With endless lists available on Amazon.com, Waterstones’ overspilling table displays and books from your uncle that supposedly gave him a new perspective and zen garden; it can be difficult to know where to look for your summer reads. Summer holidays are different for everyone, so here at Arts we’ve collated a selection of short stories, life changing novels, and damn good reads for you to peruse.
A True Story, Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It by Mark Twain
I have a large stack of books by my bed that is my ‘to-do’ list of literature and between novels I allow myself a short story to cleanse the palate. Mark Twain is an author whose work I have been curious to delve into for some time. His poetry is probably some of my favourite and being an extremely commonly-quoted man, I was excited to test the waters with a short story by him.
‘A True Story, Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It’ is a 5 page story, read as you would hear it. I, personally, find stories written with an accent extremely frustrating. I have had to put Jack Kerouac down for days due to the accents found in On The Road, so Twain’s short 5 pages were a relief. It’s a conversation between “Aunt Rachel” and “Misto C—“, and his curiosity for her enticing happiness and hearty soul. Her description is of a ‘mighty frame and stature’ with ‘unabated’ strength, suggesting a reason for such strength which eludes Mister C. Mister C’s naivety is the protagonist throughout the post-American Civil War story. He asks why she has never had any trouble in her 60 years of life and Rachel delves into her past and tells us a story of how she was separated from her family through slavery and later reunited, however all 5 pages are dense with her accent.
I enjoyed the immediate sense of warmth and strength received from Rachel; the amount of concentration it takes to read her thick Southern accent gives a sense of reward once finished. I will read more of Mark Twain, but preferably more of his voice rather than Rachel’s, to feel as close to him as I did to her.
The Dry by Jane Harper
Jane Harper’s The Dry is definitely my favourite book of the summer, and (I’m just going to go ahead and say it) one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read. Harper begins by introducing us to the parched, Australian town of Kiewarra, a small farming community that’s left devastated by the murder of Luke Hadler and his family. The town-wide conclusion is that Luke Hadler himself was responsible for the murder of himself, his wife and eldest child, whilst sparing the life of the toddler crying in the cot.
History soon bears its ugly head through what happened to the missing teenager Ellie Deacon over twenty years ago. We don’t know – but does Falk? Someone certainly knows something, as Falk is first summoned to the dreary town with a note that reads: “You lied. Luke lied. Be at the funeral.” But what Federal Agent, Luke’s best friend Aaron Falk and the local detective, want to know is – why?
If ever there was a novel that grips you from the get go, it has to be this one. The plot is flawless and carried out meticulously; the variable twists and turns along the way are somehow both surprising and inevitable. You find yourself caught repeatedly on the acute observations of both Falk and his new partner in crime, Raco, and you will finish the book with a desire to fight a life of crime (if only for a few hours after). It’s hard to believe that this is Harper’s debut novel, her storytelling being so compelling already. The fact that it won The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 speaks for itself.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
If you think of Douglas Adams, you’ll probably think of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the subsequent sequels which make up his ‘trilogy in five parts’. But the equally humorous and arguably more bizarre Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency offers up just as much of Adams’ intelligent wit and unique style of storytelling.
The name Dirk Gently has been thrown back into popular culture thanks to a recent TV adaptation featuring Samuel Barnett and Elijah Wood, yet the book’s plot differs greatly to the show. Our protagonist, Richard MacDuff, finds himself thrown into the middle of a complex investigation featuring a number of eccentric characters, including a ghost, an electric monk, and Dirk Gently, a “holistic detective” who attempts to solve mysteries by understanding the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things”.
If this sounds ridiculous and convoluted, that’s because it is. But, in traditional Adams style, it’s all great fun, and the tale’s rewarding conclusion even offers up a wink to a mysterious piece of classic literature.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
The last few mind-boggling years in politics have opened a window for great political books and Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff is no different.
He boasts unprecedented insight and access into a White House which has proved controversial and, at times, bumbling during the new administration, and this shows through his writing.
Wolff explores most of the key players in the White House, including many who were relative unknowns in the Washington political sphere until 2016, as well as how they work with ‘The Donald’ in pushing his agenda.
It can be quite horrifying in a way, at parts describing Trump’s lack of desire to fund his campaign or even do the job he was trying to win. His staff expect him to lose and almost don’t believe in him, giving the insight Wolff provides quite a startling feel at times.
Trump probably won’t be happy with this portrayal of his administration, and of course it may bend the truth like some accounts do, but it does demonstrate the importance of writing in holding figures of power to account. Hopefully the trend continues.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
I initially picked up this book mildly intrigued by the short synopsis and having already read the author’s best-seller My Sister’s Keeper. I didn’t anticipate finishing the last page of the author’s after-note with a completely new outlook on life and a self-examination of my own prejudices. Never have I felt so inspired and educated by a book, and after finishing those final words and for every moment afterwards, I will hail Small Great Things as my favourite book of all time.
I began this book fairly confident that I understood and condemned racism, discrimination and prejudice. But by the end, I had begun to grasp how little I really understood. How could I? As a white person, I feel that I can only have a limited comprehension of what it means to live in a world built on institutional racism. I cannot attempt to comprehend the racial experiences of someone who is not white, because that is all I’ve ever known. But I can listen and seek to change. White privilege is a term I’ve only come to understand recently and it is something Picoult explores within this novel.
What this book taught me is that it is easy to point at someone with a swastika on their head, spitting racial slurs and label them ‘racist’. However it is harder to identify racism within our own everyday lives. But if we want the world to become everything we claim to want it to be; equal, fair, just – we have to. Because it isn’t, and for as long as we pretend that it is, it won’t be.