Scotland’s literary luminaries tell us which books they’ll be packing this summer for the perfect holiday read...
In preparation for my new Fringe show, Ban This Filth!, in which I’m playing radical anti-porn campaigner Andrea Dworkin, I’ll be reading new books by feminists on both side of the debate – basically between Pornland by Gail Dines and The Feminist Porn Book, edited by Tristan Taormino et al. I’m also looking forward to The Red Man Turns To Green by Dickson Telfer, a book of short stories by a new Falkirk writer who happens to be one of the best onstage performers I’ve ever seen.
I’m looking forward to reading Georges Braque: A Life by Alex Danchev. Braque is one of my favourite painters – a quiet genius (like Brahms) as opposed to a loud one (like Picasso or Mozart). It’ll be an old-fashioned hardback book and I’ll be reading it in the fastness of rural France.
Summer holidays have in recent years become synonymous with China Miéville, so even though my physical destination changes, my imagination will once again depart for New Crobuzon. This summer I will be reading the epic Iron Council, and saving myself the resultant luggage weight surcharge by sticking it on the Kindle.
It’s been a more than usually busy year, so quite a few books have accumulated on my desk. The two I am particularly looking forward to reading are the incomparable Todd McEwen’s The Five Simple Machines, and DW Wilson’s debut novel Ballistics, which promises to bring to the longer form the brilliance he showed in his superb short story collection Once You Break A Knuckle.
Having discovered Wilkie Collins 150 years later than everyone else, I can’t wait to read No Name. If it’s anything like his better-known novels, it promises to be a real page-turner. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl will also have me burning the midnight oil. Both will be real reads – real books, no Kindles.
My birthday’s in May, so I always have a pile of books to keep me going over summer. Of these, I’m most looking forward to Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? I don’t read much non-fiction, but Winterson’s story is so unique, and she’s such a vital, engaging writer, that I’m really keen to learn more about her life, and how that comes out in her work. I’ll be reading in my garden, in (hopefully) sunny Galloway.
I’ve just been given Irène Némirovsky’s The Wine Of Solitude and can’t wait to hear her “voice” once more: rebellious and dark, full of French flair and Russian soulfulness. Stonemouth by Iain Banks I’ve saved for a trip to Berlin. It’ll be a melancholy read, I’m sure, but Iain’s wit and verve will shine through – and I shall treasure that.
I very much look forward to reading Sarah Stovell’s historical novel The Night Flower, after hearing her read a highly intriguing extract. For poetry I have WN Herbert’s latest collection Omnesia, which comes in two versions and has the most mind-alteringly brilliant cover imaginable.
Ever since al-Qaeda started bombing good hotels in places like Lahore, the best thing to do is to stay with friends. In my case, when I was there researching my last book, Return Of The King, I stayed with Mohsin Hamid, who was then writing How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia. So that’s the top of my list, although it’s joined there by Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go. Even though she wrote it miles away from India, her nieces and nephews go to school with my children in Delhi, and I really ought to have read it by now.
As a recent convert to the graphic novel I’m looking forward to catching up with Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot – the book about Joyce and his daughter which won the 2012 Costa Biography Prize. I’m also looking forward to James Salter’s All That Is because 30 years is a long time between novels. Finally, there’s Alan Spence’s new novel The Night Boat, the story of Hakuin, one of the greatest Zen teachers.
I can’t wait to read My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak. It’s his only book for adults and was written as a loose elegy to his brother Jack. I adore Sendak’s mastery of terror and dream, surreal yet concise. I’ll buy this in hardback as I suspect it will be a keeper, and I’ll read it in my garden at night.
I was a judge for the IMPAC prize in 2010 when we gave the ¤100,000 award to a debut novel – Dutch writer Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin. I thought it convinced from first page to last, so cannot wait to read his second novel The Detour. It’s already won this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and is again translated by David Colmer, who did such a brilliant job on The Twin, so the omens are good.
