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Naomi Klein, John Niven, Naoki Higashida and more – The best summer reading

From Naomi Klein on the rise of populism to John Niven's acerbic humour, here's an eclectic list to keep you reading all summer long

No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein (Allen Lane, £9.99)

This fourth book from the famous left-wing Canadian activist was apparently rushed out in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in the US, and it takes Trump’s populist rise as its polemical starting point. Klein coherently argues that we must understand Trump’s success as a symptom of wider malaises in politics, business and popular culture, rather than simply condemning his outrageous policies and opinions. It’s rousing stuff but Klein goes further in suggesting that the rise in populism might benefit the left, who can now begin to say what was previously unsayable in common political discourse. It’s heartfelt and angry stuff but with Klein’s typically solid steel at its core. DJ

It’s heartfelt and angry stuff but with Klein’s typically solid steel at its core

Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8, Naoki Higashida (translated by Keiko Yoshida) (Sceptre Books, £14.99)

It’s a common publishers’ claim, that a book will ‘change the way you see’ something. Higashida’s work is an exception to the rule that such claims inevitably end in disappointment. He suffers from severe non-verbal autism and his first book The Reason I Jump – an eloquent, sensitive and self-aware autobiography – so radically challenged longstanding ideas about the psychological and emotional limitations imposed by autism it was claimed by some to be a fake.

Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8

The Reason I Jump focused on Higashida’s childhood; in this book he moves into adolescence, and explains how he navigates a world he finds it difficult to interact with, but fully understands. He writes with beautiful clarity, and often a poetic touch, replacing the popular notion of the uncomprehending autistic innocent with that of a deep-thinking, highly expressive soul imprisoned in a stubborn, unyielding body. Revelatory. JG

No Good Deed,  John Niven (William Heinemann, £16.99)

Anyone who has read any of Niven’s half dozen novels will know that the Scottish author doesn’t suffer fools gladly. This is another coruscating and bleakly hilarious story in which Alan, a well-to-do restaurant critic, tries to help out Craig, an old school friend who he discovers living rough on the streets. As the story develops Craig decides he rather likes Alan’s life, and sets about claiming it for himself. Amongst the scatological comedy and acerbic asides, this is a genuinely deep look at childhood friendships and how they develop, and whether we can ever really escape who we once were. Cracking stuff.


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The Destroyers, Christopher Bollen (Scribner £14.99)

Bollen’s deliciously dark literary thriller, set in the jewel-bright sun-soaked Greek island of Patmos, is the perfect summer read. A satisfyingly chunky 500 pages of clever psychological intrigue, this has all the plot nous of Bollen’s beloved Agatha Christie, rendered through the elegant, seductive language of a McInerney or Hollinghurst. Fictional comparisons abound but the irresistible comparison regarding this tale of yacht-dwelling rich folk masterful in the arts of wit, deceit and betrayal is with Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley. If you enjoyed that classic of slick, sensual escapism powered by high-octane suspense, you won’t find many novels more pleasing this summer. JG

The Secret Teacher, anon (Guardian Faber, £7.99)

The Secret Teacher book jacket

Don’t be put off by the low-rent TV-influenced front cover; this no-holds-barred account of teaching English in an inner-city comp is a frank, illuminating and brilliantly written gem, funnier than Lucky Jim, and though far less sentimental than To Sir with Love, equally inspiring. The writer passes on many great wisdoms, such as that jumpers are a no-no in hot classrooms, due to the vulnerability created by pulling them off to reveal a flash of flab or pubic hair. He shares the touching levels of support among fellow teachers (“You’ll get nuked,” one says to him on his first day, eyeing up his jumper). Admittedly – often hilariously – he is not always the exemplary public servant; his more vexing pupils are not cheeky rogues but ‘fucking shitasses’. However his honesty, alongside his anonymity, gives us complete faith in the authenticity of his expose, so that when the magical transformative powers of comprehensive school education kick in – and they really do – you want to punch the air. JG

The Park Bench, Christophe Chaboute (Faber & Faber, £14.99)

