I took Jilly Cooper and Salman Rushdie on holiday

Event announcement

Coming hot on the heels of the infected blood inquiry, we’re delighted to welcome Cara McGoogan to our non-fiction book club next month. The investigative journalist charts the course of the scandal, and the cover-up that followed, in her book, The Poison Line.

We’ll be discussing it all with her at the non-fiction book club on Zoom on 25th June. You can join just for this session for £22.50 or become a member of our club for £15 a month, which includes the price of the book. We talk to some of the world’s most impressive non-fiction authors: our guests have included Katherine Rundell, Patrick Radden Keefe, Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa and Tim Marshall.


Upcoming events

  • Backstory summer sessions — the return of our popular music nights at the bookshop. Book your £5 ticket now to secure your spot:

  • ANNA FUNDER, Wifedom — 5th June, 7.30pm — FIVE TICKETS LEFT

    Anna Funder is coming to Backstory! We’re thrilled that the Stasiland author will be joining us in person, all the way from Australia, to talk about her latest book, a biography of Eileen O’Shaughnessy — George Orwell’s wife.

  • REFUGEE TALES in aid of Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees — 19th June, 7.30pm

    Iraqi author and activist Haifa Zangana will read the tale she has written for the fourth anthology of Refugee Tales. She will be joined by a person with first-hand experience of immigration detention. The event will be chaired by Arthur Smith, the self-appointed “night mayor of Balham”.

  • ALICE WINN introduces YAEL VAN DER WOUDEN, The Safekeep — 28th June, 7.30pm

    One of Backstory's favourite authors introduces a new favourite, Yael van der Wouden. Her debut novel, The Safekeep, is set in the conservative Dutch countryside in the early 1960s. A young woman still tends the family home — keeping rigorous inventories of all its contents — years after her mother has died and her siblings have moved out. She is left to keep standards, and her own company. Until, that is, one of her brothers is called away on business and he imposes his new girlfriend on the house. And so the stage is set for a beguiling, claustrophobic and very fresh summer read. Trust us, you’ll be wanting to talk about it when you put it down.

  • Fiction book club on Zoom, 18th June: Katherine Heiny, Games and Rituals

  • Non-fiction book club on Zoom, 28th May: Daniel Chandler: Free and Equal

LIKE PUTTING TOGETHER a dinner party, the secret to a good holiday reading edit is all in the mix. Too much fluff is like overindulging at the gelato stall. Too little, and your books are likely to linger unread by the sun lounger. You need light and shade, high and low, fizz and crunch.

Taking Jilly Cooper and Salman Rushdie on holiday (now that’s an episode of A Place in The Sun I’d watch) might be an extreme example of this approach, but I stand by my decision to do so, on a return visit to a Mallorcan village with my mum and sister Jenny, 20 years since we were last there.

And one of the books was indeed much harder work than the other, it just wasn’t the one I was expecting. I had been looking forward to a cheeky dose of Rutshire, but I just couldn’t get in to Tackle!, Cooper’s latest. It wasn’t the sex, it was the subclauses; the sentences were tangled up long before Rupert Campbell-Black had so much as taken off his tie.

A reading break

Rushdie, on the other hand, I was dreading. I’ve never read him (where should I start?), but his reputation led me to believe this would be the sort of book that would require me to do a workout on the cocktail terrace. It was nothing of the sort: Knifehis account of, and reflections on, the horrific attempt on his life two years ago, is gripping — then intimate and moving.


There was time for fun, too. I finally got round to R. F. Kuang’s Yellowface, which I devoured. If you haven’t read it yet, do: it’s a bit like a 21st-century Scoop but for the publishing industry rather than newspapers. A struggling novelist tries to pass off her dead author’s manuscript as her own: she gets to the top of the bestseller charts and then her ploy begins to unravel. It’s got lots to say about the commercial obsessions of big publishers and cancel culture, but it can also be enjoyed simply as a fun, twisty tale.


I also tore through David McCloskey’s Damascus StationWritten by a former CIA spook, it has everything that spy buffs would want from a thriller (edge-of-your-seat pacing, questionable morality, a romance that is ludicrously quick to take off).


What books will you be taking to the beach this summer? We’re about to publish our guide to this year’s best summer reads (it’ll be in the shop later this week and in next week’s email), but we’d love your suggestions, too.

Hit comment at the bottom of this email or just reply, with the name of a book and why you recommend it for a holiday. We’ll include a round-up in next week’s newsletter and we’ll stock the best ones in the shop.

Right — back to the common for one last hour of bank-holiday reading,