BOOK CLUB: The Top Literary Releases this Summer

Freya Parr

Sick of the usual poolside reads and banal chick lit that were forced upon you over the past few months? Check out the top literary releases of this summer, tried and tested by us so that you know they're good!

Miriam Toews, Women Talking (released 30 August)
Based on real-life events that took place in a remote Mennonite colony in Bolivia, Women Talking is by no means an easy read. Girls and women are anaesthetised in their sleep and raped repeatedly as a punishment for their sins.
Having never heard this shocking story before, this book was all the more startling. It is a fictional response to these attacks, in which the illiterate women have a short time to organise how to protect themselves and their daughters from more harm, as the men are about to get bailed out from prison. The book is made up of minutes taken from these meetings, highlighting the power of speech and an open and honest rhetoric.
Image Credit: Freya Parr

Sally Rooney, Normal People (released 6 September)
I just love this book completely and utterly. Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends came out last year and jumped to the top of every bestseller list. And although I enjoyed it in a passive, summery type of way, Normal People is more complex, evocative and generally destined for bigger things. Already it has been recognised as such, having just been long listed for the Man Booker prize.
It follows the continual intersections of the lives of Connell and Marianne from school age, living in a small Irish town. Their romantic involvement ebbs and flows as their social statuses develop and change. The narrative is written in varying perspectives and timeframes, and it is a really affecting read. 

Image Credit: Freya Parr
Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (released 30 August)
Expect another immediate entry to the bestsellers list. Yuval Noah Harari’s last two books, Sapiens and Homo Deus have barely shifted from the top spots since their releases, and this is sure to continue this trend. While Sapiens focussed at the history of humans and society, and Homo Deus looked at our distant, longterm future, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century analyses the present, and what it might mean for humanity.
It feels urgent and necessary, as though it is capturing a crucial moment in time. Harari analyses the cause and effect of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, as well as climate change, terrorism and the deconstruction of liberalism. It is a direct call to action and probably the most genuinely impactful of all three Harari books. 

Image Credit: Freya Parr
Andrea di Robilant, Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse (released 2 August)
My infatuation with Ernest Hemingway began recently, when we read A Moveable Feast at my bookclub. Confession: I think Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris definitely played a significant part. This recent biography tells the story of Hemingway’s love affair with 18-year-old Adriana Ivancich, who he meets in Venice when he is in his fifties. She becomes his muse in the most typical way; although they never had a sexual relationship, she inspired him for the years to come, bringing him out of his creative rut. Having been unable to publish a novel in almost a decade, he was beginning to think the canon of work behind him was all that would ever be to his name.
The flowing prose makes it a very easy read, unlike a lot of literary biographies. It reads like a work of fiction, because the language is so evocative. The story of a creative and their muse is always fascinating and mildly addictive, and this is no different.

Image Credit: Freya Parr
Deborah Frances-White, The Guilty Feminist (released 6 September)
Deborah Frances-White never ceases to amaze. The chart-topping podcast host has succeeded in writing a book that balances readers who are lifelong fans of the podcast and in tune with the nuanced language and conversations surrounding feminism and inclusion, with people who have picked up the book as newcomers to these discussions. She manages to do it in the least patronising and most inclusive and accessible way possible.
The Guilty Feminist, the name of Frances-White’s podcast and shared by her debut book, sets up all the concepts we know well from the podcast but introduces them in such a different way that it’s an informative and insightful read for podcast addicts as well.
Those familiar with the podcast will know that Frances-White uses language very carefully and is always evolving the way she speaks about diversity and inclusion to be in line with those who dictate its changes. She talks us through her choice of language before delving into these topics, often fraught with controversy, acknowledging the fact that if someone picks up this book again in ten years, the terms she uses may have been replaced. It shows how engaged she is with the developing lexicon of these topics, and damn, the woman knows how to write.

Image Credit: Freya Parr
Paperback Releases
Tom Hanks, Uncommon Type (released 18 September)
The first work of fiction by Hollywood actor Tom Hanks was hardly met with critical acclaim, rather, a set of disdainful and somewhat scathing reviews. Although I'm not in full agreement with the critics, I do see some major setbacks to this collection. That said, it is a great entry point into the genre of short story, one I am now exploring more and more thanks to this book.
Hanks explores the human condition and all its weaknesses in these 17 stories - a hefty number of works for a debut collection. His writing is charming and rather old-fashioned, but can err on the side of blandness at moments. Although the quotidian matter-of-fact style is effective, it does mean that characters remain rather one-dimensional. The motif of a typewriter appears in every story, owing to the fact that Hanks himself is an avid collector of vintage typewriters. It is quite an unnatural trope to appear in each story, and they don’t do much as a vehicle for narrative and can sometimes feel quite forced. Despite its setbacks, I think this is a great collection to initiate people into the genre and it is a compulsive read nonetheless.

Image Credit: Freya Parr
Katy Tur, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History (released 6 September)
Although it does feel slightly as though the market is now saturated with opportunistic memoirs by those involved in the Trump campaign, this is one that sticks out and is worth investing a few hours in. NBC News correspondent Katy Tur followed Trump on his campaign trail for a year and a half, and this is her account of that time, tracing the transition from his entry as a ridiculous, disregarded candidate, to one that was gaining traction across areas of America, to one that was seen entering the White House as president.
Her anecdotes and observations are, as the title would suggest, unbelievable. Trump would stop his speeches midway through to heckle her, and her first-person narrative of a journalist in an arena where reporters are undermined and demeaned by the president himself is completely fascinating. She doesn’t hold back from involving herself in his narrative and for this reason it stands above a lot of the other exposés of Trump - her personal story runs alongside his, so you can see how his rise to success impacted those around him. One of my favourite takeaways from Unbelievable is the fact that Trump had Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ on loop throughout the entire campaign.
Image Credit: Freya Parr
Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply (released 6 September)
I picked up a copy of this after hearing a recommendation on the sacred High-Low podcast. It is no wonder co-hosts Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton were such fans of the book: Ariel Levy is a writer at The New Yorker, and the quality of writing in this memoir reflects this fact to a T. The Rules Do Not Apply traces a particular year of torment and devastation in Levy’s life, accompanied by reflections on her life as a journalist and how she got there.
The prose is sharp and considered. As a journalist myself, I particularly loved the insights into her major career landmarks, but mainly I just found myself scribbling frantically with excitement around all the beautiful turns of phrase. ‘As we reached our thirtieth birthdays, my friends and I were like kernels of popcorn exploding in a pot: first one, then another, and pretty soon we were all bursting into matrimony.’ Isn’t that just a delicious description.

Image Credit: Freya Parr

Your inbox deserves a little culture! Get our monthly newsletter