Summer Classics

I don’t know whether the usual summer reading challenge will be up and running this year, but I’ve been planning my reading for the next two and a half months. I like to keep a little wriggle room, so I’m factoring in alternatives and extras, depending on how the reading goes. You’ll recognize that the motherhood theme remains dominant in places, but the unifying factor is modern classics.

Five classics:

Sons and Lovers – D. H. Lawrence.
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway, and also A Farewell to Arms, or The Sun Also Rises. Not sure which just yet.
Fanny Fern – Ruth Hall and/or The Story of Avis – Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. Both are nineteenth-century American writers with feminist inclinations telling the stories of women who defied convention and their husbands and the limitations of motherhood to attempt careers as artists.
Terms of Endearment – Larry McMurtry or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith.
Mother, Missing – Joyce Carol Oates. A novel with a quasi-thriller plot in which a daughter investigates the murder of her mother.

Five non-fiction classics:

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down – Anne Fadiman. I really want to read this but this story of a Hmong child with epilepsy, caught between the world of Western medicine and her parent’s traditional therapies is far more medical than I’m really comfortable with. I’m hoping the story will help me transcend the detail.
Bad Blood – Lorna Sage. One of the classic dysfunctional family memoirs.
The Silent Woman – Janet Malcolm. Biography of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.
Lost in Translation – Eva Hoffman. The Holocaust forces the young Eva to emigrate with her family to Canada.
Essay selection – from the writings of Elizabeth Hardwick, George Saunders, Adam Phillips, Siri Hustvedt and the wonderful Joan Acocella.

Five pure pleasure reads

Consequences – Penelope Lively.

Love Falls – Esther Freud. I really enjoyed her previous novel, The Sea House. This is one of those teenager on holiday in Italy becomes embroiled with exotic family novels.
Old Filth – Jane Gardam. She deserves to be better known than she is. This is the story of an international lawyer with a practice in the Far East who was brought up in the last days of the Empire.
The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penney.
The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield and/or A Complicated Kindness – Miriam Toews.

Five French Novels

L’Acacia – Claude Simon. Simon’s family memoir which he wrote ‘as if in a trance or dream-like state’ in order to capture the vivid yet fragmentary nature of memory.
Le Paysan de Paris (Parisian Peasant) – Louis Aragon. Classic Surrealist text in which Aragon strolls around Paris contemplating the eccentricities of the modern world.
Le Livre des nuits (The Book of Nights) – Sylvie Germain. Magical realist novel following the fortunes of the Péniel family in deepest, darkest France.
Les Anges mineurs – Antoine Volodine. An up and coming French novelist who writes strange dystopian fiction with clear influences from Beckett and Kafka. He’s pretty amazing, in fact, and this end-of-the-world novel promises the best of his outlandish imagination.
Palafox – Eric Chevrillard. The fable-like tale of the adventures of a small animal that may or may not be a walking egg. Hints of Borges.

And what will you be reading this summer, blogging friends?


35 thoughts on “Summer Classics

  1. I loved “The Spirit Catches You” and it was the story and the people who really captured me. I didn’t find the medicine bogged me down.

    “The Thirteenth Tale” — FABULOUS!!!!

    Your list is so ambitious!

  2. The latest Elizabeth George. Some old (vintage!) Joy Fielding. Hmm — I’ve just read two posts about “The Thirteenth Tale” so I’m going to have to look that one up. And my latest, One Foot in the Black, about a guy who leaves his abusive father behind to become a seasonal firefighter in the mountains of California. Great deal about fire training and firefighting, and I think too many of us can relate to the dysfunctional family portion of the book. Good read.

    And I may have to reread “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” too. Haven’t read that in many, many years.

  3. I love love loved A Moveable Feast. In fact, I completely wrote Hemingway off after an unfortunate experience reading The Old Man and the Sea in high school (dreadful), but A Moveable Feast pulled me out of it. I adored it and really should re-read it one day.

