CLAIRE AIKEN: Summer reads offer great escape even when holidaying at home

Books bring with them a welcome source of focus in this age of information overload
Books bring with them a welcome source of focus in this age of information overload

A RIVETING book can make for a trusty travel companion. You may not be able to guarantee the sunshine, but with a little research, you can at least look forward to whiling away the hours on a summer afternoon with a literary delight.

Even if that afternoon is spent cooped up on a plane, lounging by the pool, walking through your local park (the joy of audio books!), or simply relaxing in the garden.

Books also bring with them a welcome source of focus in this age of information overload. A tried-and-trusted route to disconnect and unwind, enabling us to turn our attention away from that personalised world of infinite scrolling and towards a story, fiction or otherwise, that can enlighten or entertain, challenge or charm. And one which won’t disappear 24 hours later.

This year, there are new novels to discover. New stories to experience. With that in mind, we’ve pulled a number of summer reading recommendations from the Aiken bookshelf.

For many, a holiday begins when heading into the local book store (BookScissorsPaper is a firm favourite) and deciding which of the highly recommended books you’ll be bringing on your travels.

One which jumps off the page is ‘Birnam Wood’ by Eleanor Cotton. A climate novel that follows a band of guerilla gardeners as they attempt to defend a protected region in New Zealand’s south island from a tech billionaire prospector. It’s a thriller which holds you to the very end.

Another breed of thriller is ‘American Prometheus’, an exhaustive account of the triumph and tragedy of Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘Father of the Atomic Bomb’ for whom the development of the nuclear weapon marked the beginning of a long and torturous saga.

It’s a character study unlike any other, delving deep into the Cold War paranoia that ultimately shaped the fate of one of the world’s best-known physicists. Oppenheimer’s saga will soon light up our cinema screens, too, no doubt with thundering effects and a possible awards-worthy performance from Cillian Murphy. You heard it here first.

From Los Alamos to the isolated mountains of Idaho, ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover is a memoir that verges on un-put-downable. This is a story that is both hopeful and horrific due to the violence suffered at the hands of her family, Westover recounts overcoming her

survivalist Mormon family in order to go to college and learn more about life outside the isolated mountains of Idaho. From bravery to determination, weighing up the right from wrong, and ultimately the pull of family ties, are all threaded throughout the story. An excellent summer read with plenty of food for thought.

A similarly emotive family saga is ‘Did ye hear mammy died’ by The Guardian columnist and Irish Times contributor Séamas O’Reilly. Be prepared, you will be belly laughing one minute and crying your eyes out the next.

One of ‘the wee ones’, O’Reilly was just five when his mother passed away from breast cancer leaving him, his 10 brothers and sisters and his dad. The memoir focuses almost entirely on the childhood O’Reilly had after his mother Sheila’s death. He paints a loving portrait of his kind-hearted, single father Joe and regales the reader with entertaining stories of his upbringing in rural Northern Ireland during the latter part of Troubles. An instant best-seller – we can only hope it’s the first of many!

Now, one for food lovers: ‘The Food Almanac Volume II’ compiled by Amanda York boasts some lovely writing from an eclectic choice of contributors. Essays, poems, memoirs and stories combined with descriptions of and suggestions for seasonal ingredients are the perfect reading recipe for summer.

Some of our favourite writers contribute – Diana Henry, always superb, writes on the softness of autumn; while Deborah Levy’s piece celebrating the joy of fruit, her on-point description evoking the scent and colour of summer fruit and inspiring the book’s beautifully illustrated cover.

And finally, an episodic poetry lesson from Alan Bennett himself. ‘Six Poets Hardy to Larkin’ is Bennett’s anthology and a light and manageable lesson about such legendary poets as Hardy and MacNeice. A well-known English playwright, author and actor, Bennett takes us on an in-depth and insightful journey into some of the most famous English and Irish poets.

Open at any page and you will be welcomed with a poem that has mileage, accompanied by a brief analysis of what the poem is actually saying. Bite-size brilliance well suited for your summer travels.

Claire Aiken is managing director of public relations and public affairs company Aiken