9 books to read this summer now you have free time


Clothes for the mind.

Okay, so you might not actually have more time than you usually do. With Christmas lunches, delayed reaction times and plans postponed from October because this glistening holiday break already felt on the horizon, your calendar is probably pretty booked.

But, unpopular opinion: The week between Christmas and New Year is actually my favourite time of year. It feels like the whole world is moving in slow motion. The heat sets in, exiles to hometowns or down the coast commence, free to air TV pulls out reruns of the most ancient relics in its back catalogue and afternoon napping is democratised, no longer reserved solely for the elderly or infantile.

So no, you may not have more time. But what you have is the illusion of more time. And sometimes, that’s all an idea needs to spark its journey from motivation into practice.

To feed that kernel of motivation, and the perennial New Year’s resolution that this will finally be the year you get back into reading, I have taken the liberty of curating a list of the books you should read this summer. Because finding your groove will be immediately stymied by the overwhelming dearth of recommendations and possibilities to dive into. So here is a dip, if you will, into the proverbial literary ocean.

1. My Brilliant Friend
Elena Ferrante

You’ve heard about her, you may have watched bits of the HBO series and you might have even claimed to have read her. But now’s the time to dive headfirst into the giddy headspin that is the Neapolitan novels. The quartet following the lives of Lenu and Lila from girlhood to old-age has sold over 10 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful literary debuts in a generation. Adding to the air of excitement is the mystery surrounding the author. The name ‘Elena Ferrante’ is a pseudonym, meaning no one knows the identity of this blockbuster writer who blends fiction with philosophy. Knocking off this addictive series over the summer break will place you firmly in the cultural zeitgeist.

Read when: You wish you were in Italy not part of the office skeleton staff.

2. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
Jenny Odell

I’m not one for self-help books, but this feels more like punchy cultural criticism. The kind that makes you nod with agreement and reel with recognition at the same time asking: ‘How can someone say exactly what I feel?’. Jenny’s ability to articulate our attachment to the technological world provides a non-condescending roadmap for the future of personal philosophy. It’s more about understanding where we are now and where our agency lies, rather than telling you how things used to be in the old days and that you shouldn’t be addicted to your phone. She’s an artist and professor by trade, and it shows.

Read when: You’ve been hoping to use this break to get some perspective.

3. Lie with Me
Philippe Besson

Following the blossoming relationship between two 17-year-olds in 1980s France, this slim piece of fiction wafts the same scent as Call Me By Your Name but with the spark and intensity that Aciman’s more melancholic rendering of love lacks. In an ironic twist of ’80s adolescent nostalgia, it is translated by Molly Ringwald (yes, that Molly Ringwald).

Read when: You want to cry over a summer fling but don’t have a summer fling to cry about.

4. Bunny
Mona Awad

Part Heathers part The Secret History, four women attending an MFA all call each other ‘Bunny’ and lure the unremarkable Samantha into their dark clique. A campus of intelligent sociopaths rapidly turns into a community of straight-up psychopaths, but you only realise when it’s too late to do anything about it. Wicked, funny and quick, it’s the perfect literary concoction of summer drama.

Read when: You just got your Year 12 score and already miss the theatrics of school.

5. Find Me
Andre Aciman

Picking up where Call Me By Your Name (the novel, not the film) left off, Aciman returns to the fractured stories of his beloved characters twenty years on from their initial summer meeting. Split into four sections and divided between Elio, Oliver and Sami (Elio’s father), the sparkle of love is dimmed by the passage of time and re-examined with a wistful air of missed opportunities.

Read when: You’ve re-watched Call Me By Your Name and don’t want the steamy dream of a summer sexual awakening to end.

6. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Samin Nosrat

Chef and writer Samin Nosrat is one of the most delightful people on the internet. Her exuberant personality bleeds into her writing and her cooking, making the whole experience of reading a 600-page cookbook utterly pleasurable. It’s like learning how to make really good food from a really wise friend.

Read when: Your New Year’s resolution is to FINALLY learn how to cook.

7. Trick Mirror
Jia Tolentino

The long-awaited debut from the New Yorker‘s sensationally popular staff writer exceeded high expectations. Essays on internet culture vary from Fyre Festival to reality TV to the vastness of the wedding industry with wit and self-awareness. You’ll be impressed by how perfectly someone can discuss the inanities of everyday life and make them glisten with philosophical insight and precision. Then you remember she’s hailed as the voice of a generation and worthy of succeeding Joan Didion, and it kind of makes sense.

Read when: You want to impress your friends with nuanced perspectives on the contemporary condition over an Aperol Spritz.

8. The Patrick Melrose novels
Edward St. Aubyn

If you didn’t catch the television adaptation last year, you might have missed the revival St. Aubyn’s notorious character underwent at the hands of Benedict Cumberbatch. Patrick is five years old when the first novella begins, charting a single evening from multiple characters as a horrifying and life-altering incident is privately inflicted on the small boy. Each book picks up more than a decade after the one before, as Patrick flits impatiently from rural France to New York to ’80s London. Heroine-addicted, high functioning and tormented, he makes you hate him and adore him all at once as the harshness of reality chases at his coattails.

Read when: You finish the Neapolitan novels and you’re ready to follow the life of another memorable character from childhood to harrowed middle age.

9. She Said
Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor

The two New York Times investigative journalists who broke the Weinstein story recount the months it took to get it published. From finding witnesses who were willing to talk to dramatic confrontations between lawyers and informants in office lobbies, follow behind the scenes of a story that ignited a movement.

Read when: You need a beachside pageturner.

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