EMC Summer Reads 2018
Apparently drawing on the author’s relationship with Philip Roth, this novel begins conventionally and ends quite differently. Split into two parts, both are equally enjoyable – in an enigmatic way.
Imaginative and experimental short story collection which wears its language (playfully) on its sleeve.
Family tensions over a single weekend in New York – great!
Brilliant and very, very weird. A father and son who are census takers journey across a nameless country from the town of A to the town of Z. All the while, the father knows he is going to die. The book is framed by the author’s actual experience of growing up with a brother with Down’s Syndrome.
Another sci-fi/speculative fiction novel but this time making clever use of chapters that jump thousands of years at a time. The novel charts the evolution of scientific experiment on a newly terraformed planet while the last few humans trek around the galaxy desperately trying to find a place to live before they finally expire. It’s clever, engrossing, bleak and funny.
Selection of gripping ghost stories set in and around English Heritage sites. Imaginative work by the likes of Mark Haddon, Sarah Perry, Kate Clanchy, Max Porter and Kamila Shamsie.
Translated from the German, an absorbing and elegiac story of three siblings growing up in the aftermath of a childhood tragedy
Experimental fiction which really works – a surreal and poetic novel created (mainly) from lines from other texts.
An easy beach read with a gripping premise and a twisty ‘who can you believe?’ plot. The denouement is inevitably a bit silly, but not enough to spoil the ride.
In this loose retelling of Greek tragedy Antigone, Shamsie creates a tense narrative that explores diverse family dramas of our time in five different locations: London, Massachusetts, Istanbul, Syria, Pakistan.
Superb first novel about slavery and beyond, an epic telling of the story of two young Asanti women, and the lives of all their descendents, from the villages of Africa into the present day diaspora. The New York Times called it ‘wildly ambitious’. Like their reviewer, I think that ambition more than paid off!
The first Grime novel? A vibrant new work narrated in five distinctive London voices. One for fans of NW – less polished than Zadie Smith’s book, but still filled with the energy of life in the capital.
Posthumously published collection showing that the author maintained his mastery of the short form right to the end. The opening story, for example, ‘The Piano Teacher’s Pupil’, narrates a whole life in a handful of pages.
Failing novelist Arthur Less embarks on a accident prone, anxiety-ridden world tour of lectureships, residencies and festivals as a way of avoiding the wedding of his former boyfriend. Low-key and funny (though it also made me want to re-read David Lodge’s Small World).
Ambitious, career-driven parents, the perfect nanny, two delightful children and a horrific murder – not a whodunnit but a whydunnit. A French best-seller.
A strange, quirky book that ended up really intriguing me and making me laugh, at the same time as offering a dark and rather macabre look at what it means to grow old and confront the reality of death.
Teasing apart history to show us behind the scenes of Chamberlain’s attempt to negotiate peace. A what-might-have-been – and really an insight into why it wasn’t. Very enjoyable page-turner.
Billed as ‘stories’, but these short pieces of writing all seem to belong to the same voice and build a picture of one woman’s eccentric life. Bennet has a beautiful turn of phrase, a sly sense of humour, and an ear for the poignancy of everyday existence.
A young woman ponders the possibility of motherhood, reflecting on her own childhood.
One of those unearthed masterpieces by a writer with an amazing pedigree as an editor – John Cheever, John Updike, Nabokov, Eudora Welty and Bashevis Singer were among his authors. I read and recommended The Folded Leaf on a previous list. This shorter novel has the same sense of sadness, yearning and regret of a young boy struggling to comprehend complex and troubling experiences. The evocation of 1918 rural Illinois is wonderful.
In true ‘Cheesy Peas’ style, if you like History and you like Bees, then you’ll love The History of Bees. It’s a multi-layered, overlapping, dystopian novel, not a million miles away from Cloud Atlas and offering the same sober reflections on science, human progress and the inevitable collapse of the world’s ecosystem.
