What You Sow summer reads August 05 2013

Here at What You Sow HQ I’ve been using the wonderful weather as an opportunity not only to work on gardening and craft projects but also to sit in the sun and do some reading. As the summer shows only the slightest signs of abating, and many will have holidays planned, I thought now might be a good time to think about some timely, sunny and green reading for the next few months. So I asked @jonathas to contribute a few suggestions of summer reads for you to explore.

The first recommendation is Melissa Harrison’s cracking debut novel, ‘Clay’, which is a perfect read for the green fingered and the environmentally aware. Charting a year in the life of a small London park and the ways in which the lives of a small group of characters develop over that time, it’s terribly moving and full of beautiful and inspiring descriptions of nature. The book is centred around the relationship between TC, a young boy who seeks solace in the wildlife around him and Josef, a Polish migrant who has left behind his life as a farmer to work in one of South London’s neglected high streets. Beautifully written and very affecting, the book is guaranteed to make you want to get out into a green space and learn the names of the trees that surround you in your daily life.

Another book that crackles with evocative descriptions of nature is Evie Wyld’s terrific ‘All The Birds, Singing’, which somehow failed to get onto the Booker Prize shortlist week. Like Clay, the wildlife in this book is a far cry from the pastoral idyll; set partly in an Australian outback which crackles with danger and partly on a remote Scottish Island, this book is mysterious and inventive, lit up by lyrical prose but containing scenes that provoke sharp intakes of breath. Like Clay, it’s only available at hardback at the moment, but it’s absolutely worth the investment. 

In paperback, Tan Twan Eng’s ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ delivers on a promise of evoking a calmer picture of the natural world. Though set in turbulent times (the book tells the story of a Japanese gardener exiled in Malaysia during the violent Malayan Conflict after WWII), it is really the story of how through discipline and artistry the act of gardening can impose order and create a profound contentment and reconciliation with the past, as well as express a multitude of complex emotions. Rich in metaphor and stately in tone, the book also explores the cultural impact of tea, tattooing and zen Buddhism.

A novel as clear and clean as the ringing of a bell, Deborah Levy’s touch on the marvellous ‘Swimming Home’ is a little less green fingered; but the book still contains plenty of beautiful images, such as the comparison of a naked girl in water to a bear swimming, and a lovely description of a centipede examined clambering out of a bucket. The book concerns a middle class family’s holiday in France being interrupted by the arrival of the enigmatic, cinematic Kitty Finch, who places all kinds of strain on the family dynamic. Deborah Levy wrote a similarly wonderful collection of stories this year too, Black Vodka. Both are worth checking out.

And if the above all sound a bit rich in metaphor and literary styling, I couldn’t recommend a nicer summer book than Rebecca Harrington’s hilarious ‘Penelope’, a delightful university novel starring the eponymous heroine, who arrives at her first year at Harvard with little idea how to navigate campus, conversations, or make a spreadsheet for her ‘counting people’ class. If you’re a film-fan and loved the dry whimsy of Whit Stillman’s ‘Damsels in Distress’,the slightly sillier ‘Pitch Perfect’ or Greta Gerwig’s latest, ‘Frances Ha’, you’ll love this.

Hope you’re feeling inspired to read one of Jonathan’s recommendations! Grab a copy from your local independent bookstore if you can. And leave a comment or send me a tweet to tell me what you’re reading. 


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