One of my favourite types of conversation starts with a wistful gaze into the middle distance and the sentence: “yeah… I really need to find some good books to read”. Let me help, I want to say! What do you like? Have you read The Song is You, Come to the Edge, Let the Great World Spin, One Day, The Time Traveller’s Wife?
And then there’s a whole load of great new books out just this year. I’ve never been so up to date on my reading before; I have the Kindle to thank for cheaper prices on books that would otherwise only be available on hardback, and also my wonderful local bookstore for introducing me to new authors. So, if you’re looking for a book to take with you to the park on Bank Holiday weekend or the beach on Labor Day, allow me to recommend a few, in (rough) order of lightest to most literary.
The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs, by Dana Bate
After a semester of slogging through Russian classics like Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment, I was desperate for something light, fluffy, and fun. I also love fiction set in DC – in fact, that’s generally the only light and fluffy book I allow myself. This book was the perfect chick-lit-for-someone-who-doesn’t-read-chick-lit novel. Its UK title, by the way, is The Secret Supper Club.
Elizabeth the First Wife, by Lian Dolan
I read Helen of Pasadena just after I went to LA for the first time a couple of years ago, and surprised myself with how much I enjoyed an easy romantic book like that one. So when Elizabeth was published just in time for this year’s California trip, I couldn’t resist. Shades of handsome movie stars and political types did not hurt, either.
The List, by Karin Tanabe
I’m cheating slightly, because I actually read this one during the winter. Right in the middle of Crime and Punishment, in fact; I was desperate for some light relief. I found this one in Politics and Prose, just as I was itching for some light(er), DC-based fiction, and it didn’t disappoint. It had me chuckling audibly on several occasions – the voice is fun and articulate and the story is engaging, and I need you all to read it so we can talk about how we feel about Adrienne, the heroine. Or is she a heroine? See? That’s what I mean.
Forever, Interrupted, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I fell in love with this book on page 1. It’s hot off the press this past July, and tells the story of Elsie’s grief after she loses her husband, Ben, just days into their marriage. (No spoiler!) Alternating chapters tell of their relationship and of Elsie’s gradual healing and life after Ben. The writing is a pleasure to read and it’s a moving story, even for a slight cynic such as myself. Then again, the doomed love story is my specialty, so maybe that explains why I liked this so much. Seriously, though – I think it was my favourite read of the summer. Loved it.
The Sea Change, by Joanna Rossiter
Full disclosure: the author is a friend of mine, and I’ve been vicariously living through her Facebook posts on the way to publication and beyond. One day, one day… Anyway. The Sea Change is one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club picks this year (kind of like Oprah, but less glam), and they describe it thus: “a haunting and moving novel about a mother and a daughter, caught between a tsunami and a war”. And although I mostly read it in bed, I’ve seen it on a beach, so I know it can be read there too.
The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
This is a heftier tome, great to sink into during a flight and extensive beach sessions. Six friends meet at summer camp in the 70s and we follow their lives over the next four decades. Recommended for book clubs – there is a ton of stuff to discuss. Though in the meantime, you can listen to a discussion of it on Slate’s Books Podcast.
The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg
Funny, moving, and very Jewish but also totally accessible to everyone, this gem of a novel follows the impact on a family of a woman’s chronic over-eating through the points of view of various members of her family and community. “That doesn’t sound like a light read,” my friend said skeptically when I recommended it to her, and sure, it’s not chick lit, but it’s definitely not depressing or heavy. It’s moving, insightful, and warm. It will make you hungry, though – you have been warned.
Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell
Set during the Great British Heatwave of 1976, this novel opens with the disappearance of Richard Riordan from the home he shares with his wife of 40 years. Their three grown children come to London to help with the search, and we get to know each of them and their lives and the many secrets they conceal. The characterisation in this book is superb.
So there you have it. And since 8 is a lot for anyone to get through in what’s left of the summer (unless you live in California, in which case it’s summer all the time – not that I’m jealous or anything), let me whittle it down to the four I enjoyed most: The List, The Middlesteins, Instructions for a Heatwave and Forever, Interrupted.
How about you? Any favourites from 2013 to recommend?