by Samuel Osbourne
Perhaps to read is not to enter a fictional world and leave our own behind but to bring it with us. If that’s the case, as I suspect it might be, it stands to reason certain combinations might be more harmonious than others. Ever tried to read a horror novel in a crowded coffee shop? Unless said horror novel is set in a crowded coffee shop, the ambience gets a little lost. But, what if you were lucky enough to be in a field, reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, when a white rabbit crossed your line of vision? Oh, if only we could be so lucky – but reading a summery book is the next best thing. Basking in the sunshine in your garden or a park, a book in hand that mirrors that summery feeling right back at you, now that makes for a great reading experience. Here’s a list of some of the books that have made my summers that little bit sunnier.
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1927)
Need I sell Ernest Hemingway’s second novel on anything other than the title? Set in the 1920s, the story follows a group of young American expatriates bar-hopping their way to Pamplona to see the world-famous bullfighting of the Fiesta de San Fermín. Yet, as tense as the bullfighting can get – and as cruel – the real drama is, in true Hemingway style, left between the lines. On the surface, Jake and Brett seem perfect sweethearts, but, as Jake struggles to learn, being in love is not the start of the trial, never the end.
This novel interrogates caustic love, and it asks only that we come openminded. Can you love more than one person simultaneously? Is having the person you love more important than loving that person? Hemingway has all the questions, but the answers are ours to reach for, and no doubt, every reader will be reaching for them in different places. But one thing is sure – Hemingway is more than competent in catching the feel of those warm summer evenings and the late nights in bars, that during lockdown seem like a fading memory.
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman (2007)
If the motion picture starring Timothée Chalamet and Arnie Hammer does a fantastic job of capturing the intensity of one’s first love, the shame that queer people often endure as a figurative tax on their romantic journeys, and the beauty of the Italian Riviera, Aciman’s original novel does a near-perfect one. Seventeen-year-old Elio begrudgingly has to give up his bedroom each summer for his parents to host a scholar, but from the moment he lays eyes on one scholar in particular – Oliver – the sometimes tender, oftentimes brutal pangings of affection take form. And as far as first lines are concerned, it has one of my favourites:
“Later!” The word, the voice, the attitude.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
The greatest thing about Strayed’s memoir is precisely that – it’s a memoir. Documenting her upbringing, the death of her mother, her heroin addiction, and the hike she did across America to make sense of it all, Strayed brings the darker side of summer to the surface. Being at one with nature isn’t quite as harmonious as any caricatured tree-hugger on the silver screen would have you believe. It’s tough, it forces you to reckon not only with your immediate surroundings and the dangers therein, but the burdens we carry with every step. And, as the Strayed tells in her memoir, there’s nothing worse than losing a hiking boot when you’re halfway up a mountain.
The Bees by Laline Paull (2014)
Bee phobia or not, I can’t help but submit to the impressiveness of Paull’s debut novel. To pull off anthropomorphising a hive of bees is one thing, but to succinctly attribute a complex set of political and sociological values – the hive mind collect can jailbreak into any individual mind – to the hive, that’s where The Bees really shines. Paull’s narrative is as informative and accurate as a non-fiction telling of the life of a bee would be. Did you know that every bee that leaves the nest is female? Neither did I, but it’s a fact I’m glad to know.
Following Flora 717 from her first days as a larva with defected genes, to her later adventures out of the nest, Paull’s book won’t just keep your summer spirit high, it will give you newfound respect, infinitesimal awe, and a large dollop of affection for the precious creatures that gift us the season.
Circe by Madeline Miller (2018)
The only thing with more of a summer feel than a book about bumblebees might just be a book about the sun. Well, Helios – the God of the sun – makes an appearance with his chariot of fire in Miller’s feminist recapitulation of Ancient Greek mythology. Forewarning: you won’t much like him, the cruel father that he is. Throughout her few literary appearances, Circe has been villainised on all accounts (looking to DC here, for naming a supervillain after her) and stereotyped to the high heavens, or the peaks of Mount Olympus, take your pick. Ovid might have painted her as a spiteful witch with a not so subtle habit of turning men into pigs in Metamorphoses, but Miller has worked to modernise and defend Circe – why does she turn men into pigs, you might ask? Well, wouldn’t you if they wanted to pillage your island and home? Between several picturesque islands, Miller will not only drum up dormant ocean vibes within you but bring paradise to you.
There’s ephemerality to the summertime. The longer gloamings, the sunbathing, and even the picnics, we take these moments full-well knowing they never last for long enough. The free dosage of Vitamin D only comes around for a few months each year, and let’s face it, in Britain, that’s rather generous. So, perhaps hold off on reading Frankenstein until the darker seasons, for now, is the time to double-up on the sunshine. From Hemingway to Miller, these books have made my summers brighter, and I hope they’ll do the same for you.
Bio: Samuel Osbourne is a freelance journalist and writer based between Stoke-On-Trent and Uxbridge, where he is soon to complete his master’s degree in Creative Writing. You’ll often find him at his desk, working on his first novel, or in any number of parks, catching up on his reading of all things queer.