  4. Bad Blood is excellent, and the only other one that’s on my reading list as well is the Tenderness of wolves (Stef Penney). My stack is sky high and this coming week I will have to decide what to put in my suitcase for my two weeks’ holiday… I’ll let you know on my blog before I leave… Great list you have and I admire the French alternatives.. I read an odd Dutch book, mainly for background reading for my writing 🙂

  5. A Movable Feast is my favorite. “I own a first edition,” he says proudly. To me, the road trip with Fitzgerald is both hilarious and tragic. What a list!

  6. A thoroughly enjoyable looking list you’ve put together 🙂 I tend to stack up things one month at a time…for the rest of June I have Tracy Chevalier’s Burning Bright, Peter Robinson’s Friend of the Devil, and a review copy of short stories, Nona Casper’s Heavier Than Air. I also have Iris Murdoch’s The Nice and the Good to finish first, so I’d better get reading!

  7. Bluestocking – is that review on your site? I’d love to read it! Setterfield is duly moved up the rungs of the TBR ladder! Yogamum – I don’t expect to get all 20 read, but I hope to manage three or four out of each category. I find I do better with challenges and lists if I know in advance that I have a little flexibility. But I do want to read them all, and The Thirteenth Tale (and the Fadiman – thanks for that) even more so now! Lizzie – good luck with your summer reading, too! And thank you for the recommendation. Andi -I’ve never read any Hemingway, and have some anxiety about the novels, but I’d heard good things about AMF and I really want to know more about Hemingway and Stein. Thank you for the recommendation – it helps! Seachanges – choosing books to take away is a huge pleasure and such a worry. What if they’re not the ‘right’ ones? Good luck with your decision making and I’m sure you’ll pick some beauties. So glad you enjoyed the Lorna Sage. That makes me even keener to read it. Ian – a first edition? That’s impressive. I don’t know much about book collecting (beyond what I’ve read in the John Dunning novels!) but that sounds like a little gem of a book to possess. Lucky you! Ravenous – I wish I could remember who said that buying a book was really an attempt to buy the time to read it. Making lists is much the same sort of venture! I also have that Chevalier novel so I’m very interested to know what you think of it. And I must read more Murdoch, too. That’s a very enticing selection for June!

  8. Sons and Lovers is one of my all-time favorites. I liked The Sun Also Rises and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as well, but Sons is the best of those three, in my opinion.

    I loved The Tenderness of Wolves – Penney’s writing was refreshing for some reason – and also enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale.
    Regarding Plath, I read Diane Middlebrook’s book, Her Husband, which is about Sylvia and Ted. It didn’t make me like Ted too much…

    You have to read The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson when it comes out in August. After I read it, I had the feeling that I would be perfectly happy if I never read anything else – it was that satisfying.

    Currently reading Of Men and Mothers (very light reading – I am reviewing it) but hope to get to Taking on The Trust, Wolf Totem, and Proust and the Squid.

    (Nice blog, by the way.)

  9. I respect your ability to plan out what you’re going to read, especially for the next several months. I can’t even plan out what my very next read will be! I try, but what I choose in advance invariably gets replaced at the last moment but something else which is randomly picked as I’m running out the door or something.

  10. I haven’t gotten my summer reading quite figured out yet. There will definitely be a few classics on the list though. And thanks for the reminder that I want to read A Moveable Feast!

  11. Oh, litlove. I hope you will read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It is such a dear novel and such a great read. I was so sorry to turn the last page.

  12. I love your list, so many good things, some I know and loved – Sons and Lovers – D. H. Lawrence; Consequences – Penelope Lively; Old Filth – Jane Gardam – this one is one of my favourite recent reads; The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield – I thought this was not quite as good, but still a good read; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith. I have The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penney lined up to read as well.

