A good summer read feels more important than ever at the moment. Here, the Affirm Press team shares the books by (mostly) other publishers that we loved over the break.
I adored Allee Richards’ Small Joys of Real Life (Hachette) – what a debut! Although this poignant novel is tinged with loss, it was indeed a small joy to be immersed in Melbourne’s inner north with Eva and her best friends in these pages. I can’t wait to read what Richards does next.
I read Kate Langbroek’s memoir of her family’s time living in Bologna, Italy (Ciao Bella! Six Take Italy by Kate Langbroek, Simon & Schuster). Having visited Bologna so many times for the Children’s Book Fair, I have secretly harboured the fantasy of moving to the red city myself. Kate is a great storyteller and there are beautiful moments of insight and tenderness throughout the book. But above all else, she successfully transported me to Piazza Maggiore and I felt like I was there with her eating mortadella and downing Aperol Spritz. All in all, a wonderful summer read.
Over the summer I escaped to underground New York in the 90s with Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (Bloomsbury) – the book that catapulted him to fame. If you’ve ever seen him in anything, you’ll be familiar with his unapologetic and idiosyncratic style of narration. Kelly, our publisher, once described him as a ‘punk philosopher’ and his food memoir/tell-all is all that and more. I’m also midway through a book my friend gave me for Christmas – A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul (Pan Macmillan), who I’ve been meaning to read for ages. It’s less escapist and more gruelling, but I’m enjoying the challenge. It’s a goal of mine this year not to shy away from more challenging reads!
I read The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan (HarperCollins). This was recommended to me by a colleague (Coco). Perfect beach read – even though it is set in very cold Galway and surrounds … Eagle eyes will see where it was bought too … (Head to our Instagram to see pics of our summer reads!).
Weirdly the two books I devoured and loved over the Christmas break both centred around how grief can manifest itself in hoarding. Emily Maguire’s Love Objects (Allen & Unwin) is a delicious unveiling of characters as they battle social barriers, poverty and family love, loyalty and rifts.
And Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness (Text) explores the lampooning effect of grief, mental illness and prejudice – with Ozeki’s mind-blowing observations of the minute details of ordinary life.
They should have been great inspiration for a major decluttering at home – if only I could have torn myself away from them for long enough.
My favourite escapist read over the break was Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway (Penguin Random House). Set in the mid-1950s, it’s a classic adventure tale about making amends and starting over. As with A Gentleman in Moscow, Towles has crafted another rich and lovable cast of characters I was glad to meet and sad to say goodbye to. He’s a masterful storyteller, and it was just the perfect thing to unwind with over our less-than-perfect summer.
I read Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen (HarperCollins). It took me all summer, because its long paragraphs and hefty chapters were not always what I felt like delving into, but I got sucked back into the story every time I did. This book is right up there with The Corrections, with astonishing depth and realism to its characterisation and with Franzen’s amazing ability to absorb the reader in lives and settings that, if it weren’t for his consummate skill, might not be immediately compelling: in this case, a pastor and his family in 1970s suburban Chicago. By the end of this complex, multi-faceted and multi-stranded novel, I felt I had truly walked in the shoes of each member of this conflicted and yearning family and been through a huge, transforming emotional journey with each of them. This book is the first in a proposed trilogy called A Key to All Mythologies, and I can’t wait to read the other two.
Like Kevin I tackled Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen! Full of familial dysfunction, a couple of midlife crises and things generally turning to shit at Christmas, this book was a challenging holiday companion! The inter-generational conflicts over identity and social change in Crossroads (set in the 70s) were really well explored and I’m keen to see where he takes them in the next volumes of this three-part series.
I also read Every Version of You by Grace Chan, which is set to be published by Affirm Press later this year. It’s an eye-opening literary sci-fi set in 2060 when AI is an inextricable part of human existence. It’s an incredible debut, and rivals Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun in its investigation of what it means to be human.
I spent the latter part of my holidays totally immersed in Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down (Text). I loved her two previous books, but was a little apprehensive about diving into this one having heard it was an extremely sad story. While it was definitely confronting, the beautiful writing had me mesmerised and I loved that Down’s central character was drawn with such empathy. I was sad to turn the last page – always the sign of a book to remember!