We spoke to Maltese writers and publishers to see what they are reading this summer

Summer is a great time to relax and unwind, and as the days get hotter, and ever more people go on holiday, stopping for a break becomes almost inevitable.

Martina Borg
17 August 2016, 11:03am
Chasing a little down-time generally means finding some time to catch up on my reading
Chasing a little down-time generally means finding some time to catch up on my reading
For many (including myself), chasing a little down-time generally means finding some time to catch up on my reading. With all the new titles coming out every year, it might be hard to decide which books to look into during our breaks to make the most of our time off.

I spoke to writers and people in the book publishing industry with tastes as varied as one can imagine, to find out what books they are tearing into during these lazy summer days…

Perhaps one of the best-known writers of both children’s and adult fiction in the local scene, Trevor Zahra, has an impressive number of works under his belt, including ‘Il-Hajja Sigrieta tan-Nanna Genoveffa’ and ‘Meta Jaqa c-Cpar’ among other classics.

“At present I’m reading: ‘The Uncommoners - The Crooked Sixpence’ by Jennifer Bell, a novel for older children published this year.  

The Uncommoners - The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell
The Uncommoners - The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell
“It is a fantasy story about an alternative London; a place where power and evil thrive, and Ivy and Seb must go to the bottom of a family secret, before it’s too late.  

“It’s a great page turner, making it an ideal read for these crazy, hazy, lazy days of summer.”

Malta Today’s own culture editor and writer of novel ‘Two’ Teodor Reljic shares his top picks for the summer months…

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
“My reading habits aren’t really determined by the seasons. I tend to have a thick reading pile at the ready at all times. However, there are some works that I tend to associate with summer for whatever reason, and which I find enjoyable to return to during summer for the vibe they seem to carry with them. Perhaps because the sweltering heat makes me pine for green and shady boughs to nestle under, it’s fantasy literature that seems to predominate during this period…

There’s an obvious culprit in this mix – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. To compound the already-nostalgic idyll that pervades Tolkien’s fairy tale adventure, I had actually read it for the first time while on holiday in Serbia – specifically, at an equally idyllic village where our family has a summer home. It doesn’t get much stronger than that as far as nostalgia-boosted literary staples go. 

The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Leslie S. Klinger
The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Leslie S. Klinger
More generally – but in a similar milieu – a random selection of short stories from the Irish fantasist Lord Dunsany (who influenced Tolkien) also hits the spot in summer: with his dream-like prose often evoking a world gone by; mixing in the mythical world-building that Tolkien would later on popularize with a poetic sense of melancholy that’s evocative of another one of his admirers – and fellow Irishman – William Butler Yeats.

In a similar but slightly different vein, Dunsany fan HP Lovecraft, though more famous for his contributions to the horror genre, does have a few stories I like to return to all year round. In summer, though, it’s his more Dunsany-esque tales that I find welcoming and soothing, from the creepy but immersive ‘The Nameless City’ and ‘The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath’.”

Young adult and children’s writer Leanne Ellul, whose novel about anorexia, Gramma, was praised for its subject matter, and even won her the Novel for Youth Prize, recommends a unique book of poetry…

“Recently I read Animal City, written by Marc Nair and illustrated by Vanessa Chan. Nair is a spoken word poet and photographer from Singapore, and in this book the animals are portrayed in the setting of a city. 

“They engage in mundane routines such as jumping fences, but also surprisingly plan revenges and engage in exquisite practices, such as eating bugs and different grubs like sushi.”

Readers meet a number of creatures, from insects to mammals, and so on and through defamiliarization and anthropomorphism these poems make us picture common situations from an entirely different perspective. 

Nair flirts with words, while the illustrations add to the flair of the book making it suitable for both children and adults. 

Animal City by Marc Nair
Animal City by Marc Nair
Reading the book made me look even more forward to Marc Nair’s visit – he will be in Malta for the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival between the 25th and 27th of August. 

This is a book you can take to the beach and flip through as a light read, but a deeper understanding of the poems reveals other, at times even political implications. Besides… the front cover carries a fab fish – what else would one want in summer?”

Palestinian-Maltese author Walid Nabhan, writer of ‘L-Eżodu taċ-Ċikonji’, which centres around the Israel-Palestine conflict and ultimately won Nabhan the 2013 National Book Prize, has a somewhat different choice…

“This summer I am re-reading ‘The History of the Siege of Lisbon’ a novel by José Saramago, which recounts the re-conquest of Lisbon by Christians from Muslims in 1147 in a very fabulous manner.

Unlike in many historical accounts, chronicles in this book are told at

both camps; the besieging and the besieged, the believers and the infidels, who both deserve all manners of grizzly ends. Both faiths are remorseless, adamant, blood-stained, yet they feel guiltless and correct. 

The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago
The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago
Taken lightly, it can make you laugh, but if you delve deeper into it, it is about ‘otherness’.

No one can strip the human soul from its holiness and reveal the unholy quite like Saramago. The book is about nakedness, complete nakedness in front of God’s mysterious mirror, and it is about people who ruthlessly guide God to whatever suits us best…

Publisher Chris Gruppetta, from Merlin Publishers, which incidentally worked with many of the writers on the list, picks one of our century’s foremost female and feminist writers for his summer pick…

“My favourite summer read right now is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 

“It’s not “summery” in any particular way, I simply happened to have picked it up this month and am really enjoying the ride. It’s been out since 2013 but although I like the author’s past books, I’ve been postponing it because its synopsis never engaged me. 

