More book lists, from the Guardian

Sunny spells

Philip Roth for ‘pre-death
pleasure’; Jilly Cooper for wicked escapism; Seamus Heaney for poems by
the pool; or there’s a book about container shipping … writers and
critics recommend the best holiday reads

Saturday June 17, 2006
The Guardian

Monica Ali

I spend
July and August in Portugal, very far from any bookshops that stock
English-language books, so I always take a huge stack with me. I think
the summer holidays are a good time for revisiting the classics, so I’ll
be taking Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground (Hesperus) and The Idiot
(Penguin). I’m reading the brilliant new Penguin translation of War and
Peace at the moment and I’m torn between wanting to race through it and
saving it to read at a more leisurely pace on the terrace.

Last
Seen In Lhasa (Rider & Co) is an account of Claire Scobie’s
extraordinary journey and friendship with a Tibetan nun. It gives an
intimate and moving account of a way of life that is fast disappearing.
Two books I’m definitely saving for the holidays are Hisham Matar’s In
the Country of Men (Viking) set in 1970s Tripoli and Philip Roth’s
Everyman (Cape).

John Banville

For anyone who cares at all about literature, Lewis M Dabney’s Edmund
Wilson: A Life in Literature (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) is a
wonderful, meaty biography of the greatest American critic of the 20th
century. Wilson was the last of a great breed, his life as rackety as
his work was sublime. The Winner of Sorrow by Brian Lynch (New Island
Books), is a beautifully imagined novel based on the life and work of
the 19th-century English poet William Cowper: moving, illuminating and
funny. And this summer why not bring a poet to the beach? Robin
Robertson’s latest volume, Swithering (Picador), contains some of his
most ravishingly lovely work to date.

Julian Barnes

I am admiring the trenchant rationalism of Lewis Wolpert’s Six
Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Faber); Peter Porter’s new edition
of Lawrence Durrell’s Selected Poems (Faber), whose rich neo-romanticism
may endure better in verse than prose; and Stefan Zweig’s The World of
Yesterday (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), the autobiography of a passionate
and melancholy humanist.

Alain de Botton

I’m looking forward to reading Gabriel Josipovici’s new collection of
essays The Singer on the Shore (Carcanet). Also, I’ll be reading Edward
St Aubyn’s trilogy of novels, Some Hope (Picador), and as perfect
travelling reading, Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed the World, by
Brian Cudahy (Fordham University Press), which promises to explain most
things about modern industry. Tim Hartford’s book, The Undercover
Economist (Little, Brown), will hopefully correct my fear and ignorance
of his topic once and for all.

William Boyd

John Heilpern’s excellent life of John Osborne, A Patriot for Us
(Chatto & Windus), is both revelatory and disturbing. It paints a
portrait of an English writer who is as complex and tormented as Evelyn
Waugh. The class-driven personal reinventions, the role-playing, the
rage against the world and the self-loathing make Osborne, the man,
almost more fascinating than the work. Carmen Callil’s remarkable Bad
Faith (Cape) is an exemplary exposition of the sinister life of Louis
Darquier – Vichy France’s commissioner for Jewish affairs. A tour de
force and, one senses, driven by a need to bear witness, it shows how
biography can sometimes be the best history. As for that slim volume,
check out Fergus Allen’s Gas Light & Coke (Dedalus): 84 years young,
Allen writes poetry that is limpid, very subtle and marvellously wise.

AS Byatt

Carmen Callil’s Bad Faith (Cape) is a tale of terrible things – the
conduct of the demonic buffoon, Louis Darquier, and the persecution of
the Jews in the France of the second world war. Callil’s sardonic humour
and eye for detail make it a compelling read. Equally compelling is
Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française (Chatto & Windus), a recently
discovered novel written in 1942 before the author was sent to
Auschwitz. It describes the flight from invaded Paris with Russian comic
glee and a sense of the absurdly – but truly – tragic. I also intend to
read all the way through Christopher Logue’s masterpiece, War Music
(Faber), which I am always reading in bits. Classics to revisit? I have
been working on the 1890s and am just ready really to understand
Conrad’s achievement in Under Western Eyes (Oxford University Press).
And it’s time I reread Ford Madox Ford’s masterpiece – no, not The Good
Soldier – the great four-volume No More Parades (Kessinger Publishing,
US).