    Needless to say – I don’t know any of the French books, but they sound enticing, particularly Le Livre des nuits (The Book of Nights) – Sylvie Germain. Is there a translation?

    As for my summer reading, whenever I plan something happens to distract me from the books I chose, but so far it includes Snow – Orhan Pamuk, the Tenderness of Wolves, a Thomas Hardy (not sure which one yet), Slipstream: a memoir – Elizabeth Jane Howard plus some more books on the Second World War.

    We’re all going to be so buried in books!

  13. What a fabulous list of books! The ones that caught my eye were the Lorna Sage (dysfunctional families – of course) and Essay Selection since I’ve just ordered Adam Phillips’ Going Sane and recently listened to Siri Hustvedt on my first book podcast. Not much summer / winter reading for me (since it’s freezing cold down here) and I also have to write about Belgium (some part-time marketing work) for the next month. But I’ll be reading vicariously through other people’s reviews. Enjoy!

  14. This is a wonderful list! What a great idea to sit down and plan summer reading, I might have to join you in this useful exercise. Can’t wait to hear what you think about the Joyce Carol Oates and Les Anges Mineurs, I’ve had that one on my list as well!

  15. Nice list. I’ve not read a single one of them. I have Thirteenth Tale and my husband has read it and it and liked it and keeps trying to get me to read it but I haven’t figured out how to fit it in. I also have The Tenderness of Wolves. I can’t decide if I am interested in it because of the story or because the author’s first name, Stef, is my nickname. So if you read it and say it is brilliant I will most definitely have to read it.

  16. “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” is probably one of my top five favorite nonfiction books of all time. I wrote an essay on it a long time ago that talked about what I called Fadiman’s “dual subjectivity.” This was in response to a professor who lauded her objectivity. When you read the book you will see what I mean: she doesn’t come off as objective, arguing for neither side and presenting only the facts; she comes off as highly interested, passionately arguing the case for each side.

    The result is that we, as readers, really understand the conflict at the heart of the story.

    I am scientifically challenged and had no problem with the medical aspects. Fadiman does a great job of simplifying the concepts, first of all, and besides that it is really more of a human story than a medical story.

    Enjoy your summer of books!

  17. Well, now that you ask, I’ll have to think about my summer reading plans, since you know how I like plans! 🙂 I love your list. I just bought a Hemingway (I read an intro to another book–can’t remember which now, but the editor despaired Hemingway and said he shouldn’t be read now, and I really hated that, though the only thing I’ve read is The Old Man and the Sea when I was in high school). I actually bought The Sun Also Rises in response to that intro, so maybe I should try to read it this summer as well. I’ve got that same Ruth Hall book, too! The only books I’ve read from your list are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (loved it!) and the Setterfield (enjoyed very much!), though I own a couple other titles. Isn’t it a nice feeling thinking about reading a stack of good books?! Enjoy!!

  18. Great books! I’m curious about Fanny Fern and Elizabeth Phelps — I learned a little about Fanny Fern from Hobgoblin and would like to know more. I’m pleased to see George Saunders on there too!

  19. You have quite a lot of nice reading ahead of you this summer! I’m not quite that organized, yet. But, I have been thinking about what I want to read this summer. I don’t have my lists with me right now. But, a few things right off the top of my head would include:

    Lolita by Navokov
    Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
    Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
    Dyer Consequences by Maggie Sefton (one of my guilty pleasures — a knitting mystery)
    Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
    The Archivist by Martha Cooley
    A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
    The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
    Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susana Clarke
    Long and Happy Life by Reynolds Price
    Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks
    World Without End by Ken Follett
    The Sea by John Banville
    Therese Raquin by Emile Zola
    Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
    Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton

    O.K., I’ll never get to all of these (especially since one of them in the list is actually 12 novels), but it’ll be fun to try. Some of them are for book clubs, but most of them are just books that I really want to read. 🙂

