Summer Reading

Don’t you just hate the slumps? I can’t seem to settle to any of my books at the moment, and feel as if nothing has quite hit the spot for a while. That’s not true – I read and loved Jeanette Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? only last weekend and will review it soon. And when I felt the slump coming on, I instantly picked up crowd pleasers: Ann Bridges’ Illyrian Spring, and another Perry Mason, The Case of the Fugitive Nurse by Erle Stanley Gardner. I am enjoying the Perry Mason, but the Ann Bridges isn’t quite what I thought it would be. There’s a lot of travelogue, and a lot about architecture composed on what feels at the moment like a very slight story. Hopefully it will pick up. In the meantime, I can look ahead a bit.

As much as I have any idea what I want right now, I think I’d like good storytelling, so that’s my focus. It’s not like we’re having any summer here in the UK, as we are stuck in an endless cycle of rain, but theoretically it’s summer reading I’m planning.

Time Travel

I’ve never read Stephen King because I really don’t like horror. But I can wait to get to his latest novel 11.22.63, concerning a time travelling historian out to prevent JFK’s assassination. The American date system fools me every time, though, so the title looks more like code or a phone number to me. Still, that’s not important. I’d also like to read Connie Willis’s Blackout and to revisit a book I loved as a teenager, Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. The Willis is about historians and time machines again, Lady of Hay about past lives.


I have quite a few recent releases that I’m hoping to read. I’ve never yet tried Ann Patchett, and have State of Wonder, the recent Orange Prize shortlist contender on my pile by my bed. Also The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst, another much-lauded contemporary writer. Just the other day I picked up Untold Story by Monica Ali, the fictional account of what might have happened had Princess Diana lived. And then there’s You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik, about a charismatic teacher in a Parisian boarding school. Finally, a novel that happens to be demanding my attention although I couldn’t say why: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. I feel it’s exactly the sort of novel to pull me out of my slump.

Modern Classics

I’d love to read another novel by Willa Cather, and another by Wallace Stegner, and E. M. Forster’s Passage to India.


Tempting me for several weeks now, The House in France by Gully Wells, a memoir of a privileged childhood, The Man Within My Head by Pico Iyer, about an author’s relationship with the works of Graham Greene, and just recently published, Adam Phillips’ latest collection of essays: Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life.


I’m taking part in Richard’s Spanish Lit Month, joining in the reading of Bartleby & Co by Enrique Vila Matas. The Slaves of Golconda’s next choice is Ragnarok by A. S. Byatt, to read for 31st July. And Danielle and I have agreed to read an Elizabeth Chadwick novel together, although we haven’t decided which one!

I won’t get through all of the above; this represents a kind of shortlist of what I’d most like to read this summer.  I am also still hoping to do a week of French-related reviews, even though it keeps getting put off. It will all come good in the end!



26 thoughts on “Summer Reading

  1. Lots of good ideas here (especially the Chadwick ;)–whichever we decide on!). I think for Anne Bridge, you really do need to be in just the right mood for her–she’s sort of a comfort read, but sort of not if that makes sense. From the few I’ve read she tends to be heavy on the culture of the country her characters are living in/traveling to–and then she drops in a good dose of politics and history–and part of it all is just he style of when she was writing, too. I’ve got Peking Picnic for my postal book to read this month, but I’ve not yet had a chance to really get into it–she also needs a good chunk of uninterrupted reading time I’ve found–not one to just dip into here and there, which I am notorious for doing. I think the Erskine, Willis and Conroy books all sound like strong summertime reading contenders! Have fun choosing.

    • Danielle, that is SO helpful about Ann Bridges, thank you. I should have asked you before I ever picked her up! When I was reading it, I had this feeling that I needed to be in a very unhurried mood to appreciate it. It’s probably an excellent holiday book, when you feel lazily relaxed about reading and have all the time in the world. I will certainly finish it, and thanks to you, I’ll be able to find the right time for it now. As for Elizabeth Chadwick, I’m gathering together all the books I have by her (they seem to be across several bookcases!) and will email you with the titles. I have two copies of one novel so that might be an option! 🙂

  2. I always reach for genre fiction when I’m in a slump for whatever reason and my health and the weather (I live on a hill and twice in the past eight days I’ve been completely marooned) have certainly meant that this summer’s reading has so far been a serious slump. However, I can feel that I’m just coming out of it. I’m baulking at poor writing and over easy plotting so it’s time to follow your excellent example and think about what I can read with a little more bite. I’m going to be very interested in what you think of Ann Pachett. I always begin by thinking ‘this’ one is going to be top quality chick lit only to realise that she has drawn me in to think about some very deep moral issue.

    • Ooh that makes me very keen to get to the Ann Patchett. I love books that give me something to think about and chew over. As for being marooned twice – poor you!! How awful. This really is a washout of a summer, isn’t it? No wonder we are both needing to think very carefully about which books we choose to accompany it!

  3. If you do read 11/22/63, I’ll be very interested in what you think. I’m a big King fan, and like this one a lot. I laughed at your comment about the date, because I have the same reaction when I see UK dates.

    • Ha, what do they say – separated by a common language? It’s so funny what you get used to. I’m about 150 pages into the King and enjoying it – wasn’t expecting such a bloodthirsty start but then I really SHOULD have done. But it’s very readable and I’m most intrigued to see where he takes the story.

  4. I love how you categorized this list. It just makes me happy. I will definitely be adding a few of these. I think I’ll read the Prince of Tides first to get me out of my own reading slump.

