes to England and stays with Sarah, a magazine editor and her Batman-obsessed son Charlie. I should warn you that it is also devastatingly sad at times, but the more beautiful for it. Oooooooh! Alert! I have just discovered that Chris Cleave has a new book coming out in a week’s time, called Gold, which is about Olympic Speed Cyclists. If you had said to me this morning ‘Gemma C-S, what is the one topic you are most unlikely to want to read a book about while you’re on holiday?’ That’s probably what I’d have answered. But now? Well, I’ll be outside the bookshop before it opens with sweaty palms (which isn’t actually an uncommon occurrence.)
3. Alternative reality science fiction aimed at teenagers, or, the new Hunger Games. Ugh. How many times lately is a book hyped as the new Hunger Games?! Too often for my liking. The Chaos Walking Trilogy series, by Patrick Ness, actually came out a couple of years ago, before HG, and for my (pocket) money, is better written and just as gripping.
It too is set in a dystopian world, it too features a strong male and female protagonist, and also deals with themes of war, good and evil, redemption and gender politics. In three volumes, it follows the story of Todd Hewitt and Viola Eade whose relationship unfolds against a society in turmoil. Oh, and it includes an incredibly loveable dog.
4. Crime fiction: Through my teen years I read crime fiction voraciously, the gorier the better. These days though I find my tolerance for American whodunnits has waned a little, and I’m more likely to enjoy something from this side of the pond. If you’ve never read them, can I recommend Kate Atkinson’s frankly phenomenal Jackson Brodie books, but entry number four on this list actually goes to the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith. Featuring a Scottish philosopher who occasionally dabbles as a sleuth, they are heart-warming and funny detective stories which feature flashes of razor sharp insight into the human psyche.
5. For those who were obsessed with Judy Blume as girls: Did you know Judy Blume has written for adults too? Travelling to Paris a couple of weeks ago I took Summer Sisters. It was a good, solid, engaging read and having a ‘new Judy Blume’ to pack in my case made me beyond happy. Following the friendship of Vix and Caitlin throughout their childhood and into their adult years, it has a distinct Jodi Picoult-esque flavour to the narrative with the authentic Blume voice which made us all devour books like Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret, and Deenie. Also, it’s mainly set during summer holidays on Martha’s Vineyard. Perfect summer reading.
Now, as I’ve said, this is just a tiny selection of what I’ve been reading this summer. Please leave us your suggestions of what to line up for or what to avoid!
What’s your favourite book of all time?
PS. If anyone’s interested, here’s the speed reading test I took, via Stylist Magazine.