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My Poolside TBR List 2014

DSCN8722It’s been a great summer so far. The weather has been fantastic for weeks on end, even in England. In June I went on a solo trip to Paris and Brittany. Progress is good – or at least not terrible – on the second novel I started three months ago (by the way, there was a fantastic response to last week’s post and lots of interesting contributions from other writers, if you missed it). But the one thing this summer hasn’t been is relaxing. Far from it.

After this I’m vacating the Sofa until September and will be spending the second half of August in Provence doing very little but eat, drink chilled rosé, read and swim. (I won’t be writing about the trip as it would be almost identical to the post I wrote two years ago.) This is our sixth time in this heavenly spot and much as I love visiting new places, there’s something wonderful about knowing what awaits you .

So which books will I be tearing through with hours and hours to fill? My Summer Reads selection has been a big hit as usual, but I’ve already read them. The holidays are always a welcome chance to catch up on some books I’ve missed (with just one forthcoming release this time). So here’s my Poolside TBR – the only post of the year where I talk about books I haven’t read – and why they made the cut:


I’m very lucky to have an advance copy of Sarah Waters’ new novel, which isn’t out until 28 August. She’s one of my favourite writers and the most incredible storyteller, which are not always the same thing. I’ve been saving this for my holiday and haven’t even read the blurb – she always pulls a few surprises!


This is one of those books I can’t believe I haven’t read, so I was pleased when my book group chose it. I’m expecting something very powerful having been deeply affected by other novels about slavery such as Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith and The Long Song by Andrea Levy.


This author’s second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012 and is one of the most haunting and beautiful stories I’ve ever read. In fact, it made such an impression on me that I’ll be visiting the Cameron Highlands where it is set on a trip to Malaysia later this year.  I was lucky enough to meet Eng when he visited the UK and  can’t wait to read his first novel, which some people say is even better…


Since reading Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black a year ago, I’ve started to enjoy memoirs and narrative non-fiction. This one caught my eye as my fascination with East Germany dates back to the eighties when I went there as a student. I haven’t read a book in German since then out of sheer laziness and this seemed a good one to get back into it. I’m hoping for all the ingredients that made The Lives of Others such an outstanding film.


This one seems to have my name on it since I am: A. a Francophile B. writing a novel set in Paris and C. fancy myself as a literary type (in case you hadn’t gathered). Some people hate novels about writers and the book world – I can’t get enough of them. The title is a quote from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Vila-Mata is one of Spain’s leading novelists but as my Spanish hovers around the level of buying beer and train tickets, I’m going to do the next best thing and read it in French.


Another memoir! American life and dysfunctional families are more of my favourite subjects and this account by successful journalist Jeannette Walls of her eccentric and challenging early life between the Southwest and West Virginia sounds colourful and inspiring. When I heard two friends discussing it the other day, it shot to the top of my TBR (and my full TBR is so huge that it exists neither in physical form nor on paper – both would be too scary.)


I loved O’Neill’s previous novel Netherland and was delighted to see this one on the Booker longlist. He creates the most intriguing characters and situations and his prose is beautiful. Kudos to his publishers 4th Estate for their swift decision to bring forward the publication date (it’s now out). That still leaves four of the thirteen longlisted titles scheduled for release in September, in some cases after the shortlist is announced. This is unfair to the authors, readers and especially booksellers who can’t meet demand – it happens year after year and it’s high time something was done about it.


People keep telling me I’ll like this and it does sound promising.   I love American fiction and anything set there in the 1970s immediately sparks my interest as part of my first novel is set in Brooklyn in 1976. The theme of friendship is a draw too. I may be wrong, but as it follows a quirky bunch of people over decades it sounds a bit like A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which I really rated.

Have you read any of these?  Would love to hear what’s on your TBR list this summer (or winter, depending where you are).

See you in September!

THANKS TO Susan de Soissons, Britta Jensen, Kate Mayfield, Jonathan Gibbs and Anja de Jager for proofs, gifts and recommendations.


About Isabel Costello

Writer (novels: Paris Mon Amour 2017; Scent 2021).Host of the Literary Sofa blog. Co-founder of Resilience for Writers with Voula Tsoflias. Perfume lover and Francophile.


12 thoughts on “My Poolside TBR List 2014

  1. I think you’ll enjoy Beloved ….if enjoy is the right word . Gave me nightmares when I first read it , it was so powerful . Have a fab and relaxing holiday x

    Posted by hastanton | August 5, 2014, 19:29
  2. Beloved is one of those books that will stay with you forever. One of the most disturbing books you’ll ever read, but of course marvelously written. Meg Wolitzer was one of my literature professors at uni. I’ve got Interestings on the Kindle. Starting reading and then got distracted by another book, so will be curious to hear your reaction to it.

