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Reads for beach or garden

30 July 2021

Book-lovers name personal choices for summer reading

John Barton

The Bible With and Without Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (Harper One, £29.99 (£27); 978-0-06-256016-2)

It is a commonplace that Jews and Christians share the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, even though Christians add the New Testament to it. In this fresh and exciting book, two American Jewish scholars explore how differently Jews and Christians read the Hebrew Bible “with and without Jesus”. Essential reading for all Jewish-Christian dialogue.

John Barton is Emeritus Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture in the University of Oxford, a Senior Research Fellow at Campion Hall, and an Anglican priest. His latest book, now out in paperback, is The History of the Bible (Allen Lane, 2020) (Books, 5 April 2019).




Ysenda Maxtone Graham

Surrogate by Susan Spindler (Little, Brown, £14.99 (£13.49); 978-0-349-01377-0)

Just suppose you were a married mother, aged 54, and your daughter could not conceive a child. Failed rounds of IVF, expense, desolation, barrenness. Might you, just might you, offer to carry your daughter’s baby for her? Could it even work? The cover tag line of Susan Spindler’s debut novel Surrogate (it was Virago’s lead fiction debut for this spring) is “There’s nothing like a mother’s love.” The physical, emotional and ethical repercussions unleashed by Ruth Furnival’s decision to be a surrogate for her daughter Lauren are laid bare in this beautifully paced page-turner.

Ysenda Maxtone Graham is a critic and writer. Her latest book, now out in paperback, is British Summer Times Begins (Abacus, 2021) (Books, 17 July 2020).


Samuel Wells

The Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklós Bánffy, Everyman: They Were Counted, Volume I (£20 (£18); 978-1-84159-353-1) They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided, Volumes II and III (£20 (£18); 978-1-84159-354-8)

The Transylvanian Trilogy was written in the 1930s about the north-eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian empire by the retired senior politician Miklós Bánffy. It’s a lavish combination in the style of War and Peace of the lyric themes of alcoholism and adultery with the epic questions of high politics and social inequality in the lead-up to the First World War. I was absorbed and entranced from start to finish and wanted it never to end.

Canon Sam Wells is the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields. His latest book is Finding Abundance in Scarcity (Canterbury Press, 2021).


Richard Holloway

Henry “Chips” Channon: The Diaries (Volume 1): 1918-38, edited by Simon Heffer (Hutchinson, £35 (£31.50); 978-1-786-33181-6)

Chips Channon was a wealthy socialite and minor politician in Britain in the years between the world wars. He was wrong about everything, including Hitler, whom he admired; and he represented all that was despicable about high society in England at the time; but he was a wonderful diarist. Simon Heffer is editing a new edition, and this is Volume I, all 1000 pages — compulsive stuff.

The Rt Revd Richard Holloway is a writer and broadcaster, and a former Bishop of Edinburgh. His latest book, now out in paperback, is The Stories We Tell Ourselves (Canongate, 2021) (Books, 24 July 2020).


Rachel Mann

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion (Fourth Estate, £12.99 (£11.69); 978-0-00-845175-2)

Matthew Arnold claimed that journalism was literature in a hurry. Fair point, but Joan Didion — doyenne of 1960s’ “New Journalism” in the US — shows how a journalist can make literature that lasts. This collection of articles, which cover everything from the spirituality of Gamblers Anonymous to Hemingway’s legacy, reveals a dazzling gift. Didion is cool, literary, smart, and oh so readable. She shows how a journalist, like a person of faith, can find truth in the most unlikely places.

Canon Rachel Mann is Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and a Visiting Fellow of Manchester Met University. Her latest book is The Gospel of Eve (DLT, 2020) (Books, 27 November 2020).


Chine McDonald

What White People Can Do Next by Emma Dabiri (Penguin, £7.99 (£7.19); 978-0-141-99673-8)

While the front cover design may lull you into a false sense of security under the pretence that it is a light, summer read, do not be fooled. Packed with historical and sociological insight into the nature and history of race categorisation, this book challenges dominant thinking around racial justice and calls us all towards a focus on solidarity, movement-building, and the flourishing of all.

Chine McDonald is a writer and broadcaster. Her latest book is God Is Not a White Man (Hodder & Stoughton, 2021) (Books, 11 June).


Francis Spufford

Lean, Fall, Stand by Jon McGregor (Fourth Estate, £14.99 (£13.49); 978-0-00-820490-7)

The book I’ve read recently that is lingering with me most is Jon McGregor’s new novel, Lean, Fall, Stand, in which a story about male behaviour in the Antarctic metamorphoses suddenly into a story about a stroke and its aftermath. Deeply humane, astonishingly nimble in its control of viewpoint, it pulls off the seemingly impossible feat of using language to convey what it’s like when language stops working.

Francis Spufford is an author and teacher of writing. His latest novel is Light Perpetual (Faber & Faber, 2021) (Books, 19 February).


Claire Foster-Gilbert

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (Persephone Books, £15 (£13.50); 978-0-95347806-4)

I love The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, originally published in 1924. It is a tale of role-reversal, revolutionary for its time, which does full justice to the perspectives of both wife and husband. Most exquisitely, it tells how a parent closely observes, with love and infinite patience, their child’s learning and growth. We see the parent learning the child’s world-view by virtue of attention quietly given: a virtue that we may recognise and appreciate, now, after the past year.

Claire Foster-Gilbert is Director of the Westminster Abbey Institute. Her latest book is Miles to Go Before I Sleep (Hodder & Stoughton, 2021) (Books, 26 March).


Fergus Butler-Gallie

On the Natural History of Destruction by W. G. Sebald (Penguin £10.99 (£9.89); 978-0-140-29800-0)

This summer, I’m keeping things light and reading W. G. Sebald’s series of brilliant essays ostensibly about air raids but in fact delving deep into how national narratives, literature, and ordinary people’s lives respond to the past. A. C. Grayling described it as “striking and powerful”, but don’t let that put you off: it really is one of the most incisive collections to grapple with how we cope with history out there.

It has not got a particular religious — still less, Anglican — slant; although it hardly takes the brains of an archbishop to extrapolate one from ones of death, fear, and forgetting in national life. It is a weighty but genuinely readable tome, and has proved a welcome break from contemporary C of E management culture; perhaps the closest Sebald explicitly gets to commentary on such themes is in his penultimate essay, about Jean Améry: “Against the Irreversible”.

The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie is Assistant Curate of Liverpool Parish Church. His latest book, now out in paperback, is Priests de la Résistance! (Oneworld, 2021) (Books, 8 November 2019).


Peter Stanford

The Gospel of Eve by Rachel Mann (DLT, £20 (£18); 978-0-232-53460-3); Klopp: My Liverpool romance by Anthony Klopp (Faber & Faber, £12.99 (£11.69); 978-0-571-36496-1)

As we emerge from a year of lockdown, and much re-reading, two new favourites: the Revd Rachel Mann’s The Gospel of Eve, a clever, subtle, dark page-turner of a thriller, set in a contemporary theological college, which also offers the chance to brush up on your theology of the body; and, for its sheer exuberance and joy, Anthony Quinn’s immaculately written memoir, a tale of faith and footie in our shared hometown.

Peter Stanford is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster. His latest book, Pilgrimage, is reviewed here.


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