Carmen Callil

It will make me overweight, but I am half way through Tony Judt’s
Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (William Heinemann), and I
cannot put it down. Judt is such an elegant writer, evocative and wise
about everything, ranging from Czech cinema to punk rock, all this
brilliantly entwined around the history of everything we have lived
through in the past 50 years. The rest must be paperbacks: Arthur &
George (Cape) for its style and heart – a Julian Barnes version of
Dickens, which should have won the Booker. The rest will be thrillers or
crime novels. Two favourites have new ones: I shall wallow in the
company of Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander in The Man Who Smiled
(Vintage) and in Henry Porter’s Brandenburg (Orion) – he’s often
compared to John le Carré, but actually he’s in a class of his own.

Simon Callow

Dedalus have been steadily printing the novels of the astonishing
19th-century French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans (notorious for the
masterpiece of decadence, Against the Grain) and as a bonus have
reissued Robert Baldick’s classic biography, one of the most elegant,
stimulating and moving of all literary biographies, right up there with
Leon Edel’s James and George Painter’s Proust, revised and annotated by
Brendan King. The life and the work are equally compelling. Earlier this
year, I read, with deep emotion, a deliciously subversive children’s
book, The Book of Everything (Macmillan), by the Dutch author Guus
Kuijer, which, within its short span, very nearly lives up to its title.

Ariel Dorfman

Read Empire’s Workshop by Greg Grandin (Empire Books, US), and the
whole disastrous Bush adventure in Iraq suddenly appears as the logical
continuation of a century of US interventions in that sad laboratory
called Latin America. For a more fictional take on my native continent,
try Jorge Franco’s Rosario Tijeras (Seven Stories Press), the story of a
young Colombian contract killer. Rosario is a woman lost in the
violence of drug-infested Medellin, making love as if she were doling
out death, and she’s utterly unforgettable and, of course, utterly
expendable.

Dave Eggers

The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, by Peter Orner (Little, Brown,
US). This book, about a white American teacher in Namibia, has the same
sort of episodic structure, lyrical prose and completely hypnotic effect
as the novels of Michael Ondaatje. In Orner’s novel, the American and
his Namibian fellow teachers, stuck in a middle-of-nowhere boarding
school, all fall in love with a former guerrilla named Mavala Shikongo,
who’s just moved to town with her toddler. The men while away the time
torturing themselves about her unattainability, and through Mavala
Shikongo’s past we learn about the bloody history of Namibia. It’s a
gorgeously written book, very funny, and bursting with soul.

Antonia Fraser

The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicolson
(John Murray) would be ideal holiday reading and not just because of the
title – although that does mean that if necessary one could leave it
behind for the host with an appropriately flattering dedication. In
fact, it’s a serious historical work, the story of a so-called perfect
summer (when the sun did actually shine with phenomenal zest), which
included the coronation of George V but also enormous social unrest: all
this, and the beginning of the drama of the House of Lords, which has
still to be resolved. Nicolson writes with grace and humour; but allows
us at the same time to watch the shadows of the coming war lengthening.

Christopher Frayling

I’ll be reading Arthur Phillips’s wonderful comic novel/detective
story The Egyptologist (Gerald Duckworth) for a second time, because the
scattered clues only made sense in the last few pages. Also AN Wilson’s
A Jealous Ghost (Arrow Books), which is another labyrinthine tale –
this time about a research student becoming obsessed by Henry James’s
The Turn of the Screw, just right for the summer. And because I’ll be
going to rural Ireland, I’ll take Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses
(Harvill Secker) a much-admired Norwegian novel beginning with painful
memories of a summer in the country in 1948, seen through the
perspective of middle age. And, for last thing at night, a boxed volume
which will probably tip the scales into excess baggage, The New
Annotated Sherlock Holmes – the novels edited by Leslie S Klinger
(Norton): the old stories given the design, the layout and the
annotations they so richly deserve.

