Is it just me, or does everyone suddenly become bookworms as soon as the days get warmer and summer strikes? As a literature student myself, I love to see it. Whether it is making the most of the long evenings with a cuppa and a book in the garden, or tucking into a novel as you sunbathe by the pool or beach, I have rounded up a list of some of my current faves. Amongst my recommendations are books and authors that you may have heard of, but also writers you probably do not know, but most definitely should. Within the world of contemporary literature, postcolonial and queer voices are finally getting heard and their writing not only bears social significance, but challenges the way we understand fictional stories. From dramatic fiction to get you out of a reading rutt, to books beautiful enough to double up as decor; poetic portrayals of the mundane, and literature to inspire you to write yourself, this list of recommendations is guaranteed to level up your choice of texts and the way you read them.
The tear-jerker: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
I first read A Thousand Splendid Suns when I was studying English Literature for my A-Levels, and I was beyond excited to delve into this novel after being recommended Hosseini’s writing multiple times (particularly for his other well known novel, The Kite Runner). While this international bookseller is already hugely popular, I could not help but put it at the top of my list. Hosseini, being an Afghan man himself living in America, portrays Afghanistan in a way which reads as hauntingly personal. The narrative explores the life and development of fifteen year old Mariam, and exposes us to the stirring and heart-rendering realities of femininity in the Middle East. Periodically following the Taliban’s take-over of the country, this novel is not just evocative and encapsulating through its use of story-telling and language, but cleverly educational.
Crime Fiction: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Another personal favourite of mine, Flynn’s Gone Girl is in a league of its own in terms of gripping characters and addictive drama. This multi-perspective novel demands its readers to trust the villains of the story, even when we have been conditioned to trust narrators the most. Flynn’s writing style makes it easy for the reader’s imagination to flick between people, space and time, and reading Gone Girl feels just like you are watching the action unfold before your very eyes because her description and detail is that good. The characterisation is unmatched to the point that you may even put this book down and question the people you love in your own life. Other books by Gillian Flynn, Dark Places and Sharp Objects, are just as gripping. Gone Girl was also transformed into a film in 2014 if you want more of this story even after the pages run out.
Post-colonial Writer: Summertime by J.M Coetzee
South African writer J.M Coetzee is obsessed with challenging the boundaries of fictional writing. Published in 2010, Coetzee created a masterpiece by naming his main character after himself, John Coetzee. Through a series of diary entries, interviews, reports and possible memoir, the most important question this novel demands is how much of this novel is fiction and how much of it is non-fiction. This groundbreaking novel explores love and hate between people, and a compelling relationship to South Africa. Summertime is serious and edgy while also full of personality and humour, which makes you want to trust this book, no matter how unlikeable Coetzee makes himself to be.
Dystopian science: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Science fiction and fantasy are not amongst my favourite genres of literature, but the social reality behind the magic in Butler’s text somehow managed to connect with me. She disguises her awareness of the effect of climate change with Lauren’s magical powers (to feel other people’s pain) except this dreaded black cloud over Lauren’s world is inescapable. In Butler’s construction, violence and crime rises, hurting and affecting the people Lauren loves most. There is a sense of apocalypse throughout this whole novel which will keep you on the edge of your seat, and encourage you to route for Lauren as the only one able to save the world with her powers. Butler thus makes us consider our own powers to save the world and the social crisis(s) we have at hand.
Short Fiction: Why Don’t You Stop Talking by Jackie Kay
This collection by the Scottish, lesbian, adopted author Jackie Kay, is unapologetically and humourously written from experience. Her stories are full of themes of family, love, sex and places, but the deeper meanings are embedded behind poetic portrayals of mundane scenarios and experiences which are unavoidably relatable. Amongst the story titles are ‘Big Milk’, ‘Trout Friday’, ‘Shell’, and ‘Making a Movie’, all of which are equally enticing and the narratives are just as curious about society as we readers are. Kay constructs human interactions and digs into character’s mentalities in a way in which you would expect to be impossible in such a few words. If you have never read a collection of short fiction before, let this be your first, and allow yourself to immerse into quick snippets of nostalgia, sadness, contentment and comfort.
Non-Fiction: Writing Down the Bones – Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
I was introduced to this pocket guide in my first year of studying English at university, and let me tell you, it is like a little bible of bliss and aid for anyone keen to get into writing practise themself. If you are eager to put down the books and write your own, this book is essential. With chapters on prompts, exercises to practise, and tips for searching for inspiration, Goldbergs advice is inspired by writing as being meditative in nature. The title of her book alludes to the idea of really tapping into that voice in your head, and truly getting to the soul or the bones of the writer within all of us. Some memorable advice includes allowing yourself to write “junk” and not stop your hand from scribbling on the paper. Whether you want to write poetry, a memoir, fiction or even a shopping list, Goldberg encourages us all to develop our own style and voice to write in.
Contemporary Fiction: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Klara and the Sun is another dystopian science-fiction novel, published in 2021 by nobel prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro. It is a story about a young girl named Josie in near-future America, who buys an artificial friend called Klara who aids her into adulthood as an observational companion. With overtones of sickness and the dangers of technology, this novel cleverly demands its readers to consider humankind’s relationship to each other, nature and the mechanical world. What I loved most about this novel is the characterisation of Klara as somewhere between human and robot, and the way in which her emotions and ability to learn develop as the story unfolds (but also sometimes fail).
Coffee-table book: Grayson’s Art Club – The Exhibition by Grayson Perry
Who doesn’t love a chunky non-fiction book to stick on your coffee table and use as decor, a placemat, or mid-evening entertainment? Especially when it is fun, full of colour, and so current to the modern history we have all experienced in the last few years (I won’t use that dreaded C-word). Grayson Perry’s project Art Club sprouted during the pandemic for a Channel 4 TV series of the same title. He asked members of the public to send in artworks they had created at home, with each week’s episode having a different theme including ‘Animals’ or ‘The view from my window’. The book is an exhibition of these artworks, also featuring art from professionals including Antony Gormley, and celebrity comedians such as Harry Hill and Noel Fielding. This book is bound to put a smile on your face because it turns a time in our lives that we are possibly keen to forget, into something colourful and memorable, with blank pages and stickers to encourage you to unleash your own creativity.
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