Dan Lewis of Stanfords bookshop picks out the best summer reads, including Margaret Atwood and Shantaram author Gregory David Roberts
Summer holidays are the perfect time to relax and catch up with that ever-growing TBR (To Be Read) pile. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have amassed quite a stack of books in anticipation of a chance to finally settle down in the sun with a refreshing beverage and really indulge yourself. With luggage space (and airline weight limits) at a premium when travelling, it can be hard to find a place for them all. Here are a few of my current favourites that you should find a way to squeeze into your bag this summer.
The Heart Goes LastBy Margaret Atwood
A perfect paperback read for the literary Sci-Fi fanatic this summer. In late 2014, Margaret Atwood contributed a piece of work to the Future Library project, which will be kept under lock and key until the year 2114. Given her predilection for dystopian narratives, her involvement is pretty fitting. Given none of us is likely to be around to read whatever it is she has contributed, the opportunity to dive into another fully realised near-future nightmare world is all the more gratifying. In an America burnt out by capitalist overreaching, Stan and Charmaine opt to escape their existence living in their car in favour of life in Positron, a prison where they get to be both prisoners and guards, one month on, one month off. Peppered with faux-50s stylings, the world exudes a tangible terror whilst the narrative, with its satirical exploration of the natures of self and society in modern life, is kept light enough to be enjoyable.
The Mountain ShadowBy Gregory David Roberts
Back in the early Noughties, I recall a period of about six months where everyone was reading Gregory David Roberts’ possibly/probably/debatabely autobiographical novel Shantaram. Its blue and red jacket seemed to become ubiquitous with backpackers. Shantaram introduced us to Lin, an escaped Australian convict and heroin addict, like Roberts himself, who resolved to turn his life around amidst the brutality of Mumbai’s underworld. There was obviously far more to it, but in my defence it’s such an expansive and glorious novel that pretty much any attempt to summarise it would fail. Now, over ten years later, Roberts and Lin, return in this sequel - disappointingly entitled The Mountain Shadow rather than my suggestion of Shantaram 2: Shantaramer - which is equally difficult to describe without vast amounts of detail. However, you can expect more of the same, as Lin is pulled back into shady goings on in Bombay that upend his life. Finally in paperback, it’s guaranteed to be the novel to be seen travelling with and talking about this summer. It’s also enormous, so will keep you going for ages on long trips, as well as coming in handy as a weapon should you run into any trouble on the road.
Elephant ComplexBy John Gimlette
An all-encompassing, yet eminently approachable epic of a travel book from veteran travel writer John Gimlette. Taking on the complexities of Sri Lanka is no mean feat, but Gimlette's simple commitment to speaking to those he meets rather than simply describing the places he passes through produces a thoroughly engaging read, bursting with life and colour. Gimlette's apparently effortless prose style delivers the depth of detail one might expect from a historian, the nuanced observations of an investigative reporter, the lyrical linguistic flair of a novelist and the palpable sense of a true explorer, driven to seek out new experiences and get to the heart of a culture through its people. This is how travel writing is done.
FlâneuseBy Laura Elkin
We were delighted to host the launch party for this terrific, joyful book which thoroughly deserves a place in your travel bag. Perhaps you caught some of it on Radio 4 recently? The title refers to the female form of the word “flaneur” which you might perhaps think of as someone who wilfully gets lost in cities. The idea I suppose is that by pottering about, with no fixed plan, and just soaking up the sights, generally "going with the flow", one comes to a clearer, fuller understanding of a place and its people. Elkin, a committed flâneuse, takes us on a flânerien amble through the history of the women wanderers who have come before her, and the cities they have sought to come to know. Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London all feature in this engaging and at times provocative book which ties the liberation experienced in such meandering to the search for creative and even social freedoms.
When Dad Showed Me the UniverseUlf Stark and Eva Eriksson
Any parent will know that having a good book that can be read, read and read again is essential when travelling with kids, and we think When Dad Showed Me The Universe is a pretty perfect example. There are so many children's books about big adventures, full of castles and dragons, explosions and secret agents, giants and magic spells. This is something different. As an earnest father leads his son through their little town, stopping to stock up on provisions before heading out into the wilds, the son is taking it all in - experiencing the journey, the sights and smells, rather than anticipating the destination. Expertly translated by Julia Marshall and beautifully illustrated by the award-winning Eva Eriksson, Ulf Stark's When Dad Showed Me The Universe is a glorious book of quiet adventure. It's about the little things in life, the small details which make up the whole, which perhaps us adults don't even notice anymore. Oh, and there is a poo joke in there too.
The Silk RoadsBy Peter Frankopan
About a year ago, I received an advance copy of this epic history of the lands at the centre of the earth and I devoured it in next to no time. Peter Frankopan challenges us to look again at our understanding of world history, to move our focus from West to East and reassess it from an entirely new viewpoint. His argument is partly that the East was integral to the making of the modern world and that this comparatively recent shift in the balance of power from East to West is now, to some degree, in the process of reversing. At the heart of the flow of ideas, money, goods and people throughout have been the titular 'silk roads', networks that stretched over oceans and continents, networks that are once again set to define the future of the world. This book has proved immensely popular with our customers since it came out in paperback and for very good reason. It's a compelling political, economic and social history that is as much about how we will live as how we once did.
No Baggage: A Tale of Love and WanderingBy Clara Bensen
One for the romantics, this is a terrific holiday read that's sure to fill you with joy. It’s a story you’ve heard a thousand times, sort of… Girl meets boy (online, of course; it’s 2016, after all) and together they resolve to undertake a truly unique courtship, setting off on a 21-day tour of Europe with no fixed plans and, as the title gently hints, no baggage. Can love blossom when you only have soap and water to wash your pants every night? Do the little stresses and strains of travelling grow or diminish when you’re thrown in the deep end with an (almost) complete stranger? Will love conquer all and give the couple a good enough of a case to argue for an upgrade on their flight home? Told with an honest and infectious wit, there’s a great sense of adventure and fun in this charming travelogue.