Books for a Long Hot Summer
Fresh from editing the non-fiction anthology Tell You What, our books editor looks forward to her summer reading.
Summer reading has its lair, and for me it’s the beach. Our habits die hard. If I walk into a church, I pray, if I sit on a beach,I like to read.
When I was five, my parents bought a bach on the side of a hill at the end of Onetangi, on Waiheke. To paraphrase Bruce Mason, that place became “the huge panorama that formed the backdrop to my every summer holiday”. I don’t remember looking for shade; I lay in the sun on my stomach until the print danced like dizzy ants and I swam in the sea. “Playing melanopoly,” wrote novelist Catherine Chidgey.
I read thrillingly to find out secrets, indiscriminate of taste — sunscreen-smeared paperbacks and magazines with sealed sections. Later, the greats saved me — George Eliot and Milan Kundera, Doris Lessing, Philip Roth and Graham Greene. I looked up from my reading to a horizon adrift with sails. The astonishing immense and shaggy wonder of it all.
This summer, I’ll be back there, with more books. Thanks to James Wood in the New Yorker, I’ve just discovered the Neapolitan novelist Elena Ferrante. You won’t hear her at a festival or on Kim Hill because no one knows who she is. No interviews. “I’ve already done enough for this long story: I’ve written it,” she has said.
The Long Days of Abandonment got me signed up as a fan. Her latest book, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, is the third instalment of a novel cycle following the lives of Lila and Elena. Because I don’t want to miss any of the drama, I’ll also go back and read the first one, My Brilliant Friend.
I’ve been saving Michael Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things because I know it will keep me reading long after the stars come out. Science fiction meets religion. A perfect fit.
My short-story collection of choice is prose stylist Geoff Cochrane’s Astonished Dice.
New Zealand poetry is my default reading setting anywhere, but particularly on holiday. Slim volumes are light in the day-pack and always warrant rereading. I’m packing Airini Beautrais’ Dear Neil Roberts and Chris Tse’s How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes for narrative and historical edge.
I’ll have English poet John Burnside’s All One Breath for a fix on the dead and dying and Olena Kalytiak Davis’ new book, The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems. An early review has leaked the line: “fuck. we didn’t read again for weeks.”
I’m also re-reading the funny and wonderful New Zealand poet James Brown. Everyone should read him. His writing made my dying friend laugh in hospital. Warm Auditorium is coming on holiday.
Back to novels. Jenny Offill’s small masterpiece Dept. of Speculation is a breakup novel full of sentences of such preserve and economy, the book’s smallness feels massive. Two New Zealand novels I’ll have with me are The Chimes by Anna Smail and The Lamplighter by Kerry Donovan Brown. Smail is a poet whose first collection I really enjoyed, and she’s already had this new book published in the UK. Brown’s debut novel is a beautiful and strangely gothic read set in a fictional yet ghostly familiar town somewhere off the grid.
The book that’s stirring up lots of arguments among writers is Ben Lerner’s meta fiction 10:04 A Novel. It’s neurotic, rambling and charming.
Summer haze makes a mosaic but The Rainbow Reader will give me tinted glasses. It’s a charming work of creative non-fiction which looks at colour from the personal perspective of New Zealand artist Tessa Laird. Each chapter is separated into a different hue and bound in the appropriately coloured card, and the colours act as a catalyst for writing about ideas and art and philosophy.
The New Zealand Random/ Penguin merger may make warehousing stock a bit tight. I’ve had an offer to collect some full sets of my late husband Nigel Cox’s novels to help with the move. Of course I already own them, but I may read them again. Writing from some other summer. It’s a voice I miss.
Metro books editor Susanna Andrew is the co-editor, with Jolisa Gracewood, of Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2015, a splendid anthology (if we do say so ourselves) containing work by many Metro writers including Naomi Arnold, Steve Braunias, Greg Bruce, Anthony Byrt, Leilani Tamu and Simon Wilson.