“However, once I got over the cover, I realised I was so gravely mistaken! I’m hooked, it’s written beautifully and is a disquisition on race in America that keeps constantly bringing me back to realities here in Malta and all over Europe. 

“Adichie, through her lovable characters, gives an inside view of being Nigerian in the US, of the latent racism and tribulations of making “the move” from a placid life back home to the promised life in America. 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“It breaks down many misconceptions of being African in the twenty-first century.

“Do read it if you enjoy lifespan novels written flowingly, and plenty of musings and asides that will have you nodding in agreement.”

Executive Chairman of the National Book Council and freelance writer Mark Camilleri whose upcoming book ‘A Materialist Revision of Maltese History: 870 – 1919’, analyses the role of the Sette Giugno riots in re-identifying Maltese people as more than just oppressed, recommends an entirely different sort of book.

“I don’t have enough time for pleasure reading as most of the books I read are either work or study-related, but the most recent novel which I have read exclusively for pleasure was 18% Gray by the Bulgarian author Zachary Karabashliev and it was great fun. 

“The style of the novel is somewhat similar to Alek Popov’s who I think will be one of the guests of the Malta Book Festival this year.”

Lara Calleja might not be a household name yet, with her debut novel ‘Lucy Min?’, but her novel has been praised for its depiction of youth and the challenges of growing out of its inherent youth. Her book also achieved record sales on the book-signing night, and Calleja has also made a mark for her work as a librarian at the Pembroke library, where some of her initiatives in the past five years have led to a significant rise in loans.

“My most favourite ‘summer’ book would be ‘Stories of Eva Luna’ by Isabel Allende. 

“I did not read it this summer, but I remember reading it one particular summer, and it remains one of my favourite books for the period – one of those you revert to over and over again. 

“The book is full of short stories, one differently more enchanting than the other, and all recounted and presented with magical and vibrant descriptions, which set you into a whole new, beautiful dimension – in an enchanted forest, in a room with a girl with long hair called Belisa Crepusculario, in a remote village with two women who join forces to ruin the life of their abusing husband – all stories are so different but connected by the same voice and by the same positively magical feeling every story leaves behind.

“The characters are at once strong and weak, and they fight against odds. They are proud and shameless, weak and beaten, feisty and daring. It’s the strength of its characters and the presence of the vibrant magic of Latin America in every tale which makes this book so special to me...”

Poet translator, editor, and cultural organiser, Antoine Cassar has a number of publications under his belt. Perhaps his best known works include his poem Passaport*, a work centreing around notions of integration and of creating a world where passports are no longer necessary, and his equally impressive poem Merhba which won him the Grand Prize of the United Planet Writing Contest in September 2009.

Passaport has since become available in nine languages, and it is a protest poem denouncing a long, non-exhaustive list of border absurdities and atrocities, nested inside a love poem to humanity as a naturally migrating species. Its proceeds go to associations that provide direct assistance to refugees in 14 countries.

“These days I’m re-reading Ruth Padel’s ‘The Mara Crossing’ (Chatto & Windus, 2012), a sharp, informative and physically moving discussion of migration. 

“Each chapter is dedicated to a different type of migration in nature – from cells to plants to birds to beasts to homo sapiens sapiens. (That’s two ‘sapiens’ we’ve baptised ourselves with, and yet we are the species with the least freedom of movement). 

“The book has been described as ‘experimental’ for combining prose and poetry, a format which can be traced back to Dante’s ‘Vita Nuova,’ and which I’d like to read much more of. The dialogue between the two ‘modes’ of writing is refreshing, like breathing in and breathing out, and the ebb-and-flow tension between the two experiences of reading makes both more stimulating. 

“There’s one poem called ‘Maltese Fishing Boat and Broken Net’, which I’ll let readers discover for themselves. One of my favourites is ‘Purple Ink’, a six-line poem that plants a sad bureaucratic stamp on the wall of the heart.

“The reason I’m re-reading The Mara Crossing four years later is that the entire book can be considered a build-up to the final and longest poem, ‘Time to Fly’; I heard it live at the Migration Museum in Shoreditch last June, and I’d like to experience the full sense of unravelling and release one more time. Built on the anaphora ‘You go because…’, Whitmanian in its rhythm and direct, sensual approach to the reader, this last poem is broad in scope but does not embrace more than it can handle, strung as it is with specific images and reasons, each one more laden with emotion and meaning in the light of all the book has discussed before.

“This is one of those rare books that endeavour to take poetry beyond poetry, through closely engaging dialogue with another artistic mode, in this case prose storytelling and discussion. This is a delightful way of reaching out to readers who may not usually seek out poetry. The combination does risk comprising the quality of the poetry, but in this book at least, the dialogue with prose enriches it.”

Although best known for his song-writing, Gerard James Borg has also offered up two enthralling and intriguing bestselling works, ‘Madliena Married Men’ (2015) and ‘Sliema Wives’ (2013).

“A book I have just finished reading is ‘Headhunter’ by Jo Nesbo, who is a well known Norwegian author, known for crime stories.

“I would say that this book is ‘a book for all seasons,’ and it is intriguing, with a great twist, which is how I like books to be! It is written in the first person, and the detail of the plot is very impressive.

“It will surely get you sipping your Aperol Spritz under the umbrella and turning the pages. 

“Of course, another one I’d recommend is ‘Madliena Married Men’ (ooops)  Well, it has the intrigue, the plot, the scandal, and is also a page-turner! Another good excuse for a Spritzer under the sun.... Make it two!”

Martina Borg focuses on lifestyle and society issues