As I’ve decided to end this newsletter with a story - a book-related anecdote from my life that I think you will enjoy - I’ll keep this intro short and to the point.
Two of the following books came out in August, but as I was on a summer break, I’m including them here. The other two are released this month, and I promise you won’t regret adding all four to your reading list.
Four excellent novels to read this month
Isaac and the Egg by Bobby Palmer
Isaac Addy is at rock bottom. He is standing on a bridge when he lets out an anguished scream - and to his surprise, something screams back. He follows the noise into the woods nearby and it is here that he comes across something extraordinary; something that will change his astoundingly sad life.
If I try to explain the story beyond that, Isaac and the Egg sounds absolutely bonkers. Perhaps it’s better if I tell you it’s a novel about a journey (although no one actually goes anywhere) - or one about grief, loneliness, love, and hope. But in some ways, it is bonkers. Isaac and the Egg is truly one of the most mad, sad, unique, and magical books that I have ever read. Please do not let this novel pass you by.
Not Safe for Work by Isabel Kaplan
‘Blistering’ is an adjective that gets bandied about a lot in publishing, but this book is truly deserving of it. It follows an unnamed female narrator who is trying to make it within LA’s ruthless world of TV production. Add in a difficult mother and some awful men, and you have got a witty and incisive take on toxic work culture and what women need to do to survive.
I loved Not Safe for Work for its bare bones style writing, and for how relatable it is (particularly, I imagine, for those of us who work in creative industries). It is one of those compulsive, uncomfortable reads, and I have thought about it a lot since finishing.
Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie
‘Sometimes it was as though the forty years of friendship between them was just a lesson in the unknowability of other people.’ I don’t know about you, but reading this one sentence which opens the blurb was enough for me to know I would love it.
Best of Friends is a story of two halves. In the first, Maryam and Zahra are growing up in Pakistan, against the backdrop of a tumultuous period of political history. In the second, they are adults leading successful lives in London. But everything hinges on one fateful night in Karachi when their lives change forever. I think this unforgettable book is in for many an accolade.
Girl Friends by Holly Bourne
Another on the theme of female friendship, Holly Bourne’s new novel also follows two women over the course of several years. The narrative alternates between the early noughties when teenage Fern and Jessica are inseparable, and the present day, when Jessica has reappeared in Fern’s life years after a betrayal caused the friendship to end abruptly.
I winced with recognition at how Bourne depicts the lives of these women - from the anxieties of teenage girlhood (masked by Impulse spray), to the paranoia and comparison that can still lurk decades later. Girl Friends is smart and funny and sad and true - I inhaled it.
To that story I promised to tell. A friend of mine, Meg, has a very long commute on London’s central line every morning. She hates it (as you would, it is the central line), but it comes with a silver lining in that she gets to read throughout the journey.
Earlier in the summer, Meg was en route to work reading Richard Osman’s first book, when she spotted the girl sitting opposite her was reading his second. They smiled at one another; went back to their novels. The next day, she was there again. They started talking about the books. The girl was there the day after too, and the day after, and over the weeks their conversation expanded beyond Richard Osman to other books they enjoyed - they swapped recommendations, discussed the Where the Crawdads Sing movie, and so on.
Although London is a city of 9 million people, most Londonders will know it is not that extraordinary that they kept seeing each other (we tend to choose the same carriage every day for the best entries/exits to the stations). What is extraordinary is that almost no one talks to each other in London, so I have loved hearing Meg’s daily voice notes about her ‘tube friend’, who it turned out is called Charlotte.
It reminded me of the ideology of my wonderful local bookshop BookBar, which is that books are social, not solitary things. As cheesy as it sounds, they really can bring people together - even strangers.
The reason I’m saying all of this is because next month it is Well Read’s first birthday. Sharing books - talking about them, swapping notes, bonding over them - is the bread and butter of this newsletter, and I’m so grateful to you for being a part of it. I’m excited to mark the anniversary with a special edition, so do keep your eyes peeled. Until then, happy September and happy reading, talking, and sharing.
FYI for anyone looking - two of these changed titles it looks like, or maybe have different titles in the US - the Kaplan is titled "NSFW" and the Bourne is "When We Were Friends."
That quote about 40 years of friendship and the unknowability of other people struck me to the core. I will read this book. I am fascinated by friendship and the stories that come out of the relationships that shape our lives and yet leave us strangers right up until the end.