H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald
H is for Hawk is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald's struggle with grief during the difficult process of a hawk's taming and her own untaming.
It was on Obama’s reading list for the summer of 2016 and we can see why – the winner of the Samuel Johnson prize in 2014 and the Costa Book of the Year 2015, an instant classic.
Sleeping on Jupiter
by Anuradha Roy
A stark and unflinching novel by a spellbinding storyteller, about religion, love and violence in the modern world.
In a town of temples by the sea, the anxieties and emotions of young and old, male and female, are challenged through the persona of Nomi searching out hypocrisy and history.
Death Comes for the Archbishop
by Willa Cather
This classic novel concerns the attempts of a Catholic bishop and a priest to establish a diocese in New Mexico Territory.
Considered Cather’s masterpiece, Death Comes for the Archbishop transports the reader to the rough, beautiful terrain of the nineteenth-century American southwest. Austere yet painterly, it is a book that lingers long in the mind.
Everyone is Watching
by Megan Bradbury
Everyone is Watching is a novel about the men and women who have defined New York. Through the lives and perspectives of these great creators, artists and thinkers, and through other iconic works of art that capture its essence, New York itself solidifies.
Walt Whitman, Edmund White, Robert Mapplethorpe in a début collage of notes, diaries, letters, transcripts – a polyphonic and subtle novel.
by Francis Spufford
New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan Island, 1746. One rainy evening, a charming and handsome young stranger fresh off the boat from England pitches up to a counting house on Golden Hill Street, with a suspicious yet compelling proposition -- he has an order for a thousand pounds in his pocket that he wishes to cash. But can he be trusted?
Francis Spufford’s much maligned and misunderstood hero takes us on an eighteenth-century journey into language and parochial New York society both of which sparkle and surprise as does the plot!
A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend's mother. Owen doesn't believe in accidents; he believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is both extraordinary and terrifying.
Some novels get under your skin and some go straight for the heart. A Prayer for Owen Meany does the latter – in my opinion John Irving’s best and most redemptive book.
The Savage Detectives
by Robert Bolaño
New Year’s Eve 1975, Mexico City. Two hunted men leave town in a hurry, on the desert-bound trail of a vanished poet. Spanning two decades and crossing continents, theirs is a remarkable quest through a darkening universe – our own. It is a journey told and shared by a generation of lovers, rebels and readers, whose testimonies are woven together into one of the most dazzling Latin American novels of the twentieth century.
Reading the Savage Detectives led to my reading nearly all of Bolaño. This is searingly surreal and at the same time movingly poetic and tragically real…
The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland
by John Lewis-Stempel
Traditional ploughland is disappearing. Seven cornfield flowers have become extinct in the last twenty years. Once abundant, the corn bunting and the lapwing are on the Red List. The corncrake is all but extinct in England. And the hare is running for its life.
By the end of The Running Hare you will care as much as the author does about the sanitisation of the countryside, and the story of his attempt to attract hares to his cornfield reads like fiction – you’ll be rooting for him. Memorable and thought-provoking.
by Gustave Flaubert
Three Tales offers an excellent introduction to the work of one of the world's greatest novelists. A Simple Heart is set in the Normandy of Flaubert's childhood, while Saint Julian and Herodias draw on medieval myth and the biblical story of John the Baptist for their inspiration. Each of the tales invites comparison with one or other of Flaubert's novels, but they also reveal a fresh and distinctive side to the writer's genius.
Of Gustave’s Three Tales, A Simple Heart is my favourite – like an elegant concerto, a chamber piece of exquisite beauty.
It’s All In Your Head
by Suzanne O’Sullivan
This intriguing and revelatory book by leading neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan recently won the 2016 Wellcome Prize, which recognises exceptional original work addressing medicine, health or illness. It is brilliant written and really draws the reader into to its under-discussed subject matter.
Pauline first became ill when she was fifteen. What seemed to be a urinary infection became joint pain, then life-threatening appendicitis. After a routine operation Pauline lost all the strength in her legs. Shortly afterwards, convulsions started. But Pauline’s tests are normal: her symptoms seem to have no physical cause whatsoever.
It’s All in Your Head is a focused look at the range of debilitating illnesses that are medically unexplained.
by Patti Smith
Just Kids is Patti Smith’s account of life in Manhattan between 1967 and 1975. The book centres on Smith’s relationship with the late Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s a love story, a manifesto for young creatives, a catalogue of Smith’s many influences, and a remarkable portrait of New York counter-culture. A genuinely inspiring read.
Trans: A Memoir
by Juliet Jacques
Trans tells the story of Juliet Jacques’ gender reassignment. It’s a moving story of someone’s attempt to find an identity – and a body – that they can live with. But it’s also a fascinating history of how thinkers have theorised the experience of trans and non-binary people. It challenged many of my ideas about gender.
by by Han Kang
This is a brilliant, incantatory, hallucinatory tour de force of feminist writing. It balances control and appetite, desire and anhedonia, maintaining a high wire tension for three breathtaking acts.
A young wife’s decision to become a vegetarian is the starting metaphor, but the book is about much more than this. Focusing a forensic gaze on women’s roles as mother, wife, sister, daughter, Kang exposes the brutality and the beauty of self-determination and physical sovereignty.
The blossoming of creative talents outside conventional relationships and the subsequent punishments imposed by society & self are ruthlessly skewered. Tender, violent, shocking, sensual – a must-read.
by Randy Cecil
One of the best children’s books for 5 to 8s that I’ve read all year! Alive with gesture and deftly done, this gentle and unusual book pulls you in with its seemingly disparate yet ingeniously woven plotlines, its spare, poetic language, and charming illustrations that both complement and supplement the prose. Rarely have I encountered a book for burgeoning readers so seasoned with subtext, not to mention humour and hope. Not to be missed!
by Laura Beatty
As the trees nearby were pollarded the length of a very long street, I was gripped by their stark beauty. When I started reading Pollard I was gripped again by a linguistic beauty which suggested that the writer not only knew the forest where her main character escapes to, but had enlisted and indeed credited a chorus of trees to help her become one with nature. In so doing Laura Beatty addressed the complexity and beauty of nature whilst at the same time dealing with the harsh reality and difficult lives of her characters. It is still my Top Recommendation.