On the face of it a 300-page graphic novel with no words by a French artist wouldn’t appear to be the most obvious of summer reads, but The Park Bench is a delightful and subtly moving piece of work. The premise is simple; the story revolves around a park bench and all human life that orbits around it. There are mums and toddlers, lovers, the elderly, teen, hooligans, musicians and loners. There is an ongoing feud between a homeless guy and a security guard. It’s wonderfully executed and beautifully drawn, and as the seasons pass there is real cumulative power behind the seemingly simple interactions we all have. As you might expect from a French author there’s an undercurrent of existential angst and melancholy, but ultimately The Park Bench is sublime, uplifting stuff. DJ

As you might expect from a French author there’s an undercurrent of existential angst, but The Park Bench is sublime, uplifting stuff

Seeing Red, Lina Meruane (translated by Megan McDowell) (Atlantic Books, £12.99)

Lauded as ‘one of the one or two greats in the new generation of Chilean writers’ by no less than Roberto Bolaño, Meruane has already made a name for herself as a leading light in the thriving world of modern South American fiction. This is a high-impact novel, beginning with a shocking description of a sudden rush of blood into the eye, followed by a slow, gruesome descent into the world of blindness and dependency. In protagonist Lucina’s case, this involves an increasingly twisted, exploitative relationship which reads like something out of a Polanski or John Cassavetes movie. The book is partly based on Meruane’s own experience of temporary blindness but the dark horror it creeps towards is a triumph of a feverish, thrilling imagination. JG

The Graybar Hotel, Curtis Dawkins (Canongate, £14.99)

The Graybar Hotel

This debut collection of short stories offers a behind the scenes look at life inside prison, perhaps unsurprising given that the author is serving a life-without-parole sentence for murder in Michigan. Setting aside the morality of the situation, this is an assured and ultimately humane collection, and Dawkins reveals a keen eye for the little indignities and coping mechanisms that ordinary people have to employ to survive in such a tough environment. The prose is sparse and precise yet brimming with resonance and meaning, and there is a seam of deathly dark humour running through the stories. An impressive and authentic glimpse at a world most of us will thankfully never know. DJ

A Manual for Heartbreak, Cathy Rentzenbrink (Picador, £7.99)

Rentzenbrink’s first book, The Last Act of Love, was a runaway success, a hard-hitting and honest memoir about the author’s struggle to come to terms with the death of her brother in a road accident. This second book is a loose follow up, a more general and positive look at how we can all cope with the trials and tribulations that life throws at us. The book grew from conversations the author had with fans at events publicizing her first book, and it is thoughtful and kind, using anecdote and hard-earned wisdom to gently guide the reader through the sometimes overwhelming nature of modern life. DJ

Thoughtful and kind, the book uses anecdote and hard-earned wisdom to gently guide the reader through modern life

Not Thomas, Sara Gethin (Honno, £8.99)

Not Thomas book jacket

Having previously written award-winning children’s books, this is the Welsh author’s debut novel for adults. Writing from the point of view of a young child can be difficult but Gethin gets the voice of her five-year-old narrator Tomos just right. We see the world through his eyes and his language, as he recounts his deprived circumstances through the innocence of youth. Tomos lives with his mum but would rather be elsewhere – like in school, where he has a sympathetic teacher – but when bad men come to the door, his world is turned upside down. It’s heart-wrenching at times, but the clever use of voice adds a layer of intrigue and tension, keeping the reader hooked to the end. DJ

Gather the Daughters, Jennie Melamed (Tinderpress, £18.99)

The comparisons between this intriguing speculative novel and The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies are unavoidable, and acknowledged by the author. But psychiatric nurse Jennie Melamud’s debut about an island community in which boys are reared to rule, and girls to rear children, reaches a conclusion quite different in emotional tone to both. Every summer on the island the children are given a ‘reprieve’ from its strict social rules, and set free from their homes to expend their energy running, fighting, sleeping on the beach, and building nests in the trees. It is an unexpected event during one of these wild summers which unleashes the novel’s heartstopping dramatic turn and from that point, it’s irresistible. At times harrowing in its depiction of cruelty, at other times joy-filled and buoyed by the spirit of liberated girlhood, this is an exhilarating, feminist cry-out which I hope finds a wide readership. JG

Reviews by Jane Graham (@Janeannie) and Doug Johnstone (@doug_johnstone)