As a public service to you (and a rather fun thing for me to do at the same time), I thought I’d gather some of the titles that I’ve read over the years and that seem to have a summer kind of feel…
Just seeing these titles brings up memories of outside fun in the sun and reading inside in the cool, so perhaps you may like some of them for your reading choices this season. (The list is in completely random order, btw…)
I’m not sure that some of these would qualify for the traditional “Beach Read” definition, but they’re enjoyable all the same. (I’d read them on the beach, but perhaps I’m weird!)
And, naturally, I’d love to hear your suggestions (even if your summer isn’t here yet).
Books with a child’s perspective (and sometimes coming-of-age narratives) would also make up quite a few of my recommendations. (Who can forget those days of summer when you’re a kid [if you’re a lucky kid])?
So, to start off, I thought I would begin the list with some more traditional summer-focused (perhaps “summer-feel”) books.
Since I’m in America, I’ll start off with Twain’s two great summer books, Tom Sawyer (1876) and Huckleberry Finn (1884). Sure, there are “teachable” moments in each of them, but these just remind me of childhood in some ways. (Admittedly, my childhood was nothing like them as I grew up in Bedford, England, but they’re still good to read. Our town did have a lovely river though… )
Oh, and don’t forget the adorable Anne of Green Gables who will charm your socks off.
A more English-y summer selection could be, let’s say, Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908) (which I adore) but which has no blog post (pre-blog). Hmm. May have to reread this little gem again over the next few hot months…. It’s as close to perfect a gentle summer read as anything you’ll find.
For a more caper-ish approach to English summer, try Just William – Richmal Compton (1922), which has some really funny scenes in it regarding its titular character, William, and some of his adventures… (Plus there is a series of books about him… Lots of summer reading ahead!) Compton also wrote some more adult fiction which others have raved about, so you could check that back-list… Good caper novels are also some of those by John Buchan (who wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps et al.)
If you’re more interested in the gently humorous adventures of a particular young bear, then you can’t go wrong with the the Paddington Bear Series as they are set in mostly sunny summers (despite being in England ). Yes, they’re children’s lit, but they are so sweet, and sometimes when it’s 114 degrees outside (as it was the other day), you just want gentle and sweet…
If you’d rather have an arachnid as the star, don’t forget about E. B. White’s delightful (and rather poignant) Charlotte’s Web (1952). Sidenote: E.B. White also has several books of well-mannered and pretty gentle essays that are perfect to read on a lovely summer day in a hammock, for example. Try this one for starters: Essays of E. B. White (1977). Reading it is like having a great cup of tea (or glass of iced tea) with an interesting and funny conversationalist.
Ray Bradbury has a couple of strong contenders in this category, Dandelion Wine (1957) being my favorite. (He also has a sequel of sorts, Farewell Summer (2006), and it’s almost as good as that first one, but then it gets all weird in the last chapter without explanation, so perhaps a more muted endorsement there.) If you’d like something more challenging, check out Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for a good spec fiction type of read. (Haven’t read his other sci fi titles, but I expect that they are pretty good.)
From English soil, I’d suggest Winifred Foley’s trilogy that starts off with A Child in the Forest (1974), an autobiographical book of Foley’s childhood of living in a loving but poor family in the forest in Gloucestershire. Marvelous commentary on her life, with some really good and very witty pieces in there as well.
Along those same lines (but with a very different British childhood experience), check out this title, From Middle England: A Memory of the Thirties by Philip Oakes (1980) which is another very witty childhood recollection, this time of growing up in an English boarding school.
(Other boarding school stories which are not very demanding reading but would still be fun include Mallory Towers series from Enid Blyton…)
Oh, almost forgot this one: The Railway Children – Edith Nesbitt (1906). (Lots of jolly hockey sticks, how dashing, old thing, perhaps a midnight feast or two, and lashings of ginger beer…)
For a great summer read, you certainly can’t go wrong with Laurie Lee’s classic, Cider with Rosie (1959) (pre-blog) followed up with its sequel of sorts, As I Walked out one Midsummer Morning (1969).
For an American perspective of growing up, perhaps you’d like the play, Brighton Beach Memoirs (Neil Simon (1984), which details the childhood of a funny young man as he navigates those teenaged years on the East Coast during the 40’s… 🙂
(That reminds me: if your community has any local plays, serious or otherwise, they can be really fun to attend and it’s great to see (probably) local volunteers acting their hearts out. Just go with a generous spirit… 🙂 )
Moving into a slightly older age group with the characters’ lives, I’d suggest Seventeen – Booth Tarkington (1914) which covers a gently humorous approach to the tragedies and fragile joys of having your first love. (This is a U.S. book, but the feelings are universal.)
For a complete change of pace but still linking with the topic of coming-of-age/young people, I rather think that Lucy Knisley’s graphic novels have a summer-y feel to them: Displacement and French Milk seem warm-weather to me… Or what about An Age of License: A Travelogue or even her first book Relish?
This leads me to funny (or what I think are funny) books. Have a try at some of these if you’d like to have a good laugh (assuming you have a similar sense of humor as I do):
- A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson (1998) or any of his earlier works. (He gets crabby and grumpy in the more recent books, but the old ones are still rather fun.)
- P.G. Wodehouse books are mostly light-hearted summer fun
- Three Men in a Boat– Jerome K. Jerome (1889) (pre-blog but worth searching out)
The Jerome book is in a diary format with short entries, and if you’re in the mood for some good and pretty funny epistolary (journal/letter format) reading, I can suggest the absolutely gorgeous read, Letters from New York – Helene Hanff (1992).
More diary joy resides in The Country Diaries: A Year in the British Countryside (Alan Taylor (ed.) (2009)) which, just as it says on the tin, covers a whole calendar year of real diary entries about rural living in England from people through history up to the present. An excellent read, and great for picking and putting down, should the summer temperatures affect your concentration…
(You could also try The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diaries edited by Irene and Alan Taylor. More of the same except broader in scope — a much longer read from a wider selection of sources…)
And Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader (2007) had me nodding with agreement as he talks about how the Queen of England discovers the joy of reading… 🙂
Some other authors with lots of titles that don’t particularly need to be read in order (because – summer!) and that are just plain good and perfect for hot days:
- Almost any Angela Thirkell novel will work…
- Same for Miss Read…
- Same for Barbara Pym…
- Gerald Durrell’s animal-collecting narratives…
- Almost anything by Mary Wesley …
And then don’t rule out the older titles for they also can be great. For example, the long novella/short novel, Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton 1911) is a great read packed with lots of things to think about during and post-reading.
Christopher Morley is a US author, but if you’ve not heard of him, never fear. He’s available on Project Gutenberg and elsewhere, and for just a plain good read of a book about the joys of books and reading, look no further than Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop . *Perfect* for bookie people, these may very well bring tears to your eyes as they are so gorgeous…
English author, T. H. White, is more known for writing about King Arthur and his men, but he does have a gorgeous and poignant back list title called Farewell Victoria (1933) which is a novel following the life of an older character who is struggling to keep up with the process of time at the turn of the twentieth century. (He wasn’t the only one, naturally, as there were/are whole generations with the same struggle.)
I’ll make a break here, but watch out for the non-fiction-heavy book list of suggested summer reading coming soon.
In the meantime, what are your recommendations for some hot weather reading?
ETA: I’ve just noticed that this list of recommendations has very few POC authors or topics in this. I’ll get that addressed soon as there’s a ton of good reads in that category as well…