Sunny, sexy and super fun: our all-time favorite summer reads | Culture

“A novel to get lost in”

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Fiction, Bloomsbury (2020)

Piranesi is the literary equivalent of a rock pool, a wonderful microworld. It is the story of a house: a seemingly endless tangle of once-grand rooms. Within these crumbling walls, a captive ocean churns and churns and an unnamed man searches for clues to a mystery he has long forgotten.

Piranesi is a shapeshifting marvel. It can be read as an eco-fairy tale, a study in solitude, a crafty Narnia spin-off, a high fantasy whodunnit, a dumbfounded allegory, or a half-remembered dream. A novel to get lost in. – Beejay Silcox

‘Perfect for an afternoon at the beach’

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

Fiction, Hamish Hamilton (2002)

Any Human Heart is the cradle-to-grave story of William Boyd’s fictional Logan Mountstuart, whose life spans every decade of the 20thth century and some of its epochal events. Mountstuart – novelist, art dealer, husband, friend of a gang of eccentrics from school days, lover and poor old man – takes flight through Boyd’s superbly imagined first-person diaries.

I think it’s his best novel; he so gripped my imagination that I felt like Mountstuart’s accomplice as he confronted Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Ian Fleming and Jackson Pollock. Perfect for a dream afternoon on the beach. – Paul Daley

“Touching, wildly funny”

What a cut! by Jonathan Co

What a cut!  by Jonathan Co

Fiction, Viking Press (1994)

Few books are as heartbreaking, touching, or wildly funny. Nebbish author Michael Owen is tasked with writing a biography of the Winshaw family: scions of power and privilege, peddlers of heart attack-causing frozen foods, arms dealers to Saddam Hussein (and worse!); he finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery that is also a wildly scenic satire of Thatcherism.

What a cut! it’s a book you simply can’t put down, even when the covers finally close: the luminescent sets, wonderful characters, and abject hilarity will replay in your head, year after year. – Declan Fry

‘intensely banal’

The novels Mapp and Lucia by EF Benson

Mapp and Lucia, an Australian reprint published through Penguin

Fiction, Hachette (1920)

Do you revel in the seething belly of kindness investigated by Miss Marple and Poirot, but the covers have fallen out of your Christie collection? Then you might like novels that cover the intensely mundane social-climbing snobbery between EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia who never quite turns homicidal. Sittling rivalries turn into feuds over petty moments that could be revoked right by NextDoor, but these folks dress up for dinner. – Viv Smith

“Bittersweet Escape”

Elena Ferrante’s brilliant friend

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, published by Text in Australia

Fiction, Text Publishing (2012, translated by Ann Goldstein)

Of all the past bestsellers lining op-shop shelves around Australia, few make a better bittersweet escape than the Neapolitan saga of Elena Ferrante and its trailblazer, My Brilliant Friend. An easy but elegiac read, Ferrante follows two intelligent girls growing up poor in postwar Naples, who dream of transcending the grim little future lives embodied by their parents and neighbors (the results are…complicated).

Evocatively translated into English by Ann Goldstein, you may find yourself awake at 4 a.m. on a warm January night after accidentally making it to the final chapter in one sitting. Don’t worry: there are three more voices, and decades of Lenù and Lila, to see you through until February. —Walter Marsh

‘Effervescent, wildly original’

Tracy Sorensen’s Lucky Galah

Tracy Sorensen's Lucky Galah

Fiction, Pan Macmillan (2018)

Why this effervescent and wildly original novel hasn’t yet been made into a kitschy slice of Aussie cinema à la Priscilla or The Dish is beyond me. Maybe it’s because the narrator – a flightless pet galah who shreds literary classics like Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country – isn’t exactly easy to choose.

Set in a small coastal Western Australian town in the lead up to the Apollo moon landing, a parade of quirky characters – radar technicians, bird enthusiasts, survivors of stolen generations, racist politicians and growing feminists – find themselves at a crossroads cultural, fighting for freedom, meaning and a slice of the Australian dream. – Janine Israel

“Funny, Scary and Absolutely Hypnotic”

Donna Tartt’s little friend

Donna Tartt's little friend

Narrative, Knopf (2002)

In a damp Mississippi town in the late 1970s, precocious and bookish 12-year-old Harriet Dufresnes and her dimwitted but loyal sidekick Hely set out to uncover the truth behind the unsolved death of Harriet’s young brother a decade earlier. Their investigations trap the pair in a landscape they’re not prepared for: a seedy underworld of evangelical snake trainers, meth junkies, crumbling families, and cunning pool sharks.

