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Laura Cumming Recommends

Reading Recommendations from the author and art critic

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Laura Cumming
Author

Laura Cumming is the Observer art critic. Her latest book, On Chapel Sands was shortlisted for the 2019 COSTA biography award. In this exceptionally moving memoir, Cumming uncovers the true story of her mother's disappearance.

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Order your copy of On Chapel Sands here.

Free UK delivery for orders over £50, and just £2 otherwise!
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Greenery

Tim Dee, hardback

£18.99

'I love this celebration of spring, a beautiful guide to looking at nature, and also our lives, as the seasons turn and the landscape greens  From swallows to swans, from the Arctic to Johannesburg, Dee follows the turning world. 'It is always dawn somewhere', he writes, with typical wisdom and insight. 'In early may the dawn chorus moves around the northern hemisphere at about 1300 k per hour. If there is such. thing as godspeed, this is it'.'

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The Diary of a Nobody

George and Weedon Grosmith, hardback

£9.99

'Charles Pooter is a Victorian clerk at Perkupps in the City. He has just moved into a new house in Holloway.  There are upstart tradesmen and mutinous maids to deal with, along with the exploits of his troublesome son Lupin and his oddly unsympathetic wife Carrie, who does not seem to understand the potential literary value of this diary in which Pooter is recording his daily triumphs and disasters. The Grosmiths poke the gentlest fun at Pooter’s suburban pomposity, while walking a fine line between comic absurdity and the most poignant tragedy. I read this book every year, and it never fails to make me laugh.'

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The Great Gatsby

F Scott Fitzgerald, paperback

£6.99

'Is there a more perfect short novel than this one? The plot is taken from a real-life story in a tabloid – an enigmatic zillionaire who hosts dazzling parties in his Long Island chateau, yet never seems to appear at them; the married woman he falls in love with; her husband’s affair, and two terrible murders. But Fitzgerald’s tragic romance is a magnificent prose-poem, an elegy to lost love and regret, all set in a gilded Jazz Age America of speak-easies and all-night parties. An unquiet masterpiece whose charm and sadness never fail to hold their power, it has been filmed many times, starring Alan Ladd, Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio in the main role. Yet the book always rises above the movies, with its perfect glittering brevity.'

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Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Alice Munro, paperback

£9.99

'I can hardly read anything longer than a short story right now, by way of fiction. And Alice Munro is sublime. These marvellously original and droll collection runs all the way from awkward adolescents to elderly romance, all viewed from both male and female perspectives. Munro is the Chekhov of our age. I particularly love the tale in which a central character makes the reckless but desperate decision to buy a wedding dress in advance of a proposal.'

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The Rings of Saturn

W G Sebald, paperback

£9.99

' I can still remember the universal astonishment when this mysterious book appeared. Nobody knew quite what it was. Apparently the account of a journey through the flatlands of East Anglia, it seemed to meander, like its author, from eerie stories of lost knights and Chinese empresses to herring fleets, Elizabethan ghosts and submerged villages, taking in poetry, philosophy and art along the way. The writing is hauntingly beautiful, but nobody quite knew whose voice it was. Is it truth or fiction? And is the narrator, who suffers a nervous breakdown at the end, actually based on the German author, W G Sebald, who lived in East Anglia? The book casts a magical spell over everyone who reads it, and it changed forever my idea of what a memoir could be. '

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The Shape of a Pocket

John Berger, paperback

£10.99

'Berger believes, as I do, that art and life are in no way separate. His writing on art is intensely connected with his experiences of living. The essays in theis riveting volume are about artists from Degas and Michelangelo to Rembrandt and the prehistoric cave painters. All of them make you think differently about your own existence while considering mankind's way of depicting the world. '