20 Books of Summer 2018

This is my first year joining in with the 20 Books of Summer challenge run by Cathy of 746 Books. I’ve decided to put two twists on it. One: I’ve only included books that I own in print, to work on tackling my mountain of unread books (300+ in the house at last count). As I was pulling out the books that I was most excited to read soon, I noticed that most of them happened to be by women. So for my second twist, all 20 books are by women. Why not? I’ve picked roughly half fiction and half life writing, so over the next 12 weeks I just need to pick one or two from the below list per week, perhaps alternating fiction and non-. I’m going to focus more on the reading than the reviewing, but I might do a few mini roundup posts.

I’m doing abysmally with the goal I set myself at the start of the year to read lots of travel classics and biographies, so I’ve chosen one of each for this summer, but in general my criteria were simply that I was keen to read a book soon, and that it mustn’t feel like hard work. (So, alas, that ruled out novels by Elizabeth Bowen, Ursula K. LeGuin and Virginia Woolf.) I don’t insist on “beach reads” – the last two books I read on a beach were When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin, after all – but I do hope that all the books I’ve chosen will be compelling and satisfying reads.


  1. To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine – I picked up a copy from the Faber Spring Party, having no idea who Albertine was (guitarist of the all-female punk band The Slits). Everyone I know who has read this memoir has raved about it.
  2. Lit by Mary Karr – I’ve read Karr’s book about memoir, but not any of her three acclaimed memoirs. This, her second, is about alcoholism and motherhood.
  3. Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi by Pamela Timms – I bought a bargain copy at the Wigtown Festival shop earlier in the year. Timms is a Scottish journalist who now lives in India. This should be a fun combination of foodie memoir and travel book.
  4. Direct Red: A Surgeon’s Story by Gabriel Weston (a woman, honest!) – Indulging my love of medical memoirs here. I bought a copy at Oxfam Books earlier this year.

5. May Sarton by Margot Peters – I’ve been on a big May Sarton kick in recent years, so have been eager to read this 1997 biography, which apparently is not particularly favorable.

6. Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy – I bought this 1960s hardback from a charity shop in Cambridge a couple of years ago. It will at least be a start on that travel classics challenge.


7. Girls on the Verge: Debutante Dips, Drive-bys, and Other Initiations by Vendela Vida – This was Vida’s first book. It’s about coming-of-age rituals for young women in America.

8. Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly by Sue Halpern – Should fall somewhere between science and nature writing, with a travel element.


9. The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle – L’Engle is better known for children’s books, but she wrote tons for adults, too: fiction, memoirs and theology. I read the stellar first volume of the Crosswicks Journal, A Circle of Quiet, in September 2015 and have meant to continue the series ever since.

10. Sunstroke by Tessa Hadley – You know how I love reading with the seasons when I can. This slim 2007 volume of stories is sure to be a winner. Seven of the 10 originally appeared in the New Yorker or Granta.


11. Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore – I’ve only ever read Dunmore’s poetry. It’s long past time to try her fiction. This one comes highly recommended by Susan of A life in books.

12. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates – Oates is intimidatingly prolific, but I’m finally going to jump in and give her a try.

13. Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto – A token lit in translation selection. “This is the story of [a] remarkable expedition through grief, dreams, and shadows to a place of transformation.” (Is it unimaginative to say that sounds like Murakami?)


14. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – How have I not read any of her fiction yet?! This has been sitting on my shelf for years. I only vaguely remember the story line from the film, so it should be fairly fresh for me.

15. White Oleander by Janet Fitch – An Oprah’s Book Club selection from 1999. I reckon this would make a good beach or road trip read.

16. Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz – Another Oprah’s Book Club favorite from 2000. Set in Wisconsin in the years after World War I.


  1. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler – Tyler novels are a tonic. I have six unread on the shelf; the blurb on this one appealed to me the most. This summer actually brings two Tylers as Clock Dance comes out on July 12th – I’ll either substitute that one in, or read both!


18. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – I’ve only read Gay’s memoir, Hunger. She’s an important cultural figure; it feels essential to read all her books. I expect this to be rough.

19. Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay – This has been on my radar for such a long time. After loving my first Hay novel (A Student of Weather) last year, what am I waiting for?

20. Fludd by Hilary Mantel – I haven’t read any Mantel in years, not since Bring Up the Bodies first came out. While we all await the third Cromwell book, I reckon this short novel about a curate arriving in a fictional town in the 1950s should hit the spot.


I’ll still be keeping up with my review books (paid and unpaid), blog tours, advance reads and library books over the summer. The aim of this challenge, though, is to make inroads into the physical TBR. Hopefully the habit will stick and I’ll keep on plucking reads from my shelves during the rest of the year.

Where shall I start? If I was going to sensibly move from darkest to lightest, I’d probably start with An Untamed State and/or Lit. Or I might try to lure in the summer weather by reading the two summery ones…

Which of these books have you read? Which ones appeal?

41 thoughts on “20 Books of Summer 2018

  1. So pleased to see Talking to the Dead and Late Nights on Air on your list, and I’m sure you’ll love Direct Red too. If you do, look out for Gabriel Weston’s novel Dirty Work (reviewed on my blog if you want to check it out). I thought it was excellent but it seemed to sink without trace. As for what else appeals – I like the look of Four Wings and a Prayer. Happy reading!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I remember hearing about Dirty Work when it first came out. I think I still have a Times clipping about it, in fact. It’s such a shame when that happens — even though I’m sure you did your best to attract readers with your review 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fludd is majestically weird; I think you’ll really like it (there’s a lot of theological stuff to get your teeth into, for such a small book). White Oleander is one I read a long time ago, but I recall it being highly readable, in a good way, and Half of a Yellow Sun is similar. Haven’t read any of the others! (But we love Dervla Murphy at the shop. She wrote loads, and seems to have been indomitable.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Looking forward to Fludd! Yeah, my thought process with books like White Oleander was that it would be an easy one to sink into for a while, which is definitely what you want with summer reading.

      Dervla Murphy was undertaking the most extraordinary adventures even just a few years ago! She’s 86 now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve read through lots of #20books lists in the past 24hrs and I think you’re the first to share an author with me – I hope to read Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto this winter. But am quietly (& surreptitiously) adding Amrita to my wishlist 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read the Dervla Murphy book a hundred years ago – long forgotten. As for Banana Yoshimoto – good luck with that! I tried one of her novels & was baffled. I enjoy Murakami, but did not enjoy BY. Looking forward to your verdict. You have reminded me to make a determined attempt on my own TBR. Here we are on 1 June, and I am nowhere near my 2018 target. Looking forward to your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting to hear your Murakami vs. Yoshimoto reactions. I will have to see what I think! I picked the book up for $1 in a secondhand shop last year, so if I don’t end up getting on with her style it’s no great loss.


  5. Haven’t read that Oates book in years; I remember liking her THEM the most of any of hers. I haven’t read any of Mantel’s Cromwell books, but her short story collection was amazing, if you ever want to try her shorts. I’m still in a WWII phase for my TBR, so my summer won’t be very beach-read-y either!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been paralyzed, not knowing where to start with Oates. She’s written in so many different genres and comes out with about a book a year! I got a recommendation for this one and thought I might as well start there.

      I had totally forgotten Mantel had a recent short story collection. I have had good luck with short stories recently, so maybe I’ll give it a try.


