Summer is the season of reading, but between classic, cult favourites, and new releases, shortlisting a selection can be a little overwhelming. Enter: Ahlam Bolooki. Not only has Ahlam evolved into a bona fide bibliophile over the years, but she’s also the Festival Director of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, which wrapped up its 13th edition earlier this year. Here, she recommends five books that you should read this summer – and why.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
“Because I am endlessly fascinated with the concept of time travel – especially to the past in order to meet a loved one who is no longer with us.”
Unlike other time-travelling novels, Before the Coffee Gets Cold contains no gadgets nor gizmos – just an unassuming café located in a basement. Time travel only happens in one particular seat of said café and the rules are simple: customers cannot leave, they cannot change the past and present, and they must get back before the coffee gets cold. Over a million copies of this international bestseller have been sold already, its popularity translating into a Japanese TV series entitled Kohi ga Samenai Uchi Ni.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold, RRP AED 83, available at Amazon
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
“Because although it was published in 1995, it’s an instant classic, close to the heart and effortlessly hilarious. I read this book over 25 years too late, but it was the first book in ages to make me laugh out loud.”
High Fidelity proves just how important your partner’s music collection is – at least as far as Rob Fleming is concerned. The protagonist of this hilarious novel about heartbreak owns a failing record store and is practically synonymous with John Cusack, who starred in the movie adaptation alongside Lisa Bonet, Jack Black, and Catherine Zeta Jones. Incidentally, Zoë Kravitz – daughter of Lisa Bonet – plays the lead role in the Hulu series of the same name, a gender-bender retelling of the novel.
High Fidelity, RRP AED 48, available at Amazon
Motherhood by Sheila Heti
“Because it delves into all the factors that influence women to choose a life of motherhood and offers clarity to those who read it – be it women who are up against their biological clocks or men who have those women in their lives.”
Motherhood is a moving autobiographical novel about a daunting decision faced by most women during adulthood: to have or not have children. Not only has it been translated in over a dozen languages, but it was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize. The book is sure to prompt some uncomfortable yet honest conversations – debates, even – about the highs and lows of parenthood, but therein lies its appeal.
Motherhood, RRP AED 75, available at Amazon
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
“Because I’ve just interviewed the author, and it was one of my favourite conversations with an author, ever. This story was her most personal work and it felt personal to me as a reader, too.”
Considering its opening line reads “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist”, Silver Sparrow takes a deep dive into complicated family dynamics. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019, it follows two sisters who lead different lives, have different last names, and discover that they share a father. Author Tayari Jones states these situations are so common that churches have smelling salts ready for grieving widows who discover their husbands had another family.
Silver Sparrow, RRP AED 35, available at Amazon
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
“Because who wouldn’t love to read about an ordinary life going through an existential crisis, told in lyrical prose?”
While author Jhumpa Lahiri is renowned for her stories about Southeast Asian immigrants, Whereabouts takes an entirely different approach. The story follows the journey of an unnamed narrator – a widowed professor navigating life in solitude – in an unknown Italian city. Through various location-based chapters (‘In the Office’, ‘On the Street’, ‘In the Pool’), the reader gets a deeper understanding of her loneliness and how she experiences it. Interestingly, Lahiri initially wrote the novel in Italian and then translated it into English herself.
Whereabouts, RRP AED 39, available at Amazon