I’m compiling my summer reading list at the moment. It’s been good fun. Like someone out deep sea fishing (but without the potential to end up resting in a watery grave), I’ve been trawling Canberra’s funky independent book shops, the shelves of my friends and family and the literature review section of each newspaper I obtain from cafes. Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that there’s a lot to read out there. And so to ensure I don’t end up reading either Peter Costello’s memoirs (highly unlikely but the thought still makes me shiver) or re-reading Janet Evanovich’s “Stephanie Plum” crime novels, I’ve imposed (loose) criteria the books have to meet in order to make the list.
Criteria one: I can’t have read it before. This is because I constantly re-read books. Choosing my ‘three essential desert island novels’ is always easy for me – I’m absolutely fine with being stuck on a tropical beach with only Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Garth Nix’s “Sabriel” for company (in fact, this is what happens most summers... except my beach isn’t tropical. And it’s usually got a few blue bottles and dead mutton birds on it.)
Criteria two: It has to come with glowing personal recommendations. This is because I have a tendency towards intellectual laziness when it comes to my summer literature. Even if a novel is proclaimed “post-modern absurdist classic of our time”, if it’s also referred to as “extremely difficult” and none of my friends have liked it, then what’s the point? Over summer, I’m not too fussed about critical success. I just want a good read. For this reason, although l plan to read Atwood’s “After the Flood”, it seems a bit too depressing and tough to read with a gin and tonic on a sunny deck.
Criteria three: The books have to be from a variety of genres, and preferably from a range of countries. This is to prevent a summer spent entirely with crime fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with crime fiction, or any genre fiction – just look at my final list).
So, this is what I’ve ended up with thus far:
- “Native Tongue” - Carl Hiaasen. It’s one of his older novels, and one that I’ve somehow not read yet. Carl Hiaasen is a crime writer from Florida. His novels combine a twisted sense of humour, wry observations about the American public and environmental messages without ever sounding preachy or contrived.
- “Anna Karenina” - Leo Tolstoy. Although Imperial Russia mightn’t always spring to mind when “summer” is mentioned, I have been meaning to read this novel for so long it’s ridiculous. In fact (and here’s a dirty secret of mine), I started reading “Anna Karenina” months ago, but got distracted by all those frustrating things like university essays. Anyway, I feel terrible about not having finished it, and it’s a novel that I’m certainly looking forward to reading. Plus, I also have a really lovely edition of the book which I'm looking forward to carrying around (though it is a large enough book that if you accidentally threw it at someone, they'd probably be knocked out. But remember, I don't condone violence... this is just an observation).
- “No one belongs here more than you” - Miranda July. I've come across several really positive recommendations for this collection of short stories, and, according to the First Tuesday Book Club's Marieke Hardy, (she annoyed me on Triple J but I've always respected her judgment of books), the book contains "very quirky, beautiful short story writing and [it's] very touching (...) like eating sunshine, reading this book, it’s quite lovely!" I've decided that I want to score some of that booky-sunshine.
- “The Life of Katherine Mansfield” – Anthony Alpers. I'm in a bit of a Katherine Mansfield moment right now. I think she’s incredibly clever, is acerbically perceptive about people and writes with such an intriguing restraint that I would like to be her. I’m reading this very famous biography of hers to remind myself that although she was a brilliant artist, actually emulating her tragic, damaged life and early-death isn’t the best idea.
So that’s what I’m reading. Does anyone out there have any suggestions, or lists of their own?
Finally, here is a link to Animal Collective's "Summertime Clothes". It's certainly on my summer music playlist.
-- Esther xx