A girl with her head always in a book. That was who I was, growing up. I've written before about my childhood spent reading, the books I shared with my father, my reading companion. I've written about how reading is what made me want to be a writer - longing to make other people feel the way I felt when I was touched by a heartfelt, beautiful, devastating story.
And so I am slightly aghast to admit that it's been over a year since I've read any fiction. I have never not read fiction, certainly not for this long. So this is something I feel terrible about. I feel like apologising to all the books I failed to read.
Perhaps surprisingly, my lack of fiction reading has nothing to do with having children or being busy. I've always read around the children, making time in the evening and also early in the morning during those sleepy dawn feeds, the daybreak diffusing through our bedroom shutters casting the first shadows upon my bedspread. A baby nestled into me, warm and drowsy in my arms; a book in my hands.
No; the reason I've not read fiction for a year is not because of my children but because of this, everything you see here with Our Story Time. I did read last year. But I was reading books on branding and starting your own business and marketing and making money and building websites and believing in yourself and I read blogs all about those things too. There was plenty of reading, and plenty of inspiration, but not the sort of creative inspiration or beauty that comes from fiction. There was no time for that. And I have missed it deeply.
So this last month, now that I have more direction with Our Story Time and where it's going, and now that I've come to understand how important it is for me to bring my writing back into the fore, I've started reading fiction again. Reading for me, reading for pleasure, reading the way a writer reads. Reading to be inspired, reading to lose myself, reading to challenge me and make me question how I can better myself, constantly, as a writer too.
I have picked up a selection of novels to read this summer and to take with me on my travels, including Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, Whistle In the Dark by Emma Healy and Let Me Be Like Water by SK Perry. I have just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and felt it sparkle through me. I have missed reading for me, for my soul, so much.
I am always on the lookout for a good read and am happy to get back into my routine of having my next book lined up before I finish the one I'm on. With that in mind, I've set up a Facebook book recommendation group and I'd love for you to come and join me there. It's not a book group, there's no pressure for us to all read the same book to a deadline and then discuss, simply a cosy little reading nook where you can dip in and find a good recommendation for your next book from some like-minded souls. The group is called Her Reading List, so do pop on over and request to join - I'd love to let you in to our little reading corner.
Meanwhile, here are a few recommendations to get started. I am a fast reader and I am also a passionate re-reader. I have books I turn to repeatedly for comfort, so this summer, I also hope to return to some long loved, well-thumbed favourites that always seem to help me tune into a certain mood. I'm sharing these with you too, just in case you're in need of some summer reading inspiration. There is this notion that holiday reading must be insubstantial in some way, so that we don't have to think. But on the contrary; holiday reading should be a chance to feel more connected and inspired than ever. I see no reason why the three books below shouldn't be holiday reads - they are all captivating.
MY THREE favourite SUMMER MUST-READS
Here's a small selection of books I have found myself turning to again and again in summer months from years past. I've read and re-read each one many, many times.
Runaway by Alice Munro
Oh, but this is so, so beautiful it hurts. Alice Munro is, hands down, one of my absolute favourite writers. And Runaway is one of my favourite books. This gorgeous collection of short stories is simply magical. It's so quiet, so unassuming; it's so hard to even know how to begin to tell you what they are about because they are so much more than simply the "what". There are stories here about motherhood, marriage, searching for connections. Each story is devastating and moving but also, just so simple. Alice Munro has a gift of being able to detail everything under the stars and she does it so unassumingly and so profoundly that it leaves me stunned every single time I read this.
Read it if you're looking for an escape from the noise of your everyday and a lesson in beautifully observed life experiences and don't mind shedding a tear or two as you go.
Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie
I feel like I have read this book inside out for the past decade and every time, it's like settling down with an old friend in the form of Aliya, the lead character. Kamila Shamsie is an incredibly accomplished serious writer, but Salt and Saffron, one of her earliest books, barely gets mentioned these days maybe because it's not quite as highbrow as her more recent literary tomes. But it's so enchanting nonetheless. Aliya is a twenty-something American-Pakistani with a sprawling, lively family full of secrets and mysteries and one summer, on her way back to Pakistan, she stops in London and almost accidentally uncovers pieces of her family history that she never knew about but suddenly explain bits of her past and who she really is. Aliya is just charming and this book just reminds me of being younger, of my own heritage and of summers spent between London and Lahore. It's so vibrant, truly appeals to all senses with some especially delicious descriptions of food featuring quite heavily throughout too.
Read it if you're looking for a summer novel and an unusual beach read that is easy to lose yourself in and transport you into a rich, bright world of noisy family chaos.
Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
I must have read this book about ten times in about as many years (this book was published 11 years ago). It's a big, long novel about a girl called Casey Han, a born-and-bred New Yorker and the daughter of Korean immigrants but this is much more than just a book about culture clash. It's about friendship, romance, rivalry and all these huge stumbling blocks that Casey must overcome simply to live the life she wants, on her own terms. It's epic. Casey is such a defiant, strong character; she blows me away with her fierceness in the face of betrayal. As a novel, I love it for the epic and engrossing descriptions, the way threads of stories weave in and out. There are so many fantastic, believable female characters here - Casey's mother and sister and the charming but naive Ella, Casey's not-quite-friend who equally must find her own voice and her own strength by the end. I love the way that Casey's world is so visual and real; the descriptions are enchanting and I am completely and entirely able to picture this New York, taste it and smell it as if it's right there in front of me.
Read it if you're looking for an unconventional epic romance novel full of exquisite writing.
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And you can read more about my writing journey here: