Summer holiday reading: 19 books recommended by well-read Cambridge people
Whether you’re planning to relax on a sun lounger, head across France on a donkey trek or chill out on the Norfolk coast, a good read is usually top of everyone’s holiday packing list. We caught up with well-read folk around the city to see what was on the top of their ‘to be read’ pile.
Kate Rhodes, Cambridge-based author
I’m off to Corfu this summer, with my husband, Dave. Greek beach holidays work well for us, because I’m lazy and he’s active. So while he kayaks, hikes or explores distant villages, I will be under a parasol, reading a few carefully-chosen books.
The one I’m most looking forward to is Take Nothing with You, by Patrick Gale. Gale is a hugely accomplished writer, with a lyrical writing style and keen sense of humour. The fictional worlds he creates are so believable, I always feel bereft when the story ends, as if I’ve visited an exotic country and returned home much too soon. Take Nothing with You is a coming-of-age story, about a young gay man who becomes a virtuoso cellist, finding his way in the world.
I love books that teach me about something new, so I hope to learn about classical musicianship from an expert, because Gale is a also a cellist. It sounds like the perfect combination of beautiful writing, alongside a subject the author cares passionately about. I can’t wait for my reading holiday to begin!
Devil’s Table by Kate Rhodes is published by Simon and Schuster.
David Robinson, manager of Heffers bookshop
My main summer read this year is The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. I love to get lost in a big, fat book in the summer holidays. This particular chunky beast is set in the 1950s and promises a road trip across America with a difference, featuring a cast of unforgettable characters.
I’m looking forward to hundreds of pages of beautifully-crafted, elegantly witty prose that has something profound to say about the human condition, without being a lecture.
The main reason this is top of my books to read is because Towles’ previous novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, is quite simply my favourite novel of at least the last 10 years. So, while I’m recommending his new one, if you haven’t already, make sure you read the previous one. It is utterly captivating from first word to last.
Gytha Lodge, Cambridge-based author
I love absorbing myself in a really great thriller, when not trying my hardest to write them. My first hotly-anticipated read of the summer is C S Green’s The Whisper House, which has a “something’s wrong in this house” set-up (which I cannot get enough of), a great detective and, given the author, will no doubt have a brilliantly eerie vibe with twists aplenty. The perfect read for hot weather (I’m going to Wales so fingers crossed...)!
But I also like to have a good non-crime book or two to take on holiday, as I’m definitely an all-genres reader in my heart of hearts. So I’ll be diving into Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, a book that’s been on my radar for months, and Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, which everyone seems to adore. Fingers crossed they’ll be full of feeling and fabulous!
Little Sister by Gytha Lodge is published by Penguin Random House.
Lucy Nethsingha, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council
I am currently reading The Great Passion by James Runcie, a book about the life of Bach, written from the perspective of one of his choristers.
The book was given to me by my father, and to him by his sister, who is James Runcie’s aunt, so family connection is one reason I chose this book. I also love Bach, and his Great Passions. I have sung both the St John and St Matthew passions, although many years ago now. They are amazing music, and also amazing story-telling.
I have always enjoyed historical fiction, and am particularly enjoying the portraits in this book of the women in Bach’s household. It is lovely escapist reading and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
Adele Geras, Cambridge-based author
A mixture of following the shenanigans in Parliament, too much box-set bingeing and hot weather have together cut down my reading time, but I’m halfway through The Whalebone Theatre, by Joanna Quinn.
It’s wonderfully absorbing and beautifully written and I intend to finish it on my holiday in Cornwall in early August. Plenty of other gems lined up on my Kindle, but next up The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This was recommended by my granddaughter, who’s almost 20.
Dangerous Women by Hope Adam (Adele Geras) is published by Penguin.
Tyler Shores, University of Cambridge ThinkLab
Two for me. The Every by Dave Eggers: what if a company was Amazon/Apple/Facebook/Google all in one? What kind of control would they have over basically everything we do? The implications are sometimes humorous in a scary kind of way. This is a tech dystopian novel that is a sequel to Eggers’ earlier novel The Circle (read the book, skip the movie) and it probably will make you temporarily a bit more wary about your digital devices.
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman: the Nineties weren’t that long ago, were they? This book has a fun history-through-pop-culture approach that will give you a very Nineties kind of feeling. And it’s a reminder of just how much we and the world have changed in a few decades.
Can’t wait to read The 2020s in about 30 years.
Clare Jackson, author and senior tutor at Trinity Hall College
Wearing ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ is traditionally believed to bring brides luck on their wedding day. I’m not getting married this summer, but have my fingers tightly crossed that our family holiday to Australia – first booked for 2020 – won’t be disrupted by flight cancellations or Covid.
To guard against this, I’ve chosen, ‘something old’ in Martin Edmond’s Luca-Antara (2006) which was a quirky, Australian-themed recommendation by the knowledgeable staff at Topping’s bookshop in Ely. ‘Something new’ is Katherine Rundell’s Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne (2022) – I’m currently writing a life of King James VI & I, so am keenly interested in new biographies of other 17th-century writers! ‘Something borrowed’ (and new) is Nicola Upson’s Dear Little Corpses (2022) after a friend, Beth, and I attended an excellent event at Waterstones in Cambridge at which Nicola Upson talked about this latest instalment in her Josephine Tey series of murder mysteries set in the 1930s and 1940s. Beth bought the book – which I’ve now borrowed. And ‘something blue’ is Malcolm Bradbury’s To The Hermitage (2000) for the long flight to Sydney. The jacket-cover claims it’s ‘the funniest book ever written’, so fingers crossed on that front too!
Devil-Land by Clare Jackson is published by Penguin.
Jill Dawson, Cambridge-based author
I’m reading Sacred Nature by Karen Armstrong.
After the extreme heat we’ve had, and any number of other indications, we really can’t ignore the climate emergency. I’ve read other books by Armstrong, an ex-nun, about alternative approaches to a spiritual life. This book looks at why our relationship with nature has been so awry for many many centuries, with patriarchy and capitalism disconnecting people from their roots and, importantly, how we might change that. (It doesn’t sound like a ‘beach read’ I know, but I often want to read to learn something on holiday, and this is one such occasion!)
The Bewitching by Jill Dawson is published by Sceptre.
Liz Hide, director of the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
As ever, my summer reading list is hugely optimistic: I’m not one to lounge around much, so reading is snatched on train journeys and while waiting for the kettle to boil.
Top of the pile is Otherlands: A World in the Making by Thomas Halliday which, with its lovely ferny cover, is intriguing and exciting me. It’s billed as a journey of exploration through deep time, accompanied by the plants, animals and landscapes across millions of years of Earth history. As such, it’s familiar territory to me, but I’m hoping for a fresh and lyrical approach. In a similar vein, I’m also looking forward to Elsa Panciroli’s The Earth: A Biography of Life.
Finally, Hollie McNish’s poetry has been a hugely life-affirming presence through the last few years, so I’m hoping I’ll get time to enjoy her latest collection, Slug.
Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge
Summer reading for me is the chance to do some serious thinking as Labour prepares for government – so my main book will be Net Zero, Food and Farming by an East Anglian academic Neil Ward.
I’m also a big fan of American political historian Robert Caro, who wrote the epic biography of President Lyndon Johnson, and I will be revisiting his account of the man who built New York, Robert Moses. Both Johnson, and Moses, were giant figures, hugely ambitious with great achievements but also ruthless, horrible people who abused power and treated those around them very badly. But you will be glad to know that I will be taking some lighter reading as well!