You may not have heard of tsundoku, but we’re prepared to bet you know the feeling: this Japanese term describes a person who buys a lot of books then lets them pile up, unread. Sound familiar?
During lockdown, I made more Amazon orders than I care to admit, summoning stacks of recent releases to my flat. Finally, I thought, I could find time to read them – after all, what else was I going to do during long days shut inside? But predictably, I fell foul of the corona-concentration gap, unable to concentrate on anything more taxing than a re-run of Friends.
And I’m not the only one: experts say that the extra anxiety caused by the pandemic has impacted our working memory. No wonder I was finding it near-impossible to focus on even small tasks – let alone tackle the word count equivalent of War and Peace that was dropping through my letterbox each day.
Since lockdown eased in London, I’ve had less of an excuse and I’ve finally made my way through the pile of summer blockbusters by my bed. If you’ve also found yourself a victim of tsundoku, here are the six best summer reads you’d be mad to leave untouched.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. The fact that HBO has already acquired the rights to The Vanishing Half should be enough to convince you that this clever, coming-of-age novel is a must-read. This story of a pair of light-skinned, African American twins in 1960s New Orleans is a powerful triumph of brilliantly drawn characters, that explores family, race and identity in ways that are uncomfortable but accessibly, highly readable but thoughtful.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. For a fascinating glimpse into a future that could so nearly have been, pick up Curtis Sittenfeld’s masterful Rodham, which poses the question: what if Hillary hadn’t married Bill? A reimagining of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life as a career politician (Bill, meanwhile, is an internet billionaire), this is absorbing and thoughtful in equal measure; a powerful comment on ambitious women and their place in the public eye.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez. An astoundingly bold debut, Rainbow Milk is the tale of Jesse – a young, black, gay, former Jehovah’s witness – who leaves his small town to move to London as a sex worker. It’s a story that’s as groundbreaking in its language as its content, exploring masculinity, youth and race in Britain at the turn of the millennium.
Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan. If you enjoyed Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age (undoubtedly this summer’s smash hit), you’ll love Friends and Strangers: both novels explore the complex relationship between parents and caregivers. There’s nothing new mother Elisabeth prefers about her life in upstate New York to her old, cosmopolitan Brooklyn existence – except for Sam, her new nanny. But is Elisabeth just paying for Sam’s friendship? This is a story that explores suburban ennui, ambition and the gulf of privilege from new, fascinating angles.
Self Care by Leigh Stein. Have you ever scrolled through an Instagram influencer’s posts about moon bathing, clean eating and crystals, and wondered if they really believe any of it? If that’s a yes, then Self Care – a wry, witty novel that follows the female co-founders of Richual, an ‘inclusive online community platform’ – is for you. It skewers the tropes of the narcissistic, billion dollar wellness industry, unveiling the ruthless, capitalist underbelly of that most millennial of concepts, self care. Essential reading for anyone who doubts the good intentions behind the rosy filter.
Sisters by Daisy Johnson. This captivating new novel by Daisy Johnson (the youngest writer to be short-listed for the Booker prize) is just as good as her last. The story follows sisters July and September as they move to a new – and unsettling – home with their single mother. An uncomfortable exploration of the tensions between sibling love and rivalry, this will set you on edge and keep you there.