The annual mid July Guardian article on the summer reading choices of the great and good literati provoked the usual mixture of interest, awe, and even disbelief chez moi and friends. How were they going to find time on holiday to read 600 page novels, biographies and travel books as well as sleep in, play with the kids, chat to friends over too much wine and shout at one another in the Brittany Ferries queue? Still, dead pleased to see that Harif Kunzru’s choice included ‘The Iraqi Christ’ by Hassan Blasim, the winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, reviewed here and that Helen Simpson chose ‘The Mussel Feast’ by the German writer Birgit Vanderbeke, also shortlisted for the prize and reviewed here. The German theme continued with the choice of ‘Berlin: Imagine a City’ by Rory Maclean and Rüdiger Safranski’s ‘Romanticism: A German Affair’ but the apogee for me was both Philip Pullman and Helen Simpson including the marvellous ‘Buddenbrooks’ by Thomas Mann on their lists-which I read on holiday a few years ago, not on a beach but holed up against the rain in the Gasthaus Zitt in Ehrwald, Austria. So great that even in the face of all the exciting new books on offer, this classic family saga remains as gripping as ever. (If you have time do visit the Buddenbrooks House in the beautiful North Sea town of Lübeck where a fascinating exhibition of the lives and times of the Mann family combines with a reconstruction of their living space to really breathe life into the ambience and characters of the novel). Back to that summer reading list: I decided to choose one or two things from the pile I had recovered from the Hathersage book sale in June, where people arrive with one pile and leave with another, (all for the very reasonable price of 50p for a paperback, £1 for a hardback, proceeds to support young people in education in Ethiopia), namely Richard Ford’s ‘The Sportswriter’, William Faulkner’s ‘As I lay Dying’ , Ali Smith’s ‘There but for the’, oh and the required novel from the country, so ‘la Chambre des Officiers’ by Marc Dugain, as we were going to France, and finally ‘The Village’ by Nikita Lalwani. More later on whether this summer’s reading choices led to the love affair of that Buddenbrooks summer….
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