  20. Draabe – hello and welcome! Thank you so much for your recommendations – I find that very helpful, and I looked up the Davidson book. It really does look like nothing I’ve ever read before! And I must chase up your reference to Proust and the Squid – how irresistible does that sound? Colleen – and there’s real pleasure in reading just as the urge takes you. Most of the time, I’m right with you, but I thought I’d be more organised for summer. We’ll see how it goes! Sassymonkey – I shall look forward to seeing your plans when you’ve made them – and nice to have a companion for the Hemingway! I’ll be particularly interested to know what you make of that. Fiona – I have heard only good things about A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and your encouragement moves it further up the pile! I’ve long been promising myself I’ll read it. Booksplease – I remember reading your review of the Lively and thinking, I MUST get hold of that! There is a translation of the Sylvie Germain; it might be out of print by now, but it ought to be possible to get hold of it without too much difficulty. If you like magic realism, it’s an interesting book – not as good as Marquez or Allende, but certainly worth a read. I read Slipstream several years ago and really loved it, so you have a treat in store there! And buried in books – what a way to go! Pete – oh poor you – it seems so unfair for a whole hemisphere to be stuck in winter while the sun shines here. And Belgium? you intrigue me – do say more. I’m looking forward to both the essays and the Sage book, so I don’t doubt I’ll be reading those in the not too distant future! Verbivore – I wrote down my French reading with you, Smithereens and Mandarine in mind! How exciting to think you might read the Volodine too! I’m really looking forward to seeing your summer plans. Stef(anie) – now isn’t that an incentive to read The Tenderness of Wolves! I’m onto it. 🙂 J.D. – I love the idea of dual subjectivity – thank you so much for giving me that thought to read with. And I’m much encouraged generally by what you have to say about the book’s accessibility and interest. I am definitely scientifically challenged – and squeamish! Danielle – I was rather hoping you’d have plans too! Do read the Hemingway if you can find a space for it – I’ll get hold of it, too (it’s supposed to be his best). And I’m looking forward to the Ruth Hall. So glad to know you enjoyed the Setterfield and the Smith – that bodes very well for them! Dorothy – I got the suggestion of Ruth Hall from the Hobgoblin and then looking around I found a lead to the Phelps! I’ve not read anything like them so I’m looking forward to one or both very much indeed. The George Saunders is wholly thanks to you – my copy of The Brain-Dead Megaphone should arrive very soon! Lisa – wow – what a list! You have some wonderful novels on there. I loved the Zola, the Gibbons and the Spark, and there are several there I’d like to read too. I don’t dare read it again in case my own list grows longer!

  21. I really enjoyed ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’, and I’m interested in the Ann Fadiman too, so thank you for that reminder.
    My own summer reading: The last two books in the Forsyte Chronicles (which should be done by the end of the week); vol 2 of Proust; ‘The Balkan Trilogy’ by Olivia Manning; the rest of the Raj Quartet; and ‘Travels with Herodotus’ (perhaps with a re-read of Herodotus afterwards). And, of course, anything else that takes my fancy along the way.

  22. Great list, and I can’t wait to hear your take on all these. After a rather ambitious winter and spring, reading-wise, I seem to be leaning towards quite a bit of young adult and children’s literature right now. I choose my books month by month, so I’m not sure what I’ll be reading in July and August, but I’m sure this summer I’ll be reading Anne of Green Gables and Hearts and Minds, since Dorr lent them both to me when she was here. I just bought David Sedaris’s latest, so it’s on the summer reading plan, and the next detective book discussion book is Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay.

  23. Planning your future reading is great fun, even when you can’t stick to it! Unfortunately it’s winter here but I have two weeks holidays soon and am enjoying vacillating about what to read over that time. Most of your planned reads are only on my TBR list, but if you do ead Hemingway, I’d start with the wonderful The Sun Also Rises.

