A Little Bird’s Summer Reading List

Our team share the books at the top of their reading list this summer:

Alex Peake-Tomkinson is reading Rachel Long’s debut poetry collection

I don’t read much poetry in my everyday life and reading poems regularly is one of the few things I really miss from my schooldays but I’ll be making time to read Rachel Long’s My Darling from the Lions this summer. I was lucky enough to hear her read from this debut collection of tender and funny poems. Any summer break is most likely to be spent in my garden rather than somewhere more exotic so I’m looking forward to being transported by the fierce beauty of Long’s writing and I can at least imagine “We’re eating roses on a rooftop. The Med beneath us.” £10.99 (currently £9) amazon.co.uk

Daisy Allsup remains immersed in history with Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet

Like many others, I used lockdown to embark on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, reading all three books back-to-back and developing a full-blown crush on Thomas Cromwell. After all that, where to go next? Hesitant to return to the present day, I decided to stay put in the sixteenth century, jumping 40 years’ to 1580 with Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet. This book is a fictional account of the life of Shakespeare’s only son who died aged 11, and whose name was later given to one of the greatest plays in history (Hamlet/Hamnet were interchangeable at the time). Set in Stratford-upon-Avon in the house of the town’s glove-maker, a young child finds buboes on her neck, a fatal signal of the plague. Her twin, Hamnet sets out to find help, but where is everyone? The family’s binding threads begin to unravel, spooling out in grief. Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, this is the right book for anyone wanting full immersion in another world, rather than poolside frippery. It’s beautifully told. £20 (currently £14.80) amazon.co.uk

On another note, I’m hoping to get to Naples and Ischia later this summer on the trail of the Neapolitan novels, and I’m looking forward to Elena Ferrante’s, The Lying Life of Adults, published 1 September and available to pre-order here. £20 (currently £15.49).

Francesca Martin recalls fashion show days with André Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches

Back in the day when I used to attend fashion shows, the extremely tall figure of ALT, often in sweeping velvet capes sitting next to Anna Wintour, was an imposing but familiar feature. So I was intrigued to discover his rise through the ‘chiffon trenches’ as he calls them and along the way, his friendships with fashion luminaries such as Manolo Blahnik, Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent.  At times, he is rather too enamoured and in awe of his subjects for my liking but he is extremely knowledgeable and no shirker –  he gets to the top by sheer graft and talent. He is also generous to a fault and his chapter on helping Galliano (whom he calls ‘the Baudelaire of couture’) for example, to stage a fashion show when Galliano had run out of money is both fascinating and revealing. £20 (currently £14.82) amazon.co.uk

Clemmie Jackson-Stopps is diving into David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue about a 60s psychedelic band on the rise

The last time I sank into a new David Mitchell novel was on honeymoon, lying on a beach next to the crystalline Greek sea. No such luck in 2020, but I am no less excited about diving into Utopia Avenue, Mitchell’s new book published on 14 July. I have to confess to being something of a superfan of Mitchell – his Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Cloud Atlas both rate in my favourite novels of all time. Known for his superlative prose and extraordinarily immersive parallel worlds, Mitchell is a master storyteller. If this book, a portrait of a 1960s psychedelic band on the rise, is anything like his others, I will be hooked from start to finish. £20 (currently £13.32) amazon.co.uk

Annie Reid discovers master storytelling from Elif Shafak in 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

This book has haunted my dreams since I read it. Its slight size weighs heavy with injustice – sexual violence and other atrocities experienced by Leila, a sex worker, whose last 10 minutes and 28 seconds looks back at the chapters in her life with beautiful, colourful stories. Time, memory and friendships are explored in this book that confirms the wonderful Elif Shalaf as a master storyteller. £14.99 (currently £11.55) amazon.co.uk

Domenica Marland has found a slow escape in a classic Henry James novel

I used lockdown to read books I don’t ordinarily read. Lots of these have been waiting for me to pick up on my bedside table, like this Henry James classic. Portrait of a Lady touches on many themes of the current climate such as isolation, long distance communication and new chapters. As I have spent lockdown in the countryside, the first part of James’ novel felt apt as the characters rarely leave their country home confinements. Their days, like mine, revolved around drinking tea, walking and anticipating the next exciting visit from a neighbour or friend – all of which felt familiar and comforting to read. One cannot mention the book without mentioning Isabel Archer, the protagonist, a refreshing and confident character who James uses to explore femininity and showcases her unusual decline of expected British gender norms that the protagonist finds unreasonable. This book was a welcomed escape to the 19th century, a world that was much slower and more reflective than we find now. £10.99 (currently £7.99) amazon.co.uk

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham is next on the list for Elizabeth Eaton

The small amount of reading I’ve done this summer is pretty embarrassing. The book I WANT to be reading is Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. I have always found her books perfect summer reads – page turners that somehow feel like guilty pleasures, but with better writing. This one reimagines Hillary Clinton’s life without Bill. And, if readers haven’t been through the rest of the Sittenfeld canon, you could easily find a few more worthy of a beach read. £16.99 (currently £11.99) amazon.co.uk

— Daisy Allsup
22nd July 2020