Summers, if we are lucky, are about getting away for a bit, preferably abroad and maybe even with a little adventure and some sun thrown in.
Wherever we go it is important to take along a good book or two and with that in mind here are some recommendations for Summer reading.
Jessica will be reminding herself of the pleasures of returning to an old favourite. This time its Gulliver’s Travels, that satirical and bizarre adventure written by Irish author Jonathan Swift. On the surface, it’s a magical account of one man’s sea voyages to strange lands. He meets small people, tall people, floating people, mathematically obsessed people, pathologically distracted people and hairy people ruled by horses. He learns about their cultures and political systems. He enjoys their food and customs. He picks up their languages at an amazing speed. But, beneath the surface lurk tricky questions fuelled by ambivalent observations about humanity, elites, power and politics. Should you go to war over which way to crack an egg? How much money should you spend on a project to extract sunshine from cucumbers? Will there always be rulers and the ruled?
For over a decade James would not get on an airplane, or a boat, without a copy of something by Italo Calvino. Calvino was an Italian master of the short story and in Difficult Loves he recounts several quirky tales of amorous adventure. These include the adventure of a bather, about a woman who loses her bikini in the water by the edge of a crowded beach, the adventure of a crook, who hides out in the bed of a prostitute, while the adventure of a photographer follows a man obssessed with capturing the essence of a beautiful tennis player with his camera lens.
In Smog a young man who takes a job as a writer for an anti-pollution magazine and lodgings in a new city is disturbed by the pawprints of a cat. The narrative perspective of these stories is for the most part those of a young man and are full of hinted as well as open desire and the longings and the excitements of, well, Difficult Loves. Smog in particular is so strange and atmospheric you may find it stays with you long afterwards. Inventive, funny and exquisitely crafted.
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins
To bring to life the atmosphere of London in the time of Swift, Jessica will be reading The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins. This historical mystery by Antonia Hodgson is the second in a series of books about Tom Hawkins. The first, The Devil in the Marshalsea, followed Tom’s fall from his heaven of card games, brothels and coffee-houses into the hell of a debtors’ prison. A twisting mystery, deliciously describing early 18th Century London, it was a thrilling tale of intrigue and suspense. The closing pages were like a fantastic firework display. Just when you thought the climax had been reached, rockets and Catherine wheels kept coming at you as plot twists exploded one after the other. Jessica’s looking forward to finding out what Mr Hawkins does next.
Sometimes there are accounts of places experienced by others that are so awful but still keep us turning the pages… James’s next choice is Papillon. This first person account charts the misadventures of small time thief Henri Charrière who was, according to himself, wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to penal servitude on Devils Island in the early part of the 20th century. Whatever about his claims of innocence, there is no doubt that he payed a heavy price after his conviction and his very personal tale puts you in the gritty thick of a very brutal French penal colony that begs the question of who are the real criminals here, the system or the inmates. Papillon’s journey is one that nobody would wish to under go, however his story does make for a riveting and rip roaring read none the less. Papillon, which means butterfly in French, was Charrière’s knickname given to him because of the butterfly tattooed on his chest.
Maite’s first choice. A play by George Bernhard Shaw modernising the Taming of the Shrew plot by Mr Shakespeare for the early 20th century. In turn Pygmalion has inspired several other modern (film) versions including My Fair Lady, Educating Rita and Pretty Woman. It still holds up as an entertaining piece about a young flower seller who is used as a project by a linguistics professor to pass her off as a duchess. I particularly like the strong female characters in the drama and the playfulness with the language. Perfect for some light summer reading with interesting themes woven in by the fascinating George Bernhard Shaw.
Written in my Heart – Walks through James Joyce’s Dublin
Co-authored by Emily Carson and Mark Traynor, director of the James Joyce Centre, this is a wonderful read that makes you want to discover the many parts of James Joyce’s Dublin. The author certainly moved around a lot before legging abroad to write Ulysses, his love letter to the city. With the long summer evenings, it’s a perfect time to take a leisurely stroll to see why Joyce made his birthplace such a central character in his work. You can read fascinating nuggets along the way and enjoy Fuchsia MacAree’s lovely illustrations. Thumbs up from Niall.
Bob Dylan Chronicles Volume 1
This was recommended to Maite by a friend who told her that the writing style is inspired by James Joyce’s stream of consciousness. Apparently Bob Dylan stayed in a house once with an extensive library and read a lot of great authors in an intense bout of self-education. Although written several, probably decades after, the Chronicles are the supposed result of that reading binge. And as does Joyce incorporate much of what he read. I am looking forward particularly to reading the part about Bert Brecht’s/Kurt Weill’s song Seeräuber-Jenny (Pirate Jenny) from the Dreigroschenoper which is also one of my favourites.
The Eyre Affair
Niall’s next pick. Are you ready to become a literary detective and solve the mystery inside Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre? Then plunge yourself into the wonderful world of Jasper Fforde. This is the first in a series of books starring Thursday Next, our eponymous detective of all things literary. If you love your classic English fiction mixed with a whodunnit and washed down with a strong helping of Douglas Adams’s imagination and offbeat humor, then this is the book for you this summer.