Tag: summer reading

Summer Reading Choices: John Grindrod

John GrindrodJohn Grindrod was born in 1970 in Croydon and still lives in South London. Last year he published Shouting at the Telly, a book in which a host of comedians, actors and writers wrestle with such weighty issues as:  Is Freddie from Scooby-Doo a colossal pervert? What does Howards’ Way tell us about the eighties? How do you win America’s Next Top Model? Which programmes do you only watch when you’re off sick?

 I spoke to John about the book for the Blackwell Online podcast when it came out. You can listen to it here.

Here are John’s holiday reading choices:

Wish You Were Here cover The most obviously summery book I’ve been reading has been Travis Elborough’s hilarious and hugely informative Wish You Were Here: England on Sea, a cultural history of seaside resorts and our national obsession with piers, paddling and penny arcades. Travis grew up in Worthing and his disdain for the place colours the book, but this is as much a reconciliation with his own seaside demons as it is a gloriously eccentric travelogue around England’s largely Georgian and Victorian pleasure palaces. It’s like Coast, only with lots more laughs, no wildlife and the best footnotes you’ll ever read.

Kynaston Family Britain coverI’ve also been slowly working my way through David Kynaston’s mighty Family Britain: 1951-57. I’ve read most of the post-war histories going, but I think this series might be my favourite. There’s so much charm and personal detail in these books, with diaries and letters illuminating everyday human stories alongside the major events of the times. How he’s managed to marshal such a range of material is a mystery: for me, only Juliet Gardiner comes close in terms of the detail of research and enthusiasm for the subject matter. There’s so many gems on every page, one of my favourites being his inclusion of Kenneth Tynan’s review of The Deep Blue Sea in 1952: ‘Kenneth More is our best answer to Marlon Brando so far’.

How I Escaped my Certain FateI have to mention Stewart Lee’s beguiling How I Escaped My Certain Fate: the Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian. It’s not the sort of book you’d ever expect to read by a comic, one where they mercilessly dissect three of their most popular shows and reveal the inspiration behind jokes and the telling of them. But if you were to pick a comedian who was up to the task, it would be Lee, who is famous for deconstructing his act on stage as he goes along. It’s a unique marvel, an intelligent, provocative insight into a perverse and often self-sabotaging mind.

Summer Reading Choices: Maria McCann

Maria McCannMaria McCann’s first novel, As Meat Loves Salt, set in the English Civil War was published  in 2000 to great acclaim. Her second, The Wilding, appeared earlier this year and was also very warmly received; the Guardian, for example, called it “taut and compelling” and the Independent a “tour de force”. It is set in the West Country during the Restoration, when a reckoning has to be made of acts committed during the turbulent time that preceded it and well-kept family secrets begin to unravel.

The paperback of The Wilding is out next month. You can listen to my interview with Maria in which she talk about writing the book by clicking here.

And here is her Summer Reading selection:

Oscar and Lucinda coverAt some point in the eighties, working as a library assistant in London, I came across Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda and the surreal image of a glass building floating away downriver has haunted me ever since. In those days, surrounded by library stock and with no work to do in the evenings, I read novels more or less when they came out, but nowadays my reading is much more chaotic and I’m forever catching up, so I was very late in reading Jack Maggs and only this summer did I get round to reading Theft. In each case, I was kicking myself for having waited so long and not thrown aside everything else for the joy of reading Peter Carey.

Theft is the story of Michael (‘Butcher’) Boone, a once-fashionable painter from Bacchus Marsh, Australia, and Hugh Boone, his damaged brother. One of the things I love most about Carey is his tender interest in misfits and self-destructive types, something in which he oddly resembles Thomas Hardy. The Boones are good examples of this interest, Hugh as an ‘idiot savant’ and Butcher as a frustrated yet cunning man caught between his upbringing and his aspirations (which are also his fears). The relationship between these physically strong, emotionally repressed men is essentially loving but fraught with tensions, wittily explored in their parallel narratives. Butcher has massive self-belief, an equally massive chip on the shoulder and a genius for antagonising anyone whose help he might need; Hugh’s account, bizarre and childlike as it is, often reveals his brother’s blind spots.

Theft Peter CareyInto this complex dynamic comes Marlene, beautiful and mysterious, with contacts in Japan and America that can revive Butcher’s flagging artistic career. What follows is compelling: a love story, a novel of suspense, an exploration of identity and art and much more, with a complex plot which constantly wrongfoots the reader’s expectations.

Butcher’s description of Marlene as ‘a lovely series of revelations which I prayed would never end’ can just as well be applied to Theft itself. To be honest, it may not be an ideal book for reading on the beach, but then I don’t like beach holidays. If you think of the holiday as a time when you can indulge in some undisturbed reading, it’s perfect.