A serious, sci-fi novel with a definite emphasis on the science bit. If you liked the film Arrival and – like one of the novel’s protagonists – feel like whatever aliens are out there they can’t do a worse job of living on this planet harmoniously than we humans currently do, this is the one for you.
Originally a short story, this novella follows the hard knock life of a 19th century American day labourer. Johnson is a bit of a ‘writer’s writer’ with an economical but compelling style.
A father travels through a winter landscape to collect his poorly son from university and reflects on his relationships with his other children. Amazing that such a slight novel, set mainly within a car, can contain so much.
An annual family celebration brings together a reflection of the ‘Troubles’ and its continuing impact, and a young woman, recovering from and reflecting on her own troubles.
Another gem from the Nobel prize-winning journalist. This time a series of first-person accounts from those involved in the Soviet-Afghan conflict of 1979-1989 – soldiers, mothers, doctors, nurses, wives and siblings. Harrowing insight into the realities of war, and a poignant reminder of a world not long left behind.
If you would like to finish the summer holidays a little better informed and a little more optimistic about the state of the world, I would highly recommend this book. You may not agree with all his conclusions, but Rosling’s carefully researched facts speak for themselves.
Wellcome Prize Winner 2016, neurologist tells tales of patients whose physical symptoms begin in the mind – a completely fascinating glimpse into the power of the mind and how much we still have to learn.
Medical case histories, written by a GP-writer and contextualised by literature and myth, Shapeshifters explores the changes (natural and inevitable, willed, celebratory and destructive) our bodies undergo as we progress through life.
It sounds like a tree-hugger’s manual, but this fascinating account of recent scientific discoveries will convince you that trees really do both ‘feel’ and ‘communicate’. A walk in the woods will never be the same again.
Manages to make you splutter with laughter and sob uncontrollably all at the same time. The medical profession had my sympathy before now, but this well-told memoir serves to reinforce what a terrifically rewarding and difficult job it is to work in the NHS.
To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death
By Mark O'Connell
A witty, sceptical and slightly terrifying foray into the world of transhumanists. Winner of the Wellcome Prize.
Children’s and YA fiction
Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, the story follows a heroine called Crow, who washed up on one of the Elizabeth Islands as a baby. A page-turning read with loveable characters, we follow her through adventure, peril and eventually discovery as she searches for her true identity.
In the YA superhero genre, this is a clever twist on the coming-of-age tale with plenty of humour. A nice take on teen angst and what it’s like to feel different from everyone around you. First in a trilogy.
One of those books that sucks you into an entire new world. Teens are excitedly recommending it to each other. It's big, but pacy, so could be a good one for building reading stamina. Start of a series.
Obviously Lucy Worsley knows her royal history and this is full of the tense atmosphere of the Tudor court. But in taking the perspective of a teenager, here the young princess Mary, she draws the YA reader right into this world.
A verse novel in which the central protagonist is visited by a series of people from his past as he descends in a lift towards the ground floor. At each floor, a new character enters and a new chapter begins. Structurally innovative and powerfully told. As recently recommended by Anne Tyler!
A verse novel set in the United States in which the narrator, Joe, must grapple with the implications of his brother being on Death Row – with his execution date coming ever closer. Powerful and thought-provoking.
A rousing call to the young feminist, cleverly disguised as a typical American teen girl book about high school cliques.
Falling angels, in Edinburgh? But really this is a book about how to deal with loss. Imagine Skellig for teenagers, with LGBTQ+ characters, and you have some idea.
Shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal and Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, this beautifully illustrated novel tells the story of an unlikely friendship between Frank and her ungainly classmate, Nick. Darkly poignant, moving and funny.
Ella moves into a new house and finds that dark secrets lurk in the abandoned children’s home next door. Part standard novel, part graphic story, this stunning book is also a brilliant introduction to intertextuality, with references to Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden, Rebecca and other classics threaded throughout.