Charles Dickens mixed with Flannery O’Connor, it’s long, atmospheric, funny, scary and downright hypnotic. – Chris Womensley

‘evasive and salacious’

Sultry Climates: Travel and Sex by Ian Littlewood

Sultry Climates: Travel and Sex by Ian Littlewood

Nonfiction, Da Capo Press (2003)

Escapist and loaded with salacious detail, reading Sultry Climates will make your pants smarter at dinner. Drawing on letters and private diaries, Littlewood’s alternative history outlines the warm and heavy but rarely explored relationship between travel and sex, from the Grand Tour through the 20th century.

Some passages describing the tourists of yesteryear are so funny and petty that I laughed out loud. You’ll also come away with Oscar Wilde’s take on *smooth brain, vibrations only*: “Have you noticed that the sun abhors thought?” – Alex Gorman

“The Original Hot Pie”

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Fiction, Penguin (1999)

Is Bridget Jones the original pre-internet mess? (Close contender: Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but she didn’t make it remotely funny.) As a teenager, Bridget’s romantic dramas and sloppy nights with her friends were a fantasy; in my 20s they were a reality. And in my 30s, as I approach Bridget’s fictional age, her intelligent reflections on her work, relationships, and life aspirations as a suburban woman hold water. In the words of Bridget herself: vvg. – Yvonne Lam

‘Rich and compelling’

The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischwili

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin

Fiction, Scribe, (2020, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin)

For a 944 page novel, I devoured The Eighth Life in what felt like one breath. Not before or since have I been so immersed in a story spanning six generations of love, loss, and broken dreams among the Jashi family in Georgia. The epic tale begins with a master chocolatier in Tbilisi in the early 20th century and continues to Moscow and the rise of the Soviet empire.

The real joy is how author Nino Haratischwili so skillfully guides the reader through the story, his characters are so rich and compelling that you mourn the end of a chapter. – Caitlin Cassidy


The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman

Fiction, Penguin (2012)

In 1920 on Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Australia, Tom Sherbourne takes a new job as a lighthouse keeper. Destined for a quiet existence, he and his young wife Isabel make a life together, until a boat comes ashore carrying a child.

Taking the child as their own, Tom and Isabel’s innocent secret slowly becomes an all-consuming moral dilemma, keeping you in its clutches on every page as they battle the rough seas of good and evil. Maddie Thomas

‘Entertaining historical readings’

Two travel books in Arabic by Abū Zayd al-Sīrāfī and Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān

Two travel books in Arabic, by Abū Zayd al-Sīrāfī and Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān

Nonfiction, NYU Press (303-310/915-922)

If you want short, entertaining historical reads, then the medieval travelogues of Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān (an Arab diplomat sent up the Volga, Russia) and Abū Zayd al-Sīrāfī (an Arab merchant traveling through India and China) are a must. Translated into English by NYU press, these two diaries offer colorful insights into areas of the world rarely visited by Western Europeans at the time.

You’ll get a rare glimpse into Russian Vikings and the horrific way they treated women, and witness a delightful exchange with a Chinese emperor who doesn’t hold back his views on Abrahamic religions. Paraphrasing: “Which Noah’s ark? We haven’t had any floods in China.” – Anton Issa

The ideal atmosphere for the holidays’

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Fiction, Penguin (2018)

When you spend most of your nights without sleep, you spend most of your days thinking about sleep, which makes you wish you were dead (not speaking from personal experience or anything). You begin to read Ottessa Moshfegh’s enthusiastically received novel – about a twenty-year-old brat who sleeps for a year, aided by a nauseating cocktail of drugs – like an instruction manual. You scan the pages for clues, hoping you too will be lulled into total oblivion – the perfect holiday mood. – Michael Sun

What is the gripping, delightful, escapist book you return to on vacation? Join us in the comments and we’ll compile a list of readers’ picks

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