A Little Light Summer Reading

By Christina Morin

Leaving Cert and A level results were out late last week, to the joy of many and the chagrin of others. As an American student, I never experienced either of these exam processes, but witnessing the twinned celebrations and tears – both of happiness and grief – got me thinking about my own high school years. To tell the truth, it all seems so long ago, that my memories are generally quite hazy, though I imagine the best description of those four long years would have to go to Dickens (who obviously used it in a much different context): It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

A dedicated nerd and bookworm, my favourite bits about high school often revolved around the academics. For instance, I actually looked forward to receiving, every summer like clockwork, the book lists for the upcoming school year. With long sunny days and only a part-time job in the local ice cream stand to occupy me, I always got a head start on my English class reading. So, the summer before my second year of high school, I immersed myself in, among other texts, Watership Down, for which I bear an inveterate (and possibly irrational) hatred to this day. Recovering from my third year of high school, I escaped into Far from the Madding Crowd and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The latter served as a tantalizing glimpse into Joyce and a foreshadow of my eventual career choice, while the former remains one of my favourite novels of all time.

Although these books were all assigned reading – and therefore not everyone’s cup of tea, especially over vacation – I loved the idea of getting lists of recommended reading to structure my reading choices over the summer. Even then, I lived in fear of choosing books I  wouldn’t enjoy, thus feeling as if I’d wasted my time – always a potential danger when faced with the immense and intimidating choice of my nearest megalith bookstore. If we were studying it in school, though, surely it was both entertaining and well-written, right, and therefore the perfect choice? My teenage self probably disagreed on that front when it came to Watership Down, but, for the most part, my theory about reading lists held firm.

Now that I write about books for a living (meagre as it may be!), I’m the one compiling reading lists for my students, and the time I have for my own ‘summer’ reading is fleeting. Even when I do have a chance for light, non-work related reading, I often find myself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of fiction, let alone other literary genres, now available in the average shop. On the one hand, this immensity gives me hope about the future of the printed word – to be very dramatic about it – in the face of growing competition from the likes of Kindle readers. On the other, however, it makes me yearn for a summer book list to point me in the right direction. Faced with choice, I admit frequently to falling back on my own lists of work-related novels – those ‘should-reads’ that I just haven’t had a chance to peruse in earnest over the years. While this is an excellent method of providing fodder for Pue’s pieces as well as keeping my work going even while I’m not in work, it also means that I often feel as if I’m missing out on a great deal of truly amazing contemporary literature. So, dear readers, tell me this – what do you read when you’re on your summer holidays? What authors, genres, and titles from the past twenty years or so have really got you going? How do you decide what to read – what books to buy, what authors to look out for, etc? Your comments and suggestions, obviously, will be compiled into a list!

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8 Responses to “A Little Light Summer Reading”

  1. Juliana Says:

    I read ‘The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ by David Mitchell over my vacation. It is a historical novel set in your time period (18th C), albeit the 18th C Dutch trading port of Dejima in Japan. I highly recommend it, although I thought it ended a little abruptly and neatly. I wanted it to go on much longer. I loved the creativity of it. He is one of my favourite authors precisely because of his imagination, rather lacking from my regular work readings!

  2. puesoccurrences Says:

    Thanks, Juliana! I’ll definitely look that one up!

  3. Kevin Says:

    Over the last few years I’ve developed the (possibly ridiculous, and probably historian-inspired) habit of writing the place and date that I bought a book on the inside cover. This can be a little embarrassing when I go back to a text that was purchased two years – or more – earlier but never read, but not for the book that I’m reading at the moment.

    I bought Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ back in April 2008, when I was in the last throes of my PhD, having admired its immense size and great reviews for years. Now I must admit that I’m a bit of a fan of Indian fiction – all of Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, etc – so I’m delighted that I’ve picked it up to read it recently. The great thing is its length – just under 1500 pages, but a cracking and page-turning read. If anyone out there is considering reading it, I’d highly recommend it. I’m 325 pages in, and looking forward immensely to the next 1100! A brilliant window on life in post-partition India – on both sides of the religious divide.

  4. Felix Larkin Says:

    It probably doesn’t count as “a little light summer reading”, but the book I brought away with me this summer was Adam Sisman’s new biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper. It’s a wonderful exploration of a life in academia of a kind that is probably not now possible, even under the dreaming spires of Oxford. HT-R got diverted into journalism and political intrigue, and so never fulfilled his early promise as a historian – and ended his career discredited because of the Hitler’s diaries fiasco. There is an extraordinary account in the book of him being humiliated by Margaret Thatcher who asked him when he would produce a new book: he told her that he had something on the stocks, to which she replied “On the stocks! We want it in the shops!” – it never did appear. You can read a fine review of the biography by Anthony Howard on the New Statesman website. I strongly recommend the book.

  5. Frank Says:

    Several summers ago I read the golf stories of PG Wodehouse in a caravan facing Ballybunion Golf Course. For sheer escapism from the cares and worries of modern life, Wodehouse is hard to beat. So, in my humble opinion, any summer getaway should include something written by this comic master.

  6. Caoimhe Says:

    Neither of these deal with particularly light subject matter, but I was completely engrossed by Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and, on the fiction side, Roberto Bolano’s 2666. Both books were almost impossible to put down.

  7. Shaun Says:

    Two brilliant works of historical fiction which I’ve read recently are Simon Mawer’s “The Glass Room” and Jonathan Littell. Both, in very different ways, deal with aspects of the Third Reich and are very well written. Not exactly light either, (and the latter runs to around 900 pages), but excellent summer reading.

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