I read usually to experience somewhere new, or re-examine with a new lens places I’ve been. This summer I’m looking forward to Dervla Murphy’s description of her tour of Gaza – A Month by the Sea and Robert Macfarlane’s collaboration with Dan Richards in the sunken paths of Dorset, Holloway.
A quote (“A beautifully written love letter to Antarctica”) from Robert Macfarlane on the front cover of Gavin Francis’s book Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence And Emperor Penguins caught my ear and my eye. Then I heard him give a fascinating talk about it at the Borders Book Festival, so now I’m really looking forward to reading it.
I read Delphine de Vigan’s thrilling, tender book Nothing Holds Back The Night in uncorrected proof in January and will be back for its full publication in sunlight. Not a memoir, a biography, an analysis or a novel: it is all of them. French family life on several levels: a genuinely shocking, incandescent read. I’ll be reading it in bed. I don’t really do holidays.
Having read Waiting For Sunrise, I’m working backwards with William Boyd’s novels and in my signal-less cottage in north-east Scotland am eagerly looking forward to reading Restless. I’d also love to read Iain Banks’ The Quarry, although I really think I ought to re-read all his other books first and finish with that.
In Orkney this summer (between playing music with friends and sailing) I look forward to reading Ali Smith’s novel There But For The. Having just finished her experimental Artful, I am re-enchanted by the wit, intelligence, open-ended exploration and above all humanity of her writing. Also Mark Doty’s memoir Dog Years (current favourite American poet), and Alan Warner’s The Deadman’s Pedal (he writes sentences no one else can). All these read in non-virtual, non-electronic form, so I can bend pages, mark passages, loan to friends.
This summer I’m looking forward to revisiting a favourite author now that Picador have published his entire collection of short fiction: James Salter’s Collected Stories will be a deep pleasure, I know, each narrative thread spooling up lives and desires and the gorgeous stuff of this world into silky skeins of sentences and paragraphs that are a delight to read. Then there’ll be Robin Robertson’s new collection of poems Hill Of Doors, Picador. He’s a poet who takes enormous risks, not only as a writer, but as a man and I admire him enormously for that. Finally, I’ll be adding Margaret Drabble’s The Pure Gold Baby as I keep returning to the way this author faithfully records and pays attention to the detailed minutiae of women’s lives.
I am looking forward to reading All That Is by James Salter at home in July when the going gets easy. I’ll take it slowly, because Salter should be sipped like a malt whisky not swallowed like a blend. The other thing going for him is that he’ll soon be a nonagenarian, so if he can go on doing it…
I’m most looking forward to reading The Son, by Philipp Meyer, published next month. The scope of this Tolstoyan epic novel is enormous; it’s the story of a Texan family between 1850 and 1963 and may described as The Searchers meets Giant. I gave away my only copy, so unless the publishers send me another I shall be reading it, again, on Kindle.
I’m excited about William Bernstein’s Masters Of The Word and Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls. The first looks at the relation between human communications, despotism and democracy, a pertinent subject given recent internet snooping revelations, phone hacking etc. The second is from a writer to watch, a chillingly inventive and highly acclaimed blend of horror, fantasy and crime.
Every time Jay Griffiths picks up a pen, whatever her subject, she cannot help spinning into every paragraph her passionate love of nature and wildness and our relationship with the physical world out there. Her writing is like a cave painting, telling as much of man as of beast and leaving us in awe of both. Her book Wild was a dazzling evocation of her own and many primitive people’s deeply mystical connections with nature. I am sure she will bring this to bear in Kith. Mark Cocker is one of Britain’s leading nature writers. His Crow Country and Tiger In The Sand were both splendidly intuitive reads, personal and persuasive, so I am expecting great things from this new magnus opus, People And Birds, to be published in August.
ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH
Peter Davidson is a professor of art history at Aberdeen University. His latest book, Distance And Memory, is a collection of essays on place and the experience of place. I am savouring it, reading it slowly, hoping to prolong the pleasure of these exquisite essays through the summer. It is, I think, one of the most beautiful books to be written in Scotland for many decades.
