Being a (joint honours) English student, my ability to read novels for pleasure this summer has been severed slightly, so only one of these reads is a novel.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Beginning the hopeful summer with an intense dose of bleak and violent nihilism, I read Cormac McCarthy’s Faulkner-esque western epic, Blood Meridian. It concerns a vaguely described ‘Kid’ who is swept up into the hellish world of scalp hunters, who (in a typically brutal and self-explanatory way) murder native Americans, selling their scalps. Often acclaimed as his masterpiece, though not so much upon release, the novel is densely packed with lurid images that ride the line between disgust and beauty. It is a loosely structured and sometimes difficult novel, yet the incredibly subtle uses of symbolism and literary references make it quite singular as both an intelligent, but also very pulpy and exciting novel. It’s probably not the best McCarthy work to start with, but it remains a rare and unique nightmare.
A slim Faber volume of Robert Lowell’s work accompanied me across the Canadian landscape
Poetry by Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney and Ian McEwan
In terms of poetry, a slim Faber volume of Robert Lowell’s work accompanied me across the Canadian landscape, which acted as a sort of imaginative placebo for Lowell’s incredibly subtle and vivid evocations of America, at once exploring the historical, as well as the deeply personal, in one of the most impressive bodies of work of the 20th century. As a poet, his own life seems his main project, yet it is his intelligence and sensitivity that pervades. The poems are generally not very experimental yet convey a seemingly effortless grasp of free verse and cadence, as well as a deeply layered understanding of the contrary notions of myth and mundanity. Other highlights of the summer have been Seamus Heaney’s collection, Opened Ground: Poems 1966 – 1996, and Ian McEwan’s delightfully perverse and tightly constructed short story, ‘Solid Geometry’.
Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson
My primary aim on finishing the university year is to read something totally light-hearted, and something totally non-fictional (I study English – by the end of the year I hate fiction). This was the perfect read to get me into a summer frame of mind: it was organised in bite-size chunks and, in true Bryson style, made me laugh out loud regularly.
Everywoman by Jess Phillips
Another easy non-fictional read from a woman I really admire. At times I felt it was slightly self-indulgent, but it helped me to clarify a few arguments within feminism about which I’d been feeling uneasy.
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
I was feeling ready at this point to re-find my love for fiction and so did a rare thing for me, in returning to an author I’d read quite recently. This novel attracted me by being a mere 180 pages long. It was as stimulating as it was short, partly because its protagonist, Shostakovich, is one of my favourite composers.
I had to put it down for a few weeks because I couldn’t cope with the heartbreak
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Time for a return to non-fiction and my yearly dose of science education. It was lucidly written, as Dawkins always is, and I got to the end feeling totally on top of complex Darwinian theory. Note to self: check with a science-y friend whether his now forty-year-old argument has entered the mainstream.
Stoner by John Williams
I’d heard this was brilliant and, my goodness, it really was. A simple, aching portrait of one man’s life, I had to put it down for a few weeks because I couldn’t cope with the heartbreak. But returning to it in early September, as autumn began its daily advance, it has left me contemplative, motivated, peaceful. The perfect gateway into the as yet unknown excitements and turmoils of the new academic year.
Being a bit of a bookworm, the summer holidays serve as a catch-up session on all the reading I wanted to do throughout the academic year. And I’m not talking about course material. The phrase “light summer reading” has never satisfied my nerdy nature, and I’ve always felt guilty about neglecting the essential classics rigidly listed in the literary canon. So here are three, somewhat hefty, somewhat more suited to the winter months, but nonetheless intellectually stimulating books that have guided me on my travels and kept me company this holiday.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
More Halloween than summer, Stoker’s ghoulish take on the Transylvanian monster really is an ideal companion on train voyages through Europe. Even though I didn’t visit Romania, the entertaining melodramatic narrative is fitting for anyone in desperate need of a fantastical, European adventure, be it literary or literal.
This collection of short stories is a wonderfully relaxing anthology to engage with whilst sailing through Scandinavia
The First Forty-Nine Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s various tales on love affairs, city life, war and sports ranging from fishing trout in the States to skiing in Switzerland, coupled with the author’s simplistic, elegant narrative style, this collection of short stories is a wonderfully relaxing anthology to engage with whilst sailing through Scandinavia.
Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
I started this book last summer, and through many trials and tribulations with time management and other literary distractions, I am finally nearing the end. Grossing at 648 pages, Dickens’ lesser known work about the violent Gordon Riots in 18th century London is quite a long-winded, twisted tale that requires the reader’s undivided attention. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about an unheard-of historical event, but I wouldn’t recommend taking this on holiday, not least because of its size, but because of the complex storyline and huge number of characters at hand.