    • Cassie, I would love to know what you make of The Prince of Tides! I’m so sorry you’ve been in a slump too, but hopefully we will both hit on the perfect book very soon! Thank you for the kind message.

  5. Love this post! I purchased the Hollinghurst when it first came out, but have not gotten around to reading it. The Maksik, Iyer, and Phillips books all look great. By the way, I have been listening to a lot of the BBC productions of In Our Time lately, and Phillips was a guest twice. I thought of you! I never sent you your email yesterday. Please expect that email Monday or Tuesday!

    • Ali, I will look forward to hearing from you whenever you find a moment! And oh bless you for thinking of me – I will have to see if those programmes are on the stored podcasts on the website. I have seen Adam Phillips speak and he was just excellent. We will have to compare notes on the Hollinghurst, I can see!

  6. Sounds like you have a wonderful stack of reading ahead of you. I still need to read State of Wonder. It is already in paperback here in the U.S so I know I am way behind.

    • If only we had an extra couple of designated reading hours in the day! Would love to know what you make of State of Wonder. I will definitely be picking that one up soon.

  7. I’m not much of a Stephen King reader but when I saw it yesterday in a book shop I was quite tempted. For one reason or another I have feeling it could be really good. But it’s really huge…
    I’d like to read my first Ann Patchett soon as well, and Hollinghurst and, of course Willa Cather. I will not sign up for any readalongs anymore. Challenges, yes, because I can read whatever I want whenever I want but having to be on time spoils the fun. I can stick to my own readalong and one or two others but that’s it. I overdid it.
    I’m looking foward to your and Danielle’s Chadwick reviews.
    I have The Prince of Tides as well and would love to read it.

    • Caroline, the King IS huge, there’s no denying it. But it’s a very quick book to read – I’m a 150 pages in with very little effort, and I’ll let you know how I get on. I completely understand about challenges and readalongs. There is always the moment when you realise you’ve taken on too much – I still do it from time to time, even though I know how quickly and easily it happens! I’d be particularly interested to know what you make of Willa Cather – A Lost Lady or The Professor’s House is where I’d start. I loved both of those.

  8. State of Wonder is an absolutely wonderful novel and a great summer reading contender. You know what a Pat Conroy fan I am and how I will always, always recommend him but now that I think about it you should be warned…there is *one* scene in that book that you might absolutely abhor. I only mention it because you mentioned being squeamish on my blog and i wanted to give you fair warning! Beach Music, also by Conroy, is equally as wonderful but not as brutal, and the children in the book undergo a lot less abuse.

    • I just wanted to chime in and second Courtney’s recommendation of Beach Music! I read it over twenty years ago when I graduated from college. I was going through a difficult time in my life and Beach Music had a profound effect on me at the time. I have never suffered abuse, but the characters in the book who dealt with their difficult times helped me deal with my own difficult times. Although I had been a reader up until that point in my life, that book showed me how literature can help us as we deal with struggles in our lives.

      • Ali, I was so excited to read your recommendation and Courtney’s that I found a cheap copy online and have ordered it. The books that pull us through the tough times have a very special resonance, I think. We’re really grateful to them.

    • Courtney, bless you for thinking of my squeamishness. It is true, I am very loathe to get deep into the gore. I have seen the film, though, and think I can guess which scene is the one I will need to skip. I’ve just found a good cheap copy of Beach Music online so have ordered it too – that’s a great recommendation, thank you!

  9. While I’ve taken note of your reading list, I’m particularly drawn to your description of the weather. Not much of a summer you implied, with all that rain. That could well be one of the factors for ‘the slump’ I suppose. But your book selections can definitely lift you up. As I’ve just finished Midnight’s Children, Forster’s A Passage to India is a natural interest for me. I await your review. Have a great summer and enjoy your reading!

    • Ugh the rain! It’s been raining pretty much non-stop since April. It turns out that what the drought-stricken corners of the earth really need is a hose pipe ban, because there is nothing like it for provoking torrential downpours! I really hope to get to the Forster – it’s been waiting and tempting me for a while now.

  10. Have recently discovered prolific Belgian crime novelist Georges Simenon and am diving in. He wrote nearly 200 novels in French. Only some have been translated into English. I am reading the Detective Maigret series now. He also has collections of short stories. I find him captivating. Perfect summer reading for me.

    • Squirrel, I have to confess that I have never read Simenon, despite all these years of reading French novelists! I am delighted that you are enjoying him and can see I will have to give him a go one of these fine days. There is nothing cheerier than discovering a new author you love and then finding out he was prolific! 🙂

  11. I’ve read two Ann Bridges now and I’d agree that the stories are slight and the settings are not. Furthermore it intrigues me that in the two books I’ve read she chooses gentle and unassuming heroines but from the way she writes I think she herself was erm a bit bossy. (But I have to say I loved both of them anyway.)

    Looking forward to reading your summer thoughts!

    • Lol! I will definitely be on the lookout for the latent bossiness now, which will perk up my reading experience no end! 🙂 I think I was approaching the novel with the wrong mindset, but now, after a little attitude adjustment, I am good to go again and feel sure that I will be completely drawn in the second time around. Thank you for the encouragement!

  12. If it’s any consolation, the European date system always trips up this American 🙂 My husband read and loved the King book, but then he’s read everything by King. He’s told me I need to read it since it isn’t at all scary and that I will like it, so it is currently sitting on my TBR shelf above my desk and I have been studiously ignoring it for months. I hope your summer reading plan helps you out of the slump and I hope too that you get some sunshine soon!

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