MARK MULLER STUART
As someone who spent time in Kabul, I can’t wait to read The Return Of The King by the irrepressible William Dalrymple, a powerful account of Britain’s deluded occupation of Afghanistan in the 19th and 21st centuries. For the beach, I shall take Aminatta Forna’s novel, The Hired Man, which slowly unpeels the reality of a small Croatian town’s shadowy past as an English family soaks up its sun two decades later. I am also eager too read Oscar Guardiola-Rivera’s new book on Pinochet, The Condor Years, as well as Alejandro Zambra’s Ways Of Going Home, a short novel about innocence and complicity in the suburbs of Santiago in 1980s Chile.
Every year I chair the New Blood panel at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate in July; I get first crack at the best of the new. This year I’m going for Derek B Miller’s Norwegian By Night, Colette Mcbeth’s Precious Thing, Malcolm Mackay’s The Necessary Death Of Lewis Winter and Anya Lipska’s Where The Devil Can’t Go.
I’m looking forward to reading James Robertson’s The Professor Of Truth, which is about an English literature professor who lost his wife and daughter in a terrorist atrocity that bears a strong similarity to the Lockerbie bombing, and cannot make peace with the verdict. I’d read anything Robertson wrote – he’s wonderful.
I’ll be putting a copy of Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple into everybody’s suitcase this summer. It’s an invigorating, hilarious, addictive ride of a novel. I’m hoping to receive Alice Munro’s Dear Life for my birthday next month; every story of hers is a small work of genius. The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan is next on my reading pile, as well as Lucy Ellmann’s Mimi and Jami Attenburg’s The Middlesteins.
Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel, The Age Of Miracles is a coming of age apocalyptic tale told from the point of view of ten-year-old Julia. Set against the backdrop of the end of the world, it’s a story dealing with the tearing apart of her life, including her first heartbreak, while the world lets out its final sigh.
I heard Newfoundland writer Wayne Johnston reading at the Ullapool book festival in May and was immediately hooked: great prose, mordant humour, and a fantastic sense of place. I’ll be taking a couple of his novels, A World Elsewhere and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, away with me next week to read at a café table in Sliema.
The book I’m looking forward to reading this summer is Apple Tree Yard, a novel by Louise Doughty. A friend (whose taste I trust) recommended it. All I know is, it is a legal thriller that’s also a “novel of ideas”, featuring a scientist on trial for murder. I look forward to hunkering down with it as the Scottish sun beats down in July…
Matthew Zajac’s The Tailor Of Inverness is about his father’s extraordinary and mysterious life, and his journey during the Second World War from Poland via the Soviet Union, Tehran and Egypt to Inverness, where he settled. But that was by no means the end of the story, which played out in the next generation and took Matthew back to his father’s roots.
I’m looking forward to Bernardine Evaristo’s new novel, Mr Loverman. I’m a fan of Evaristo, who can take any story from any time and give it a new or unexpected shape, turn it into something vibrating with life, always with a great deal of witty fun and mischief. In Mr Loverman, Barry, born in Antigua and a longtime native of Hackney, has been keeping a big secret from his wife and kids – he’s in love with his friend Morris.
I’m easing back into writing short stories, so I’m reading some of the best. James Salter’s Collected Stories looks like one to savour – dipping into it, I’m already hooked on the clarity and precision of the writing, the emotional intensity. I’ve bought the hardback, a luxury, rather than wait till next year for the paperback. I don’t have a Kindle or read ebooks – it just doesn’t feel the same.
I’m looking forward to reading James Robertson’s Lockerbie-inspired novel The Professor Of Truth. I’ve heard him speak – not about this book – and been impressed, but I’d like to read the book to see how he draws the line between fact and fiction.
I am striving for quality time alone with James Scudamore’s new novel Wreaking. Scudamore is a richly imaginative fabulist who seems weirdly neglected by the tastemakers in London. Which perhaps is a good thing? I also should confess, I will probably have to read the sequel to A Street Cat Named Bob (The World According To Bob by James Bowen, out next month) It is great to have a really fabulously handsome star on our literary circuit.