Summer won’t officially start for another couple of weeks, but unofficially there are unmistakable signs of it having arrived. For one, my cats are pretty much permanently stretched out into long tubes on any cool surface they can find. For another, fans have been pulled out of storage and turned on. The air is hot and sweet and the crickets are loud. Fireflies are showing off outside of my window at night.
And so, it is time for another seasonal roundup! Summer books are almost too easy. This is one season that abounds with books. If you are looking to add some books with summery vibes to your reading list, look no further. Here are my top picks to keep you company in the long sunny days and lingering light of the evenings.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I’m getting this one off my chest right off the bat. It may not be your typical beach read, but for me the beauty of its language makes for a wonderfully meditative experience, perfect for a lazy summer day. To the Lighthouse is the story of the Ramsay family and their summer home on the Isle of Sky. Told through shifting perspectives with breathtaking imagery, this is a book that will make you slow down and savour the moment.
For the great plateful of blue water was before her; the hoary Lighthouse, distant, austere, in the midst; and on the right, as far as the eye could see, fading and falling, in soft low pleats, the green sand dunes with the wild flower grasses on them, which always seemed to be running away into some moon country, uninhabited of men.”To the Lighthouse
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Now to shift to a very different kind of novel! For those who like a summer adventure story, Trail of Lightning is a fantasy set in Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation), post-climate apocalypse. The unrelenting heat of the desert is tangible in this tale, in which supernaturally gifted monsterslayer Maggie and her sidekick Kai unravel mysteries, contend with gods and witches and tricksters, and exchange terrific banter. This book is full of loveable (and despicable) characters under its blazing and bloody summer sun.
They say the hataalii worked hand in hand with the construction crews, and for every brick that was laid, a song was sung. Every lath, a blessing given. And the Wall took on a life of its own. When the workmen came back the next morning, it was already fifty feet high. In the east it grew as white shell. In the south, turquoise. The west, pearlescent curves of abalone, and the north, the blackest jet. It was beautiful. It was ours. And we were safe. Safe from the outside world, at least. But sometimes the worst monsters are the ones within.”Trail of Lightning
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (translated by Irene Ash)
Published in 1955 when its author was only 18, Bonjour Tristesse takes place in a seaside villa outside of Paris one steamy and atmospheric summer. The narrator, Cécile, is a seventeen-year-old girl who is living with her father and his latest mistress. Cécile is both precociously self-aware and childishly selfish. Her narration charts the shifting relationships in her life, her manipulations and her sexual awakening, and it brilliantly captures the sun-drenched Mediterranean coast.
From dawn onward I was in the water. It was cool and transparent, and I plunged wildly about in my efforts to wash away the shadows and dust of Paris. I lay stretched out on the sand, took up a handful and let it run through my fingers in soft, yellow streams. I told myself that it ran out like time. It was an idle thought, and it was pleasant to have idle thoughts, for it was summer.”Bonjour Tristesse
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurtson
This is a gorgeously written wonder of a book that tells the tale of Janie Crawford, a woman who refuses to submit to a world that wants her to stay small. Written in 1937, this is a fiercely feminist book and in its circular narrative we witness Janie coming into the fullness of herself, as she navigates adventure, tragedy, love, and loss. The book is brimming with beauty and wisdom, and the setting, switching between Eatonville, Florida and the Everglades, conjures a hot and fecund world, full of intensity.
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.”Their Eyes Were Watching God
Circe by Madeline Miller
A reimagining of The Odyssey, this novel centres Circe, the Witch of Aiaia, who kept Odysseus and his crew with her on her island for a year during their travels home from the Trojan war. The daughter of Helios, the sun, and the naiad Perse, Circe has historically been a footnote in Greek mythology. This book tells her story, crafting a character who does what her fellow immortals cannot—changes and grows. Aiaia is a golden and magical place, and Circe’s tale, set in a mythical ancient Greece, is filled with sea, sun, and lushness. It’s a sensual book, and summer is a perfect season in which to read it—but to be honest, what will captivate you most of all is Circe’s internal journey towards self-determination.
I climbed the peaks where the cypresses speared black into the sky, then clambered down to the orchards and vineyards where purple grapes grew thick as coral. I walked the hills, the buzzing meadows of thyme and lilac, and set my footprints across the yellow beaches. I searched out every cave and grotto, found the gentle bays, the harbour safe for ships. I heard the wolves howl, and the frogs cry from their mud. I stroked the glossy brown scorpions who braved me with their tails. Their poison was barely a pinch.”Circe
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
This might be my ultimate summer read. It’s a strange, sinister, surreal kind of novel, falling into that narrow genre known as “uncanny.” Another vintage book (published in 1967), Picnic at Hanging Rock has achieved cult status for its portrayal of a group of students from Mrs Appleyard’s College for Young Ladies who mysteriously vanish during a school outing in Australia’s Macedon Ranges. Their disappearance has a ripple effect through the school and the community in this gripping and unusual novel, which has elements of a thriller, definite queer subtext, and hints of the paranormal. There is something extra creepy in the pairing of these ominous events with Australia’s oppressive summer heat, and Picnic at Hanging Rock will give you a summertime chill up your spine.
A last row on the lake. A last light pressure of the hand… Unseen, unrecorded, the pattern of the picnic continued to darken and spread.”Picnic at Hanging Rock
What are your favourite summertime reads? Do post any of your own recommendations in the comments. I’d love to hear! Until then, happy summer and happy reading!