Mariella Frostrup

I won’t be surprised to find Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn
(Picador) on this year’s Booker shortlist. A compelling and disturbing
story about a man struggling to measure up to adulthood and family life
while locked in a continual battle with demons from his past. Peter
Carey’s Theft: A Love Story (Faber) – my book of the year so far, the
rollercoaster adventures of two Australian brothers fuelled by a raging
passion for life and art. Jay McInerney’s follow up to Bright Lights Big
City (Bloomsbury), ironically titled The Good Life (Bloomsbury) and set
on and around 9/11. Can’t wait to hit the beach and gorge on Bella
Pollen’s new novel, Midnight Cactus (Macmillan) about a British mother
fleeing a bad marriage who finds herself embroiled in dodgy dealings on
the Mexican border.

Francis Fukuyama

My recommendations all concern the question of how poor countries can
be made better off. Jeffrey Sachs in The End of Poverty (Penguin) makes
an impassioned plea for dramatically increased aid on the part of rich
countries, and there is no doubt we can and should do better. But
William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden (Penguin, US) points to many
reasons why this isn’t so easy. You can follow this up with some
gripping on-the-ground accounts of the misadventures of foreigners in
poor countries, like Michael Maren’s account of Somalia in The Road to
Hell (Free Press, US) and Peter Griffiths’s story of Sierra Leone in The
Economist’s Tale (Zed Books).

Timothy Garton Ash

The Harvard-based Indian economist Amartya Sen has produced a
wonderful, richly personal book-length essay on Identity and Violence
(Allen Lane), dismantling the claim that strong identities must be
single, exclusive and defended by violence. In The Politics of Everyday
Life, the Italian-British historian Paul Ginsborg (Yale University
Press, US) argues, with lots of vivid detail, that participatory
democracy is an essential complement to representative democracy. Then
two larger essays in history: Michael Burleigh’s Earthly Powers: The
Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe from the French Revolution to
the Great War (HarperCollins) and Julia Lovell’s The Great Wall: China
Against the World 1000 BC-AD 2000 (Atlantic). And Philip Roth’s Everyman
(Cape) for pre-death pleasure.

John Gray

John Cowper Powys’s Wolf Solent (Penguin Modern Classics) is one of
the great 20th-century novels, and despite having read it many times
I’ll read it again. Powys renders the flow of human consciousness with a
subtlety some have compared with Proust; but this is Proust out of
doors in a magically transformed English landscape. Chris Petit’s The
Passenger (Simon & Schuster) is a metaphysical thriller in which
James Jesus Angleton, for many years CIA head of counter-intelligence,
is used as a cipher for the shadowy conflicts of the cold war. Will
Self’s The Book of Dave (Viking) is set partly in the chaos of Blairite
London around the millennium and partly in a post-apocalyptic future
shaped by climate change and nonsensical religion. A visionary fable
that is somehow more believable than the starkest realism, it’s also
extremely funny.

David Hare

The British novel is such a sexless thing – laughable descriptions of
love-making – that it’s exhilarating to find Sarah Waters has the
imagination, the technique and the temperament to create characters
whose sexuality expresses their innermost lives. The Night Watch
(Virago) makes real the suffering and death of the Blitz. I also found
Lee Server’s life of Ava Gardner (Bloomsbury) completely convincing: a
woman careless of what she had, then missing it more than she knew. Very
moving indeed.

Alan Hollinghurst

Three years ago the young urban historians Edward Denison and Guang
Yu Ren published an eye-opening book on Asmara, the Eritrean capital
built largely by the Italians and retaining a high proportion of its
stylish modernist buildings. Now, in Building Shanghai: The story of
China’s Gateway (Wiley), they have turned to a city in which any kind of
architectural conservation is a rare and reluctant miracle. Shanghai
has grown by 40% in two decades, to well over 20 million, and its recent
history provides a breathtaking case study in urban growth shaped
entirely by politics and money, with almost no intervention of
enlightened urban planning. But the building history of China’s most
westernised and commercial city has always been astoundingly volatile.
This is a riveting book, which fills one, like the city itself, with
simultaneous feelings of exhilaration and despair.

