20 June 2012

summertime reading

The arrival of warmer weather, like the fall of the first snowflakes, holds the potential to fill bibliophiles with frenzied trepidations beyond the comprehension of those poor souls for whom a book is just a book, and all because of something that may appear innocuous to the uninitiated: compiling a seasonally appropriate reading list.

Some may question the necessity of torturing oneself with drawing up such a list. A number of book lovers squirrel away novels specifically intended for their annual holiday; others prefer spontaneity and grab whatever tickles their fancy. Reasons abound: a bad memory, the pleasure of ticking items off one by one, a personally designed curriculum.

But is there anything different about this season that genuinely warrants a "summer reading list"? I believe so. The summer reading list is a far more complicated beast than its wintry counterpart. While the latter usually evokes long cosy hours spent on a couch with a pot of tea, with or without attendant feline, and is therefore appropriate for dense tomes with intricate plots into which one will gladly delve in an attempt to forget all about the harsh weather that prevails out of doors (allow me to name by way of example Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, very much a wrapped-in-a-warm-blanket-by-lamplight novel), the former must take into account a variety of locations and atmospheric conditions (much depends on whether reading will take place reclining on the beach, lounging in the shade, or indeed sitting indoors should the weather turn inclement), potential distracting factors (there is all the difference in the world between a long, engrossing novel and a collection of short stories or correspondence that can be put down, then picked up at a moment's notice), and size and weight restrictions for avid readers who have the good fortune to travel.

It would be simplistic to state that the reclusive, hushed nature of winter is better suited to classics and conducive to poetry while summer calls for more recent literary works, though this may serve as a rule of thumb when in doubt as to which strategy to adopt

Depending upon your temperament, you might prefer the comfort of revisiting old favourites to the discovery of an unfamiliar author. For my part, I generally reserve well-known works for the colder months, though this was not always the case. In the golden days of my youth, I spent many happy consecutive summers in the company of Sherlock Holmes and his faithful Watson, thereby consolidating my love for the English language. My one and only piece of advice in drawing up your own list would be to select relatively light — though not frivolous — reading materials, for if happening upon words of wisdom you want to keep a record of, you may not always have a notebook and pen on hand. Just in case, you may want to stick a few small Post-Its to the inside front cover so that you can mark the relevant pages.

Should you be in need of recommendations...

Short stories: the deliciously creepy collected ghost stories of M. R. James; the great fun, variety and wonderful imaginative touches of Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Series: P. D. James' books starring Commander Dalgliesh, plus the two featuring Cordelia Gray; Inspector Rebus' (mis)adventures in Edinburgh and elsewhere by Ian Rankin; the great story of an unlikely friendship, on sea as on land, chronicled by Patrick O'Brian in his Aubrey-Maturin saga; the intriguing plots, witty banter and razor-sharp humour of Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series; the equally intellectually stimulating though far less humorous Inspector Morse novels by Colin Dexter

Uplifting reads: I dare you not to weep at the end of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer & Annie Barrows, and not to fall in love with Willie in Sonia Gensler's The Revenant

Nice big bricks: the journey back in time and through the canvas of The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova; Val McDermid's speculative links between a famous historical event, a tattooed corpse and a long-lost poem in The Grave Tattoo; the intriguing, laudanum-soaked narrative by Wilkie Collins of the origins of Charles Dickens' unfinished serial story in Drood by Dan Simmons

In French: the tale of envy, revenge and love of Jean de Florette and Manon des sources by Marcel Pagnol; the eerily realistic world in the throes of magical disturbances of Éric Gauthier' Montréel; all of Jean-Christophe Grangé's books, which depict extremely violent acts and warped psyches in his very unique style

What will I be reading? It occurred to me that this summer will afford the perfect opportunity to get started on a new series and get acquainted with its cast of characters, hence the presence of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels on my list. I'll also be saving up issues of literary journals such as The Brick and The Paris Review, to which I recently subscribed, and will probably add any copies of the U.K. edition of Vogue I can get my hands on.

P.S. How about a non-book-related piece next? A photo of Rebus, perhaps? Well, I'll give it a try!


