I stayed home this summer. But I wasn’t bored. I read voraciously, swam in the river, and made vague plans for the year ahead.
I’ve decided to rank the ten books I read this summer from my least favorite to the very best. Enjoy!
10. The Pilot’s Wife – Anita Shrieve
This book made for light beach reading. A woman finds that her husband had an elaborately hidden second life after he dies in a plane crash. I like Shrieve’s style but find that her books are quite similar and seem to merge into one story in my mind. I tend to stick to one per summer and that keeps it fresh.
9. Consider Her Ways – John Wyndom
I can still remember reading an abridged version of Day of the Triffids and being completely absorbed by it when I was in intermediate, so I happily read anything I find of Wyndom’s. But I have to say that this little book of short sci-fi stories is among the oddest I’ve ever read. I can’t even say whether I liked them or not.
8. Pastures of Heaven – John Steinbeck
Classic Steinbeck. Rich descriptions of farms, homes, families, and hopes. It is a sort of series of short stories which follows the characters living in a valley in America. I enjoyed dipping in and out of it as the summer in Westport wore on. It’s not as hardhitting as Of Mice and Men or Grapes of Wrath but it’s still a worthwhile read.
7. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
It took me a while to get into this one but I’m glad I persevered. This novel was set during the Spanish Civil War – a period in history that I knew very little about.
There were some shocking moments, particularly in the ways that the revolutionaries drove the fascists out of their villages and the reprisals that followed. It was told in a simple and honest way and, once I came to grips with the language, I found it gripping and memorable.
6. Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
The Hemingway obviously had an effect. I wanted to know more about The Spanish Civil War. Orwell, like Hemingway, fought in the war as a partisan. His book is a memoir of his experiences there. I learned a lot and gained an insight into how Orwell developed ideas for his novels from first-hand experiences of war, revolution, and politics.
5. Northern Lights – Phillip Pullman
A magic adventure. Wonderful for readers of any age. Enough said.
4. The Wayward Bus – John Steinbeck
It was a long, hot summer and Steinbeck seemed to fit, so I picked up another one. The things I like best about Steinbeck are his descriptions of the country-side and the hard characters who work on the land.
This book, like many of his others, brings home the way that, for most of us, the vague dreams and ambitions of childhood and adolescence don’t come to much. We find ways to get on with life.
3. Animal Farm – George Orwell
After reading his Spanish memoir I was keen to go back and read some of the Orwell novels that I studied at school. I re-read A.F. about once every five years and I always get something new out of it.
This time I was most affected by the way that it takes so much to shatter the animals’ belief in the revolution, even when it gets to the point where they’re being exploited far more than they were before the revolt. Orwell had a sharp eye for the human condition.
2. Singularity – Charlotte Grimshaw
This is a book of short stories vaguely linked by characters, settings, and events. Many of the settings (like West Auckland and the Far North) were very familiar to me and Grimshaw’s characters are like many I’ve met in those places. A comforting trip down memory lane.
1. Nutshell – Ian McEwan
And, finally, my best read of the summer. Nutshell was very different from other McEwan books I’ve read and I wasn’t completely sure I’d like it.
The concept is strange. It’s narrated by a baby in the womb. That baby’s situation bears some very strong resemblances to one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies. Ambitious projects like this often seem to flop.
But, despite my initial misgivings, I loved the book. McEwan has pulled it off perfectly. It’s sharp and witty and I devoured it in one night. I’m sure that I only picked up on about half the jokes and references so I’ll need to revisit and read again later.
By Ellen Curnow