For many, holidays are one of the few opportunities to truly enjoy the appeal of a book. With so many distractions in everyday life, it is no surprise that airports and train stations have a branch of WH Smith filled with books, ready to entertain those finally finding a minute to relax. As people begin to look forward to their summer holidays, stacks of books appear on social media, usually a mix of classics from the canon with ‘guilty pleasures’ nowhere to be seen. The summer book stack is not simply what can appeal to us. It is a collection of scholarship, overflowing with wisdom and gravitas, and requires considered composition.
As an English Literature student, I would advise against taking on Crime and Punishment, Ulysses, or an equivalent literary challenge for the sake of proving yourself. I have been guilty of curating a summer reading list to impress, illustrating academic sophistication and social awareness, with the page-turners and ‘fast fiction’ firmly out of frame. While I enjoyed my reading, suffering through Plato’s Republic, then Tolstoy’s War and Peace only to be faced with the prospect that Atwood’s very well written but decisively bleak The Handmaid’s Tale was not the easy reading I thought it would be.
Aesthetically piled, well-lit and often colour-coordinated, books are an opportunity to shape your online image
I am far from the only one reading books for the purpose of impressing others rather than my own enjoyment. If you search the tag #summerreadingstack on Instagram, you are met with a mix of bestselling biographies, classics, and non-fiction abound. Aesthetically piled, well-lit and often colour-coordinated, books are an opportunity to shape your online image. But is this the main purpose we want books to serve in our well-deserved holidays?
Surely our summer reading should not conform to everyone else’s when such a diverse range of interests is catered to in any Waterstones, and even more so in second-hand bookshops. Why do our stacks of books not reflect the different facets of our lives? Berthoud, a popular bibliotherapist, believes that reading is a more intense form of escapism than any other art forms and it helps people reduce their stress levels. This explains the appeal to reach for a book when we’re making the most of our down time, an experience I imagine we’re all trying to maximise.
Whether you have a weekend or two free between internships, or three months to fill with something other than a PlayStation, make reading work for you
A quick google search for “summer reading list” uncovers 1,390,000,000 results, so if you’re struggling for a starting point there are plenty of options. But this is exactly what a reading list should be – a starting point. It isn’t a tick list, with standards to meet to prove yourself as a book lover. It isn’t a measure of how much you should be able to read in a time frame. Whether you have a weekend or two free between internships, or three months to fill with something other than a PlayStation, make reading appeal to you.
Books are there for your pleasure, a thing people seem to forget. Some find Shakespeare plays easy reading, others find it unintelligible, yet Shakespeare is not the epitome of English Literature. Find a book, any book, and read it as much or as little as you like. I have many unfinished books and some consider this sacrilege, but I won’t risk beginning to resent reading.
It’s time we all fell back in love with books the way many of us did as children
If Dickens’ Great Expectations has been on your reading list for a few years then, by all means, dig in. But I will be diving into Dan Brown novels guilt-free this summer, leaving the more challenging reads for my studies. It’s time we all fell back in love with books the way many of us did as children, without judgement and preconceptions. When you choose the books you’ll be reading, whether that be by the pool, under tent canvas, or in the comfort of your own home, maybe try researching more obscure books relevant to your interests rather than relying on a bestsellers list to guarantee satisfaction.