Kazuo Ishiguro

Black Swan Green (Sceptre), David Mitchell’s beautiful novel of
growing up and learning to accept the fragility of the world, shows he
can do subtle, slow and moving every bit as well as he did dazzling and
mind-boggling in past works. Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française,
written as Nazi tanks rolled across France, captures the chaos, fear,
humiliation, and very occasionally, the courage of the French, as well
as portraying the complex emotions that developed between occupier and
occupied. The story behind this novel, and Némirovsky’s own fate, make
for a heart-breaking coda.

David Lodge

I’ve just started the second volume of The Journals of John Fowles
(Cape) and intend to take it with me to France this summer. It’s the
kind of book you can put aside without too much of a wrench, to do
something more active, and pick up again in the certainty of finding
before long a thought-provoking observation, a juicy bit of literary
gossip, or a passage of eloquent misanthropy. A more genial (and
portable) writer’s journal is Simon Gray’s The Year of the Jouncer
(Granta), which begins with a very amusing account of a Caribbean
beach-hotel holiday. How does he make the minutiae of his life so
entertaining? I think it’s the combination of honesty and wit, two
qualities rarely found together.

Alison Lurie

Helen Simpson’s new collection, Constitutional (Cape), is the perfect
book to take on holiday. Any of these wonderful, marvellously
perceptive stories can be read on a short plane or train ride, and will
give you lots to think about as you wait for your luggage or the rental
car. Another possibility is Clair Hughes’ Dressed in Fiction (Berg), a
fascinating analysis of what classic authors were telling readers when
they described their heroes’ or heroines’ costumes – information that
has often been lost over time. When you reach your destination and won’t
be interrupted, try Philip Roth’s downbeat but brilliant new Everyman
(Cape).

Gerard McBurney

With a shout of excitement, the other day I reached the last page of
Jonathan Keates’s magnificent The Siege of Venice (Chatto & Windus),
which treats a horrifying episode of 19th-century history with a
novelist’s eye for balancing a sweeping story with amazingly fruity and
lurid details. Books on the go at the moment include Orhan Pamuk’s Snow
(Faber), which I started reluctantly but now find more and more
engrossing, and Hugh Aldersey-Williams’s Findings (Lulox Books), a
beady-eyed study of the weird language, lies and politics hidden behind
some of great scientific breakthroughs of the last century.

Hilary Mantel

It’s hard to think of more refreshing summer reading than Virago’s
six reissues of novels by Elizabeth Taylor. With fresh covers and new
introductions, they should bring a whole generation of readers to this
clever, sensitive, very English writer. Her easy, soignée style seems
made for warm days and long evenings; try A View of the Harbour, Blaming
Angel, and – of course – In A Summer Season. In August, look out for
Andrew O’Hagan’s exceptional new novel, Be Near Me, to be published by
Faber.

Pankaj Mishra

Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (Hamish Hamilton) is an
extra-ordinarily powerful portrait of the mean, obscure lives that hold
up our globalised world. This makes it sound like a very serious book.
But it is as witty as it is politically astute and emotionally wise.

Many foreign journalists in China venture into writing books. But
Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones (John Murray) achieves an emotional and
intellectual intensity that one usually associates with fiction.
Patiently following the lives and preoccupations of his former students
as they migrate to the coast, fall in and out of love, find and lose
jobs, Hessler creates a vivid and complex picture of a society in rapid
transition.

Deborah Moggach

I would recommend three wonderful books about exile: Mourid
Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah (Bloomsbury), which describes the poet’s
return to Palestine after an enforced 30-year absence; the next is
Caroline Moorehead’s Human Cargo (Vintage), which follows refugees
through Finland, Cairo, Afghanistan – in fact, across the world. A third
extraordinary book about displacement, this time here in Britain, is
Alexander Masters’s Stuart: A Life Backwards (HarperPerennial), the
story of a homeless alcoholic whose life unravels, back to front. It’s
terribly funny, as well as being unsettling in the ways one would
expect, and some of the ways one wouldn’t. I’ve belatedly discovered
Sarah Waters, having just read the fantastic Night Watch (Virago). Now I
can take all her earlier novels with me on holiday. What a treat in
store. I shall also read some Clare Boylan short stories, to remember
her by; she’s just died, at the tragically early age of 58, and I loved
her as a person and a writer.

