Thursday 26 May 2011

My list of summer reads, or books to take on holiday

It's that time of the year when we're all beginning to think about our summer holidays. (While the rain beats down the windows behind my desk...) I usually leave the book buying to the last minute, but this time, since I'm now a professional bookseller, I thought I'd get a head start.

The first novel on my list is set in LA. The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who travels from London to Venice Beach to attend her mother's funeral. Amongst her late mother's possessions she finds a suitcase full of love letters and photographs of the men her mother had known.  She decides to return each letter to its sender. It sounds like a brilliant read - just what's needed on a beach holiday!

Stop press: Anna Stothard is coming to talk about this book at England's Lane Books on 14 June. Details of the event can be found here.

I am a self-confessed Mad Men addict. So much so that my current phone ringtone is the theme tune from the cult HBO TV series. It doesn't make me answer my phone any quicker, and I sometimes find myself listening to the tune forgetting to answer all together - but I digress. When I saw that Rona Jaffe's The Very Best of Everything was written in the 1950's and tells a story of four women working in a Manhattan typing pool very similar to the one in the offices of Stirling Cooper, I had to get the book. The novel was regarded as scandalous when it came out in 1958, and is even mentioned in the show. So as the saying goes, if you liked Mad Men, you'll love....I cannot wait to read this book.

My next recommendation is a crime thriller. I do love a good Scandi crime book on holiday (not that I'm at all biased...) and The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler is famed for being just that. The story behind the writers of this book is almost as intriguing as the book itself: for a long time no-one in Sweden knew who Kepler was, until one persistent reporter found that behind the best-selling novel was in fact a married couple, Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril. I will be reviewing this book on my other site.

Next on my list is a novel by Tim Pears. I saw Pears, to me previously unknown writer, read from his book, Landed, at Shoreditch Literary Salon last week. Landed is a story of a man's life, narrated by him in some point in the future. It's an interesting method to use; while the story unravels in the 1980's the future world of the narrator is unknown to us. The bit that Tim read to us at Shoreditch Salon was also very funny so I'm really looking forward to getting to know this writer's work.

A book I'd saved for my holiday but couldn't resist starting is Lucky Break by Esther Freud. This is a sad and funny book which follows a group of young actors through drama school and onto their first successes and failures. Esther started out as an actress herself, so the book has an authentic feel. I'm really enjoying it so far.

Maggie O'Farrell is an author I, for some strange reason, have never read. When I heard her read from her latest novel, The Hand That Held Mine, I became completely smitten by her writing. The novel starts with a young girl, who, yearning for a more exciting life, leaves her genteel parents in the country and moves to bohemian Soho in post-war London. It's a story of what it is to be an artist and a mother, and if the few passages which O'Farrell read at Shoreditch are anything to go by, this is a must read of the summer.

Gerard Woodward has long been a favourite writer of mine. His brilliant Booker listed novel, I'll Go to Bed at Noon, was funny and disturbing portrait of a family coping with alcohol abuse. So I am really looking forward to reading his latest book to come out in paperback, Nourishment. This is an imaginative wartime tale of a woman whose children are evacuated, her husband is a prisoner of war and she's forced to live with her irascible mother while - to help the war effort - working at a London gelatine factory. When she receives a letter from Donald asking for a dirty letter, by return post, she's aghast but out a marital duty and with the help of book shops, libraries and public conveniences, decides to master the language of carnal desire. Again, I cannot wait to read this book!

Last but not least I am going to recommend a book of novellas by an old master, Stefan Zweig, an author who took his own life in 1942 at the age of 61, cutting his writing career tragically short. A couple of years ago for the Babington Book club I chose his novel The Post Office Girl, published post-humously, and fell in love with his writing. This collection of Selected Stories includes his most powerful novellas. It's the perfect book to have handy for a long journey, when you can dip in and out of Zweig's captivating world.

I hope you like my recommendations and tell me what you think. Happy reading!


Marta G. (A Bilingual Baby) said...

Thanks for the recommendations! Stefan Zweig is the only author you mention I know, very good writing!
Best regards from Barna,

Rachel V said...

Dear Martha, I have just launched a blog called with a focus on European culture and would love to feature your summer read post on my blog, with your permission.

Unknown said...

Dear Rachel,

You are most welcome to feature my blog post as long as you post a link to my blog too..;-)

I'm glad and flattered you liked it so much you want to quote it.

Helena xx

Rachel V said...

Thank you Helena no problem, I will link back
to your blog.

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear Helena, I love your recommendations. I have added all of these to my list. They sound great. The only one I have is Esther's book which hasn't been opened yet.

Hope all's well with you xx

David Kessler said...

I'm pleased to see that there were no Dan Brown books on the list. But what about Umberto Eco? He's a bit more up-market, intellectually speaking.

Unknown said...

Christina, I finished Esther's book a week or so ago and enjoyed it a lot. It was a great antidote to The Great House by Nicole Krauss, which was also good but so, so serious.

David, Sadly, I've never read Umberto Eco. I will have to rectify that.