Summer beach reads: Here's what culture vultures need to pack on vacay
Yes, people still read. And some of us, read a lot. Now that summer has finally arrived (knock on wood, er, sand), it’s the perfect time to shut off cable news, your streaming service of choice and throw away your smartphone so you can escape into an imaginary world of words and possibilities this season.
But don’t fret — if you are a TV junkie, I have chosen novels similar to your favourite shows, so here are my top picks for the best
You know you were obsessed with Feud and can’t get enough of Old Hollywood diva drama. That moment when Jessica Lange’s Joan Crawford admitted to Bette that yes, being 'the most beautiful girl in the world' was wonderful, and yet still it was never enough? Sublime. So, fasten your seatbelts, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a novel for silver screen fans. It’s about an oft-married, bygone member of classic Hollywood royalty (think Rita Hayworth-meets-Elizabeth Taylor type) who sits down for a rare interview about her iconic red carpet look and decides to make it a tell-all instead. The reality of living under the thumb of a 1950's studio and its relentless publicity machine is riveting.
2. REAL HOUSEWIVES FRANCHISE
More TMZ than TCM, celebrity Ph.D. (really!) Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is an essential RH decoder ring. In ten take-no-prisoners essays, each about the backlash and response to a different female iconoclast — from Serena Williams (“too strong”) to Kim Kardashian (“too pregnant”) to Madonna (“too old”) and yes, the meaning of Hillary (“too shrill”), Petersen lays bare how the policing of women in today’s pop culture star system is really an unflattering lens about ourselves.
3. SILICON VALLEY
When anti-hero Richard Hendricks and his engineers finally geared up for Hooli-Con it was a tense season finale to rival Breaking Bad. For more satire on the self-deprecating and self-destructive tendencies of the tech industry (ping-pong tables and all-day cereal dispensers are the least of it, as even Uber struggles with management issues), Doree Shafrir’s Startup plugs into the dysfunctional operating system of New York’s Silicon Alley to skewer startup culture and the myth of disruption. Meanwhile, the lifestyle trends forecaster in Courtney Maum’s Touch gets at the reality of craving empathy in a digital world that thrives on driver-less cars, clouds and impersonal swipes. The provocative disruption she anticipates is one even sophisticated algorithms still can’t predict: human connection and the search for meaning.
4. BLACK MIRROR
If the way you unwind from the anxiety of a terrifying 'Black Mirror' episode is live-tweeting your theories, then start summer with the breathless pages of security consultant Marc Elsberg’s Blackout. The runaway German bestseller that follows the domino effect after radical anti-technology cyber-terrorists target the power centre of Europe is finally translated into English. The satisfying (and totally terrifying!) thriller taps into our collective unease to ask: What if a problem in the power grid caused infrastructure to ground to a halt? An ex-hacker activist races against the clock to identify the source of the attacks and prevent further chaos. Command centres across the continent go hour by hour as society is in total meltdown mode; from no clean water fresh food or ATMs to meddling with election results. It’s so close for comfort you’ll be making Doomsday preparations well before the last chapter.
5. LEGION and TWIN PEAKS
It’s hard to resist binge-watching the twisty, sprawling Legion and trying to connect the Xs and Os. It’s the same flickering and compulsive feeling as being pulled into The Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz’s unputdownable puzzle whodunit. In the dark supernatural vortex of The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry tells the spooky Victorian tale of a malevolent force in the shape of a winged leviathan supposedly terrorizing an English village. In theory, it’s a creature story but like the titular telepathic mutant in Legion, or the heavy atmosphere in Twin Peaks, what haunts the heroine is that she’s "never sure of the difference between thinking and believing.” What’s real evil, and what’s a trick of the mind?
6.VICTORIA and THE CROWN
"The next Downton" is technically the Downton Abbey movie that has been announced for next year but that’s a long time to wait for another serving of Mrs. Patmore’s stew and a side of period costume drama. The chic wardrobe and romantic sweep of Kim Izzo’s Seven Days in May is set in 1915 while England is at war with Germany, and is a mashup of Downton, Titanic, The Bletchley Circle and The Imitation Game. The historical novel follows the fates of wealthy sisters Brooke (a traditionalist) and Sydney (a suffragette) between England and Manhattan and during a crossing of the Lusitania ocean liner, where etiquette niceties and the rustling taffeta of society wardrobes barely conceal the simmering jealousies.
Riverdale: The secrets of fractured families in Gail Godwin’s haunted Grief Cottage gives the Andrews and Coopers a run for their money.
The Handmaid’s Tale: Try The Answers by Catherine Lacey, a near-future tale.
G.L.O.W.: You Will Know Me, Megan Abbott’s mean girls’ mystery set in gymnastics.
Humans: Void Star, the trippy artificial intelligence thriller by Zachary Mason.
Billions: What to Do About the Solomons by Bethany Ball.
Shots Fired: The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, about police brutality and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that looks at race in America.
Fargo: Broken River by J. Robert Lennon, the next best thing to a Coen Brothers tale.
Follow Atkinson on Twitter: @NathAt