  1. Summer reading equals Sci-Fi, in my case. Love it.

    1. An excellent way to escape, in more ways than one!

  2. Wow ! Merci pour toutes ces recommandations !

    C'est drôle mais personnellement, je ne relis jamais un livre. Il y en a trop qui attendent d'être découverts :)

    1. C'est pour cette raison que je lis habituellement plusieurs livres à la fois : des «nouveaux» et des «vieux»!

      Tu m'en donneras des nouvelles si tu suis une de mes recommandations? :-)

    2. Une autre chose que je ne fais que très rarement, lire plusieurs livres à la fois. :)

      et oui je te donnerai des nouvelles de mes lectures. J'ai quelques P.D. James dans ma pile de livres à lire.

  3. Merci d'avoir inclus Montréel dans ta liste! L'été et ses longues soirées ensoleillées est effectivement un bon moment pour se plonger dans une brique si difficile à lâcher une fois entamée...
    J'ai de la chance cet été: tout en haut de ma liste, j'ai une version préliminaire du troisième roman de ce monsieur Gauthier. Après en avoir pas mal entendu parler, j'ai bien hâte d'enfin pouvoir m'en délecter!
    À part ça, je pense retourner visiter l'univers de Michèle Plomer. J'avais beaucoup aimé HKPQ, et j'ai maintenant le premier tome de Dragonville qui m'attend. Et pour les jours de canicule, j'irai faire un tour dans le nord avec La Yukonnaise de Mylène Gilbert-Dumas... Et j'ai bien des choses à écrire, aussi, ce qui devrait bien m'occuper cet été.

    1. Tout un programme de lecture en perspective! Et bonne écriture!

  4. Yes, more Rebus please, such a handsome fellow.

    My reading habits don't tend to follow a seasonal pattern - that may be because our seasons tend to be quite strange here in Western Australia. There is something though to be said for the different tone and mood created by reading at beach on a summer evening, and reading in a comfortable chair by the fire in winter. One thing is for sure: I'm always reading something, whatever the season.

    Have you read anything from Brick magazine yet? What do you think of it?

    1. You may have noticed that I didn't mention spring and fall/autumn reading lists here. The explanation is very simple: Quebec really experiences only two distinct seasons! At best, the other two can be described as "a bit warmer" and "a bit colder" than its predecessor. As to books suited to these in-between periods, I like to apply this principle: "When in doubt, read a classic." I find it's never time wasted.

      Oh yes — whatever the season, books are my constant companions as well!

      I've almost reached the end of Brick #88 (I received issue #89, but am saving it for my vacation). I'm very impressed with the quality and diversity of the pieces published in it, and I particularly enjoyed the interview with Valerie Martin. I subscribed immediately after finishing it, in fact!

    2. oh great, I love Brick magazine, so I'm glad to find another admirer.

      In Western Australia, our seasons can be summarised as: hot, very hot, and slightly cooler. So when actual cold weather makes it here, I make the most of it.

    3. I suggested to my library that they subscribe to Brick; it would offset the absolute rubbish they currently subscribe to rather nicely.

  5. I've just come across your blog and it's lovely to see some of my favourites and know I'm in the right place! I love Sayers, James and Dexter - Margery Allingham is my crime writer of choice at the moment but I do prefer Lord Peter to Albert Campion. 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' I thought was so fabulous.
    My summer holiday read is usually something big and meaty that I don't have time to concentrate on/immerse myself in. Last year it was Hillary Mantell's 'Wolf Hall' which I absolutely loved; this year I'm going to reread AS Byatt's 'Possession', one of the few books I like to come back to every few years. I'm off to look up some of your titles I haven't come across - yet!

    1. I love that little *pling* of recognition that occurs when I come across someone with similar tastes in books, so it makes me smile that my blog had that effect on you!

      Please stop by again if you read any of the novels recommended here, I'd love to know what you thought!

      Thank you for reminding me about Wolf Hall — quite a few people I know have raved about it, so it's definitely on my "to read soon" list. (I also really want to give Possession a second chance in the near future, not having enjoyed it very much the first time around...)


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