Friday, 15 June 2012

My 'Summer' Reading List

When I was much younger than I am now I was tortured interviewed for 2 days to be selected onto a civil service training programme. This consisted of a series of written and group exercises and 3 one to one interviews with variously a senior civil servant, a lawyer (the programme I was applying for included my solicitor ‘training contract) and a psychologist (yes, really). The application form had required me, among other things, to list some books that I had read recently. The senior civil servant commented during my interview with her that I “ a lot of modern fiction.” This was news to me – I just read books. Still amazed that my reading could be categorised as such (‘modern fiction’ sounded a bit highbrow), she asked me how I chose a book. Without thinking I launched off into a rhapsody about the joy of standing in a book shop and of the ‘book smell’. Of how some books were easier to stroke than others, and finally, by way of example, of how I had chosen The Shipping News because the title reminded me of the Shipping Forecast, that most British of institutions (Cromarty, Forties, Fastnet, Dogger...) which always reminds me of returning to England from abroad.

Plus, the cover had been particularly strokable.
It may worry you to learn that I was accepted onto the programme.
Concerns about the state of the Civil Service’s recruitment methods aside, hopefully, you will have understood that whatever my merits as a candidate to be a government lawyer, I love books. They thrill me. To me, it is one of those true luxuries, to mooch round a book shop and browse, unchecked, reading blurbs, flicking through the pages, stroking covers (Ok so may be that’s a little strange) seeing if there are any recommendations to read – I love it when book shops include staff reviews of the books on the shelves.
When I got an email on Wednesday to say that I had been selected by to receive £25 of books provided I created an Amazon wish list sharing my summer reading list, and blogged about my choices, I couldn’t believe my luck. While I read every day, it is rare these days that I have free reign to choose my books. I am in a book club, so that accounts for one book a month (granted, we take it in turns to choose, so I get a choice every year or so). The other main source of books is my mum, who keeps me supplied with a stream of books that she has already read and thinks I might enjoy. On the rare occasions that I don’t have a fiction book or 2 on the go, I will select something from the recently returned shelf in our small but perfectly formed village library.

But there it was – an invitation to choose books up to the value of £25. Any books I liked. As a summer reading list.  I hurried to Amazon, but it’s been so long since I have browsed in a book shop, that I found it hard to know where to start. And, typically, all those titles that I had stashed in my brain from the occasional flick through the books section of the weekend papers had abandoned me, so I had to formulate a plan to get to a bookshop.

So yesterday, I got up early and worked before the kids got up, and then, children deposited at school and dog walked, I made a dash for town. It was blissful. All those lovely, lovely stories waiting to be read. I flicked and stroked my way around the store for a happy 30 minutes before dragging myself back home.
And so here they are, my summer reading list books:

The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway
I am a real sucker for novels exploring the courage of the human spirit in times of adversity – particularly war. At one stage, I was completely and utterly obsessed with the WWI war poets, and alongside all the poetry, devoured many of the novels that used both World Wars as inspiration – Birdsong, Regeneration... The conflict in the former Yugoslavia fascinated me in the same way, and I can’t wait to read this.

Much as I'm looking forward to reading The Cellist..., I expect I shall need some light relief, so my next book is:
A Year in the Merde – Stephen Clarke
Ok so I enjoy reading all those ‘let’s buy a rundown place in Provence/Galicia/Tuscany and live off the olives we grow and our love for each other’ (my favourite is probably Driving Over Lemons), but having also lived in France for a year (as a student) and having spent several summers looking after French children, this instantly appealed to me.  I love France and have some wonderful French friends, but the whole cultural difference thing fascinates me, and I like a good laugh. The French ‘real work' environment is something that I haven’t experienced, but I’ve discussed it with my French friends extensively,  and I’m hoping that this book will be a funny and irreverent take on that.

Then the rest of my books are:

Notes from an Exhibition – Patrick Gale
think I may have read a Patrick Gale book previously, but I can’t remember. However, in a similar ‘Shipping News/Shipping Forecast’ moment, I picked this up because the title reminded me (for some reason) of another favourite book, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson. Rather a spurious way to choose a novel, but I liked the cover picture and the story sounds like it will be interesting - about an artist with bi-polar disorder. I know that Gale is a good writer, so i'm looking forward to an absorbing read.

Tideline – Penny Hancock.
 A surprise choice this one. I hadn’t heard of this book (or the author) or seen it in the book shop but it was included as a suggestion by Amazon. I clicked on it by chance and was immediately sucked in by the favourable comparisons with Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson and Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, both fast paced domestic violence psychological thrillers that have kept me totally and utterly transfixed as I read them. Into the Darkest Corner, particularly saw me carrying the book round the house with me, reading it as I emptied the washing machine, cooked and did all the other mundane tasks. The reviews that I subsequently read also compared Tideline to The Collector by John Fowles which is one of my favourite books.

Jubilee –Shelly Harris
Well, inevitable really, what with everything that's been going on, I found myself drawn to the bunting on the cover. However, once I'd read the blurb, I knew this was one for the list  -  the main character was a small child in 1977, the Silver Jubilee. I was 5 then, and have memories of going to see the Queen when she came to Liverpool and of the street tea we had afterwards. I had a red white and blue dress, and I waved a flag. This book tells the story of the adult that the young boy has become and of the secret that threatens his life. It’s promising to be a book about how Britain has changed in the last 25 years, and explores racism, childhood relationships and hidden secrets.

Now, I can't wait for my books to arrive. It's paper all the way for me at the moment, but I have been thinking about an e-reader. If you are too, you could visit and see what you think...


  1. Well done, that's very cool. I adore free things! Oh and thank you very much for the recommendations because there are some gems on your list that I'd like to read too.. p.s Love your interview tale - you made it past the psychiatrist, well done again!

    1. The list that I came out of the bookshop with was about 3 times as long - just after half an hr - it was hard to whittle it down!

  2. That's a great list - you've really inspired me, I've got out of the way of reading recently and miss having a good book. I loved Driving Over Lemons too, and like the sound of A Year in the Merde. I'm planning a french adventure with the kids in the summer, so would be a great holiday read. Very keen on thrillers as well and Tideline looks interesting.
    Your love of books comes across so clearly, and beautifully put as always. Have you ever been to Hay? If you haven't you must go! It would be heaven for you :)

    1. I haven't been to Hay - I'd love to, but it's always the sort of thing that gets pushed down to the bottom of the list. May be when the kids are a little bigger (liek so many other things)!

  3. Just thinking recently how I never get the chance to just hang out in bookshops anymore, used to be a favourite pastime. I really enjoyed 'Notes on an Exhibition', best Patrick Gale I've read! Look forward to hearing how the others go!

    1. Since I chose it. I've noticed a few people talking positively about Notes... so I'm really glad I chose it. Can't wait for the books to arrive now!


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