My definitive guide on what to read over the summer while you're at the beach or in the pool (and probably well into autumn, if we’re going to be realistic)!
I’ve picked out a wide array of books from my many and varied lists on Goodreads. These selections include an eclectic mix of major prize-winners, historical fiction, translated texts, classics, recent works, autobiography, a collection of essays, and more! And wow, it was hard to limit this list to 25 books (plus one bonus text), but at the end of the day, these are the ones that I want to read the most (and hopefully you will too!).
I’ve already read five of these books since I first created this list in December and as I work my way through the rest I’ll post a few reviews and ratings. In true academic fashion, I’ll be reading through a set of ‘lenses’ that interest me, such as feminist theory, post-structuralism, post-colonialism, leadership theory, as well as more ‘normal’ criteria – is it a good story? A decent read? Why or why not? What, if anything, did I learn about life and my place in it from the narrative? Would I recommend it and if so, why?
So, without further ado, here’s the list! There is no particular rhyme or reason to the order in which the books are presented, it’s a pick-and-mix of great stuff. It’s also worth noting that almost all the novels can be broadly classified as good quality ‘literary fiction’, no chick-lit or action thrillers here people! Click on the title to read a story summary from Goodreads.
Genre: Magical realism. This is a classic piece of translated literature by a Nobel Prize winning author from Colombia. I keep stumbling upon references to this book so I guess it’s finally time to find out why!
2. And the Mountains Echoed (2012) by Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Contemporary fiction. This is a harrowing story about a pair of Afghani siblings by the best-selling and top-rated Goodreads author, Khaled Hosseini. My copy has been sitting in a stack of books on my dining room table for the last 2 weeks and is probably the book I am most excited to start.
3. People of the Book (2008) by Geraldine Brooks
Genre: Contemporary/historical fiction. I love Geraldine Brooks (if this particular book doesn’t appeal, at least try her other novels, The Secret Chord or Year of Wonders)! And this novel has been recognised with multiple award nominations.
4. His Bloody Project (2015) by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Genre: Historical fiction. This book has been very well-reviewed by bloggers I follow and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year. I ended up buying it because I liked the title and thought it would appeal to Mitchel!
5. Interpreter of Maladies (1999) by Jhumpa Lahiri
Genre: Short story collection. Pulitzer prize-winning collection of interwoven short stories, some set in India and some in the United States, but primarily concerned with characters of Indian heritage.
6. A Fine Balance (1995) by Rohinton Mistry
Genre: Contemporary fiction. A cultural classic on India, nominated for multiple prestigious prizes – I gave a copy to my Dad for his birthday because I wanted to read it (yes, I am that self-interested hehe).
7. The Green Road (2015) by Anne Enright
Genre: Contemporary fiction. Set in Ireland, this family drama picked up multiple award nominations immediately on its publication. It also comes highly recommended from a trusted source.
8. I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (2013) by Malala Yousafzai
Genre: Autobiography (social justice). This seems like a good follow-on from Half the Sky (which I read last year) as it further explores the importance of fighting for women and girls’ education in oppressive and patriarchal cultures.
9. Eva Luna (1987) by Isabel Allende
Genre: Magical realism. A translated work by Chilean author Isabel Allende and winner of the American Book Award (1989). I read an interview with Allende and then went and purchased a whole pile of her books (#inspiration).
10. Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: Contemporary fiction. The latest novel from an award-winning feminist author. This book is very widely loved and well-reviewed. Adichie wrote my favourite little gem – We Should All Be Feminists (check out Esther’s review here), so it was about time I picked up her fiction.
11. Girl with the Pearl Earring (1999) by Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Historical fiction. Not a big prize-winner, but an incredibly popular and widely-read novel. It’s almost a sin I haven’t read it yet!
12. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) by Maya Angelou
Genre: Memoir. “Poetic and powerful” – this is a classic work that has been sitting on my bookshelf for far too long.
13. Mrs. Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf
Genre: Classic 20th century literature. Quintessential Woolf. It’s almost embarrassing I haven’t read this ‘day in the life of’ novel yet.
