After weeks of arranging and rearranging piles, I’ve decided on the following books for my 20 books of summer, a project that runs throughout June, July and August, and is hosted by Cathy at 746books (a total of 6,432 pages, which means reading 70 pages a day on average, which I expected to be a bit tricky):
- Annabel Lyon, Consent: This is the second of my book club’s two recent choices (the first was Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times). I put all the titles of the novels longlisted for the Women’s Prize into a hat and picked two at random – on video so there was evidence that I didn’t cheat and simply substitute my own favourites! Despite all this my first pick was resoundingly rejected (How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps the House by Cherie Jones, on the basis that it would be “depressing”). So we’re reading Consent, though it doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of laughs either! FINISHED, review here.
- Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: Liz has been rereading and reviewing Anne Tyler’s work in its entirety this year on her blog, and I meant to read this one in time to participate and didn’t, but I can at least read it over the summer. I can’t remember if I’ve read this particular Anne Tyler before – I did read most of her books in my 20s, and have carried on reading almost all her subsequent books as they have come out ever since then. FINISHED, review here.
Annie Ernaux, Les Annees/The Years: I keep meaning to read books in French to preserve/revive my knowledge of the language, evidence of which was last seen in about 1998. I own the French language version of this book, which was shortlisted for the Booker International, and I’ve borrowed the English language version from the library for if (when) I get stuck.I got halfway through the Annie Ernaux book, which was clever but deathly dull, and swapped it for A Children’s Bible by US writer Lydia Millet, review here.
- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things: I started this book back when it won the Booker in the 90s, but didn’t give it much of a chance before giving up. My mum recently read it and recommended it, so I thought perhaps it was time to give it another go. Maybe I’m older and wiser now? FINISHED: Review here.
- Caryl Phillips, A View of the Empire at Sunset: A fictionalised account of the life of the author Jean Rhys, who I’m endlessly intrigued by.
- Christine Dwyer Hickey, The Narrow Land: Winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction last year, about the artist Edward Hopper.
- Daniel Kehlmann, Tyll: Short-listed for the Booker International last year, I like Kehlmann’s mordant humour, although this book is based on the character of a trickster from German medieval folklore, so I hope I don’t find it too bewilderingly obscure. Kehlmann’s style is typically very readable though, so I’m not too worried. FINISHED, review here.
- Deborah Levy, Real Estate: The third and final part of Levy’s work of “living autobiography”, which has just been released. I loved her erudite, emotionally intelligent and compulsive earlier instalments, which reference philosophy, gender politics and the nature of writing, interlaced with a wry sort of humour. FINISHED, review here.
- George Saunders, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: My first non-fiction work from the Booker-winner, this is a book that accompanies the reader on a close reading of several classic Russian short stories, based on a class taught by Saunders at Syracuse University as part of the Creative Writing MFA that he heads up. Looking forward to this one, I love unnecessary homework (shame I didn’t love homework when it counted, I would have got better A levels).
- Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: This book was everywhere about 10 years ago, and I can’t remember how long it has been languishing on my shelves for, unread. Time to read the damn book! Apparently Bowie was a fan, and that’s good enough for me. Read and my review is here.
Maria Stepanova, In Memory of Memory: A Russian novel shortlisted for the Booker International and published by the always beautifully produced Fitzcarraldo Editions.Swapped for Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (Germany).
- Olga Ravn, The Employees – A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century: Another book shortlisted for the Booker International this year, this short experimental sci-fi novel is structured as a number of witness statements put together by a workplace commission investigating an incident aboard a space ship. As far as I can tell! FINISHED, review here.
- Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy: Much-lauded and comedic memoir by the writer who has been dubbed the “poet Laureate” of Twitter. FINISHED, review here.
- Patrick DeWitt, Under Major Domo Minor: I loved The Sisters Brothers, and I have had this sitting around for a loooong time. I don’t know much about it but I’m hoping it retains the dark humour of the earlier novel.
Rose Tremain, Islands of Mercy: My lovely friend Polly gave me this gorgeous hardback when we met for drinks in the freezing cold in April, and I’m determined not to let it malinger on my shelves as I have always enjoyed Rose Tremain’s work.Swapped for Kei Miller’s poetry collection The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, review here. Steinunn Sigurdardottir, Yo-Yo: An award-winning book of betrayal and friendship by a prominent contemporary Icelandic writer. I picked this one up secondhand from the excellent Oxfam bookshop in Herne Hill and have been meaning to get round to it for ages.I started this one and hated it, so have swapped it for another Icelandic novel, Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón
- Svetlana Alexievich, Last Witnesses: Unchildlike Stories: I bought this book in February but haven’t been able to quite face it it, as it is basically reportage of Soviet children’s experiences of the Second World War. But Women in Translation month in August and committing to it here might be enough to give me a nudge. READ, review here.
- T. C. Boyle, Talk to Me: I’ve had a fascination with animal language studies since I studied linguistics at university, and later found documentaries such as Project Nim gripping. This book follows the travails of a professor of psychology and his sign language-using chimp. READ, review here.
T. C. Boyle, The Terranauts: Another Boyle, following eight volunteers selected to take part in a televised ecological experiment, enclosed in a glass dome in the desert. The novel was inspired by real events in the early 90s.Swapped for Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto. READ, click link for review.
- Witold Szablowski, How to Feed a Dictator: Szablowski has tracked down the former chefs to Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro and Pol Pot to reveal (I hope) some interesting insights.