Reading list: Our favourite authors' recommendations

The Festival is less than two weeks away, and our to-read piles are showing no signs of abatement. We aren't sure about yours, but we've compiled what our favourite authors have said about the books that will be discussed at the Festival anyway. 

Gabriel Tallent's My Absolute Darling

Telling the story of the teenage heroine Turtle, who is subjected to unthinkable acts of abuse by her doomsday survivalist father in the Californian wilderness, Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling has become a literary and commercial sensation despite its confronting subject matter. When Turtle meets Jacob, the larger world comes into focus – life with her father is neither safe nor sustainable.


Recommended by: Stephen King

What he said:

“There are a very few books – To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Things They Carried – that we remembered forever. To my own shortlist I can now add My Absolute Darling… The word “masterpiece” has been cheapened by too many blurbs, but My Absolute Darling absolutely is one.”

What others have said: 

"Impossible to put down... will shock, then shake, then inspire you." – Celeste Ng

Min Jin Lee's Pachinko

A sweeping, epic intergenerational novel, Pachinko is Min Jin Lee’s second work to tell the stories of the Korean diaspora, and the first English novel to examine Korean-Japanese culture at a time when Koreans were no more than subaltern. Set first in Korea and then Japan, the novel follows a string of characters within a single family as they subsist and then prosper, constantly in a state of flux under Japanese fascism and oppression.


Recommended by: Roxane Gay

What she said:

“I cannot say enough about Pachinko. This novel was utterly absorbing. I knew nothing about it when I picked it up, and I couldn’t put it down. I read it voraciously and was so taken by the writing, by the elegance of the prose, the sweeping ambition and scope of the narrative, how much I learned without feeling lectured, how I wanted so very much for the characters and was very invested in their lives. I love this book.”

Sharlene Teo's Ponti

The winner of the the Deborah Rogers’ Writers’ Award (while still a manuscript), Sharlene Teo’s Ponti spans three decades and follows the intertwining lives of three women: Amisa; Szu; and Circe. Touching on friendship and memory, and the things people do on the brink of adulthood that haunt them years later, the book is infused with mythology, modernity, and the enveloping, sticky heat of Singapore.


Recommended by: Ian McEwan

What he said:

[This is] a remarkable first novel in the making”


What others have said:

“A sticky, atmospheric tale of resentment and loneliness” – Tatler

“This haunting debut hopscotches between decades and cultures, eschewing the usual moves of the coming-of-age story for something truer to the desperate, surreal stakes of adolescence. Sharlene Teo is a daring and genuinely original novelist”  Garth Greenwell

Sharlene appears at

André Aciman’s Enigma Variations

Both a novel and a collection of love stories, Andre Aciman's Enigma Variations follows Paul through a lifetime punctuated by conflicting desires, spanning an adolescence spent in Southern Italy, undergraduate years in New England, and an adulthood  in New York. Much of his life is spent yearning for a woman who comes and goes, while he fills the void with a string of same-sex encounters. It runs in a similar vein to Andre’s earlier works, yet “reads as if he’s taken his three previous novels, combined and distilled them down to their essence”, the New York Times points out.


Recommended by: Paul Lisicky

What he said:

"Aciman writes arousal so beautifully you miss it when it's gone ... [Aciman is] up to something bolder this time ... Aciman is all the way himself here. He writes with the ferocity of a writer who's finally getting his vision down, and he has to say it, has to get it out. He's made a magnificent, living thing."


What others have said:

"One of the great novels of this century so far." – Michael Silverblatt

"Is there any writer out there who can conjure the seismic swings and loop-the-loop giddiness of sexual infatuation the way that André Aciman can? He first revealed this talent in his debut novel, Call Me by Your Name, the book that sealed his reputation along with his sublime memoir, Out of Egypt . . . The allure of Enigma Variations rests in its agile sense of the heart's paradoxes and might-have-beens." Michael Upchurch, Boston Globe

Emma Glass’ Peach

The power of Emma GlassPeach is in its contrasts: sinuous prose set against brutal atrocity, always with an underlying sensitivity. The novel cum poem follows Peach as she struggles home, as she’s ignored by those meant to care, as she sews herself up, and as she remains haunted by the memory of what has happened. A confronting novel, yet one that rewards the reader in its fearlessness.


Recommended by: George Saunders

What he said:

“An immensely talented writer … Her fearlessness renews one’s faith in the power of literature”


What other have said:

Choose wisely the moment when you pick up Peach; because once you do you'll be unable to put it down until the very last sentence” – Kamila Shamsie

Peach is a work of genius. So lonesome and moving, so gruesome, wry, tender and plaintive. It is the new Jane Eyre, and one wild, thrilling ride. Swallow it in one gulp, and carry a spare copy in your pocket. Always” – Lucy Ellmann

Richard Lloyd Parry’s Ghosts of the Tsunami

Richard Lloyd Parry was living in Japan in 2011 when the tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown led to one of the most tragic natural disasters in recent memory. He spent the next six years fastidiously reporting from the frontline to piece together Ghosts of the Tsunami, his gripping and humanising account of the event and its aftermath.


Recommended by: Henry Marsh

What he said:

“A remarkable and deeply moving book – describing in plain and perfect prose the almost unimaginable devastation and tragedy of the Japanese tsunami.”


What others have said:

“You will not find a finer work of narrative non-fiction this year” – The Economist

“A stunning book from the man who has a strong claim to be the most compelling non-fiction writer in the world” – Johann Hari

“A brilliant chronicle of one of the modern world's worst disasters, but it's also a necessary act of witness. The stories Parry tells are wrenching, and he refuses to mitigate the enormity of the tsunami with false optimism or saccharine feel-good anecdotes. Above all, it's a beautiful meditation on grief…”  NPR