    Posted by Anne Pollak | August 5, 2014, 19:55
  3. My favourite reading place, in fact the only place were I read books with proper attention, is my local Wetherspoon pub because you are left in peace, nobody bothers you, there is no music (that’s Wetherspoon pubs’ policy), and you can drink their cheap coffee with free refills or cheap but decent beer and wine. My current TBR is Thomas Piketty: “Capital in the twenty-first century” of course. Mainly because I got annoyed by all those commentators who didn’t like his conclusions but obviously couldn’t be bothered to read the book for themselves. 685 pages of economic analysis derived from a couple of centuries’ aggregate income, capital and similar data from several countries (France, the UK, Germany, the USA, etc). In fact it is not quite TBR anymore for I have got as far as at page 205 already and I can report that the economic theories currently inflicted on us by classical economists and their ignorant politician-disciples are based on a very selective use of economic data, namely those of the period, roughly, from 1914 to 1970 (and they generally prefer elegant, mathematically abstract theories uncontaminated by real-life data anyway). If you look at much more long range economic data, say from the 17th and 18th century up to the early 21st century, it strikes you immediately how abnormal the 1914-1970 period was. The data on key factors such as economic growth (discounted by population growth of course), capital – national income ratios of the developed countries, and resulting levels of inequality, and so on, rather suggest that after 1970 we have began to re-enter the much more typical way economies act and developed, they did in the pre-1914 belle époque and earlier when economic growth increased financial inequality rather than reduced it. In some respects the 2010s are beginning to see late 19th century levels of inequality. For those who like to believe that market forces tend to act for the common good and should be interfered with as little as possible with policies such as re-distribution, Piketty’s analysis from real data is most unwelcome.
    Another reason why this book annoys the neo-classical economists’ priesthood is that it was written in normal French prose as you would find in a quality newspaper, and was translated into equally normal, plain but good quality English prose. You hardly need GCSE maths to follow it.
    Piketty also uses literary illustrations from 19th century English and French fiction classic and contrasts them with later fiction not as sources of data, but as example of how people perceived the economic structures they lived in. The world of Jane Austen for example, where capital and incomes derived from capital were used interchangeably because everybody understood the long terms stable returns on capital and the life styles they made possible. I am not at all well-read in contemporary fiction, but I think I have seen a trend where fiction is now beginning to reflect again the extraordinary inequalities in affluence and quality of life in contemporary society, which you didn’t see so much in mid-twentieth century fiction which was more about social mobility.

    Posted by tomvoute | August 5, 2014, 20:26
  4. A great list. Enjoy!

    Posted by Rebecca Bradley | August 6, 2014, 00:17
  5. Oh, lots of treats in store for you there. Beloved affected me deeply and I have been meaning to re-read it for almost twenty years now – I will get round to it eventually. The Interestings has been one of my favourite reads of recent times, and does explore some of the same themes as Goon Squad (an absolute fave of mine) but in a very different kind of voice and style. I can’t believe you read in French and German! Did you study language at university? I’ve always wanted to learn another language really well – Spanish would be my pick. Have a wonderful trip and enjoy all those books.

    Posted by annabelsmith | August 6, 2014, 05:01
  6. Great list. I very much enjoyed The Gift of Rain, although I still prefer The Garden of Evening Mists (which I read before ‘Rain’).

    Absolutely loved Never Any End to Paris; it’s so smart, engaging and playful, and full self-deprecating humour. One of my favourite books of the year so far.

    Enjoy your holiday!

    Posted by jacquiwine | August 6, 2014, 08:05
  7. I loved The Interestings, one of those ‘sink into it and enjoy’ kind of books, perfect for holiday reading. Very much enjoyed Red Love in an entirely different kind of way, particularly after two visits to Berlin. And I’m looking forward to reading the O’Neil

    Happy reading!

    Posted by susanosborne55 | August 6, 2014, 08:19
  8. Have a super holiday at my favorite place. Is the family going? Hello to all.

    Posted by nessguide | August 6, 2014, 18:08
  9. I am excited to hear your analysis of The Glass Castle. It is a profoundly moving book. I’m so glad it is on your list! Enjoy France and bon voyage.

    Posted by brittajensen2013 | August 7, 2014, 11:27
  10. Reblogged this on Britta Jensen and commented:
    I cannot wait to hear reader’s ideas about one of Isabel Costello’s books from her list (below), The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wall. I’m enjoying reading more memoirs at the moment (since I’m actually attempting to write one myself). Please do enjoy Isabel’s comments about each book, as she is spot-on in her reading recommendations. Happy Summer to everyone before school begins in a few week’s time. (I shall try to forget in the meanwhile and soak up as much summer bliss as possible). I hope you’ll do the same!

    Posted by brittajensen2013 | August 7, 2014, 11:30


  1. Pingback: Summer Holiday Seven – the Verdict | Isabel Costello - September 1, 2014

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