Summer Reading

tumblr_m28hunkihb1rqmm3jo1_1280When 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.


34 thoughts on “Summer Reading

    1. By coincidence the first reading group book after the break is Unsworth’s ‘Sacred Hunger’, so I may have to have that as my Unsworth representative this summer. However, I’ve never read his work before, so if I enjoy ‘Sacred Hunger’ then I promise I will move on to ‘Losing Nelson’.

  1. Well, I’m still hoping to talk you into Patrick Flanery’s Fallen Land, and a bit lighter but just chock full of stuff, Equilateral by Ken Kalfus. The first I expected to be great and it is – the second is the best surprise I’ve had all year. 🙂

    1. I looked again at the Flanery and knew it was on the possibility list for a reason but I’d forgotten it was you who recommended it. It’s gone straight onto the must get hold of list. I haven’t heard of Kalfus but in off to investigate right this minute.

      1. No, I’d never even heard of him – I just picked the book from NetGalley on the basis of the blurb and cover! I’ve put his other stuff on the TBR but I get the feeling from reviews that Equilateral is by far the best thing he’s done. I think it’s only the paperback that comes out in December. It’s available for Kindle and in hardback already, I’m sure. And though I read an e-version, I’m told the hardback is beautifully produced – I intend to treat myself to it as a keeper.

        1. It was Amazon I checked with and they are not offering anything. I’ll keep going back and see if they change their mind in the near future. By the ‘Fallen Land’ now on order.

          1. You’re in the UK, aren’t you, Alex? (I get so confused about who’s where in the blogosphere!) If so, here’s the Kindle link

            But then I also can’t remember if you’re a Kindler! 😉

            1. Haha! I don’t know really. I guess I’ve just spent so much time on Amazon because of Vine that I’m geeky about it now! In this case, I just searched for Equilateral and then clicked on the Kindle version and copied the link. 🙂

              Anyway, if you do read it, I hope you get as much pleasure from it as I did!

            2. PS I am sorry! I meant for it just to give you a link, not put a massive great picture of the book all over your blog! Do feel free to delete it!

  2. Hi, Alex. As long as you’re already spying out the lay of the land with Ian McEwan, let me hasten to recommend his “Solar,” which is really a masterpiece of satirical humor. Also, I am just now reading Saul Bellow’s “Him With His Foot in His Mouth,” a collection of short fiction, and think it quite hysterically funny. For the female side of the equation, I’ve gone back in time to do some work on Colette (just did a post on her) and on some other “women of the page” (as the Indigo Girls’ song “Virginia Woolf” has it), and will at some point get around to Mrs. Gaskell, when I will give you a link, if you don’t mind, for your recent discussion of Gaskell. How you get everything you mention done and keep up such regular posts, I don’t know–I started out last summer posting every day, then every other day, and now I’ve dropped back to taking nearly a week to do each post. But however you do it, please keep them coming: it’s great and companionable reading.

    1. I started every day as well and now try and manage every third day at best. There can come a point when you have nothing to blog about because you’re blogging when you should be reading.

      Yes, do put a link up if you want to. Which of the Gaskell are you going to read?

      I’ve read ‘Solar’ and I thought it was far better than most of the reviewers did so I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.

      I’ve not read any Bellow so I will definitely take him under advisement. And your mention of Virginia Woolf reminds me that I am going to a lecture next week on Dora Carrington and Vita Sackville West and I would really like to add a Sackville West and some of Woolf’s essays.

      But I only have nine weeks!!!!!

      1. Hi again. Of the Gaskell I’m going to read “Cranford” because I’ve never read it, and maybe “Wives and Daughters” because it was her last novel and she thought it was her best, though I understand it’s unfinished (she died while writing it). I don’t know how much Sackville-West you’ve read, but “All Passion Spent” is supposed to be very good, and I recall that I once saw what amounted to a sterling nearly monologue performance of it by an accomplished actress whose name (for shame!) eludes me at the moment. It was on American PBS, which mostly comes from the BBC, so maybe you can get it. It was about 20 years ago, but the performance was so good that I doubt that it would date. Glory in your reading time, Alex, there will come more of it for you sooner or later!

  3. Hooray for summer reading! Hooray for Mr. Penumbra. I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I have heard many a good thing about The Woman Upstairs so be sure to read that one and let me know if the good things really are true 🙂

    1. I’m looking forward to the Messud, Stefanie, because I have read conflicting views all from people whose views I really respect. Thus, this is a book I really am going to have to make my own mind up about and then hope I don’t offend anyone when I blog about it.

  4. The only one I’ve read of those you mention is Sweet Tooth, which, as its name might imply, is a delightful confection. If you’ve liked other books of his, I would think you would enjoy it. But definitely the lighter side of McEwan.

    1. That may be why I didn’t read it when it was first reviewed, Sly Wit. But summer is the right time for something a little lighter, so that one is definitely on the list.

  5. I loved Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, too. Additional suggestions include Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings – two very different treatments of a similar theme, by the way, and all three are reviewed on my blog.

  6. I’m in the middle of Murakami’s 1Q84 (well, nearing the end of vol.3). As it’s 3 volumes it might take up too much time of your short personal reading time but I’ve read enough of it that I can recommend it (if you haven’t read Murakami’s works yet, I’d suggest starting with something else though, Norwegian Wood for example or even his short stories, After the Quake). Enjoy your reading!

    1. I’ve not read any Murakami, Letizia. He hasn’t really come across my radar. I’m not one for short stories so I’ll look into Norwegian Wood. thanks for the suggestion.

  7. I completely sympathise with the whole issue of not being able to just relax and read what you want to enjoy when you’re reading for work. At university I practically never read anything for enjoyment as I simply didn’t have the time (or energy) after reading reams of Medieval French!
    Sweet Tooth is on my TBR list as well so definitely read that. I must confess, I haven’t heard of the others you suggest but, my Dad recently read and enjoyed ‘Narcopolis’ by Jeet Thayil, which sounds like it could be a really dark, exotic summer read.
    Gaskell, however, is not my idea of summer.

  8. Oh I hear you. When I was doing my English degree I just wanted to chuck Kafka across the room and pick up a contemporary novel. Enjoy your summer reading!

  9. I wanted to see what everyone else had suggested! Hmm, I think I’d probably suggest Barbara Trapido if you haven’t read her before. I would also offer Isak Dinesen or Karen Blixen if you’d rather. I’ve recently discovered her long short stories and they are fabulous. If you’ve never read Gabriel Josipovici then you should give him a try. He’s wonderful at deceptively easy reading that’s packed with ideas. And I’m currently reading my first Gail Godwin, though it won’t be my last. She had tremendous style and her characters are great – quirky and yet wholly recognisable.

    1. I adore Trapido, especially the early works. You’ve mentioned Josipovici before and I’ve found him difficult to track down without actually spending money but maybe the time has come. If I buy juts one which should it be? Godwin is not a name I know, so I’m off now to check her out. Thanks for the suggestion.

      1. One more name occurred to me – William Maxwell. I can’t recall if I’ve recommended him before, but I think he’s an outstanding prose stylist. As for Josipovici, hmmm, probably Goldberg: Variations, or maybe the latest one, Infinity. Sometimes I get doubles of GJ’s books – if I do, I’ll send one to you!

        1. That’s really kind of you. Thanks. Now I know I have a Maxwell sitting somewhere on my shelves. The challenge will be to find it:)

    1. Now she’s all over the reviews at the moment with her new book ‘Apple Tree Yard’ and she sounds a very interesting writer indeed, so thank you, I shall certainly try her.

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