What to Read Right Now: Summer 2017

Dublin-born Sally Rooney was working in a restaurant when, one day, she walked out. It was a fortuitous decision. Already a fledgling writer, she channeled her focus into her novel, Conversations with Friends (Faber). Following the story of two best friends whose bond begins to fracture when one of them embarks on an affair with an older man, her work explores the ambiguity of relationships and the fluidity of emotional connections in the modern world. Sparking a seven-way bidding war, with Faber emerging victorious, the rights have now been sold across 12 countries, and Rooney can steer clear of café work for the foreseeable future.

In A Life of Adventure and Delight (Faber), Akhil Sharma focuses on family rather than friendship. Charting the gossamer bonds between mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands and cousins, the award-winning writer probes the (sometimes shudderingly grim) unpredictability of feeling with a skilfully delicate candour. Journalist Stuart Heritage’s latest book also pivots around the familial but, named Don’t Be A Dick, Pete (Square Peg), is titled with less sensitivity, and boasts markedly more sass. A memoir focusing on fraternal ties, it is an unconventionally uproarious take on what it is like to have a brother whom you love, but, oddly, have absolutely nothing in common with.

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In 2014, journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about her frustrations with the way that discussions regarding race and racism in Britain were being led by those unaffected by it. Her piece, entitled “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”, went viral, and she was inundated with responses from those desperate to speak about their own experiences. Energized, she decided to dig a little deeper. The result is her same-titled book published by Bloomsbury, which is aimed at offering a framework for how to see, acknowledge, and counter racism. “Readers tell me that my work has given them the language that they need to challenge the injustice they see around them,” she says. “I’m really glad that it works as a tool.”

Another journalist–The New Yorker’s Elif Batuman–also has a new novel: The Idiot (Jonathan Cape). Following a Turkish-American student at Harvard, it is largely set in a Hungarian village and, as a vigorous look at student love, it also poses sweeping questions about the formative impact of language and culture, examining how we are shaped by the words we speak. Love, or lack of it, also lies at the heart of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (Vintage). A syncopated arrangement of 240 prose poems collected across three years of slowly dwindling grief and heartbreak, it centres around the colour blue and how it helped to heal Nelson’s pain.

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For those after something a little more lighthearted, photographer Alice Hawkins’s cacophonous book Alice’s Adventures (Thames & Hudson), made up of a collection of gaudy, glamorous shots, moves on a hyperbolically visual trip around the world, jumping from Texas to India to Nairobi. “Alice Hawkins has the audacity that fashion photography needs,” says Nick Knight, approvingly.

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Twenty years after her Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things—famously described by John Updike as a “Tiger Woodesian debut”—Arundhati Roy’s fanatically awaited follow-up, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Penguin), dissects life in post-Partition India through the lens of two characters: a transgender woman and a trained architect. Teeming with a dissonant cast of characters, reality is unflinchingly jumbled into the plot, veering the narrative far from the territory of pure fiction.

If this shattered, kaleidoscopic story sounds too histrionic, then Vintage has published a series of short, bite-sized minis that might be right, proffering extracts of essential writing from some the world’s greatest authors. From Haruki Murakami on Desire, to Nigella Lawson on the corporal pleasures of Eating, to Roger Deacon on Swimming, the range of 20 texts has all your essential summer needs neatly sorted.Isobel Thompson

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