Summer Reading Choices: Marcus Chown

Marcus ChownMarcus Chown is cosmology consultant of New Scientist. His books include Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, Felicity Frobisher and the Three-Headed Aldebaran Dust Devil and We Need to Talk About Kelvin, which has just been long-listed for the 2010 Royal Society Book Prize.

I interviewed Marcus about We Need to Talk about Kelvin for the Faber podcast. You can listen to the interview by clicking here.

Here are his summer reading selections:

Tash Aw coverIt is probably odd to recommend a book so far only half-read but I knew from the opening page that Tash Aw’s Map of the Invisible World was going to be special. The story of two orphaned brothers adopted by very different families, set amid the political turmoil of post-colonial Indonesia, its prose is rich and atmospheric. Reminds me of Graham Greene. Aw, a Malaysian writer based in London, deserves to be far better known than he is.

I had never before read anything by Rose Tremain but, after putting down The Road Home, I wanted to read more. The novel charts the experiences, of Lev, an Eastern European migrant in Britain, recovering from the death of his wife. It has so many lovely touches, like the depiction of a deeply depressing old people’s home transformed by the introduction of a little humanity and fun. This is a wise, humorous and ultimately uplifting novel.

Chris Cleave coverWhat can I say about The Other Hand by Chris Cleave? It is the most perfect book I have read for years and even bears comparison with To Kill a Mockingbird. Cleave’s Incendiary, about the terrorist bombing of Arsenal football stadium, was excellent but The Other Hand is on another level altogether.

A window on another world, where fear is the bedrock of life, it follows the fortunes of asylum seeker, Little Bee, inadvertently caught up in a war over oil in West Africa. One day on a remote beach in Nigeria, her life collides with Westerner Sarah in a truly traumatic way. The catastrophic and inevitable consequences echo down the pages of this book. This is a powerful, beautifully written novel, but it is also upsetting. It made me think: How can we treat asylum seekers this way?

Summer Reading Choices: Graham Farmelo

Graham FarmeloGraham Farmelo is Senior Research Fellow at the Science Museum, London, and Adjunct Professor of Physics at Northeastern University, Boston, USA. He edited the best-selling It Must be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science in 2002. His biography of Paul Dirac, The Strangest Man, won the 2009 Costa Biography Prize and the 2010 Los Angeles Times Science Book Prize.

You can listen to my interview with Graham about The Strangest Man by clicking here.

And here are Graham’s summer reading choices:

David Mitchell Cloud AtlasSummer reading seems to be synonymous with light reading. Not for me. These relatively quiet months often present the best opportunities to read challenging, off-piste books that I tend to put on the shelf invisibly marked “when I have time”.David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas has been there for too long. It took an appreciative review of his latest, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by the notoriously sniffy James Wood to nudge me into taking the plunge. I’m glad I did – though Cloud Atlas is not always easy to read, Mitchell’s virtuosity makes it strangely compelling. I’m still waiting to be moved, though.

Is it my imagination or are good scientific biographies becoming a bit thin on the ground? An exception is Oren Harman’s hefty The Price of Altruism, a cross between a biography of the American population geneticist George Price and a history of the origins of altruism. Here is a biography with intellectual bite, worth multiply rereading.

Ian Sample Massive coverThis is a good time to prepare for the Klondike of fundamental scientific insights soon to arrive, fingers crossed, courtesy of the Large Hadron Collider. Ian Sample’s lively Massive is a first-rate curtain-raiser. This is a science book you can read on the beach, as refreshing as a giant choc-ice but conscience-free: it makes light of heavy stuff. An ideal summer read.

Summer Reading Choices: Helen Rappaport

This is the first in a short series of summer reading recommendations from some of the authors I have interviewed in recent months. New posts will appear as they arrive.

Helen RapppaportOur first guest is historian Helen Rappaport. Helen studied Russian before becoming an actress, but in recent years she has developed a successful second career as an author, specializing in Russian history. You can hear my interview with her about book, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile on the Blackwell website by clicking here.

Here is her recommendation:

Girl with the Dragon Tatoo coverAs a historian in love with real people and real lives, and one who reads virtually no fiction – ever –  let alone contemporary fiction, I was totally gripped by the first two books of  Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy* like no other crime novels I have ever read. And for me that is saying something.

Why did they have such an impact on me? Simple: it’s all down to the brilliant, quirky, compulsive and utterly believable central female character, Lisbeth Salander, the best feisty heroine created by a male writer ever, in my humble estimation.

The Girl who Played with Fire coverAnd, weirdly, I just love all the technobabble about computers and hacking and the internet, probably because I am a Luddite who finds even laptops hard to work on. I am saving book three, like a guilty box of the very best chocolates, for hunkering down in bed with in the autumn.

* The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl  Who Played With Fire.