GT’s summer reading guide for 2024

Like food and wine, we love a holiday read that pairs with the location. JESS HO shares her best summer literature matches.
Best books to read this summer | 2024Kristina Soljo

We’ve all been there: walked into bookshops and purchased a giant stack of novels, only to have them join the last giant stack of books that were bought and not read. They collect on the bedside table, threatening to fall on you like an avalanche in your sleep. You might make it through a few of them, but the pile remains mostly untouched. Life always gets in the way. You swear to yourself that you’ll read the rest of them when you take some time off.

That time finally rolls around and you pack an enthusiastic stack to tackle over the holidays but there’s one problem: you’re not feeling it. Somehow that internationally best-selling crime novel doesn’t feel appropriate on Bondi Beach. That scathingly hilarious memoir is not grabbing you as you navigate one of the many secret road trips on the way to the Twelve Apostles. That deeply moving work of literary genius is lost on you as you drink your way around the Barossa Valley. You’ve made a crucial mistake: you didn’t pair your books with your destination and now you’re going home to the same towering pile.

That is why this reading list has been thoughtfully matched to locations. No book will go unread. At least, not this summer.

Here are the best books to read this summer, plus our editors’ podcast picks for good measure.

Sad Girl Literature | Satellite Island

“Sad girl books” are characterised by their self-destructive, rage-filled, overthinking protagonists. They’ve been beaten down by society’s expectations, they’re smart, likeable and (obviously) sad, which makes a private, secluded island off Tasmania’s coast the best place to read about them.

To start, Nadine J. Cohen’s Everyone and Everything charts a year in the life of Yael who goes through a “thing” (as described in the book), and her recovery from it with the help of an unlikely friend, a private beach and her sister.

Eleanor Elliott Thomas’ The Opposite of Success takes place over a day that goes from bad to unhinged. Anyone who has worked in middle management and has asked themselves what they’re doing with their lives should read it.

And to depart from the trope of all sad girls being white, Jessica Zhan Mei Yu’s But the Girl brings the deeply philosophical Malaysian-Australian girl into the mix. She questions her own identity while working on a PhD about the poetry of Sylvia Plath in Scotland.

Literary Fiction | The Great Ocean Road

Literary fiction is more than just storytelling, it’s powerful prose that leaves a mark and makes you contemplate the meaning of life, which is what makes the rugged and scenic Great Ocean Road – along with its slowly disappearing landmarks – the perfect setting for it.

Sara M Saleh’s debut novel Songs for the Dead and the Living is a tender, intergenerational story spanning Beirut, Cairo and Sydney. It’s about displacement, a question of where home is, and a reflection on culture that is both hopeful and tragic.

In a powerful reimagining of an important moment in Australian history, Jane Harrison’s The Visitors asks the reader to experience the arrival of the First Fleet from the perspective of the Elders who were present that day. The descriptions of the water, trees and animals in Gadigal country and the inner lives of the men are all so richly constructed that the inevitable outcome is made all the more devastating.

For a book that makes you question your own morality by collapsing the boundaries between desire and need, using food, sex and the end of times as devices, C Pam Zhang’s Land of Milk and Honey is a haunting and sensual read.

Crime & Mystery | The Ghan

It might be cheating to suggest you read Australian crime on the Ghan as most Australian crime literature is set in deep, country Australia, but I’m especially cheating because Benjamin Stevenson’s highly anticipated follow-up in the Everyone series, Everyone on This Train is a Suspect takes place entirely on the Ghan. It follows Ernest Cunningham on a book tour with other crime writers when one of them is murdered. Logically, the crime writers put their expertise into solving the case, but logic also dictates that each of them is capable of getting away with murder. Hilarity ensues.

Best-selling Melbourne author Sally Hepworth’s Darling Girls is a story of three foster sisters in their adulthood, forced to reflect on the abusive upbringing they spent so long trying to forget, after the discovery of a body underneath their foster home. The only thing stronger than the bond Hepworth builds between the sisters is the expertly delivered twist at the end.

If hard-boiled crime is more up your alley, The Strip by Iain Ryan is a gritty, fast-paced noir thriller set on the Gold Coast that involves a brutally murdered doctor, dirty cops and a thirst for redemption. Just remind yourself to breathe between all the suspense.

Memoir & Non-Fiction | Byron Bay

Being in Byron Bay immediately makes you feel like you’ll run into a celebrity, so there is no better place to crack into Matt Preston’s Big Mouth. Everyone knows Preston, but who really knows him? Not the public, evidently. Preston opens up about death, adoption, the army and love, and that’s all before he was made a household name on TV series MasterChef. As expected, Big Mouth is endlessly engaging and impeccably written.

For Silverchair fans, Love & Pain by Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou with Alley Pascoe is a must-read. Noticeably missing is the perspective of Daniel Johns, but this memoir details the early days of the band, the highs, the lows and the falling out. Silverchair owes us nothing, so the vulnerability in this book feels like a gift.

To tap into the influencer side of Byron Bay, Hannah Ferguson’s (of Cheek Media Co.) Bite Back offers a sharp, provoking, feminist lens on social and political issues. It will even prepare you for those sticky conversations with family members around the table.

Editors’ picks: Best podcasts to binge in 2024

Our hit list of summer’s best ear candy set for long drives and solo walks.

The Kids of Rutherford County

From Serial Productions and The New York Times, this four-part series digs into the moments that led to a swathe of kids getting arrested unlawfully in a small Tennessee county.

Say More with Dr? Sheila

Comic genius Amy Poehler embodies a self-proclaimed couples therapist as she leads shonky sessions with guests. And yes, for legal reasons Dr? must be said in the form of a question.

Rupert: The Last Mogul

A six-part series charting the rise of the Murdoch media empire. Like a Succession prequel but based on real life.

Solicited Advice

Cookbook author Alison Roman dishes out all her best advice, from the right amount of vermouth for a Martini to dealing with bad bosses.

Normal Gossip

Slip into the salacious world of other people’s scandals. Because, as the creators say, “second-hand truth really is stranger than fiction”.

Bone Valley

A woman is dead, her husband convicted, new evidence comes to light – is your pulse racing yet? Created by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gilbert King, this mystery is addictive, at times difficult to listen to, and ultimately beautiful.

Should You Really Eat That?

GT contributor Lee Tran Lam untangles the cultural and ethical dilemmas of eating right, starting with rice.

McCartney: A Life in Lyrics

With one song dissected per episode, this 13-part series puts Paul McCartney behind the mic with poet Paul Muldoon. McCartney’s Liverpudlian tones alone will elicit a swoon.

For more new content, see our January 2024 issue, on sale now!

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