I’ve been dreaming of summer – its not far away! – and long, lazy days in the sunshine catching up on neglected reading. 3-4 months with not much planned is a lot of book time… But what to read? If you’re feeling a bit directionless with ideas for summer reading, worry no more! I’ve compiled this short list, including a few of my own choices and the recommendations of trusted others – once I asked for them, the suggestions just kept coming!
The Spire, William Golding
The Spire is a beautifully written tale of obsession and ambition. Here is Craig Raine (The Guardian) summarising the novel elegantly and succinctly: ‘The Dean of a cathedral, Jocelin, wants to add a spire to the building, which has no foundations and is therefore a kind of miracle already. The novel is about the second, highly imperfect miracle, the erection of the spire – and the cost, which is financial, physical and spiritual. And it is about creative realisation, bringing the impossible into being.’
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières
Set during WWII on a small Greek island, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a tale of love and war and ‘what happens to little people when the megalomaniacs get busy’ (Bernières).
The Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
The Cloud Atlas is clever and engaging, with six interwoven stories spanning time and space, from the South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic future.
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
A bit of a modern classic, this book has a rare claim to making me genuinely chuckle in the first few pages. The novel charts the seemingly random plight of two eclectic immigrant families in contemporary London, and what happens when they eventually reach breaking point. If you like Zadie Smith, she’s also recently written short story ‘The Embassy of Cambodia’, which is worth checking out.
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Do not dismiss this for being a 19th century novel; it is very astute and a good read. It is also widely considered a feminist novel for protagonist Dorothea Brooke’s thirst for knowledge and independence. According to Wikipedia, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes consider it the greatest novel in the English language. If that’s not enough incentive to read it, I don’t know what is.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
You may have seen the film of the same name. Well, this is where Audrey Hepburn’s film career began (sort of). Set in 1950s New York, Capote’s novella is whimsical and eccentric, just like the renowned main character, Holly Golightly. Holly Golightly may be as elusive as her stream-of-consciousness outbursts, but you will find yourself being seduced by her eccentric lifestyle. The novel contains wisdoms like this one: “It’s better to look at the sky than live there”. And, as Holly would say, ‘A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick”.
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
By the author of the Moomin tales, is a beautiful book of the meanderings and musings of a child and her grandmother on a small island one summer.
Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald
A last-minute addition to the list; I was given this book a few days ago, read the first chapter and was hooked. It follows a community of houseboat-dwellers on the river Thames in the 1960s, and their trials and tribulations. It’s funny: like, sitcom funny (not e4, though, more like the Vicar of Dibley). According to Bernard Levin (Sunday Times), Offshore has ‘a sense of battles barely lost, of happiness at any rate brushed by the fingers as it passes by, of understanding gained at the last second’, and is ‘a marvellous achievement: strong, supple, humane, ripe, generous and graceful’. So there you go.