books

9 books you need to read this summer to make you human again.

A summer reading list is so, so … so personal. Gathering one into a tidy bundle and offering it up to others is fraught.

The most unlikely people will be into Sci-Fi and Fantasy, light readers will suddenly be entranced by a worthy memoir, and, when the sun comes out and the days grow longer, the usual literary suspects will get a touch of sunstroke and eschew their preferred genre for an easy, no-think page turner.

Bookish people can be so crazy.

This summer instead of genres we've decided to select books based on what you need most at the end of the year. A year you may feel you kicked some goals, or you lost your way. This year, we're giving you books that might lead you back to, well, you. Books that remind us of our shared humanity, our belonging, our frailty and our strength.

Our book list is not self-help, it's not about diets and life plans, it's about human stories, both memoir and fiction. Stories of loss and love, of death and living, evil and goodness that touch something inside. Humanity in all its messy and marvellous forms.

Here are 9 summer reads (all recent releases - no classics, that's a whole other story) that will help reconnect you with what it is to be human.

1. Do No Harm: Stories of life, death and brain surgery.

This memoir by retired neurosugeon, Henry Marsh, delves into the questions of life and death, the marvel of the human brain, and mistakes made by people who hold someone's life in their hands - every day. It is tough on the health system and tender on the patients and family who have to use it. The Telegraph called it, "Expert, humble and profoundly human".

2. My Brilliant Friend.

Her fiction has been described as "intensely personal", "close to the bone" and "raw". In her fourth novel translated into English, Italian author, Elena Ferrentes, dissects the friendship between Elena and Lina. Set in a chaotic, impoverished Neapolitan neighbourhood during the 1950s, it is but one of a series. Added to the power of her novels is the author's mystery. Ferrentes is not her real name. She refuses face-to-face interviews, has given a handful of written ones and has published some letters. She could be a mother, she could have lived in Greece for a while. No one really knows. But she can write about people. Their domestic lives in the most visceral way.

3. Reckoning.

Ah, Magda Szubanski, we knew you were funny. We knew you had timing. We knew your brain worked in wonderful ways. Why is it that so many comedians can do their most important work as straight players? This memoir, that delves into her father's life as a Polish assassin in WWII and her coming out as gay is bittersweet, warm, surprising and above all beautifully written. The Sydney Morning Herald called it "extraordinary". As Sharon Strzelecki would say, "You've got to be in it to win it Mrs D."

4. A Little Life.

Hanya Yanagihara’s novel was shortlisted for the Booker prize. The story begins with the friendship of four male college students and follows them to New York where they all begin to lead very different lives. Written by a woman, The New York Times calls it one of the most "talked about" novels of the year. "It’s a big, emotional, trauma-packed read with a voluptuous prose style that wavers between the exquisite and the overdone."

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5. How to Be Both.

In this book of fiction narrated by two different characters from two different times; a troubled teenage girl (George) who has just lost her mother to a freak accident and an Italian Renaissance fresco painter (Francesco del Cossa), it has been said that author, Ali Smith, has re-invented the novel. Depending on which copy you pick up at the bookshop, you will either meet Francesco's story first or George's. The Telegraph said the Booker shortlisted novel brims with "pain and joy".

6. Sentenced to Life.

Yes, it is a collection of 39 poems, but as Clive James himself says a 'slim volume" is thrilling. The author, critic and broadcaster is dying of terminal cancer and Sentenced to Life contains both poems to transport the reader and James' bittersweet and honest musings on life and poetry to bring the reader home.

7. The Other Side of the World.

Set in the 1960s this novel by Stephanie Bishop centres on the fractured relationship between new mother Charlotte and her husband Henry. A letter in the postbox delivers a message: "Australia brings out the best in you", and the small family moves from England to other side of the world, Perth, only to discover they are still the same people. Hauntingly, Bishop weaves together the themes of the consuming nature of motherhood, identity and the desire to find 'home' - a place of belonging.

8. All the Light We Cannot See.

It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year and follows a blind French girl and German boy in occupied Paris during WWII. Washington Independent Review of Books said of this intricate novel, "To open a book by Anthony Doerr is to open a door on humanity. No matter what appalling evils surround the characters — including evils in which they participate — Doerr manages to deliver a world lit with love and compassion."

Our Podcast Director, Monique Bowley has reviewed this novel in her podcast 'I know what you'll read this summer.' You can listen below.

9. Wonder .

Likened to the Curious Incident of The Dog in the Nighttime for its ability to be read and felt by children and adults, this book written by R.J. Palacio tells the story of 10-year-old August (Augie) who is heading off to school for the first time after his junior years being home schooled. He knows he's not an ordinary kid even though he eats ice cream, rides bikes, plays X-box, because ordinary kids "don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds". Augie has a severe facial deformity and now he has to go to school, make friends and live. My 10-year-old daughter said it: "Changed her life".

Enjoy summer. Enjoy your reading. Enjoy connecting with others - all by yourself.

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