Rejoice! The season of beach breaks is well and truly upon us. The time has come to switch your suit and tie for a pair of swim shorts, and your morning commute for a plane ride, with all the essentials in tow. And, as you set up your Out of Office and leave your 9-5 behind, there’s no better time to catch up on all that reading you promised yourself you’d make a priority in the new year.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s no shame in annually investing in the complete Man Booker shortlist with all the right intentions of broadening your mind, only to find that time has somehow escaped you. We get it – there’s been some great TV recently. But, as you make like Don Draper on a sun lounger this summer, it’s time to get lost in a rollickingly good read.
So, whatever your preferred genre, if you’re looking for a little literary inspiration this season, then read on for our curated list of top titles.
Look to the future: Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
In this Number One Bestseller by one of the world’s greatest living authors, we are confronted with an alternative 1980s London, in which Britain has lost the Falklands war, Margaret Thatcher battles Tony Benn for power, and Alan Turing achieves a breakthrough in artificial intelligence.
When our protagonist Charlie comes into some money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans. With his girlfriend Miranda’s assistance, he co-designs Adam’s personality to produce a near-perfect human who is beautiful, strong and clever – and a love triangle soon forms.
This subversive and entertaining new novel poses fundamental questions: what makes us human? And could a machine ever understand the human heart? It also acts as a warning against the consequences of inventing things beyond our control.
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
Broaden your mind: Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English by Jonathan Rée
If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to read up on philosophy but disheartened by the alienating titles on offer, then this new release by Jonathan Rée is the book for you. Witcraft is a fresh and brilliant history of how philosophy became established in English. It presents a new form of philosophical storytelling and challenges what Rée calls the ‘condescending smugness’ of traditional histories of philosophy.
The book tells the story of philosophy as it was lived and practised, embedded in its time and place, by men and women from many walks of life, engaged with the debates and culture of their age. And, by focusing on the rich history of works in English, including translations, he shows them to be quite as colourful, diverse, inventive and cosmopolitan as their continental counterparts.
Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English by Jonathan Rée
Don’t discount poetry: Sandettie Light Vessel by Simon Armitage
Hot off the announcement that he is to become our 21st Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage has also found the time to release a new poetry collection. The poet has been involved in an astonishing assortment of projects, commissions, collaborations, residencies and events over the course of his writing career. The resulting poems stand outside of his mainstream publications, but now form a substantial body of work in their own right, and are collected here together for the first time.
The contents vary from single set-pieces such as ‘Zodiac T Shirt’, performed at the launch of Beck’s Song Reader, to the suite of ten poems commissioned to mark the bicentenary of Branwell Bronte’s birth. Several are site-specific, such as the Stanza Stones sequence carved into the Pennine landscape, and the world’s first catalytic poem, ‘In Praise of Air’, suspended from a building at the University of Sheffield.
Others developed from collaborations with film directors and visual artists, or from large-scale literary projects such as the poet’s troubadour journeys across the UK recounted in his prose books Walking Home and Walking Away. Together they cover an eclectic array of subjects including sculpture, the environment, travel, drama, music and the media, documenting Armitage’s wide range of interests and his unique versatility as a writer.
Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic by Simon Armitage
Change your thinking: Elastic: The Power of Flexible Thinking by Leonard Mlodinow
You might remember our interview with Leonard Mlodinow from earlier in the year, in which the theoretical physicist explained his extraordinary theory of elastic thinking. Whilst there is no shortage of books making convoluted claims and offering (somewhat sketchy) self-help advice, what makes Elastic stand apart in a saturated market, is its sincere grounding in logic and advice which is both practical and — crucially — attainable.
The author draws on cutting-edge neuroscience to show how, millennia ago, our brains developed an affinity for novelty, idea generation and exploration. He discovers how flexible thinking enabled some of the greatest artists, writers, musicians and innovators to create paradigm shifts. He investigates the organisations that have demonstrated an elastic ability to adapt to new technologies. And, he reveals how you can test your own brain power and increase your capacity for elastic thinking.
Perfect for working on your brain power as well as your tan.
