What We’re Reading: Writers and Readers on Books They Enjoyed in June | Books

In this series, we’re asking authors, Guardian writers and readers to share what they’ve read recently. This month’s recommendations include brilliant short story collections, impressive Irish writing and an unwavering war narrative. Tell us what you read in the comments.


Sinéad Gleeson, writer

Gwendolyn Brooks was an amazing poet and until this year I didn’t know she also wrote fiction. His episodic novel Maud Martha is a coming-of-age story told through the lens of race and class. Each page says something familiar in a new way.

I discovered Stephen Ellcock’s work via Instagram, where he curates images of art, folklore and history. A visual journey through the psychic landscape of Albion explores the people, rituals and myths of England through art and photography, with accompanying text by writer and Suede bassist Mat Osman. Likewise, PJ Harvey did something beautiful in Orlama dialectal ode to the land.

PJ Harvey. Photography: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Ireland, where I come from, has no shortage of great writers and recent impressive work includes short stories by Lauren Foley – polluted sexa concise and transgressive collection of genres and bodies – and the comedic genius of Wendy Erskine in dance move. It also happens that a contender for novel of the year is Irish: Louise Kennedy’s painful Troubles, Offenses. In poetry, there were notable works by Jessica Traynor in pit lullabies and Victoria Kennefick Let’s eat or we’ll both starve.

Berlin-based Jesse Darling is a deep and disruptive artist whose work means a lot to me. virgins, their experimental and vital poems challenge modes of desire, politics and representation.

I’ve been a longtime admirer of Sarah Manguso’s non-fiction and her debut novel – very cold peopleon a spooky city – does not disappoint.

My own book This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music is not alone in telling stories of women in music, especially unheard voices. This year, it rubs shoulders with the quietly philosophical memoirs of Vashti Bunyan, Rebel, by Kate Molleson sound in soundby Arusa Qureshi Return script (a superb account of women in British hip-hop), poignant by Jude Rogers The sound of human being, Stephanie Phillips Why Solange Matters and Cosey Fanny Tutti Re-Sistersa triptych of her own life in music, alongside fellow pioneers Margery Kempe and Delia Derbyshire.

I just re-read Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1926 feminist classic Lolly Willowesand given the current state of the world, who wouldn’t want to give up the patriarchy and go live in the woods like a witch?

And finally, Amina Cain a horse at night – coming out later this year – is a skillful and playful dive into writing and the books that filled my brain and made me want to read and write more.

This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music is published by Orion (£20). To support the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy from guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.


Asha, Guardian Reader

black cake by Charmaine Wilkerson is, on one level, a book about a family. At another, it’s about immigration, identity and perception. The storytelling is amazing, its short chapters slowly unraveling the story as various storylines develop and coalesce into a fused narrative. It’s a beautifully told story with characters that stick with you for a long time. I highly recommend it.


Gurnaik Johal, writer

Even though I’m a writer myself, I’m not very good at reading. I try to read on my commute – you may have seen me on the center line, an unopened book in my bag, about to fall asleep. But recently, I’ve been introduced to brilliant writers whose books have kept me awake on the tube.

I loved the Sheena Patel one I’m a fan, an urgent and unfiltered novel about “fuckboys”, influencers and Instagram harassment written in hard-hitting chapters. Focusing on unfaithful characters making questionable decisions, it’s relentlessly intense, often scathing, and always funny. Patel’s writing about desire and jealousy is particularly raw, and at times we feel almost too close to the anonymous narrator’s inner thoughts, as if we’re scrolling through her Notes app without permission.

Another book with a striking title and a large cover full of obsessive characters is Paul Dalla Rosa’s collection of short stories, An exciting and lively inner life. Like Patel, Dalla Rosa manages to make the internet work properly. There’s a dark satisfaction here in watching lonely characters crumble to their lowest point, but beneath the cutting sentences and biting humor there’s something more. I think Saba Sams fans send nudes and Jem Calder reward system gonna love this – all three seem to represent a certain brand of (sorry to be that guy) millennial boredom. But there’s nothing to get bored of here – his pared-back prose burns.

While Dalla Rosa and Patel have striking and singular voices, which is so impressive in Nana Nkweti’s collection of stories, Walking on cowries, it’s just how many different voices she manages to pack. It is rare to read such an extensive collection, especially one so short. Nkweti jumps from genre to genre as if bored perfecting them, from horror to sci-fi, from YA to mythic romance. You also get what you pay for at the sentence level – Nkweti is wonderfully (and refreshingly) maximalist, rejecting the tired writing maxim that “less is more”. If that’s not enough to sell it, there are also zombies, which are unfortunately hard to find in literary fiction.

We Move by Gurnaik Johal is published by Profile (£12.99). To support the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy from guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.


Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Viet Thanh Nguyen. Photography: Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

Apu, guardian reader

I read recently Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Sympathizer. The narrator (illegitimate child of a French priest and a very young Vietnamese girl) reveals the unequal power dynamics she is subject to on a personal level but which also exist in a larger geopolitical arena via French colonialism and American imperialism.

The writer does not hesitate to describe the depth of the human tragedy, from the loss of the family of his childhood friend during the evacuation to the obscene outcome of the American bombardments. However, there are also lighter moments that satirize white America’s relationship with its South Asian minorities.

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