summer reading: 2 posts

10 Favorite Summer Reads in 10 Subjects

Summer reading lists are a tradition stretching back to my school days when a teacher sent us forth on vacation armed with a compilation of books to be read by September 1st. Now I will make a confession. As much as I liked imagining that come the first day of school, I would have a book report completed, I could rarely stick to the prescribed selection (and not only because it was biased towards the moralistic Soviet classics). At the library other titles tempted me as did the iris and chocolate redolent volumes from my great-grandmother’s old bookcase. Things have remained much the same the older I got. Even if I make reading lists, I leave room to deviate from them, because one of the pleasures of literature is the serendipitous discovery. My reading depends on my current interests, work projects, recommendations from friends, and Bois de Jasmin readers. If I fall under the spell of one of my obsessions–Japanese literature, Persian poetry, Ukrainian history, artist memoirs, or Middle Eastern politics–my carefully planned reading list will unravel and recombine into something else entirely. I follow my curiosity, and as a motivating force, it’s far stronger.

What I do love is reading lists made by others and selecting new titles to inspire my reading. The summer reading recommendations I share in this post were compiled in the same spirit. They include 10 books in 10 different subjects, books that I enjoyed in subjects that I find fascinating. In the words of Montaigne, who stars in one of my favorite books on the list, “When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.” They also enhance the sunniest of days.

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Reading for Late Summer Days

It’s the time of les vacances in Brussels. The streets are quiet. The parks are deserted, especially during the week. This summer tourists have taken the warnings of their home countries to heart and have mostly stayed away. I have the city to myself. So I take a book to a park, sit on the grass and read. (It’s a rare luxury in these parts, a fact demonstrated by the distinct lack of outdoor scenery in my picture. It started raining just when I had time for a photography session.)

books summer recommendations

The question then becomes what book to pick. A romance, a detective novel or a great classic? Walt Whitman once commented that the only reason he didn’t become overwhelmed by a steady diet of Sophocles, Homer, Aeschylus, and Dante was “likely because I read them… in the full presence of Nature, under the sun, with the far-spreading landscape and vistas, or the sea rolling in.” My selection is less lofty–simply some of my new and old favorites.

Agota Kristof The Illiterate

It’s fitting that I discovered the work of a Hungarian writing in French while reading a book by an American author writing in Italian. In her explorations of self and language, In Other Words (see my review), Jhumpa Lahiri mentioned being touched by Kristof’s experience. Kristof was born in Hungary and moved to Switzerland in 1956 as a refugee, and while she gained safety, she ended up in a social desert as she lost her language. The Illiterate is a series of stories about her love of reading, her family, her writing. They are tragic but also hopeful, and I related to them. I didn’t cross a frontier as an infant and didn’t have to work at a Swiss watch factory while writing poetry in my spare minutes, but having left the place where I was born, relatives, friends, and the familiar language(s), I can understand the anguish.

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