Summer Reading List: The Books The RIISE Editors Read And Loved This Year
Author: RIISE Team
DOCUMENTED BY: @hotgirlliterature
Summer, it’s a time to be our best selves.
Under the heat of long days, time slows down. We find space to breathe and take a moment to enjoy the things that reallymatter. Or at least switch from long blacks to cold brew for a couple of months.
Listen, we spend the whole year romanticising summer. Then it arrives and it’s all, “He said what to you at Christmas?” Or, “Sorry, how are we having New Years at my house?” Before you know it, it’s February and every part of your tan has faded except the unfortunate sunglasses outline.
Yet still, we remain optimistic. We believe in ourselves. We believe in you. We believe some seasonal fantasies can come true. Maybe not wearing white linen for more than 15 minutes without getting sangria on it…but other stuff – like actually completing some light summer reading.
You might not get through the entire stack of books on your bedside table. But if you choose carefully and really commit, you will reach the final pages of at least one or two books over the break. To help you see this summer dream realised, we’re delivering a roundup of the books the RIISE content team couldn’t put down this year.
Documented By: @libraryofthieves
Elizabeth Roberts, Deputy CEO
Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
This book to me is like a piping hot mug of Earl Grey on a chilly morning. An unexpected combination of wholesome and thrilling, this book was the escapism I needed during a few rough points this year. I laughed and fell in love with these characters. Gutted I can’t wipe my memory and read it again for the first time.
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
It's hard for me to find the words to describe Heartburn by Nora Ephron. This book means so much to me. As funny and witty as it is insightful and if I'm honest quite painful, I hand this book out to friends and loved ones as some might do flowers or sweet treats. If you haven't read it yet, I envy you – I wish I could read it again for the first time! If you've ever had your heartbroken, this one is for you.
Wendy Syfret, Editor-in-Chief
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Thanks to Lapvona coming out this year and everyone having an opinion on it (and Moshfegh) I decided to go back and revisit her earlier work. This was the book that made her (book-person) famous. It has all the trademark female body horror of her later works, and doesn't at all feel like a first try. It might even be her strongest book so far. Also, if you happen to be feeling fed up with summer, sunshine and beautiful people, this tale will give you a LOT of the opposite.
Sunbathing by Isobel Beech
I feel like this was THE book everyone was reading this year. It's such a tender look at family, grief, and friendship but also somehow a totally realistic portrayal of "internet brain" -- not an easy balance to strike! I actually read it in winter but it mostly takes place during an Italian summer so probably would be more appropriate to read now.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
This is one of those books that's always on the "funniest books of all time" lists but I kind of just glossed over it when I saw it. Honestly, and this might not be a very chic take, but if something's older than like 50 years I usually don't feel confident that I'll find it hilarious or relatable. I don't know how but Gibbons managed to write such a funny, weird, chaotic and strangely modern book that's literally just about an irrationally confident 20-something-year-old staying at her cousin's boring farm. Sounds like it shouldn't work but it does!
Documented By: @booksbyb_
Lucy Jones, Features Writer
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
Like a really complex ensemble film, this book cleverly weaves together multiple plot lines without losing you for a second. Each story pulls you in more than the last, a testament to Jennifer Egan's skill as a writer. In a nutshell it's about the fantastic and terrifying implications of the digital age and the ethics of embracing invasive technologies. It hits close to home for anyone who compulsively scrolls the internet (AKA all of us) and made me want to spend more time enjoying life IRL.
Educated by Tara Westover
I finally got around to reading this 2018 novel by Tara Westover after receiving it as a gift. The book recounts her childhood growing up in a hardline Mormon family feat. doomsday prepping and very little knowledge of the outside world. The book shows how education can open up your world and will help you understand how others can hold a radically different worldview from your own, depending on the information they've had access to. I made a mental note of a line in the book that came from Tara's (spoiler alert) university professor which went something like this: there's no such thing as bad sentences, just bad ideas. A good one to remember for writers.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
As the title suggests, this one was a fun read. I rented it from the local library after seeing the positive reviews on the cover (I'm a sucker for a good review). It's a funny, relatable and somehow lighthearted comment on everyday racism and white saviour mentality. It follows 25-year-old Emira Tucker navigating the world as a young black woman. Her voice felt fresh and was enjoyable to read. The young character Briar (who Emira nannies) is also super sweet and funny – Reid really captures the brillance of kid logic. I'd recommend it if you feel like a page-turner that will also teach you something.
Hana Okada, Head of Content
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
The one thing I do know is that I’m very late to the Dolly train, but hopefully there are at least three people out there who haven’t wolfed this down yet. Everything I Know About Love is a memoir of writer and Sunday Times columnist Dolly Alderton, who navigates family, friendships, work and love from her early 20s to 30s. I found out about it through every Instagram story and group chat from when it was published back in 2018. I enjoyed it mostly for the bits that made me feel nostalgic for my own years: living in a hectic share house with girlfriends; navigating work for the first time; hosting themed house parties that eventually become dinner parties. But at the end of it all, I loved how it made me feel about all of the friendships around me. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a chill read, especially if you’re also navigating dates, friends, jobs, life and love.
