Book Club / Culture

A list of beach reads for the humid days ahead

The sound of iced lattes rattling is everywhere and you've pulled out the bedroom fan – summer is nigh, friends. The best part – besides endless mangoes and trips to the beach, is all the reading you'll get done while swatting away flies in the outdoors.

Between the memoirs we never quite got around to and the new fiction we've been buying but not reading, below, find the titles that have ended up on our holiday reading list for 2023.

1. August BlueDeborah Levy

Deborah Levy is the high priestess of articulating a feeling or mood. The one she conjures in her latest novel, August Blue, is of summertime melancholy. It opens with Elsa M. Anderson, a classical piano virtuoso who has just bombed a high profile performance of Rachmaninov. She travels Europe in search of work, taking on tutoring jobs in Greece, London and Paris, all the while keeping her eyes peeled for a woman she's convinced is her double that she first saw at a flea market in Athens. It's a story filled with doubles, languid summer scenes, sadness and a search for truth. The final line will stay with you for a very long time.


2. All Our Yesterdays, Natalia Ginzburg

It can be jarring reading about war while you yourself are experiencing its exact opposite. But this is not a war novel. Written in 1952, any inkling of the rise of fascism surfaces through the anxieties, disappointments, grief and relationships of the people within this novel. And while it's Italian author lost her husband after he was murdered by the Nazi's in 1944, this book is unsentimental and honest about the world she inhabits. One where air raids and political executions hold equal weight to suicides and adulterous affairs. Plus, it has the praise of Sally Rooney, which goes a long way.


3. Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata

Murata's tenth novel is undeniably nutty with pops of Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation and antisocial impulses. We love it because it's original. The book follows 36-year-old Keiko who despite her own contentment, is a mental burden on her family who worry she's stuck in a dead-end job at the local Smile Mart, and fret about her remaining childless and husbandless. The solution comes in the way of a since-fired colleague and the two strike a deal that will benefit them both.


4. Green Dot, Madeleine Gray

Australian arts writer, Madeleine Gray, debuts her first novel in October 2023 to wide-spread applause. It does that tricky thing of creating a voice that is both universal and specific; this how people in the world actually think and speak. Set in Sydney, Green Dot follows 24-year-old Hera Stephen who has acquired her first corporate job after deliberately putting it off for as long as possible. Now, Stephen is a comment moderator for a bigwig publisher and the role is exactly as depressing as she'd anticipated. The upside? Aside from the gallows humour shared with her colleague Mei Ling over the company's IM chat, a exciting affair with Arthur, the middle aged journalist she shares a desk with. If our protagonist is going to cave into convention, she might as well participate in the sort of stock standard workplace affair that surely goes with it.


5. I'm A Fan, Sheena Patel

A brutal novel that torches the spate of sad girl novels with its simmering rage. Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2022, I'm A Fan opens with an unnamed narrator detailing an unequal affair she's involved in. She holds the behaviour of all parties – including herself – to account with a brisk, unforgiving tone, unwilling to give over to the ambivalence of white characters of the same genre. More importantly, the book gets down to the nitty gritty of power dynamic, between men and women, but women to women too.


6. Munkey Diaries 1957-1982, Jane Birkin

holiday reading list

A collection of diary entries Birkin wrote between the age of 11 and into her life with Serge Gainsbourg, tracking the years between 1957-1982. The memoir transports the reader to London in the Swinging Sixties and Saint-Germain-des-Pres in the 1970s; charting her tumultuous first marriage to John Barry, and later, her creative partnership with Serge Gainsbourg. This is escapism at its finest.


7. Clothes Music Boys, Viv Albertine

If you consumed Carrie Brownstein's Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl and devoured Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon, Viv Albertine's memoir documenting her life from the fringes of culture and at the dawn of punk is a must-read. The lead guitarist and songwriter for legendary all-female punk outfit The Slits takes us to London in the 70s where there's cameos from Mick Jones of The Clash, Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Outside of the music, Albertine reflects on her childhood, abortion, marriage, motherhood, and surviving cancer.


8. Self Help, Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore's presents a series of nine short stories that serve as a guide to female existence. There's one on a woman who conducts an affair, another of a child bringing joy to her divorced mother, and further, a story of a woman who contemplates her terminal illness and impending exit. Filled with warmth, humour and emotional acuity, if you're new to Moore this is where to start.


9. Ordinary People, Diana Evans

Diana Evans introduces us to two couples on the eve of Obama's election. Set in London, both on its outskirts in Dorking and the suburb of Crystal Palace, the book tackles middle age, marriage, compromise and the delicate balance of relationships to the soundtrack of John Legend's 2004 album Get Lifted.


10. Walk Through Walls, Marina Abramovic

Soul food. There's something heart-opening about reading across the subject of art while on your summer break. Marina Abramovic's 2018 memoir is nourishing, even if her descriptions of adversity are at times shattering. Raised under Tito's regime in former Yugoslavia, her upbringing was difficult and her mother, severe. Through it all, the act of creation brought her meaning, and the book follows this strain, drawing on her famous performance artworks and that decade-long love with fellow artist Ulay.