George Monbiot

I bought The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips (distributed by Green
Books) to learn how to manage my orchard organically. But I was soon
lost in its riveting complexity and began to read it almost as I would a
novel. The wonderful thing about fruit trees is that you never reach
the end of the story. Every variety has different requirements –
sometimes quite unexpected. People who have devoted a lifetime to the
art still make strange discoveries. Phillips draws on centuries of
knowledge about planting, pruning, pollination, propagation, pests and
picking, and adds his own novel observations. But he finds time too to
allow the quiet beauty of running an orchard to shine through.

Blake Morrison

“The staked earth quaked and shivered in the handle”: like the
sledgehammer he describes early on in District and Circle (Faber),
Seamus Heaney’s new poems strike home and send a shiver down the spine.
John Burnside’s memoir A Lie About My Father (Cape) is a big book about a
violent, alcoholic, small-time dad, memorable for its refusal of easy
blame: “My problem wasn’t just that I couldn’t win my father’s approval
but that, even if I had, I wouldn’t have wanted it from him.” With Dave
Eggers, Nick Hornby and Geoff Dyer among its contributors, The Thinking
Fan’s Guide to the World Cup (edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey,
Abacus) is the perfect half-time read – and will still be worth having
when the tournament is over.

Audrey Niffenegger

I’ve decided to freak myself out about eating, so I’ve been reading
Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Search for the Perfect Meal
in a Fast-food World (Bloomsbury) and a book by Peter Singer and Jim
Mason, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (Rodale Press, US).
Pollan’s book is convivial, creative and deeply disturbing at the
beginning, though he does offer hope. Singer and Mason follow three
American families through their daily eating rounds, and then show us
how those meals impact on culture and environment. Singer (of Animal
Liberation fame) is trying not to preach, but I had the feeling that the
authors very much wanted to leap out of the book and shake me. The
books have certainly changed the way I think about food.

Orhan Pamuk

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism – Ethics in a World of
Strangers (WW Norton) is a very readable and well-written philosophical
book. It is an attempt to redefine our moral obligations to others based
on a very humane and realistic outlook and love of art. “What do we owe
strangers by virtue of our shared humanity?” is the central question
this sensitive book explores. I felt like a better person after I read
it, and I recommend the same experience to others.

Don Paterson

Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle (Faber) has been hailed as a
“return to form”, just like every book Heaney has published in the past
25 years; I wish someone would tell me when it was, exactly, that he
lost it. Hugo Williams’s Dear Room (Faber) is a spare, radiant,
heartbreaking book; more and more these days, Williams reads like an
English Cavafy. Noam Chomsky’s forthcoming Failed States (Hamish
Hamilton) looks pretty essential, as does Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse
(Allen Lane); those who have not yet read Palast’s incendiary The Best
Democracy Money Can Buy (Constable & Robinson) should do so
immediately. Afterwards, you might want to take the edge off the rising
panic with Graeme Gibson’s fascinating, sumptuously presented Bedside
Book of Birds (Bloomsbury).

Tom Paulin

I’ll be heading off with Elizabeth Bishop’s Edgar Allan Poe and the
Juke-box (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux). These are her uncollected poems,
drafts and fragments and there is controversy in the United States over
whether these orts of a deeply revered poet should ever have been
published.

Jeremy Paxman

The book that has amused me most in the past few months is Charles
Nevin’s Lancashire: Where Women Die of Love (Mainstream Publishing), in
which he attempts to unravel the singular charm of the wrong side of the
Pennines. It is full of lovely anecdotes and some rather good jokes.
Richard Holmes’s Dusty Warriors (HarperPerennial) is a vivid first-hand
account of a batallion’s tour of duty in Iraq, from what it feels like
to come under mortar attack to the ghastly portaloos and the hazards
posed by the locally engaged base pervert, “Dodgy Bob”. It makes you
rather sympathetically proud. The politicians so keen to send them
should read it.

