What makes for a great summer read? I remember listening to a great episode of Slate’s Culture Gabfest (if you don’t listen, this podcast is the only reason I know the terribly little I know about movies, music and celebrity – looking at you P.) on the qualities of a summer book that included arguments for books of ‘escape’ (that is, books that aren’t emotionally or intellectually challenging), giant books that you’d otherwise not have time to dedicate to reading and books with heady plots that might capture interest for long stretches.
I’m not sure I have a ready answer to ‘the qualities of a great summer read’ question. Perhaps I’ll use this summer’s list to develop some kind of framework or taxonomy. What I do know is that each year I put out a call to friends and family for their suggestions. I populate a list that sits outside my usual, ongoing and interminable pile of recommendations and to-reads, because this list is the one that I promise to read, and do read while on vacation.
And so this week coming I head out on my first of two vacations this summer. I’m grateful to have the time, and looking forward to the chance to read. Thanks to those who suggested titles for me. I’ve put in my order at the library, and have picked up the following
Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer (already fifty pages in to this one) Double suggestion made me put this one right to the top of the list. That and it was the only suggestion that clocked in under 400 pages (really? you all want me to read giant books?) and I wanted an early success.
Bleeding Edge – Thomas Pynchon (those who have been reading the blog for any duration will know that I have long resisted the urging (taunting?) of N. to read Thomas Pynchon. Perhaps he’s worn me down. Perhaps it’s my guilt for not being a better long-distance friend. Perhaps it’s my sympathy for his soon-to-be-no-sleep-ever-father-of-twins status, but I’ve committed to read it. The real shit of it is I secretly worried he’s been right the whole time and I’m going to love it.
Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi I know nothing about this one other than P. recommended it and she’s been right with all her other suggestions. Even in suggesting a short story collection. Gasp.
The Pope and Mussolini : the secret history of Pius XI and the rise of Fascism in Europe – David Kertzer 99% of the time my mum is right about the book she suggests I’ll love. It helps that she reads 99% more than I do (she reads a lot) and that she knows enough about me to know what I’ll like. I have to say, she’s been going on and on about this one lately to the point that I’ve suspended my outright ban on non-fiction and am prepared to read it. Also because I love her.
My Struggle – Karl Ove Knausgård One part deferrance to my supervisor-hero’s wisdom, one part realization that this book is on the top of a bazillion best-of lists, and one part guilt that the last book L. suggested (a collection of Lorna Crozier’s poetry) I actually read but failed to blog (don’t worry, it’s the only time that’s ever happened. *wink*). Let’s be clear: I’m not committing to all four volumes.
Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel Because Amazon said I should. (And a half a dozen others).
It’s exciting to imagine that with *two* vacations this summer I’ll get to put out *another* call and collect another set of magic. Until then I thought I’d leave you with one or two of my own suggestions for you to read this summer. Books that I’ve read in summers past (I’ve chosen books from the pre-blog era to give you something I’ve not otherwise reviewed) and really loved. Read em’ if you like. Let me know what you think.
City of Thieves – David Benioff: Siege of Leningrad. Boy must find a dozen eggs or be sentenced to death. Incredible mix of humour, intensity and imagination. Oh, and historical fiction.
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The book that introduced the image and mystery of ‘the cemetery of forgotten books’. Mystery, literary love affair and suspense coiled around magic realist elements.