Our writers’ tips for holiday reading, viewing and doing
People often see the summer as a time to read, though events and the class struggle often intervene. I am looking forward to reading Revolutionary Yiddishland by Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg, the story of a lost world of left Jewish debates and ideas; Dangerous Liaisons: The marriage and divorces of Marxism and feminism by Cinzia Arruzza, an interesting left Italian philosopher; When We Rise by Cleve Jones, telling his life as a gay activist in San Francisco from the 1960s to today — through the days of Harvey Milk and the AIDS crisis; and finally on my list of books waiting to be read is The Other Side of Nowhere: jazz, improvisation, and communities in dialogue.
And I am still waiting to see if there is going to be any more from Hilary Mantel, who always goes to the top of my reading list.
Hull City of Culture is an essential visit this summer. With art, theatre, music, performing arts and a great atmosphere across the city. A highlight for later in the year is the Turner Prize, which has nominated an exciting and diverse group of artists.
Ghisha Koening: Machines Restrict Their Movement at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds showcases Koenig’s sculptures and drawings depicting factory workers.
I will round summer up by celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Leeds West Indian Carnival Parade. From August to October there will be the Leeds Carnival 50 Heritage Exhibition at The Tetley and various venues, celebrating and exploring its legacy.
My summer reading will be acclaimed author Michael Faber’s first poetry collection, Undying, poems addressing his late wife’s battle with cancer and his deep love and grief for her. I will also be reading Ralph Miliband’s classic Parliamentary Socialism to get ready for what comes next with Corbyn.
Zadie Smith’s Swing Time addresses issues of race, class and culture and marks a welcome return to form following the disappointment of her previous novel NW.
Tracy Chevalier’s rewriting of Othello, New Boy, isn’t entirely convincing but is part of an interesting series which seeks to modernise Shakespeare’s work. I listened to an audiotape of Imran Mahmood’s You Don’t Know Me and was impressed by Adam Deacon’s narration of this tragic tale. In non-fiction, James Forman Jr’s Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America makes for chilling reading.
For music lovers 2017 is proving to be bountiful. Grime star Stormzy’s debut Gang Signs & Prayer is surprisingly harmonious and melodic. Meanwhile the plaudits for Loyle Carner’s first release Yesterday’s Gone are richly deserved. Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy is lush, mournful and magnificent while Ibibio Sound Machine’s Uyai (Nigerian for “Beauty”) is joyful.
A new exhibition, Soul of a Nation, runs for three months at the Tate Modern on London’s South Bank from mid-July. It promises to “shine a bright light on the vital contribution of Black artists” during the Civil Rights and Black Power period. I can’t wait to see it.
I’ve been making use of the centenary of the Russian Revolution to read and re-read books about that amazing year. I’ve saved the best, Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, for the summer. There’s probably no better book to read 100 years after the events it depicts.
I’m also looking forward to reading Chris Wickham’s latest book Medieval Europe. Chris is one of the few historians to approach this period from a Marxist viewpoint, and if his earlier work is anything to go by, it will be a stimulating read. One of my favourite science fiction authors, Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel New York 2140, looks at a world where climate change has raised sea levels by 50 metres, and the population of New York survives at the tops of skyscrapers. Possibly not the most cheerful subject for a summer novel, but likely to be brilliant.
This summer I’m looking forward to taking in some art. Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933 at the Tate Liverpool until October looks to be a fantastic show. Combining the brutal paintings of Otto Dix and August Sander’s photographs of “ordinary Germans”, it should reveal the cracks in Weimar Germany.
And while I’m in the north west, I’ll head over to True Faith, an exhibition of works inspired by Joy Division and New Order, at Manchester Art Gallery until 3 September as part of the Manchester International Festival.
Be Magnificent: Walthamstow School of Art 1957-1967 at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, east London, includes works by artists who studied or worked at the college in this radical period, including a young Peter Blake.
Dreamers Awake at the White Cube, Bermondsey, south London, until 17 September, brings together over 100 surrealist works by women artists from the 1930s to today, to “explore sexual politics, eroticism, mysticism and identity”.
I’ll be reading John Le Carre’s memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, as I eagerly await his new George Smiley novel due to be published in September. And, having enjoyed the TV adaptation, it’s about time I actually read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
What could be more topical than a series of crime thrillers set in Carrickfergus, near Belfast, during the recent “Troubles”? Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy thrillers — The Cold Cold Ground, I Hear the Sirens in the Street, In the Morning I’ll Be Gone, Gun Street Girl, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly — are published by Serpent’s Tail and are an excellent read.
Sean Duffy is one of a rare breed — a Catholic detective in the Royal Ulster Constabulary living on an estate controlled by Loyalist paramilitaries. These are all fast moving page-turners written with insight and humour. In some ways the plot matters a lot less than the sense of place that McKinty evokes and the atmosphere of paranoid claustrophobia that he creates. He also weaves into the narrative real life historical figures, which adds to the fun.
Bob Marshall-Andrews’ memoir, Off Message, is one of the few examples of the genre that will both make you angry and make you laugh out loud. MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010, he was one of a group of Labour backbenchers who opposed Tony Blair’s illegal wars and multiple attempts to limit civil liberties.
Even if it weren’t for the helpful reminders of the records of the likes of David Blunkett, it would be worth it for the index entries for “Blair, Tony” alone. The first three are “addiction to money”, “after 9/11” and “authoritarian instincts”.
Marshall-Andrews detested the ex-PM from the start and his book is a detailed and entertaining explanation of why he was right.
I love novels. The best pageturners I’ve read recently include: a hard-boiled, tenderhearted literary escape mystery by Evie Wyld called All the Birds, Singing; The Paying Guests by queer thriller genius Sarah Waters; a wonderful sci-fi allegory on refugees, called Toggle, by campaigner Wyon Stansfeld.
I’m now entering the labyrinthine terror world of Stalin’s Russia via Victor Serge’s political mystery novel, The Case of Comrade Tulayev. I often struggle to get through factual books but two nonfiction must-reads for me this summer are Dave Sherry’s Russia 1917 and Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi.
I joined the National Trust after visiting The Red House in Bexleyheath — the only house commissioned, created and lived in by Victorian socialist artist and writer William Morris — and I’ll be back there again to dream and scribble in the magical contemplative space of the Nomadic Reading Room.
Anna Minton’s Big Capital is a sharp account of the market pressures and policies behind London’s housing crisis, the backcloth to the Grenfell Tower fire in a borough that is home to the city’s greatest number of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals and a city where councils partner developers to tout redevelopment schemes at real estate conferences with sessions such as “From social housing to super prime”.
All Out War: the Full Story of Brexit by Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman is a blow by blow account of the referendum battle which sheds stark light on the workings of bourgeois politics and tensions among the Tories. Shipman takes in everything from Cameron’s “full Malcolm Tucker” response to Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation to how Labour’s Alan Johnson and GMB general secretary Paul Kenny locked the Labour Party to Remain.
From Lenin to Stalin by Victor Serge, published 80 years ago, is a brilliant, short eyewitness account of the process of counter-revolution in Russia and the perfect accompaniment to books on the Revolution. Serge combined telling detail, such as Lenin’s dismissal of Stalin — “He lacks the most elementary honesty” — with wonderfully prescient analysis.