11. Lost On Me, Veronica Raimo

If you enjoy Deborah Levy or Natalia Ginzburg, then you'll appreciate the writing of Italian author and translator, Veronica Raimo. Deeply original and with kudos from Naoise Dolan and Katherine Heiny, this bildungsroman follows Vero, a 15-year-old girl, writer and compulsive liar as she plots various bids for freedom, all of which are thwarted by her savvy mother. The film rights have been snapped up by Fandango, so look out for news of a future movie.


12. The Rachel Incident, Caroline O'Donoghue

Caroline O'Donoghue, host of podcast Sentimental Garbage and author of Scenes of a Graphic Nature and Promising Young Women, delivers the smashing novel The Rachel Incident, which follows students Rachel and James around Cork before the 2008 global financial crisis. When Rachel falls in love with her professor, Dr. Fred Byrne, James and her conspire to strike up an affair. But Fred is married and only has eyes for James. Things get dicey when Rachel lands an internship with Fred Byrne's literary wife Deenie.


13. The Guest, Emma Cline

Emma Cline publishes her first novel since The Girls, her 2016 debut that earned a spot on the Sunday Times best sellers list. With traces of Raven Leilani's Luster, The Guest follows Alex who, after a summer spent living with an older man on Long Island, is sent packing back to the city following a misstep at a dinner party. With little to work with, save for a talent for entertaining the desires of others, Alex manages to stay on Long Island, billowing in and out the gated communities and like a hurricane, leaving nought but destruction behind her. Mark it down as your feral girl summer read.


14. Enigma Variations, Andre Aciman

holiday reading list

From the author that brought us Call Me By Your Name, Andre Aciman delivers another novel that makes us long for warm days. Chronicling the life and relationships of a queer man named Paul, the novel takes us on a journey from his first crush as a boy in Southern Italy to an old flame he can't stop going back to in New York. Desire is written so viscerally it is dropped into the palm of your hand.


15. The Happy Couple, Naoise Dolan

The Happy Couple examines the ubiquitous marriage plot through five characters all linked by a wedding set to take place in one year's time. You have the happy couple: Luke and Celine. Then there's the best man, Archie, who is in love with Luke and without any desire to change it. Celine's chain-smoking sister Phoebe is the bridesmaid, and has no wedding aspirations of her own. The way she sees it, her role is to get to the bottom of Luke's frequent disappearances. Meanwhile, wedding guest Vivian watches on with enough emotional distance to see with clear eyes. Further proof of Dolan's hawk eye for observing social tensions, hierarchies and behaviour.


16. Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante

You'll soon learn that this is the most addictive series you'll have read since being a kid, nose deep in the Harry Potter series. If you crave nothing else but sinking into novel on a lilo, let us introduce you to Elena and Lila, two friends who we follow from their childhood shared in a poor slice of Naples across six decades, where their friendship weathers jealousy, adolescence, motherhood and the rest of life's rocky terrain. We recommend buying all four books at once, you won't have the patience to wait in between.


17. Walking through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, Cookie Mueller

holiday reading list

Featuring an introduction by Olivia Laing, it's high time Cookie Mueller was discovered by a new generation. You may know her as one of the actors in John Waters' legendary troupe of thespians or perhaps for her many cameos in the photographs of Nan Goldin, here in these stories, many of them previously unpublished, you get Mueller as written by herself.


18. Memorial, Bryan Washington

holiday reading list

A amusing premise for a novel: what happens when your partner and mother live together without you. This dynamic can be found in Bryan Washington's lauded debut. It follows Benson and Mike, a young couple who are beginning to question their relationship – not for any reason in particular, everything is wonderful. But when Mike learns that his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, he is forced to fly to Japan and leaves Mitsuko and Benson to get by as the most absurd of roommates. These unconventional circumstances turn out to be transformative for all parties involved.


19. Tom Lake, Ann Patchett

holiday reading list

Too often we fail to see our parents as people. In Tom Lake, Ann Patchett masterfully reconstructs these dynamics between Lara, a former actor, and her three daughters. When Emily, Maisie and Nell return home to their family cherry orchard in Northern Michigan in the throes of the pandemic, all three 20-somethings prod their mother about a famous actor she once worked with and loved. The storytelling compels the daughters to take stock of their own relationships, while Lara confronted a birds eye view of her own life. If you prefer an audiobook, the one for Tom Lake is narrated by Meryl Streep.


20. Good Material, Dolly Alderton

holiday reading list

Anyone who's thumbed the pages of a Dolly Alderton book can tell you that the British writer knows thing or two about love. But Alderton's latest offering is slated to be about its antithesis: heartbreak. The bestselling author of Ghosts and Everything I Know About Love switches things up by taking on he voice of a 35-year-old male protagonist named Andy. Things aren't going all that well for Andy; he's living on the couch of his best friend, has recently broken up with his beloved girlfriend, and that comedy career he's been working on is nowhere to be seen. Redolent of High Fidelity, with Alderton's signature keen-eyed observations, this is bound to be the book of summer. You just have to snag a copy when it launches on November 2.


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Image: @mona_tougaard