When I was either teaching or lecturing full-time the beginning of July always saw me flagging badly. I know that I was extremely fortunate to have a job that required me to read as part of my duties but this stage in the academic year saw me desperate for time to read what I wanted and not just what was on the prescribed syllabus. I would always have a pile of books ready to take away with me and would often spend the mornings of the first week of the break sitting over the breakfast table gulping in words as if there was about to be a worldwide shortage. Round about eleven I would emerge from whatever fictional universe had me captivated and go off for a walk, but the book would still be in my pocket and as soon as I came to a convenient teashop I would call in and start to read again.
Inevitably, those first books would be, shall we say, lacking in anything that might be called literary merit. I really didn’t want to have to do much in the way of thinking. I remember one year taking half a dozen or so of Sara Woods’ Anthony Maitland novels with me. If you haven’t read them they are crime fiction of the most formulaic sort imaginable. Not only was the plot structure always the same but there were whole passages that were practically repeated word for word from one book to another. They satisfied me for the first two or three days, but then, like anyone who has overindulged in the light and fluffy, I needed something with a bit more substance to it.
And that is what I am looking for now. I am no longer lecturing full-time, but I do still do a lot of voluntary teaching and even more mentoring and what with that and the double dose of anti-histamines which is still on-going, I am more than ready for a break. Perhaps, after all those years of flagging in July, my body now just automatically decides that once Wimbledon is underway it’s time for it to get tired and slow down. Whatever the reason I can’t wait for my term to end in two weeks time and, not having any deadly admin work to do, being able to contemplate a full nine weeks before I have to start again on the prescribed texts. I already have some books in mind. Stefanie, over on So Many Books, reminded me earlier this week that I had been meaning to read Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store and, there being a very good offer available, I downloaded that for my Kindle last night. I also have in mind:
Witness the Night ~ Kishwar Desai
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena ~ Anthony Marra
Sisterland ~ Curtis Sittenfield
The Burgess Boys ~ Elizabeth Strout
All the Birds Singing ~ Evie Wyld
The Shock of the Fall ~ Nathan Filer
The Woman Upstairs ~ Claire Messud
And, of course, I shall have the books for the Summer School to read -now ready to roll and nothing more to do but let it happen. At the moment it looks as though those are going to be either the set about the art world or that about spies. Whichever the final choice is, I shall want to add Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth to my list. I’m still not certain how I missed that when it first came out.
As you can see, I already have quite a comprehensive pile, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not open to suggestions. So, over to you. Remembering that I’m not looking for the light and fluffy but something that tells a good story at the same time as asking me to really engage with the ideas the author is exploring, what one (at the most two) books would you recommend. What do you think I should absolutely not miss? Fellow bloggers are always the best people to ask when you want to discover writers you might otherwise never have considered and this summer I have time to really take advantage of the vast wealth of knowledge and experience you have to offer.