A Literary Summer

While I am away on vacation I’ve lined up some incredible friends to fill in. I am so excited to introduce our first guest; Abby Farson Pratt. I’ve been following her blog Little Stories every since I read her first “Monday Snax” post (they never disappoint). Abby’s blog is thoughtful, poignant and also funny. She is a full-time copy editor who lives here in Charlottesville with her husband, Guion, a poet and musician. Abby is also an avid reader and has agreed to share some of her top picks for summer reading…

The phrase “summer reading” conjures up boring book lists from your school days or cheesy paperbacks you found in the attic, which you dust off for a lazy afternoon at the pool. Summer implies that we don’t have to read serious books; we’re on vacation, right? And yet, I find that the long, languid days of summer are more memorable with sincerely great literature. So, throw out your Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer: Here’s a guide to literary fiction for whatever kind of summer you’re having:

1. If you’re going to the beach with a big, crazy family… read To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. Woolf’s gorgeous masterpiece follows the troubled Ramsay family on a holiday to the English coast. The novel, written in Woolf’s poetic and lush stream-of-consciousness style, is powerful and disconcerting. Mrs. Ramsay, mother to seven children, wife to a difficult genius, and flawless hostess, can do it all. Or can she? (Published in 1927.)

2. If you’re stuck at home and longing for a romantic, European adventure… read A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster. This charming coming-of-age novel follows young heroine Lucy Honeychurch as she travels to Italy for the first time. Forster lets Lucy fall in love, of course, but he doesn’t let her do it very easily. George Emerson is, after all, an unusual young man, and there are plenty of obstacles to prevent their happy ending. (Published in 1908.)

3. If you’re heading to a cabin in the woods… read Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson. Trond Sander, an aging Norwegian businessman, has recently lost his wife and his sister. He seeks a solitary cabin in the woods to assuage his grief and calm his mind. But his mind and his memories are more difficult to untangle than he expects. This is a beautifully written and compelling novel, and we should count ourselves lucky that we have it in translation. (Published in 2003; English translation in 2005.)

4. If your summer is boring you and you need to be reminded of how good you have it… read What Is the What, by Dave Eggers. Eggers plays with the boundary between fiction and nonfiction with his retelling of the life of real Sudanese “lost boy” Valentino Achak Deng. Deng’s exodus from the horrors of Sudan to the urban nightmare of Atlanta seems unbelievable–and yet we are chastened to remember that all of these terrible things happened, and happened to a character that we’ve come to care deeply about. (Published in 2006.)

5. If your summer schedule is packed with parties and social engagements… read Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust. No one attends a party like Proust attends a party. In this first volume of his gargantuan magnum opus, In Search of Lost Time, Proust introduces us to the dizzying social world of the French elite. In particular, his mostly autobiographical narrator forms an attachment with the unusual man Charles Swann. The narrator describes Swann’s delicate maneuvers as he struggles to survive in the ruthless circles of high society. Love, intrigue, and the overwhelming surge of memory drive this story–and drive its readers to plumb the murky depths of the social subconscious. (Published between 1913 and 1927.)

6. If you’re trying to unplug… read Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. In the near future of dystopian New York, we meet Lenny Abramov, a dumpy middle-aged man who lives, embarrassingly, in the past. To the shame of his close friends, Lenny still reads books. Sometimes he even talks about these smelly books that he reads. He falls in love with Eunice Park, a young and lithe Korean-American girl who isn’t quite sure what she wants out of this superficial and technological modern life. The characters of this funny and “super sad” story are idiotic drones controlled by their ever-present devices. They invariably make you wonder, “Wait, I’m not like that… am I?” If anything, this book will make you think twice before you pick up your Blackberry again. (Published in 2010.)

7. If you long for big skies and open fields… read My Ántonia, by Willa Cather. Few people love nature like Willa Cather loves nature. Her deep and rooted connection with the character and landscape of the American West permeates this beautiful little novel. Narrator Jim Burden is a likable Nebraskan boy who starts a friendship with the the Shimerda family, Bohemian immigrants who hope to start a new life. But life isn’t easy on the American plains and on young Ántonia Shimerda, whose admirable struggles are followed with great love and attention. (Published in 1918.)

8. If all you really want to do this summer is lose yourself in a BBC miniseries… read Middlemarch, by George Eliot. Run out of British TV period dramas to immerse yourself in? Read the real thing in George Eliot’s endlessly impressive Middlemarch. Eliot creates a complete and self-sustaining universe in this massive epic about life in an English town. And yet her characters do not succumb to the cardboard coincidences that supply Dickens and Hardy. Dorothea Brooke is one of the most interesting and dynamic fictional people I’ve ever met, and she’s certainly worth meeting. Virginia Woolf once lauded the book as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” See if you think she’s right. (Published in 1874.)

What are some of the great books that got you through summers past? I’d love to hear about them! Share your warm-weather recommendations and reviews–and happy reading!

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About Stephanie

Stephanie is an internationally recognized calligrapher. She employs a wide variety of calligraphic tools, papers, textiles, inks and found objects to articulate both words and portraits.
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2 Responses to A Literary Summer

  1. aswrights says:

    Good choice of books! I agree, throw away the Stephenie Meyers and Dan Browns, they are not worth reading anyway.
    I really need to read To The Lighthouse since I love Virginia Woolf, and I have always wanted to read Middlemarch, too.

  2. Pingback: Weekending and a guest post | Little Stories

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