Summer Reading“As a result of reading this book, my phone is now in a lead box at home and I will not be bringing it anywhere in the future.”

As heard on Today with Sarah McInerney

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Having someone pre-read a whole pile of books and tell you which ones are worth reading is like being treated at your favourite restaurant. Easy, delicious and it’s free. The literary food tasters on Today with Sarah McInerney were Rick O’Shea, presenter of Radio 1’s Book Show and Louisa Cameron, owner of independent bookstore Raven Books. If listening to the enthusiastic pair set you off in a panic of pen hunting or awkward mistyping on your phone, take a deep breath. Here’s the hand-picked selection of summer reading they raved about on the show.

With a morning of hard news interviews behind her, Sarah was looking for something light. Rick admits his first pick is not for the beach, but it is aimed at a mass audience. Rick explains that Rutger Bregman’s Utopia For Realists has become more relevant all of a sudden, as ideas like Universal Basic Income and a 15-hour work week have recently gained more credibility:

“It’s the sort of thing that makes unthinkable ideas thinkable and he has a lot of them in this book and it’s well worth your time.”

Next up is Shoshana Zuboff’s work The Age Of Surveillance Capitalism, and Rick says it’s a biggie:

“This is a monster; it’s a door-stopper of a book.”

Zuboff’s book traces the history of social media from information gathering, to targeted advertising to potential behavioural manipulation. Rick’s reaction to the book would make even the least paranoid person pay attention:

“As a result of reading this book, my phone is now in a lead box at home and I will not be bringing it anywhere in the future.”

Then it was over to bookseller Louisa for fiction recommendations. She began with The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. It’s the latest work by the award-winning novelist and author of All the Birds, Singing. Louisa was enthusiastic about the story of three interlinked women set across several centuries, and it packs a punch, she says:

“Underneath, it is simmering with rage at the psychological and physical abuse caused by toxic masculinity. It’s an absolutely amazing book to read.”

Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow also makes Louisa’s must-read list. From the author of An American Marriage, it’s about two sisters whose father was a bigamist. The sisters have conflicting perspectives on family life, which changes throughout the book. Louisa says the 1980’s Atlanta fashion references add particular flavour:

“The backdrop just has a rich cultural reference for readers who grew up then, and things like matching boob-tubes, which you don’t often get in a novel, but I really love that part of it!”

Anyone curious about the lesser-known aspects of Shakespeare’s personal life might enjoy Rick O’Shea’s choice of the novel Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell. The writer takes the true story of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, who died aged 11 and imagines how his death may have influenced the writing of the playwright’s best known work.  In case you think you’re in for a dry lesson, Rick is pretty clear it’s a cracker and worth a read:

“This is one of the best books of 2019 into 2020 and absolutely should be read by everybody.”

You could hear the smile in Sarah’s voice as talk turned to thrillers, and Tanen Jones’s The Better Liar. Louisa made it sound like a movie script: two estranged sisters must turn up together and in person in order for them to inherit anything from their late father. Problem is, one of them is dead – something that’s established at the start of the book. The live sister, hires a lookalike to stand in for her dead sister so she can claim the cash. Louisa describes the book as:

“An absolute page-turner, great drama.”

Other recommendations from Rick and Louisa include Jane Casey’s The Cutting Place, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by South Korean writer Cho Nam-Joo, Irish writer Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times and the latest novel by veteran Midwestern US writer Anne Tyler Redhead at the Side of the Road.

For young adults, they’ve picked out Sarah Crossan’s Toffee as well as I Capture the Castle, an oldie and a goodie from 1949 by Dodie Smith.

To round it off, Rick and Louisa recommend a few tried and tested classics to add to people’s summer reading lists: Frenchman’s Creek (1941) by Daphne du Maurier, The Summer Book (1972) by Tove Jansson, Dubliners (1914) by James Joyce and Bel Canto (2001) by Ann Patchett.

Local book stores around the country like Louisa’s Raven Books in Blackrock, County Dublin will be opening their doors again on the 8 June 2020, as will public libraries to limited numbers.

You can listen to Rick and Louisa talking books with Sarah in full here.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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