Ah, summer. The New Year. The smell of hope, and resolutions in the air.
This is the time in which you promise yourself that you’ll get back into reading again and actually be consistent with it this year. You may even ask a friend to join you, to keep each other accountable. And then it hits you: the true enormity of step one in the task ahead – simply choosing a book. Suddenly, all hope is lost, and resolutions are abandoned as the busyness of the year well and truly starts to settle in.
Well, fear not, dear readers! It is I, your unemployed, with-nothing-better-to-do-than-inhale-books-with-alarming-speed-not-seen-since-my-youth, fairy godmother/bookworm here to recommend some of the best reads I’ve devoured in recent times, that are perfect for the poolside or beach.
Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
I’m sure you’ve seen the hype about this everywhere, but it is rightly deserved. Such a Fun Age follows the fallout after Emira, a black woman, is suspected to have kidnapped the 3-year-old child she babysits.
Although it’s told in the third person, Emira is a completely likeable and relatable protagonist, and her strong and almost telepathic relationship with toddler Briar is a real bright spot in the book. Flashbacks of Alix – Briar’s mother – are woven throughout to deepen the motivations behind this almost-antagonist, and reveal complexities of the status relationships in the book. Not only does Such a Fun Age give a dazzling commentary on the American Liberal White Saviour Complex that has plagued race relations in recent times, it’s witty and relatable, and a true snapshot of feeling suspended in indecision in your twenties. It strikes the right balance of light-hearted and deeply complex that’s perfect for a summer read.
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Pretty much any list of book recommendations I give will invariably have P+P on it. Austen’s incomparable wit and fascinating characters will completely transport you to the English countryside in Regency times, no matter which beach you may be laying on. If you don’t already know, Pride and Prejudice is THE blueprint of the enemies to lovers trope, and boy does Austen do it well. Who knew there could be so much erotic tension in a glance across a room, or a conversation over chess? The book tells the story of the Bennett family, whose mother is desperate to get her daughters married off. Lizzie, the protagonist, is the OG feminist queen, who is funny, smart, and not really bothered with the whole marriage thing. Lots of hilarity, dancing and ‘turns about the room’ ensue when eligible bachelor Mr Bingley takes up residence in Netherfield Park with his seemingly cold friend Mr Darcy.
Pride and Prejudice not only will give you bragging rights as a ‘serious’ reader, but is a great opportunity to listen to the audiobook chapters for free on YouTube with a dapper British narrator, to help do all the heavy linguistic lifting.
Living on Stolen Land – Ambelin Kwaymullina
It would be remiss not to include a First Nations author on this list, as personally I’m trying to be more consciously inclusive of whose works I read, but also because no matter where you’re reading in Australia, the land belongs to First Nations people. Living on Stolen Land is unlike any other book I’ve read, and was lovingly gifted to me by my Secret Santa last year.
I would describe it as a poetry-prose manifesto, which takes readers through the journey of the Aboriginal peoples’ connection to the land and the heartbreaking violence of colonisation. It’s a short book, but filled with such a sense of spiritual wonderment, culture and history, that I could look around at all the natural surroundings and feel an even greater appreciation for the land and our ancestors who nurtured it for thousands of years.
Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney
If you’ve read Normal People, or even watched the HBO limited series, you’ll be familiar with Rooney’s trademark skill of being seemingly able to crack open your chest, pull apart your heart and reassemble it to feel things in such a way you couldn’t before. Conversations with Friends is Rooney’s debut novel, and while the general consensus is that it’s not as good as her sophomore novel Normal People, I stand firmly in the minority that liked it just as much, or even slightly better.
The book follows the intersecting lives of a married couple, and two best friends/ex-girlfriends – Nick, Melissa, Frances and Bobbi. While I didn’t necessarily always understand – or even like – narrator Frances’ actions, the intoxicating chemistry and complex history between the characters always compelled me to keep reading on. It is the perfect blend of old and new relationships, of coming together and veering apart, and it had me questioning my morals for rooting for some pretty unethical behaviour. And, as a bonus, you can pretend you’re also in the South of France at the beach, along with them.
Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies – Kitty Flanagan
I don’t know why, but I somehow used to have it in my head that books can’t be funny. Like, comedy-central-ha-ha-funny. This book is nothing if not living proof that I was dead wrong. Australia’s crown queen of comedy, Flanagan looks back at her life and all the signs and missteps that ultimately led to her pursuing comedy. It was a prime reminder for me, in my early twenties, that bad decisions make good stories, once you have the benefit of hindsight. I breezed through this in a couple of days, because I felt with every chapter I was becoming closer friends with Kitty.
Now, I consider her one of my best friends, and might even ask her to officiate my future wedding. Not only is the book hilarious, but there are some real insightful nuggets about feminism and choosing to live life on your own terms.
What a Time to be Alone – Chidera Eggerue
If you’re not across the recent controversy surrounding this book and Florence Given’s Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, then I recommend you look it up to gain a bit of context as to why this book is so important. Chidera, known by the moniker the Slumflower, is the pioneer of the #saggyboobsmatter movement, and has cultivated a large following of her ‘dump him’ brand, which aims to empower young women to live their best single life. WATTBA is an easy but fiery read, and a fierce reminder to take the time to find solace in solitude.
My favourite element, apart from the stunning and catchy graphics, are the Nigerian proverbs (from Eggerue’s Igbo Nigerian heritage) that capture so succinctly the lessons about life and love they teach. As a reformed co-dependent, this book and Eggerue’s social media presence were a blessing that packaged hard truths in a fun, emboldening and easy-to-read way.
The title is also a great deterrent for anyone who might want to come bothering you while you’re in the reading zone by the pool.
The Dry – Jane Harper
Look, I tried to leave this book off this list for succinctness and clarity, but I just couldn’t. There’s something to be said for the way Harper is able to describe the Australian outback in such a way that it becomes a character on its own, and as a reader be able to feel the suffocatingly dry heat in your very senses. I tore through this, with the short chapters convincing me to read just one more, and then just one more after that.
The novel follows Detective Falk investigating the apparent murder-suicide of his childhood best friend and his family, in a town that shut him out decades ago. The small town politics and hierarchies that linger are major players that fight back against the disrupted order of things in Kiewarra. It’s got all the delicious secret-uncovering one could hope for in a book where everything is not as it seems. The only caveat I will employ is that I would make sure you’re not near a body of water when you finish, because I immediately threw the novel across the room for both cathartic relief of loose ends being tied up, but also frustration at the injustice of one of the characters who I felt was the true victim of the story.
Let us know your reviews on any books in the comments, and happy reading!