When I was sent a proof copy of Alone Time, the debut from Stephanie Rosenbloom, a staff columnist for the travel section of the New York Times, I immediately dismissed it because of its fluffy title, byline and cover design. I thought it would be a tacky travel guide, about how a young woman ‘found herself’ whilst hiking in the Andes on an all-expenses-paid luxury retreat. Then, in a moment of boredom, I picked it up and gave it a flick through and was immediately hooked. It explores the joys of solo travelling in an entirely unpretentious way.
It features genuine research into the state of solitude, using examples from all walks of life and managing to successfully balance statistics and facts with insightful commentary, which makes it an approachable and rewarding read. The enormous footnotes section at the end of the book shows just how well researched it is. Sure, there’s a bit of ‘I didn’t discover a new city, I discovered myself’ about it, but it’s much less wishy-washy than other travel writing that covers this theme. All in all, it’s a genuinely great read for anyone who revels in their own company.
I discovered Caroline O’Donoghue through her writing for The Pool, which is fast becoming my news and features platform of choice. This is her debut novel, and her creative writing has as much conviction as her journalism. Promising Young Women is a surprisingly compelling and witty read, and the synopsis doesn’t really do it justice.
Full of dark twists, it follows the tale of protagonist Jane Peters, a twenty-something working in an office job but moonlighting as an internet agony aunt. She becomes the other woman in a relationship, a position she has repeatedly given advice on but has never embodied herself. The book explores gender inequality within a power structure, and takes the tropes we are used to seeing in “female literature” and explores why they are truly worth analysing. It’s a real catch, and definitely one to grab this summer.
Another year, another inevitable best-seller from Caitlin Moran. For anyone who doesn’t know her, (are there any of these martians left?!) she is a columnist for The Times, a position she has held from the age of 18. She has written several books of both fiction, memoir and volumes of collected journalism. This time, though, it’s a novel.
Moran is keen to set out in the first few pages that How To Be Famous isn’t a memoir, and yet the protagonist’s life seems to follow the trajectory of Moran’s career almost to the letter. It’s a coming of age story set in Britpop London, following the life of Johanna Morrigan, a young writer exploring the city. A two-night-stand with a comedian goes somewhat awry, opening up a story of power imbalance within the entertainment industry. Moran’s writing is as fiery and outlandish as ever, and like with all her writing, it’s a book that sticks out from the beige stories of “growing up in the city” that we’re used to.
Japanese writing is definitely having a moment, and as someone that studied Japanese at A Levels (yes, a true story) but never plunged myself into its literary history, I am keen to do start dipping my toe in the Japanese literature waters. This well-rounded collection is proving to be an excellent place to start. It’s a great introduction into a field of literature often overlooked by school and university syllabuses, but one with a particularly well-established literary tradition well worth exploring. Featuring a selection of very varied stories both by well-known and lesser-known writers, with some of the stories in the collection translated for the first time. It also has a good representation of female writers, something that is often missing in these introductory collections.
Haruki Murakami has written a dense introduction, with a real personal exploration of each story. He gives a real insight into Japanese history, literature and culture. It’s a well-ordered collection, split into themes rather than being chronologically ordered. It’s also a beautifully designed book, and one that looks great on any bookshelf. If that’s what floats your boat.
This is quite a rogue addition, and I have to preface it by the fact that I didn’t particularly love this book. I had read recommendations of it everywhere, and maybe if I had seen Precious (which Sidibe plays the title role in and for which she was Oscar-nominated), I would be more invested. However, I’m beginning to realise that I only truly enjoy memoirs if the writer includes social commentary rather than focusing on their personal stories.
Sidibe’s debut novel is definitely engaging though, and the book is written with honesty, openness and humour. She is the daughter of a mother who sang in the subway and a polygamous father, so the roots of a fascinating story are definitely there. She took an entirely unconventional route to enter the profession, one which definitely has the reader hooked.