Holiday season is here again. The days are getting warmer and the invitation to feel hot sand between your toes is too tempting to ignore. Then, before you know it, it is Christmas. A time of gift-giving, making merry and good food. The Australian summer is ideally designed for indolence and easy living.
The perfect season for the book lover.
A confirmed bibliophile myself – my wife complains that books take up more space in our home than we have to move about in – the great summer read is a particular treat.
No more rushed chapters on a morning commute, or snatched before the lights go off at night. Summer afternoons sitting on the grass with a book in hand is perhaps one of life’s chief pleasures.
Not just any book either, because the heat and sudden abundance of free time is more conducive to a long read, with fascinating characters, complex plots and perfectly poised language. One of my favourite ‘summer’ books is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, largely due to the sensation of heat wafting off the pages courtesy of the evocative language:
“Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”
Summer reading is also a time of judgement-free indulgence. So whether you feel like launching yourself into Stephen King’s The Stand or Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Times Past, considerations of high and low culture drop away. It is really all about immersing yourself in a book of your own and letting the world about you drop away.
Here is a selection recommended summer reads to get you thinking on what literary landscape you would like to escape to.
The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1958)
They were the most moving sight there, two young people in love dancing together, blind to each other’s defects, deaf to the warnings of fate, deluding themselves that the whole course of their lives would be as smooth as the ballroom floor, unknowing actors set to play the parts of Juliet and Romeo by a director who had concealed the fact that tomb and poison were already in the script.
A breath-taking literary epic about the passing of the Italian aristocracy, filled with dinners, dancing and intrigue.
Gast by Carol Swain (2014 – Graphic Novel)
A bored young girl moves to the Welsh countryside with her family and strikes up an unlikely friendship with the animals of a recently deceased farmer. Also, the animals can talk. A quiet serving of British magic realism that is richly poignant with beautiful art from Swain.
The Bottoms by Joe R Lansdale (2000)
When I looked I saw a gray mess hung up in brambles. The moonlight was shining across the water and falling on a face, or what had been a face, but was more like a jack-o’-lantern now, swollen and round with dark sockets for eyes. There was a wad of hair on its head, like a chunk of dark lamb’s wool, and the body was swollen and twisted and without clothes. A woman.
Lansdale is the master of modern Southern Gothic and this murder mystery from the point of view of an innocent child is a suspenseful classic.
Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster (1905)
The advance of regret can be so gradual that it is impossible to say, ‘Yesterday I was happy, today I am not.’ At no one moment did Lilia realize that her marriage was a failure; yet during the summer and autumn she became as unhappy as it was possible for her nature to be. She had no unkind treatment, and few unkind words, from her husband. He simply left her alone.
Forster’s debut examines the snobbishness of the English upper classes abroad, the culture clash with small-town Italians and the callowness of a young widow desperate for a new lease on life.
The Sea by John Banville (2005)
My parents had not met Mr and Mrs Grace, nor would they. People in a proper house did not mix with people from the chalets, and we would not expect to mix with them. We did not drink gin, or have people down for the weekend, or leave touring maps of France insouciantly on show in the back windows of our motor cars – few in the Field even had a motor car. The social structure of our summer world was as fixed and hard of climbing as a ziggurat.
Banville plucks at the treacherous threads of memory, bound together by resentment towards a life that did not turn out quite the way one hoped and the unreliable comforts of nostalgia.
Gold by Dan Rhodes (2007)
One year, the girl who came to stay was the most extraordinarily beautiful creature who had ever been seen in the village. She was incredible. So many people, on walking into the pub and seeing her for the first time, would involuntarily exclaim, Jesus Christ! that she assumed this was a customary local greeting, and without thinking she started to use it herself. ‘Jesus Christ!’ she would cheerfully say, as people came in from the cold, ‘What can I get you?’
Rhodes is one of the great comic writers working today, largely due to his sense of the ridiculous, anchored by an everyday sadness. Gold is a short, tantalizing piece of romantic fiction.
SantaLand Diaries by David Sedaris (1992 – short story collection)
The woman at Macy’s asked, “Would you be interested in full-time elf or evening and weekend elf?”
I said, “Full-time elf.”
I have an appointment next Wednesday at noon.
I am a thirty-three-year-old man applying for a job as an elf.
Sedaris writes with a satirical edge on his short time as a Macy’s store elf, encountering domineering parents, casually racist store customers and a troupe of out-of-work actors reduced to performing as Christmas characters. Hysterical stuff.