  6. I’ve read the Murphy and the Tyler. I can’t believe her new one is out next month; I have everything else in paperback so I’m going to have to be VERY restrained there. Enjoy your 20, and it’ll be nice to have you on board!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No, the only “real” publication I review for is Shiny (and my editor asks for books for me for that). I don’t feel I have the credibility to just ask. I do have a lovely catalogue from the publisher of the grime book I read recently: they loved my review, sent me a hardback of the book and said I could ask for something from the catalogue, so I will …


  7. I think you’ll enjoy the Oates book you chose – I read that one long ago. It’s more “general”? (is that the right word to use?) and not so out there – just a really good story. It is one of my favourites of hers. Each one she writes is so very different – The Mulvaneys vs her deeply disturbing Daddy Love are like night and day! 😉

    Great list – I have an Elizabeth Hay on my #20BooksofSummer list too! A Student of Weather is what I’ve listed and was honestly thinking of starting with that one!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A couple of these are in my TBR stack as well (but not on my 20 Books list).

    I’ve read We Were the Mulvaneys – I enjoyed it but read through a slightly peevish lens because I’d just seen JCO on a panel at a writers festival where she was giving one word answers to the questions she was asked – it was VERY AWKWARD! for the panel and annoyed me because I thought “These people are here to see you, why behave like you don’t want to be here?!” I have here latest in my TBR stack but it will probably stay there until the writers festival is a distant memory!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Huh, that’s so funny! It’s interesting how a writer’s public persona can make you feel differently about their work. I’ve had a few run-ins with authors on social media that have made me feel like I don’t want to read any more of their books, and a couple times when seeing an author in person at an event has made me feel less favourable towards them in general.


  9. The Viv Albertine is wonderful! As is Direct Red (you’ll want to read her novel Dirty Work afterwards). Anne Tylers tend to blend into one continuum in my memory, I know I’ve read Breathing Lessons…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Full Tilt is excellent, a great introduction to those travel and exploration classics you plan to read (someday, perhaps 🙂 ). If you enjoy it, and would like to read more travel classics by female writers, I highly recommend Tracks by Robyn Davidson (and the movie is pretty cool too).

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I generally struggle with Oates, but remember really liking We Were the Mulvaneys (and I read that exact same edition!) Adichie is a wonderful writer. For me, her stand-out book is Americanah, but Half of a Yellow Sun is also very good.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve read An Untamed State and you’re right – it’s rough. It’s a hard read because of the subject matter but, honestly, I think it’s the best-written of all her works. 🙂


  13. This challenge is a great idea for knocking off some of the unread physical books – I’m doing exactly the same myself, with the exception of one book which is on my Kindle. Interesting selection of books. I’ve read An Untamed State by Roxane Gay; your comment of thinking it could be a rough read stands to be entirely true. Really quite intense and brutal, but a really good read too.

    Good luck with the challenge!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The only ones I’ve read are White Oleander and Drowning Ruth, both quite a few years ago, but remember liking them. I’ve been meaning to read Late Nights on Air forever – maybe you could let me know when plan to pick it up and I’ll join you!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve only read four and the ones which appeal are the Mary Karr (I enjoyed her first memoir a lot), the butterfly book (which has been on my shelf for ages), the Tessa Hadley (I keep meaning to read more – I thought London Train was very well done), and the Anne Tyler (I’m craving her suddenly). The Roxane Gay is rough but I thought it would be the kind of rough that made it hard to pick up, and it’s actually the kind of rough that makes it hard to put done – very engaging style, despite the subject matter. And, oh, I loved Late Nights on Air (as well as Student of Weather) – she’s a favourite for sure! Which do you plan to read first? Or, are you still deciding?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’ve got Half of a Yellow Sun also sitting on my TBR pile of backlist books I should get to (along with The Tiger’s Wife and Boy, Snow, Bird. If it was a hundred pages shorter with slightly larger print, I would have hoovered it up by now.

    My pick for you is definitely Breathing Lessons. I’ve been reading Anne Tyler for 30 years now and I think it’s her masterwork in a career of outstanding novel writing.

    Enjoying your review, thanks.


    1. I actually just finished Breathing Lessons on Saturday 🙂 Not my favorite of hers — that would be Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant — but probably my #3 out of the 7 of her books I’ve read so far. I’ll be reading her brand-new book soon too.


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