14. White Teeth (1999) by Zadie Smith
Genre: Contemporary fiction. The debut novel from one of England’s best and brightest young authors. Nominated for many, many literary awards. I’ve been meaning to pick up a Zadie Smith novel for a long time and decided her first is the best place to start.
15. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) by Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Contemporary fiction. A seminal text on ‘coming-out’ and winner of a major prize for best first work of fiction. This is not something I would naturally be inclined to read so it’s a bit of an ‘out of my comfort zone’ text.
16. Midnight’s Children (1981) by Salman Rushdie
Genre: Magical realism. Another cultural piece on India and the Man Booker Prize winner in 1981.
17. Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) by Jean Rhys
Genre: Classic. Jean Rhys re-writes Jane Eyre from the perspective of the madwoman in the attic. The novel has been labelled one of the top 100 British novels of all time and is also a major award-winner.
18. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley
Genre: Classic gothic fiction. Again, a classic must-read which has collected dust for far too long on my bookshelf.
19. Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy
Genre: Classic Victorian literature. All Hardy’s novels are amazing. Tragic. Beautiful. The End.
20. The Awakening (1899) by Kate Chopin
Genre: Classic – feminist fiction. Again, a classic piece of literature that is sitting on my bookshelf and deserves to be read. It’s also short, so that’s a plus!
Bonus: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by Erich Maria Remarque
Genre: Classic – war fiction. Hubby has told me I must read this book. The back reads: “In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.” I’ve just started reading and its heart-wrenching, I think this should be required reading.
What I’ve Already Read from the Top 25 List…
Proper reviews will follow soon I promise!!
21. My Name is Lucy Barton (2016) by Elizabeth Strout
Genre: Contemporary fiction. I’m in love with this little gem…one of my favourite quotes: “I have said before: It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down” (p. 95).
22. State of Wonder (2011) by Ann Patchett
Genre: Contemporary fiction/magical realism elements. I was left feeling a little bit ‘meh’ about after reading this book. Full review to follow soon.
23. The Wave in the Mind: Talks & Essays on the Writer, the Reader & the Imagination (2004) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Essay collection. I probably need to get this one out of the library again as I only skimmed it, but one of Le Guin’s key thoughts that stuck with me amid the busy Christmas season is this: “Children have a seemingly innate passion for justice; they don’t have to be taught it. They have to have it beaten out of them, in fact, to end up as properly prejudiced adults” (p. 53).
24. Wolf Hall (2009) by Hilary Mantel
Genre: Historical fiction. An epic novel about the Tudors and Thomas Cromwell which re-established historical fiction as a credible player in the literary field. Winner of the Man Booker Prize (2009). The second book in the series, Bring Up the Bodies, is also excellent.
25. Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams
Genre: Classic – fantasy. Rabbits! Even though I was deeply upset when I was 6 by the movie version (so much blood), I absolutely love this book. RIP Richard Adams.
What’s so special about this list?
Easy answer – nothing in particular. It’s not thematic, or focused, or bound by strict criteria (except for the ‘good’ literature tag). However, it is representative of my current interests. It includes 18 female authors, and 8 male authors (a fair balance methinks!), and several (about 9) translated works/stories set predominantly in non-Western counties. Three of these are by Indian authors and set in India – Midnight’s Children, A Fine Balance, and Interpreter of Maladies.
Why India? Well, firstly, my Mum was born in India and my Grandma and Grandad lived there for a number of years on tea plantations (see a short version of my Grandma’s story here) so I am quite familiar with the culture and locations (Kerala!). Secondly, due to my family history, I feel connected to India in some obscure, distant way. In my mind, this ‘relationship’ is complex due to the imperialistic nature of former British influence in India and my ‘whiteness’, if you will. I have no ‘claim’ to India, but I can’t help feeling an affinity. Still, I fell in love with Indian literature when I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (one of my favourite novels of all time, and winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1997), and so I can’t wait to experience and appreciate more of this rich and dynamic culture.
Currently, I only own only 15 of these 25 books so I guess a little shopping is in I order!