There’s still time to fit in a bit of summer reading and Anne Miller has some suggestions from the Pushkin Press’s 2016 catalogue.
Ah, British Summer Time. Technically it lasts until the last Sunday in October but, in reality, we have ever-variable weather and the shops are rapidly emptying of beachwear in favour of cosy cardigans.
Still, with the sun still making occasional appearances, there is still plenty of time for summer reading. Here are some gems from Pushkin Press’s 2016 catalogue that may entice you back out to that deckchair – but maybe pack an umbrella…
The Found on the Shelves collection
Pushkin’s Found on the Shelves collection groups together glorious gems found at the London Library. The members’ library in central London opened in 1841 and has counted Agatha Christie, TS Eliot and Winston Churchill among its members.
The finds are fantastic and include such titles as The Lure of the North, a Scandinavian travelogue from the 19th century, and Cycling: The Craze of the Hour. The latter contains concerns, including a chapter on ‘cycling as a cause of heart disease’ and the musing that, “Directly you are in motion you will feel quite helpless, and experience a sensation of being run away with, and it will seem as if the machine were trying to throw you off.”
Perhaps the most prescient, though, is Life in a Bustle: Advice to Youth. Dating from 1897, Bustle addresses concerns that people then were far too distracted by the new conveniences of the time. It warns that “the disease which specially threatens this generation is restlessness, distraction, dissipation of intellectual and moral power. Its consequence is exhaustion and nervous collapse. And its symptom is Hurry.”
A brilliant read if you’re tired of newspaper stories about how the internet, iPhones and Pokémon GO are destroying our daily routines. Here you can read the same arguments but the source of the disdain lies with shorthand, electric lights and the invention of the car.
Daredevils by Shawn Vestal
Vestal’s debut novel came out earlier this year and tells the story of 15-year-old Loretta who has been raised in a Mormon community in Arizona. The book opens as her father catches her sneaking back into the house after climbing out of her window to meet a boy. Her parents’ quiet fury is chilling as they are more concerned about her soul than the present-day realities, so they nail the window shut and marry her off to their polygamist neighbour Dean Harder, where she becomes a ‘sister wife.’
Daredevils jumps between different characters’ viewpoints both in the narration and in their views on the Latter Day Saints. There is Ruth, the other ‘sister wife’ who remembers being taken from her family when outsiders tried to interfere. Then there’s Dean’s nephew Jason and his family, who are also Mormons but disagree strongly with polygamy.
The story is set in the 1970s and the ‘Daredevils’ in question are Loretta and Jason as they struggle to take charge of their own lives, as well as Evel Knievel, Jason’s hero, whose escapades appear throughout the narrative. It’s a daring read that will draw you right in.
Act of God by Jill Ciment
This is a short book, coming in at under 200 pages, but it packs in an awful lot. Edie and Kat are 64-year-old twins, living in their late mother’s rent-controlled apartment in New York.
When toxic mould is found in the building, they, along with their landlady Vida and her newly discovered squatter – Russian former au pair Ashley who was living in Vida’s closet – are all evicted. As the four try to make sense of this ‘act of God’, the twins try desperately to save their home and their mother’s precious letters.
Meanwhile Vida is more concerned about grabbing a part in King Lear after a lead actor faints and knocks out their teeth, and Ashley works on finding a new place to bed down in unnoticed. As the four women’s lives collide, the situations escalate and combine into a hilarious story that will leave you feeling like you really ought to check the details on your home insurance.
Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger
Soft in The Head is a translation of a French bestseller. It tells the story of a blunt and rather difficult misfit called Germain whose hobbies include counting the pigeons in the park, adding his name to those commemorated on the war memorial and considering writing to the makers of his so-called ‘indelible’ pen because someone keeps washing off his addition.
Having had a difficult childhood, it isn’t until a chance meeting with an elderly lady named Margueritte that he first feels affection. She introduces him to books, dictionaries and libraries and shows him that it is never too late to learn new things or make new friends.
Catch up on Anne’s previous Fully Booked columns here.
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Anne is a QI Elf. She has two Blue Peter badges, reached the semi-finals of Only Connect and really likes puffins. @miller_anne