What is it about summer that makes me want to create a proper seasonal reading list? I suppose it was the library programs that charted my progress every year as I plowed through the children’s section, notching up bricks in the yellow brick road chart the librarians issued at the start of each summer. I read voraciously all year, but seeing my progress mapped out for me was something special. I tore through the suggested lists and created lists of my own–Little House books and Alcott and nonfiction and even French storybooks during a phase when I was certain I could teach myself a foreign language.
Some books lend themselves naturally to summer reading. Anything too weighty or too impenetrable just seems wrong. Those are introspective books, best left to an inward-turning season like autumn or winter. For summer, we want books that can be savored in a beach chair or a hammock or lying on the sofa under the gentle twirl of a ceiling fan. Here are a few of my faves:
*THE CREATION OF ANNE BOLEYN by Susan Bordo. Yes, it’s nonfiction, and yes, a study of the shifting perceptions of Anne Boleyn throughout history would seem to be far too serious for summer, too much like PROPER reading. But here’s the thing–it’s brilliantly readable. I picked it up when I was fluffy-headed from traveling, and tore through it, enjoying every minute. Anne Boleyn has been one of my pet subjects to read about since childhood, and Bordo does a superb job of plucking out new sources and re-examining the traditional ones. (And honestly, one of my biggest peeves is when historians rely on the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, as the source of info about Anne without taking into account the propaganda factor. Bordo is extremely cautious when dealing with Chapuys, and I’d love her book for that alone. Plus, when I was about eleven, I memorized the Tower speech from “Anne of the Thousand Days”, so her appreciation for the fictionalized Anne is another reason I savored this book.) HIGHLY recommended for folks who want some Tudor love. I particularly enjoyed her interviews with the creative team behind “The Tudors” and how their approach to presenting Anne changed through the course of the series.
*Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series. The third book just came out, but I’m still staring at the second one in my TBR pile! I recently discovered MacNeal’s series featuring a spirited and clever young woman who works as Churchill’s secretary during WWII. This isn’t my favorite time period by a long shot, but MacNeal brings it brilliantly to life, and makes it so, so enjoyable. I saw a woman in the bookstore scooping up all three books the other day and I wanted to give her a hug and say, “YES. You have chosen WELL.”
*Kate Forsyth’s BITTER GREENS. Okay, this one is tricky for Americans to find, but not all of my readers are in the States. I have a confession to make. I haven’t read it yet. Here’s why: some books are so full of promise, so rich with possibility that I like to wallow in anticipation. I see it on my TBR pile and I get a little shiver of happiness because I haven’t read it yet, because when I do read it, it will be for the first time, and you never get a first time again with a beloved book. I suspect, based on what I know of Kate’s writing, that like all brilliant books, when I go back to reread it, IT WILL BE A DIFFERENT BOOK. And right now I am reveling in just thinking about reading it. (I also expect it will be a book I want to plow straight through and I’m on a revision deadline, so it will be July before I can indulge.) It is a retelling of the Rapunzel story, and the snippets I’ve read are pure magic.
*Suzette A. Hill’s “Bones” series. The five book series begins with A LOAD OF OLD BONES, and since it’s five rather slender books, you can have the pleasure of finishing an entire series in a very short time. It will feel like an accomplishment in a season of indolence! But it will also feel like a serious pleasure. If you’ve enjoyed the Flavia de Luce books, these should feel delightfully familiar. The setting is an English village in the 1950s, and the main character, Francis Oughterard, is a vicar who just happens to murder a parishioner at the start of the first book. It’s BRILLIANTLY done because, honestly, it’s not that easy to make readers root for a murderer. There are passages narrated by his dog and cat which I expected not to like, but they are hilariously well done and not at all intrusive. It would have been incredibly simple to overdo the animal narrations, but they are handled so deftly and with so much good humor, they were perfectly enjoyable.
*And a few books from summer lists past–Raffaella Barker’s Venetia books, HENS DANCING and SUMMERTIME, are delightful. They are contemporary novels set in Norfolk and feature a charmingly inept single mother of three. And Cathleen Schine’s THE LOVE LETTER is a summer fave. She captures the season so perfectly, I can’t imagine letting a summer go by and not reading it. Deliciously poetic. And if you want a bit of something magical, give Susan Addison Allen’s THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON a read. Any recommendations y’all would add?