Craig Raine

Strangers in the House (Random House, US) is Dorothy Gallagher’s
successor to How I Came into My Inheritance and Other True Stories
(Picador). Wry, intelligent, unsparing, ironic, truthful, Gallagher is
the most moreish of writers – in the category of Ritter Sport marzipan
or Pringles. Or the perfect Martini. Or morphine. One of those
addictions you would happily indulge to the point of death. I will be
finishing Jonathan Keates’s impeccably researched, dashing history of
The Siege of Venice (Chatto & Windus) in Venice.

Ian Rankin

I’ve just got hold of Jilly Cooper’s latest novel Wicked (Bantam
Press) – and will try to abstain from dipping into it until the summer
hols. Perfect escapist entertainment to accompany me to a lodge house on
Scotland’s north-west coast. Fat as a goose, the book should see me
through the fortnight. If it doesn’t, I’ll turn to Elmore Leonard’s
Complete Western Stories (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). I’m a huge fan of
his crime fiction, but he started out writing for cowboy magazines, and I
look forward to tipping my stetson in the direction of this generous
volume.

Frederic Raphael

I’m not much of a one for “light reading”, which usually maddens more
than it amuses. I favour taking one fat volume that’ll last more than a
few hours of sporadic attention. Clive James’s essays, The Meaning of
Recognition (Picador), are solid but never stodgy and have an
unmistakably Jamesian zest. William Boyd – Bamboo (Hamish Hamilton) – is
another essayist sparkling with variety and intelligence. I am getting a
little like Byron’s friend Samuel Rogers, who said, “When I hear of a
good new book, I rush out and buy an old one.” I envy people who haven’t
read Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma (Penguin) because Fabrizio
del Dongo and his adventures will come freshly to them.

Simon Schama

First, Howard Jacobson’s tour de force, Kalooki Nights (Jonathan
Cape, out in July). Growing up Jewish in Manchester: socialist
improvement hikes; meshuggene frummies (don’t ask, read). You don’t have
to be Jewish to love this book, just human. Then Gary Shteyngart’s
spectacularly antic (and very fat) Absurdistan (Random House). His gift
for the language begins with perfect pitch for street talk – homies,
Latinas, hoods and hos, but it whizzes through the culture from Brooklyn
to St Petersburg (or Leninburg as he likes to call it) with a kind of
mischievous frenzy that leaves no one standing. It’s the best American
comic novel since The Confederacy of Dunces. If you want a gentler ride,
as the sun sets over that last Bellini, something beautiful and true,
read Myriam Cyr’s wonderful Letters of a Portuguese Nun (Miramax); the
loveliest and in its way, deepest, history for a long, long time.

Helen Simpson

My list includes two collections of short stories – Bernard
MacLaverty’s Matters of Life & Death (Cape) and Jackie Kay’s Wish I
Was Here (Picador); two biographies – Maggie Fergusson’s George Mackay
Brown: The Life (John Murray) and Hilary Spurling’s Matisse the Master
(Hamish Hamilton); and two books recently published in paperback –
Hermione Lee’s essays on life writing, Body Parts (Chatto & Windus),
and Geoff Dyer’s meditation on photography, The Ongoing Moment
(Abacus). I’m also tempted to reread my favourite Elizabeth Taylor
novels as they’ve just been reissued by Virago Modern Classics.

Iain Sinclair

For months I’ve been reading nothing but Hackney: lost novels,
desktop polemics. To escape the rude noises from the eastern margin, I
prescribe WS Graham’s New Collected Poems (Faber) and New Selected Poems
by Vernon Watkins (Carcanet) – the marine glitter of the west –
Cornwall, the Gower Peninsula – in language that is alert, in play,
balanced like the old stones. Better than a holiday.

Marsha Keith Schuchard, in Why Mrs Blake Cried (Century), exposes a
forgotten visionary/sexual underworld. Scholarship with the momentum of a
detective story. Chris Petit’s The Passenger rewires the conspiracy of
official history in a fast-twitch thriller. David Seabrook is another
who appreciates that the dead are the best ventriloquists. Jack of Jumps
(Granta) is a close-to-the-flesh vamping of hidden files and forensic
memories.