  24. Sorry to come to this late. “The Moveable Feast” is quite high on my list of favorites; you’re going to love it! And I’m happy to see the selected essays (I’m planning to get to your beloved Acocella soon!). I am truly amazed at your list. How organized and ambitious! I’d better get at mine…if only as a much needed reality check. With the garden, an abundance of summer visitors, and a cross-country trip planned, I need to be realistic about how much reading I can do in the next three months, especially with the challenges and clubs I’m already committed to. Then there’s the Murdoch reading. Yikes. Perhaps I too will do a summer reading post, just to get a grip! Loved this. Thanks! Jacques

  25. This is the first year I haven’t planned my summer reading, mainly, I think, because I have more time for reading than I used to have and so those summer months no longer seem quite so precious. But, I may be reading the Booker long list whatever that may be, for a project the BBC have got up their sleeves. If that comes off that is definitely August spoken for. Sorry I’m not around much at the moment but I’ve got workmen in and settling to anything while the house is being invaded is very difficult.

  26. I highly recommend Sons and Lovers and other Lawrence is even better, but not on your theme. I think I already recommended The Silent Woman. The rest are a blank. I have somewhere on the shelves Bad Blood, which I want and don’t want to read, given its subject matter. I must read the Penelope Lively as I’ve read just about all her adult novels. I remember this coming out, but it must have slipped my mind. I never know much in advance what I’m going to read these days. Too many books are piled up and I pick what I feel like on the whole. I’ve got some books waiting on Elizabethan culture and history which I’m aiming to get to, but who knows? Hope you get through all your list – probably more if I know you!

  27. Musings – what wonderful summer reading! I’ve been wanting to read the Olivia Manning for the longest time, but I somehow never quite get around to it. I’ll look forward to all your reviews, and am looking forward even more now to The Tenderness of Wolves! Gentle Reader – that comment made me laugh – you should have seen my list before it was whittled! 🙂 Emily – David Sedaris has a latest? I must go on the lookout for that. And I never think to read YA, although it’s become quite the happening market of late (Meg Rosoff is just wonderful). And I really enjoyed Hearts and Minds and am sure you will too. Devoted – thank you so much for that nudge towards the Hemingway. I think I will start there with his novels – I’ve heard only good things about it. I hope you have a fantastic two week holiday, and although I wish it could be summer for you, reading is always so lovely when it takes place with the curtains drawn and a good fire going! TJ – that’s one hectic summer you have ahead of you! But I’m sure you’ll manage to find exactly the right books to take as companions on the margins of your days. I’m very much looking forward to A Movable Feast – may well pick it up once I’ve finished the book I’m currently reading! And looking forward to your plans too, just whenever the time is right to make them. Ann – oh that project sounds very exciting! And how nice to think you have the leisure and the freedom not to plan. That seems lovely and spacious. I’m very sorry to hear about the workmen, though – you have all my sympathy. I find it impossible to get anything done with them working in the house! Bookboxed – I’m currently reading The Silent Woman (on your recommendation) and wow! it’s amazingly good. The Lawrence will be interesting – it’s years since I read anything by him, and I’ll let you know on the Sage. I hope to hear more about the Elizabethan culture books when the garden lets you go for a moment 😉

  28. Thanks for your comment on my blog. I love visitors, especially the UK and China. Don’t tell this to the French, Germans, Swiss, etc., you know how jealous the rest of the world can be.

    You commented on my mother’s “compliments.” She’s always given the left-handed variety. Giving with the right hand, “You such a smart young man…” then taking with the left, “I can’t believe they don’t pay you more at that job.” I think that her own sexuality is so repressed that it comes out the seams, if you know what I mean.

    For this summer I’m reading “Notes From Underground”/Dostoevsky and am rereading a summer favorite, “Ball Four”/Jim Bouton about a baseball pitcher trying to develop a knuckleball which will allow him a few more years in the major leagues. The narrator was called a “social pariah” for writing this book in the early ’70s. It is, fortunately, about much more than just American baseball.

