Throughout the school year, I accumulate a pile of novels I want to read that I simply don’t have time for when I’m reading novels with students for, often, four courses simultaneously. I’m lucky if I eek out a reading-for-pleasure novel a quarter during the course of the school year. Each summer, I look forward to delving into my pile. So, this summer, I’ve tackled eleven novels. Some new. Some old. Some read-agains. I’m teaching a new course this school year, new to me at least: A.P. Language and Composition which is paired with American Literature. Much of my reading was consumed by non-fiction, which is the preferred genre for this course, but I also read & re-read some American classics. Now, if you know anything about me– British literature is really my thing, but I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by some of my American literature choices. I did manage some British literature selections though and a couple of World literature novels, too. And, of course, there are a couple of completely self-indulgent selections because, afterall, it is my summer.
London, Edward Rutherfurd
Literary British Historical Fiction
This is one of my re-reads, as I assign it every other summer to my British Literature students. I love this novel, one that I first picked up the summer after traveling to London and beyond with 26 students and two colleagues. Reading this book is like going back in time. Featured around the lineage of six bloodlines, Rutherfurd takes the reader from earliest settlers of London to modern day. He weaves the fiction of these bloodlines in with the historical accuracy of both events and people. Among the characters include Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare.Reading this novel is like watching time-lapse photography. It’s long, but well worth it.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Literary Historical American Fiction
A staple in any American Literature classroom, I’ve been teaching this novel for many years. I’ve focused mainly on the relationship between Huck (white boy) and Jim (slave). It is a springboard for a host of discussions on racism, language, censorship and satire. This is another re-read for me, as my approach to reading it this summer changed from a reader of Twain’s work to a writer attempting to discover the rhetorical strategies Twain used to make the social commentary that has long been debated about this novel. It’s interesting to re-read novels for just this purpose: the reader opens him/herself up to what had gone unobserved before.
The Awakening, Kate Chopin
Literary American Fiction
Also a re-read, but one from my distant past– a college Women Writers course. This is a feminist novel set in 19th century Louisiana. Edna Pontellier struggles with her identity as a woman and a sexual being. Both story and writing are exceptional; I can’t believe I waited this long to read it again. I plan on using this, too, in my upcoming A.P. course centered around the idea of identity.
Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
This was, as the title denotes, a dark novel. It takes the reader on a journey with Libby Day to discover the events of the night her mother and two sisters were murdered leaving Libby an orphan and her brother in jail for the murders. I like Flynn’s writing style. Like Gone Girl, it was a page turner from the beginning; although, unlike Gone Girl, the ending of this novel was not a disappointment.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
Kundera, Czech author, writes an unforgettable novel which makes my top 10 of all time list. The writing is unique. The subject matter existential. The relationship between Tomas and Tereza (and their dog with a little side of Sabina) is realistic and romantic at the same time. This novel made me think; I dare say it even changed the way I think. Definitely a will-read-again.
Grey, E.L. James
This, my guilty pleasure for the summer, is the flip side of the 50 Shades series. Christian Grey’s point of view, which, at my core, borders on disturbing, yet this novel gives him more depth than the original series. I’ve written about the series in another post. I do believe, at it’s core is a love story and a very disturbed man. I want to understand Christian Grey because I have to believe anyone who wants or feels compelled to enter a relationship with intentions like his has some very deep seeded psychological issues behind his desires. So, to this end, I did gain some satisfaction by his relationship with and influence of his therapist. And the writing of E.L. James has improved– a side note.
The Constant Princess, Philippa Gregory
Literary Historical Fiction
One of my favorite authors, Gregory never disappoints. If you like her subject matter- the British Monarchy– you will enjoy this novel. Centered around Katherine of Aragon, Gregory manages to create a character of depth and vulnerability. Her ability to create dynamic characters, for me, is second to none. I just cannot get enough of her writing. There is a poetic aspect to it that keeps the highlighter in my hand while reading so I can note quotes that I never want to forget.This is probably the sixth novel I’ve read, and I’ll always be ready for the next one.
Paper Towns, John Green
Mystery, Coming-of-Age, Fiction
After reading A Fault in Our Stars last summer and pairing it with the film as the subject of a summer reading group with students, I decided to take this novel on before its release in film.Since, I have created a second novel/film pairing reading group with students where we will have a novel/film talk when we return to school, so I’m curious to see how that goes. While I really enjoy John Green’s writing style and I suppose this was a good YA novel, it just didn’t pull at my heart strings as much as A Fault in Our Stars did, and it didn’t have anything to do with the absence of death as a theme in this novel. I just didn’t grow to love the characters as much as I did with the previous first novel, and the same was true of the film. Both were just good. I’ll be interested to hear my students’ take come next month.
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
After reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain which was a mostly fictitious account of Hadley Richardson’s first marriage to Ernest Hemingway (also goes down as one of my favorite novels), I was so intrigued to read Hemingway’s memoir of this same time period. Rather than being a fluid account, it’s a collection of vignettes associated with food and drink. While I was disappointed that there wasn’t more depth to their (Hadley & Ernest’s) relationship, I very much admire his writing style. For this reason, I will be using an excerpt of it in my A.P. class, though that wasn’t my intention for reading it in the first place. This memoir is one that I would recommend writers to read because Hemingway is definitely a writer I revere for his style.
Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass
This narrative was recommended to me by a colleague for its writing style. She thought it would be a perfect pairing for Twain, and she was right. The writing style is very controlled, guarded almost, as Douglass wrote this to an audience of white males. A very influential figure and speaker of the abolitionist movement, Douglass recounts the atrocities of his experiences. It reminds me of Elie Wiesel’s Night, in that, the style of writing is so precise for the recounting of a series of events so raw. I am most glad to have read this novel this summer, as it opened my eyes to an experience providing me with a new perspective on slavery and willpower. I would highly recommend.
The Stranger, Albert Camus
I came upon this novel, as my son had read it for college last year, and I never had. It chose me in a way. Another existential novel, this one reminded me of the control of Narrative Life… and the writing style of Unbearable Lightness… There are two distinct parts to this novel in which Meursault, a French Algerian, attends his mother’s funeral and is jailed after committing a murder. It’s a bizarre story which explores the state of mind on one who is set apart from society and societal norms. Interesting, short read, though not one of my favorites.
I would describe this as a very thought provoking, eclectic list.