Change your thinking: Elastic: The Power of Flexible Thinking by Leonard Mlodinow
Make a change: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await —food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today.
Like An Inconvenient Truth and Silent Spring before it, The Uninhabitable Earth is both a meditation on the devastation we have brought upon ourselves and an impassioned call to action. For just as the world was brought to the brink of catastrophe within the span of a lifetime, the responsibility to avoid it now belongs to a single generation.
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
Open your eyes: Superior by Angela Saini
“We can draw lines across the world any way we choose, and in the history of race science, people have. What matters isn’t where the lines are drawn, but what they mean.” —Angela Saini
In her new book Superior: The Return of Race Science, award-winning science journalist and author of Inferior, Angela Saini goes back to Darwin, through eugenics, and right through to the work of cutting-edge research today, in order to show how time and again science has been retrofitted to endorse cultural assumptions about race.
Examining the significance of political opinion in our understanding of race, she also looks at the present day, dissecting how and why racial difference has seen a resurgence as a tool of political threat. A timely, urgent read.
Superior by Angela Saini
Stay up all night: Conviction by Denise Mina
If you’re in the market for a thriller that will keep you up all night, then we’ve got just the thing with this latest release from Denise Mina. It’s just a normal morning for Anna McDonald. Gym kits, packed lunches, getting everyone up and ready. Until she opens the front door to her best friend, Estelle. Anna turns to see her own husband at the top of the stairs, suitcase in hand. They’re leaving together and they’re taking Anna’s two daughters with them.
Left alone in the big, dark house, with her safe, predictable world shattered, she distracts herself with a story: a true-crime podcast. There’s a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean, multiple murders and a hint of power and corruption. Then Anna realises she knew one of the victims in another life. She is convinced she knows what happened. Her past, so carefully hidden until now, will no longer stay silent.
This is a murder she can’t ignore, and she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, her past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.
Conviction by Denise Mina
Learn something new: Origins: How The Earth Made Us by Lewis Dartnell
If your reading material has a large, Sapiens-shaped hole in it, then look no further for a fantastic new addition to fill the void. As a species we are shaped by our environment. Geological forces drove our evolution in East Africa; mountainous terrain led to the development of democracy in Greece; and today voting behaviour in the United States follows the bed of an ancient sea. The human story is the story of these forces, from plate tectonics and climate change, to atmospheric circulation and ocean currents.
How are the Himalayas linked to the orbit of the Earth, and to the formation of the British Isles? By taking us billions of years into our planet’s past, Professor Lewis Dartnell tells us the ultimate origin story. When we reach the point where history becomes science we see a vast web of connections that underwrites our modern world and helps us face the challenges of the future.
Origins: How The Earth Made Us by Lewis Dartnell
Take an epic journey: Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
In Killing Commendatore, a thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, Tomohiko Amada. When he discovers a previously unseen painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances. To close it, he must complete a journey that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an Idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, a pit in the woods behind the artist’s home, and an underworld haunted by Double Metaphors.
A tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art — as well as a loving homage to The Great Gatsby —Killing Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
Revisit a classic: Tender is the Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald
OK, so it might not strictly be a new release, but Tender Is The Night makes for perfect reading fodder as you lounge by a pool in the South of France. Famously Fitzgerald’s favourite of his own works, the novel is set between the First World War and the Wall Street Crash, when the French Riviera was the stylish place for wealthy Americans to visit.
Among the most fashionable are psychoanalyst Dick Diver and his wife Nicole, who hold court at their villa. Into their circle comes Rosemary Hoyt, a film star, who is instantly attracted to them, but understands little of the dark secrets and hidden corruption that hold them together. As Dick draws closer to Rosemary, he fractures the delicate structure of his marriage and sets both Nicole and himself on to a dangerous path where only the strongest can survive. In this exquisite, lyrical novel, Fitzgerald has poured much of the essence of his own life; he has also depicted the age of materialism, shattered idealism and broken dreams.
Tender is the Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald
Looking for more inspiration as you jet off? Take a look at the JFK guide to dressing for summer…