Whether it’s the book of the moment or a time-honoured classic, summer reading beats away at the heat and goes best with a tall drink in hand.
A still from The Richard Burton Diaries, by Richard Burton
If you are a hermit when the sun comes out or need a literary companion for the beach, these summer books are a must-have for lazy sweltering days. Break out one of these books from Rumnique‘s eclectic list:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie’s novel is a seminal and brilliant work that manages to change your perspective and views on race and love stories. The novel tells an often-heartbreaking love story of Ifemelu and Obinze, who move away from Lagos as Ifemelu goes to America for university and Obinze travels to England. It’s also an incisive and provocative look at race, as the pair navigates identity, loneliness and diaspora as they move across three continents in search of themselves. The novel is also strikingly current, as Ifemelu rises in stature due to her blog, which touches on hair politics and identity struggles as a Nigerian in America. The sections on hair politics are particularly striking in how they give voice to the pressures of relaxing one’s hair to fit in with white norms. The novel is epic in its scope, but is deeply felt with its poeticism that doesn’t overpower the human story at the centre.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
Right from the opening title and chapter, Hamid thrusts you into a teeming unnamed metropolis (a very likely stand-in for Lahore) where his anonymous protagonist follows self-help mottoes to climb the social ladder. The second-person narrative is arresting and unsettling, and borrows cues from self-help books, with each chapter title functioning as a step-by-step guide to life, such as “move to the city” or “befriend a bureaucrat.” We get to know the protagonist through this jarring and interesting narrative, which follows him from the village to the city, to his odd jobs as a DVD delivery boy and to his rise in the corporate world. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a satire fuelled by a muted fury at social conditions while also telling a love story, where the pair meet and part due to their high ambitions. The novel may take some time getting into, but it’s a rollicking and wicked look at the rising Asia we don’t usually encounter.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
This gorgeous novel features on many bestseller and summer lists, but for good reason, it truly transports you to the smouldering beaches on the Italian coast. Walter takes us on a 50 year journey, starting with Pasquale’s sighting of a mysterious American stranger, to Cleopatra set in Rome, and present-day Hollywood. The novel is extremely ambitious, with a dozen characters zipping from one continent and time-frames to the next, and the narrative runs at a breathless speed. The chapters that converge around the production of Cleopatra are dazzling and the most entertaining, and Walter even includes Richard Burton in the action as he flounders around for the next drink and woman to keep his mind off Elizabeth Taylor. Beautiful Ruins is the summer book of the moment, and is perfect company to daydream about the coastal beaches of Pasquale’s small town.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
If you haven’t read a graphic novel before, make sure your first is Relish, a lovely confection by comics artist Lucy Knisley, who recounts her food memories as a daughter of a chef and a gourmet. Knisley’s art style is very cute and bright, with special sections at the end of each chapter devoted to the recipe. The novel is wise and personal, as Knisley deals with her parent’s divorce to moving from New York to the countryside where she discovers the food is extremely different! She touches on her junk food obsessions in college, which we can naturally relate to, especially the 2am cravings for iHop waffles, and she makes each story identifiable and nuanced in what they reveal about her food memories and herself. The most memorable experiences are her summer vacations in Vienna and Paris, where she tries her utmost to recreate the Viennese croissants back home to mixed results, which is especially true of my crumpled Laduree macarons last week! Summer is all about food and drinks, which is why this gem needs to be on your shelf pronto for a bit of inspiration.
The Richard Burton Diaries by Richard Burton ed. Chris Williams
Another Richard Burton appearance, but this time Chris Williams has allowed the man himself to debunk the mythology behind his legendary career and life. The diaries were excerpted in Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger in 2010, which revealed Burton’s love letters and thoughts on his rocky relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. If that book gave Burton a swooning and torn romantic presence, then Burton’s diaries highlights his palpable love and later disenchantment with Taylor, whom he nicknames as “Quicktake,” “old Fatty,” “Eliz,” and countless more. The diaries allow Burton to posture as a serious writer, whose poems often recall Dylan Thomas, but eventually he realizes he is “sublimely selfish” and “we’re both bone-lazy.” Readers can finally see Burton unload all his views with his sharp eye on those he finds bores, including acting, which he notes, “”I loathe, loathe, loathe acting … hate it, despise it, despise, for Christ’s sake.” It’s an honest and heartfelt book that reveals Burton’s contradictions, idiosyncrasies, and his overwhelming love for “my gal Liz.”
Story By: Rumnique Nannar | Photography: telegraph.co.uk and amazon.ca