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The sun is shining (occasionally), the beer gardens are open, and language students and tourists alike are still bewildered by the idea of not getting their change back when paying their bus fare. Welcome to the Irish summer! Because we are fierce literary and all that, we can often be found with a book in hand. Or on the oul’ Kindle. Or as an audiobook on our phones or tablets.
With approximately twenty bajillion books being published per year, it’s tricky to figure out what to choose. And the pressure is often on – from bookshop displays and media coverage – to pick something brand-new, even though many readers are likely to have a teetering, judgemental ‘to be read’ pile dating back to the last millennium (no? Just me?). Where to begin?
The thing about summer reading is that it looks different for everyone. For some, it’s an opportunity to kick back with a swoony romance, while for others it’s a chance to sink into a dense biography they’ve been waiting to get their teeth into all year. Do you want something that will have you eagerly turning the pages, or something to savour? Something with characters who will lodge themselves firmly in your heart, or something tackling an important issue already close to your heart?
Decisions, decisions. Here are a few suggestions for you, separated into convenient categories – happy reading!
“I would like something literary and cool, please. Something to tell the office book club about.”
The book that everyone’s talking about is Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which seems like it’s going to be about another sad divorced man having feelings and shenanigans but then takes a clever swerve. Definitely check that out, but also consider Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise, in which teenage drama students are intense at one another and then – well, another clever swerve. Some delicious playing with narrative here. And don’t forget Karen Havelin’s Please Read This Leaflet Carefully, a searing and beautiful account of living with chronic illness while making a life for oneself, told in reverse chronological order – my favourite debut of 2019.
“I would like something literary and Irish, please. But new and not Joyce, cheers.”
You’re in luck – the latest Faber anthology of new Irish short stories, Being Various, edited by Lucy Caldwell, came out this summer. But do also keep an eye out for Doreen Finn’s evocative Night Swimming, set in a 1970s heatwave and focusing on the loss of innocence, and William Wall’s vibrant and passionate Suzy Suzy. Irish lit ledgebag (official title) Kevin Barry has a new book out too, Last Boat To Tangier, and you can find Julian Gough’s engaging Connect out in paperback now as well.
“Can I have a pleasing beach read? But something that treats me like I have a brain too.”
Kate Davies’s In At The Deep End is a hot and delicious account of a 20something lesbian discovering her sexuality, but also looks at abusive relationships and how easy it is to fall under the thrall of a charismatic lover. Irish YouTuber Melanie Murphy demonstrates her longstanding passion for writing with an immensely readable tale of a woman who can view her own alternate lives, If Only, including some hilarious lines. Finally, rom-com queen Jenny Colgan delivers once more with The Bookshop on the Shore, featuring that delightful trope of governess-falling-for-the-stern-father in modern-day Scotland.
“I’d love a good psychological thriller, so I would.”
And what a time to want such a thing! Do check out Emily Ruskovich’s Idaho, winner of this year’s Dublin Literary Award, for a fascinating exploration of psychological thriller tropes that ends up venturing into an exploration of memory and landscape. And of course the legendary Laura Lippman’s new title, The Lady In The Lake, offers up some brilliant commentary about journalism and women in its 1960s setting.
“Yeah, yeah, could I have an actual straightforward psychological thriller please? Not these ‘engaging with’ other stuff titles?”
Oh, right. Jo Baker’s The Body Lies merges crime fiction with the campus novel, and is particularly interesting on the different ways in which the students on the course write about dead women. Lisa Jewell’s The Family Upstairs looks at inheritance and poisoning of relatives – as you do. Alice Feeney’s I Know Who You Are will have you frantically turning the pages, or pressing down on your e-reader.
“I’d like some non-fiction to improve myself. Any suggestions?”
Well, the fact that you’re thinking about holiday reading as an ‘improving self’ topic tells me you may need to read Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s Burnout, which explores the many ways in which women are infinitely more likely to be exhausted by current society than the menfolk. (Men-types feeling affronted, take a look at Matt Haig’s non-fiction work for sensitive exploration of how much pressure is put on men in the world these days.)
“OK, OK, I’m not burned-out, what else would you recommend?”
Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women explores the ‘data gap’ in terms of how statistics are gathered about how things work, and why it is terrible being a woman in the world – but in a calm, non-strident way with a lot of suggestions for the future and examples of how gathering data appropriately has effected meaningful change. Mary Cregan’s The Scar looks at mental illness, specifically depression, from both a personal and historical perspective. And if you need a reminder of the biggest elephant in the room, No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference is a collection of climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s speeches.
“So, it’s summer and I hate my body and –”
I hear you. Bryony Gordon’s You Got This is ostensibly for teens but really is beneficial for everyone, a sensible account of what it means to live in the world with a heavily-judged body. Sofie Hagen’s Happy Fat is also worth checking out here, as is Nicola Morgan’s Body Brilliant (another one aimed at teens but useful for all of us). And it’s not coming until September, but Oonagh Duncan’s Healthy as F*ck is incredibly sensible on weight loss (and why we want to achieve it and what the costs are).
“I want something that sweeps me into a whole other world.”
Elizabeth ‘Eat Pray Love’ Gilbert’s City of Girls invites us into the world of 1940s New York theatre and is a gorgeous jewel of a book that explores what it means to be a ‘good girl’ – or not. Jennifer Weiner’s Mrs Everything similarly ventures back into the mid-20th century in its account of womanhood, with her trademark honesty and style. And Hilary McKay’s The Skylark’s War is a children’s novel with the feel of a classic, a tale of the First World War that will stay with you.
“I would like a witchy queer tarot-and-Virgin-Mary-referencing YA novel set in Ireland, please. Ideally featuring twins.”
Well, that’s specific. And you’d think books with these elements would have to be pretty similar instead of incredibly, wildly, beautifully different. But no – what an example of how the zeitgeist tosses things into the air and how they are caught in diverse ways. Deirdre Sullivan’s Perfectly Preventable Deaths turns ‘sexy older vampire boyfriend’ tropes on their heads with her beautiful, lyrical and funny prose; Moira Fowley-Doyle takes us through a family curse, fatal fires, and Magdalene laundries in her elegant All The Bad Apples; Sarah Maria Griffin gives us haunted houses in the Dublin mountains with the dreamy Other Words For Smoke. If you’ve a sense that young adult fiction is simplistic, any of these titles will set you right.