Short Books Summer Reading – part 2

We asked some of our wonderful Short Books authors to tell us about their ideal summer reads. In part two of the feature there’s another eclectic mix of all things unputdownable from the world of literature.

JM - ImageJonathan Mayo

Author of Hitler’s Last Day: Minute by Minute and D-Day: Minute by Minute

Non-fiction: Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald (Vintage)JM - Revolution in the Head
“Not just another Beatles book, this is something different – a scholarly, witty and comprehensive analysis of all the Fab Four’s recordings. MacDonald is sometimes in awe of the Beatles (A Day In the Life: ‘breathtaking…utterly original and completely natural’) and sometimes disappointed (Across the Universe: ‘Lennon was rarely boring. He made an unwanted exception with this track’). Revolution in the Head prompts you to return to the songs and to play them whilst reading the book.”

Fiction: Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian (Harper)
“The fifth of his Jack Aubrey novels and his finest. As usual O’Brian never bothers to explain nautical terms or tactics, but in so doing totally immerses the reader in the world of the early 19th century Royal Navy. It contains the finest description of a chase at sea in a storm you’ll ever read. Probably best not to read this book on a cruise.”

SB - ImageSimon Barnes
Author of Ten Million Aliens and How to be a Bad Birdwatcher

“My current book Ten Million Aliens is freshly paperbacked by Short Books. Two infinitely greater books echo through its pages: Finnegans Wake and The Origin of Species. They tend to be seen as equally terrifying: more often discussed than read, usually found on bookshelves in virginal condition. But here’s a fact: you’re not going to have to do an exam on them, so take them both and read them for idle pleasure.”

Non-fiction: The Origin of Species by Charles DarwinSB - Origin of Species
“Charles Darwin had a mind like a rock-crusher: to read the Origin is to see every objection and every problem ground into power under the relentless force of one of history’s great intellects.”

Fiction: Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
“Joyce is capable of buoyant flight and ear-popping depth, and can switch from one to the other in a single sentence. He captures the notion of life, death and renewal in the single word ‘cropse’.”

“Joyce and Darwin: why settle for anything less? Or as I said to myself when I set off to write Aliens: only ever plagiarize the best.”

JB - ImageJohn Baxter
Author of Cooking for Claudine and The Most Beautiful Walk in the World

Non-fiction: Writing Home by Alan Bennett (Faber & Faber)JB - Writing Home
“Imagining them spoken in Alan Bennett’s wry, pedantic, slightly lulling voice makes these reminiscences and occasional pieces all the more appropriate to summer. They encourage one of the incidental pleasures of holiday reading– that of saying ‘Listen to this!’ and reading a particularly witty passage out loud.”

Fiction: The Early Stories 1953-1975 by John Updike (Penguin)
“‘Summer reading’ for me implies books that can be picked up and laid down as the weather changes or someone calls ‘Lunch!’  One answer lies in short stories, of which few are more filled with delights than those of John Updike. They probe the superficially unremarkable lives of middle-class Americans to find poetry, humour and pathos.”

EC - ImageEmma Craigie
Author of What Was Never Said and Hitler’s Last Day: Minute by Minute

Non-fiction: How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell (Vintage)EC - How to Live
“Holidays are always a good time to reflect on one’s life and think through the coming year. What better book to support this process that Sarah Bakewell’s wonderful life of the sixteenth century philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne – not only is Montaigne wise and fascinating and weirdly contemporary – but Sarah Bakewell is the most charming person to introduce the great man with her relaxed, sparky genre-defying style. She tells us about his life. Pretty tough. She tells about his reputation over the centuries. Very good. She sums up his key advice – all utterly heart-warming and reassuring: above all, just live, don’t fret about dying; just keep going in the face of inevitable loss; read lots and don’t worry about forgetting what you’ve read; be slow-witted and ask lots of questions. The book is a joy to read, an inspiration to wisdom and kindness which can only improve your coming year..”

Fiction: Music and Silence by Rose Tremain (Vintage)
“My copy of Music and Silence bears the marks of a book that has been on holiday – pages loosened by the heat of the sun, a swimming pool watermark blotting the title page. It is a wonderful book to take on holiday because it completely immerses you in another world – a world of music, love, madness, candlelight, summer orchards and stone staircases. It is the world of seventeenth century Denmark and the court of King Christian IV. Our focus is an English lute player, Peter Claire, and his love for Queen Kirsten’s maid, Emilia Tilsen. Their tender story is set against a rich chaos of subplots – we slip in and out of the minds of a host of characters: the lonely king with ‘a face like a loaf’ who finds comforts in the music of the orchestra he keeps in his wine cellar; the Queen who lusts somewhat for her lover Count Otto but much more for gold; Emilia’s ghostlike brother Marcus who goes missing, leaving his family to comfort themselves by drinking hot elderflower cordial. It all pulls together and the journey is strangely absorbing – a total delight.”