  29. Terms of Endearment is wonderful! The characters and relationships McMurtry draws have stayed with me ever since I read the book. And then you can rent the movie with Shirley McClaine, which is superb.

    I’m in the minority but I really struggled with The Spirit Catches You…I told Sam I the continued miscommunication bothered me. He says it’s brilliant because you can’t end up taking a “side” – nobody is right or wrong. Anyway, that was one of the books he used for his graduate thesis at Duke…something about medicine, treatment, world religions….I’ll have to ask him again.

  30. What a great summer plan! I’ve only read A Moveable Feast (loved it) and Old Filth (brilliant) – Jane Gardam really is underrated isn’t she? Look forward to hearing your thoughts on these – and the rest of your list!

  31. Litlove, hello.

    Your list inspires people to reply with their lists, so here’s mine.
    + + + +

    The Parson’s Widow – by Marja-Liisa Vartio (reading it now; M-LV is finnish, this book came out in 1967, but only received english language publication this year. Very claustrophobic view of the mores of a finnish town in the early part of the last century, as women, primarily women, talk and tell tales, with the truth getting lost and found regularly)

    Love and the Incredibly Old Man (2008), Love in a Dead Language, and
    Who Wrote the Book of Love?: A Chronicle of the Sexual Life of an American Boy in the 1950s – all novels by Lee A. Siegel (for academic purposes, but I’m looking forward to them)

    Letters of John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman/… and Dorothy Richardson – (JCP is a truly different novelist, and I’m eager to see what he is like in letters to two remarkably unlike people)

    Omega Minor – Paul Verhaeghen (this just won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize)(published in english in late 2005 or early 2006)

    Diary of a Blood Donor – Mati Unt (1990; a retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula) – I read Unt’s _Things in the Night_ and regard that novel as one of the most engaging I have read in a few years. Unt died in 2005, and was estonian

    Monsieur – by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (maybe you’ve read this already)

    Intersections: Essays on Richard Powers – ed. Stephen J. Burn and Peter Dempsey (never having read Powers, I’m curious to see what is made of him in these essays)

    + + + +
    There are others, I’m sure, but those are the highlights.

    As for Hemingway, _AMF_ has some mean-minded and distorted descriptions of Blaise Cendrars and Wyndham Lewis, among others, but as a retouching of history, it does what he wanted. I have to remember that there’s Hemingway, and then there’s the baneful influence of Hemingway (hard to believe people still want to write like him), and the latter crosses over into the former a great deal (for me). Something to work on, I suppose.


  32. Rationalpsychic – hello and welcome! And of course that will be our little secret – look, how we’re bonding already! Your post did make me laugh and I am impressed by your reading plans. Those are two fine books to compare and contrast. Courtney – I’m so glad to hear a vote for the McMurtry. I do feel quite drawn to it, and now if I do struggle with the Fadiman, I can feel I’m in wonderful company! So thank you! Kirstenjane – hello how nice to see you! And so happy to find another Jane Gardam fan! Good too, to have your vote for the Hemingway. I’m looking forward to reading that one a lot now. JB – oh my goodness, what a list! I haven’t read that particular Toussaint, so do let me know what you think of it, and you know I’m interested in the Siegel. Beyond that, your list contains much that is completely new to me (and to most people, I imagine) and I hope you’ll let me know how you get on with it. I’ll also bear in mind what you say about Hemingway’s distortions. I like the thought of poking around in the shadows of that lot to see what I can find.

  33. So many good suggestions here, since the first time I looked. I do say I kind of like my summer reading not light, but definitely not tilting toward the classics. I finished Elizabeth George (so so, in my own opinion), plus really enjoyed a book about firefighting in the California mountains, “One Foot in the Black.” Very detailed look at firefighting, plus you’ll find yourself rooting for Greg, the main character, to overcome his miserable father and build his own life. Next up: Harlan Coben.

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