I’m having a go at Cathy’s (746 Books) 20 Books of Summer challenge for the third year running! I’ve never yet managed to read AND review all 20 books, so perhaps this will be the year I have a breakthrough. The challenge runs from 1st June to 3rd September, though I usually cheat by including the whole of September.
My Twenty Books
Each with a one-line plot summary, then a one-line summary of why I’ve chosen it.
- American War: Omar El Akkad. This debut ‘is set in a near-future United States of America ravaged by climate change in which a second Civil War has broken out over the use of fossil fuels.’ [Wikipedia.] The premise sounds intriguing, and it was recommended in the Guardian’s best books of 2017.
- Sick: Porochista Khakpour. ‘An honest, beautifully rendered memoir of chronic illness, misdiagnosis, addiction, and the myth of full recovery that details author Porochista Khakpour’s struggles with late-stage Lyme disease.’ [author’s website] I love medical fiction and non-fiction, and I’m especially interested in the often misdiagnosed chronic illnesses that predominantly affect women.
- Negroland: Margo Jefferson. A memoir of life among upper-class black Americans in Chicago, ‘a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.’ This has been recommended everywhere, plus I’m fascinated by a memoir that deals with this often-forgotten group.
- How To Survive A Plague: David France. The history of a grassroots movement of activists who halted the AIDS epidemic, inspired by France’s documentary. This was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017, and I’m fascinated by the idea of a history of medical activism.
- Heads of the Colored People: Nafissa Thompson-Spires. Electric Literature says that ‘Nafissa Thompson-Spires brings to life a funeral singer, a suicidal girl, and middle-class mothers in this debut [short story] collection.’ I love ultra-contemporary short stories, and this comes recommended by George Saunders.
- An American Marriage: Tayari Jones. ‘Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South… [when] Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit.’ [author’s website] Again, I’ve been hearing about this everywhere, and the prose looks incredible.
- Educated: Tara Westover. The Guardian calls this ‘a coming-of-age memoir that chronicles a young woman’s efforts to study her way out of a tough childhood in Idaho’; my attention was caught by the first line of the blurb, ‘Tara Westover was seventeen when she first set foot in a classroom.’ As an historian of education, I have to read this, and embarrassingly, have been talking so much about it that several of the people I’ve ‘recommended’ it to have got round to reading it before I have!
- The Growing Season: Helen Sedgwick. It’s the one sentence pitch: set in a world where anyone can now have a baby through the use of a pouch, the book explores how this might affect gender relations. I had mixed feelings about Sedgwick’s debut The Comet Seekers, which featured in my last 20 Books of Summer, but have high hopes for this one.
- The Heart’s Invisible Furies: John Boyne. This follows the story of Irishman Cyril Avery from 1940s to the present day, cut adrift in the world and trying to work out where he belongs. I wasn’t really up for reading another doorstopper about historical gay oppression, but the universally rapturous reviews have persuaded me to give this a go.
- Let Go My Hand: Edward Docx. Larry Lasker is terminally ill. He decides that he has to make things right with his three sons on a road trip across Europe. I heard Docx read an extract of this while he was still writing it and found it hilarious, though what I remember doesn’t connect at all with the blurb!
- Exit West: Mohsin Hamid. ‘In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet… [when] familiar streets [turn] into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price.’ [Goodreads] I like the promise of exploring questions of migration through a speculative conceit, and as I’ve already read 4 out of 6 of the 2017 Booker shortlist, I’m tempted to read this one as well.
- Places I Stopped on the Way Home: Meg Fee. ‘A beautiful memoir from an exciting young writer, Meg Fee, on finding her way in New York City.’ [Waterstones.] I heard about this on Naomi’s blog, and I’m keen to read writing by women finding their way in their lives at the moment.
- Built: Roma Agrawal. ‘A chatty unravelling of surprising stories behind our built environment by the engineer and campaigner for women in engineering.’ [Guardian.] After listening to my friend (who’s a structural engineer) talk about her job, I’ve realised that I’m much more interested in how buildings are put together than I thought I was.
- Painter To The King: Amy Sackville. ‘This is a portrait of Diego Velzquez, from his arrival at the court of King Philip IV of Spain, to his death 38 years and scores of paintings later.’ [Google Books] I loved loved loved Sackville’s debut, The Still Point, and liked her second novel, Orkney, very much, so this is a must-read for me.
- Rosewater: Tade Thompson. The start of a SF trilogy set in a futuristic Nigeria, this focuses on government agency worker Kaaro, who defies his bosses to investigate an alien entity that has formed a biodome under his city. While I don’t really get on with Nnedi Okorafor’s writing, her novels have inspired me to read more Afrofuturism, and this sounded fascinating.
- Tiger, Tiger: Johanna Skibsrud. A Canadian short story collection that touches on a number of speculative themes, including a scientist trying to resurrect an extinct tiger, futuristic museums and inhuman memories. I heard about it on the other Naomi’s blog, Consumed By Ink.
- The Trauma Cleaner: Sarah Krasnostein. The story of an Australian trans woman who has been a sex worker, drag queen, businesswoman and spouse, and has now become a ‘trauma cleaner’. On my TBR list since I read Elle’s review.
- Sophia of Silicon Valley: Anna Yen. ‘A comical novel about one woman’s journey storming the corridors of geek power’ [author’s website], this has been compared to The Devil Wears Prada. Sounds like a bit of a a guilty pleasure, and I love the cover.
- Rainbirds: Clarissa Goenawan. I highlighted this as one of the books I was most looking forward to in 2018. Ren Ishida has almost finished his degree at Keio University in Tokyo when he hears that his sister Keiko has been stabbed to death in a small town outside the city. Heading to Keiko’s home, he finds himself becoming increasingly involved in the mysterious life she left behind.
- Forward: Lisa Maas. A graphic novel about two lesbians dealing with the end of a relationship. I have only ever read one graphic novel, for 20 Books of Summer 2016 (Evie Wyld’s Everything Is Teeth, which I loved) so here continues my very slow education.
The statistics: As for 20 Books of Summer 2017, 50% of my books are by people of colour, to help me meet my 2018 goals. 30% are by men, a figure that lines right up with my normal reading habits. And 35% are non-fiction, largely reflecting my growing interest in memoir.