Looks like summer in Sheffield could be well and truly upon us this week -so it’s time to get into the hot, sticky summer mood with our reading this fortnight.
We also have a great reader review of last fortnight’s corker, Wyl Menmuir’s The Many. And we learn what’s in store as part of Sheffield’s fantastic Adventure Book Festival. Happy reading.
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Read of the fortnight
The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
Harper Lee’s well-loved classic set over one long, tense summer, To Kill A Mockingbird, is one of my favourite books. Heat pervades everything, and provides a backdrop which emphasises the incredible tension of the story.
I vividly remember the sweaty courtroom; Calpurnia calling the children in for lemonade or they’ll ‘fry alive.’ Brilliant.
And it is no exaggeration to say that The Summer That Melted Everything, this impressive debut novel from Tiffany McDaniel, does hot and ominous summer atmosphere better than any book I’ve read since. It kicks off with an awesome sense of foreboding which only builds and builds. High temperatures; high pressure; tempers flaring.
The ‘volcano of trouble’ summer begins with a young boy called Fielding living in small town America.
His father advertises in the newspaper for the devil to come and pay them a visit. And it seems he takes them up on the offer.
In the form of Sal, a 13 year-old boy who is frighteningly intelligent and articulate, and who changes everything for Fielding and his family.
It’s a coming of age story; a loss of innocence story; an indictment of the dark side of human nature, and the evil people are capable of if they become ‘severed from themselves… like puppets in the master’s claws’. It is powerful stuff, and moving to the point of being heartbreaking at times.
McDaniel is also the best character-namer since Toni Morrison. Autopsy Bliss anyone?
She does indulge in a jarringly cheesy chapter-ending on occasion. These events really don’t need a summary that reads like it should be set onto a picture of a sunset and uploaded to Facebook.
The central mystery of the story is whether Sal is indeed the devil he claims to be, or just a lost little boy.
And McDaniel is brilliantly ambiguous on this.
So much about Sal defies explanation: his poetic articulacy; his insight into people’s secrets and hidden feelings; where he came from in the first place.
But with Sal, as with all the characters, McDaniel doesn’t fall back on cliches.
We are always on our toes, and evil is made all the more real when it’s mixed up with shades of grey.
Have a read, with a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day, and see what you make of it.
I would love to know what you think.
The Many by Wyl Menmuir
Becky says: The Many centres on two men with very different experiences of life finding a common ground in their mutual suffering. Author Wyl Menmuir crafts a gothic tale of loss around these two men, spectres of their respective grief haunting the novel in a du Maurier-esque coastal village.
For a short novel, the depth of the reading experience is something to be savoured, particularly as Menmuir’s ambiguity invites the reader to ponder and decipher potential meanings in the novel’s symbolism.
So too is the way in which he builds in several genre influences, including the gothic and folk horror, to craft something that is at once both abstract and deeply human.
Menmuir’s prose is sparse but evocative.
It has been nearly a year since I read the book for the first time and scenes still play out vividly in my head, their power lying in their simplicity. There is one scene, in which the two men sail between the mysterious ships that haunt the bay, that I keep returning to.
It is a scene that encapsulates much about the novel with its mysteries and slightly surreal nature.
The Many is a challenging read in the best possible way. It asks questions of its reader and waits for the reader to raise their own, but remains slippery and elusive, resolute in its indefinable nature.
To read Menmuir’s debut is to craft your own experience alongside that of its characters and community, a deeply personal read that lingers long after the last page.
Literary City - The Sheffield Connection
Sheffield’s adventurers, literary lovers and family thrill seekers are in for a treat as the Adventure Book Festival returns this summer.
Between 10 and 15 July, Sheffield Central Library will host an exciting range of inspiring author talks, creative workshops, stunning exhibitions and fun family activities.
Free events for all ages take place across the whole week.
Highlights include talks from adventurer and conservationist Dave Goulson on a global quest to find the world’s most elusive bees, TV gardener and Guardian columnist Alys Fowler speaking about finding hidden beauty and inner strength amongst Birmingham’s urban waterways, and travel writer Tom Chesshyre who spent last summer walking and exploring the River Thames from source to sea.
There’s a local flavour too though. Sheffield climbing legend Steve McClure will look back to childhood days climbing in Yorkshire and his cutting edge climbs in Greenland. In his biography he shares his deep passion for climbing and how it has dictated and shaped him; a story of obsession, desire and finding balance in life.
Well known walker and activist, Terry Howard looks back to the role Sheffielders played in early struggles to gain access to the Peak District moors, a subject covered in his new book, Clarion Call. Also, the ever popular author and broadcaster, Dr Patrick Harding shares some handy hints and tips about foraging for edible plants and fungi in and around our green and pleasant city.
Families are invited to a range of lovely ‘booky’, creative activities and also to become Library Explorers by following a trail of book characters lost in the Central library. Just collect your map from the Children’s Library and you might even win a prize. When you’ve finished that, you might want to create your own Sheffield inspired treasure map. All maps returned to a Council run library will be displayed in the Central Reading Room over the summer and three lucky winners will be selected by a professional illustrator to receive £10 book tokens.
If bikes are your thing, look out for the photography exhibition taking over the library foyer and the accompanying Sheffield mountain bike piste map produced by local bike maker Cotic Bikes. Finally, if that gets your pedals turning, you’ll enjoy adventurer and sports photographer Andy heading talking about riding the Iditarod Trail Invitational; a 1000 mile endurance event across frozen Alaska.
It promises to be a fun week for anyone with an appetite for reading adventure or a love of the outdoors.
Most events are free to attend although booking is highly recommended. Contact Sheffield Central Library on 0114 273 4712 or visit www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/libraries-sheffield-9795467632 to book your place.