Documented By: RIISE
Katelin Rice, Editorial Assistant
Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr
Woman on Fire was one of the best books I have read this year. It was easy to read (perfect for my bedtime brain), interesting and had a few twists and turns I wasn't expecting.
The book is about a young woman (Jules) who worms her way into a young journalist position which sees her trying to track down a painting stolen by Nazis more than 75 years ago: Woman on Fire. She makes deeply personal connections along the way, including with a dying designer who covets the portrait for deeply personal reasons. It's a story of love, destruction and passion. I thought it really showed the best and worst of humanity and the story captivated you every step of the way. Highly recommend.
Sundressed by Lucianne Tonti
Sundressed is a book that talks about fashion's problematic attribution to the climate crisis without criticising us for taking enjoyment from our clothes. In fact, we're encouraged to appreciate our clothing even more in order to slow consumption. Lucianne explains in depth about how our purchasing habits and the use of natural fibres can help us embrace fashion without destroying our planet in the process.
I loved this book because it was a realistic depiction of how we can all be better consumers. A lot of us love our clothing (as Lucianne points out, it can be an armour and a way to express ourselves creatively throughout our life) so how do we do it responsibly? It's about the thought behind what we buy, buying better and also loving that item so wholly we repair it throughout its lifetime. Lucianne goes into how exactly we go about doing all the above.
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who wears clothes. Oh wait, that's everyone. One of my favourite quotes from the book that has stuck with me is: "The combination of these two forces – a love of clothes and a love of nature – could subvert the take-make-waste model that is driving fashion's enormous environmental footprint".
Glow (The Plated Prisoner series) by Raven Kennedy
This year the second to last instalment of The Plated Prisoner series was released – and it didn’t disappoint. While the size of the book is a little intimidating, the contents are well worth the time. The adult fantasy series is set in the gilded world of Orea which is riddled with romance, intrigue and danger. Throughout the books (which get better as you go), the myth of King Midas is reimagined. One of the main characters, Auren, is controlled by the greed of others (including Midas), but slowly grows into her own power – physically and metaphorically – which is both gripping and satisfying. Glow is by far the best in the series, so you’ll have to read through the rest to get there.
A quote from Glow that stuck with me was: “One person’s pain doesn’t negate another’s. Our heartaches are not competition but the bridge to empathy.”
Documented By: @nahtehreads
Courtney Kruk, Managing Editor
Animal by Lisa Taddeo
I read Animal at the start of the year (so some plot details are a little hazy) but going through my highlights reminded me why I loved it: Lisa Taddeo knows exactly how to deliver a punch-to-the-gut line.
The story is about a woman, Joan, who leaves New York City after a man shoots himself in front of her. She moves to California in search of Alice, a woman she believes will help her understand her traumatic past. “For the first time in a long time I was going somewhere for a reason”. There are a lot of themes operating throughout Animal: violence, gender, power, trauma, sex and rage. It’s dark, weird and at times perplexing. But there is something about it and the way Lisa Taddeo writes that got under my skin and had me until the end. I felt totally immersed in the setting – the canyons, the winding roads, the mountains – and in the narrator’s interiority, even in the uncomfortable moments.
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Cat’s Cradle is about a man named Jonah’s ambitions to write a book about what “important Americans” had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Research for the book leads him to Dr Felix Hoenikker (the inventor of a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet), the doctor’s three children and a strange island.
I didn’t really know what to expect from the synopsis and a book billed as satirical, science fiction written 60 years ago. But I think it holds up; the themes and commentary still feel relevant and I really enjoyed the paradox of absurdity and realism. I also find the dry, sarcastic, directness of Vonnegut’s writing strangely soothing, so good for a left-field, end-of-year read.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
I don’t know that this belongs on a relaxing summer reading list but I’m throwing it in anyway. Written by investigative journalist and writer for The New Yorker Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain goes deep on one of the richest (and I think you will agree after reading the book, most duplicitous) families in the world: the Sacklers. For years their name was associated with esteemed institutions like Harvard, Oxford and the Lourve. They were well-known philanthropists and highly influential people, but the source of their wealth was always a little mysterious…until it came out that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing OxyContin.
There are plenty of documentaries, shows and books that chronicle America’s opioid crisis to choose from. But if you really want to dig into the family’s backstory and their motivations, I recommend this. It’s like Succession for investigative journalism nerds (me).
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
This was the first Ottessa Moshfegh book I’d ever read and it won’t be the last (have since ordered My Year of Rest and Relaxation). I got about three pages into it and fell in love with the way she writes.
Homesick For Another World is a book title I wish I thought of first and a collection of 14 short stories. Each one has very different characters and settings, but there is a common theme of human imperfection. The narrators tend to be weird, very flawed, generally unlikeable and probably the kind of people you’d hate to live next door to. But that’s what makes the collection interesting. ‘A better place’ and ‘Bettering myself’ were my favourite stories. It might be too much of the same note to read in one go, but perfect if you want to get through a bit of fiction on your break without committing to a whole novel.