Jon Snow

Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer (Times Books, US), is a brilliant journey
charting America’s involvement in “regime change” from Hawaii in 1893
to Iraq in 2003. Instructive, reads like fiction, but is packed with
devastating fact; brilliantly timed to remind us that it wasn’t only
George Bush who thought overthrowing other people’s evil dictatorships a
wizard wheeze. And Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories (Faber) is one of
those rare books in which the author’s intonation rings in the reader’s
head, funny, sad, acutely observational, but heavy on the cabin baggage
allowance.

Hilary Spurling

Judith Moore’s memoir, Never Eat Your Heart Out (Profile), has a
sumptuous surface glitter with harsh undertones of pain, fear and
rejection, all spelt out in terms of food prepared, cooked and eaten.
The young mother making apple butter with her little daughters contains
deep within her the adolescent who spent a whole hot, lonely summer
coaxing melons to grow out of an urban dirt patch, and the child who
watched her demonic grandmother bleed and butcher pigs before pickling
their parts. The Sunlight on the Garden by Francis King (Arcadia),
reveals another magician at the height of his powers in these
melancholy, cool and subtle stories.

Joanna Trollope

To my surprise I find it’s two non-fiction books that grab me this
summer. The first is Frank Gardner’s account Blood and Sand (Bantam
Press), of his long love affair with the Middle East, which culminated
in being gunned down in Riyadh two years ago. He tells the story of his
ordeal with admirable freshness and is refreshingly clear about the
politics. The other book is Juliet Nicolson’s account of the legendarily
hot months of 1911, The Perfect Summer (John Murray). It’s hugely
interesting, a portrait of a spoiled society teetering on a precipice
both nationally and internationally. It’s also – and this is a
compliment – as page-turning as a novel.

Alan Warner

Apparently fewer than 300 people in Britain buy the work of new
poets. Depressing. Poems are great to read on the beach; you can look up
and people-watch more often. Derek Walcott is very beachy but try new
blood, such as John Stammers’s Panoramic Lounge Bar (Picador). No matter
how bad your hotel or the buffet, you’ll be cheered by Daniel Kalder’s
Lost Cosmonaut (Faber): Calvinistic accounts of the bleaker Russian
republics make dour tourism very funny. Novel: try Cold Skin by Albert
Sanchez Pinol (Canongate), genuinely creepy; Edgar Allan Poe meets John
Carpenter.

Sarah Waters

Recently someone introduced me to the work of Iranian comic-strip
writer Marjane Satrapi, and I’ve become a huge fan. The two Persepolis
books (Cape) are wonderfully compelling accounts of growing up female in
Tehran during the Islamic revolution; the recent Embroideries (Cape) is
an entertaining, gossipy look at sex and romance, Iranian style. The
only problem with these books is they go too damn quickly. I’m still
feeling glum about having finished Hilary Mantel’s novel Beyond Black,
too (Harper- Perennial). The story of a stage psychic and the various
demons and nasty half-memories with which she’s, literally, haunted,
it’s a brilliant modern gothic, utterly dark and very funny. But the
book which has had the biggest impact on me recently is A Woman in
Berlin (Virago), reprint of an anonymous diary written during the fall
of Germany in 1945. The diary gives us women’s experience of war and
invasion – of air-raids, of hunger, of fear, of rape and of desperate
sexual dealing. There is horror here, but there is also humour, as the
likeable diarist draws an astonishingly optimistic picture of life among
physical and moral chaos. It’s a humbling, jaw-dropping, fascinating
read.

Jacqueline Wilson

Sarah Waters’s The Night Watch (Virago) is the perfect book to take
on holiday. It’s a literary tour de force, complex and subtle and very
moving, but so easy to read you can lie back in the sun and simply enjoy
it. The tale is told backwards, so the moment you’ve finished the last
beautiful paragraph you have to turn immediately back to page one. Two
readings of a 440-page novel should last you for a very happy week. It’s
a mesmerising evocation of the 1940s – the fear and exhilaration and
high drama of the war and its bleak aftermath. Waters is a keen Doctor
Who fan. Perhaps she has her very own Tardis because she writes about
war-torn London with such stunning assurance.

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