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.

Art : The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller’s Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece by Laura Cumming

In 1845 John Snare, a bookseller from Reading, England, buys a portrait of Charles Stuart advertised as that of Van Dyck. Examining the image of the young prince, Snare suspects that the painting belongs to the brush of Diego Velázquez and sets out to prove it. He stakes his reputation and money on his quest and ultimately loses everything, except his love for the painting that brought him so much grief. In The Vanishing Velázquez (public library), part detective story, part drama, Laura Cumming follows Snare on his odyssey, and takes us from 17th century Spain to 19th century England and 20th century New York. Velázquez was an enigma, a man who left nothing of himself apart from his paintings, and you will never look at his work with the same eyes after finishing this exceptional book.

Memoir : The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman

I often hear that “one shouldn’t confuse life with books”, but the underlying message of Elif Batuman in The Possessed (public library) is why ever not! Her memoir is about finding one’s way through life by reading books, specifically the Russian classics. Batuman’s adventures take her from the US to Uzbekistan and from Istanbul to Moscow, with a few academic conferences on literature in between. Her voice is witty and erudite, and her observations range from poignant to hilarious. The Possessed has many gems, such as this one: “The second time I read Babel was in graduate school, for a seminar on literary biography. I read the 1920 diary and the entire Red Cavalry cycle in one sitting, on a rainy Saturday in February, while baking a Black Forest cake. As Babel immortalized for posterity the military embarrassment of the botched 1920 Russo-Polish campaign, so he immortalized for me the culinary embarrassment of this cake, which came out of the oven looking like an old hat.”

This year Batuman published her first novel, The Idiot (she is a fan of Dostoevsky’s titles), about a Turkish-American woman navigating life and love during her freshman year of Harvard. I’d read anything Batuman would write, and this is no exception. At times, random and messy, but overall lively and moving.

History : The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher de Bellaigue

The oft-repeated notion is that the troubles of the Islamic world stem from the fact that it has never experienced Enlightenment. In his finely researched new book,  The Islamic Enlightenment (public library) , Christopher de Bellaigue argues that such comments miss the point. The Enlightenment indeed happened. Using the examples of Cairo, Istanbul, and Tehran, he shows how these countries faced the new era opened by the Napoleonic invasions of Egypt in 1798 and colonialism, and analyzes the tremendous changes that took place within their societies, driven by the intellectuals within. Modernization was sometimes slowed and sometimes reversed, but none of the countries surveyed by Bellaigue was left untouched by it.

The book includes several portraits of individuals who defined the era. One of the most moving stories is about Fatemeh Zarrin Taj Baraghani (known as Tahirih), a 19th century Persian feminist and poet who died for promoting the Bahá’í unified and anti-nationalistic vision of the world.

“O slumbering one, the beloved has arrived, arise!
Brush off the dust of sleep and self, arise!
Behold the good will has arrived,
Come not before him with tears, arise!
The mender of concerns has come to you,
O heavy-hearted one, arise!
O one afflicted by separation,
Behold the good tidings of the beloved’s union, arise!
O you withered by autumn,
Now spring has come, arise!
Behold the New Year brings a fresh life,
O withered corps of yesteryear, up from your tomb, arise!”

Image: The Qajar era antiques in Esfahan, by Bois de Jasmin

Diary : The Diary of Anaïs Nin (1931-1934)

People fascinate me, their thoughts, their motivations, their dreams, and what better way to step into someone’s world than to read their memoirs, diaries or letters. Such reading isn’t rushed, and if I have a few hours to linger in a hammock, someone’s diary is likely to be my companion. Anaïs Nin’s diary is one of the most famous and easily the most voluminous, including more than 150 tomes, of which only a fraction have been published. I’ve started with the 1930s (public library). “Friendships, relationships, and travel,” she wrote, “are my greatest pleasure. The world I live in, in every city, is that of writers, painters, musicians, dancers and actors.” Through Nin’s writing, you can also partake of it. The best part, however, is that she doesn’t only focus on the glittering world of the literati but also on day-to-day life in Paris, the city as it used to be in the 30s.

Travel : Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova

In a quirky novel by the Ukrainian writer Andriy Lyubka, Karbid, a history teacher living in a small town on the border with Hungary decides to build a tunnel to help his country integrate faster into the European Union. The story is fictional, but reading Kapka Kassabova’s Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe (public library), I began to suspect that it may not lack in truth. Borders inspire far-fetched ideas and impossible dreams. Kassabova crosses the frontiers between Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece, meets people who live there and reminisces about the past, but also she hunts for ghosts. Borders are not only lines on the map, they define us vs. them; they separate, limit, and enforce. Growing up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, I’ve felt the same fascination with borders that pushed Kassabova on her journey. Her book is haunting and poetic, blending folklore and history, discoveries and tragedies.

Nature : The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel and How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben

Did you know that certain types of acacia tree release scent to warn their neighbors of predators? That trees in a forest will feed dying specimens through an elaborate underground network? That trees are social creatures? In The Hidden Life of Trees (public library), Peter Wohlleben shares his experience managing a forest in the Eifel mountains in Germany and reveals the extraordinary way trees communicate and manage their space.

“Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what.”

Doesn’t it seem as if trees could teach humans something essential?

Science : Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Science and art are taken as concepts on opposite poles with few overlaps, but it’s as much of a myth as the idea that science is somehow about politics and human follies. The father of modern neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), combined art with science through his drawings of the brain, its cells and neural circuits, and the result is as exquisite as it was revolutionary. For instance, his analysis of the olfactory system accompanied by detailed drawings has made a major contribution to our understanding of the way the nose works. Beautiful Brain (public library) is a compilation of his drawings, along with commentary about Ramón y Cajal’s work and life.

If Ramón y Cajal interests you further, do take a look at his autobiography, Recollections of My Life (public library). He was just as fine a writer as he was a scientist. Besides his contributions to science, he also perfected the art of taking selfies (see below). A fascinating character all around.

First image: Ramón y Cajal’s drawing published in 1894. A: bipolar cells of the olfactory mucosa. B: olfactory glomeruli. C: MCs. D: granular cells. E: external root (lateral olfactory tract). F: sphenoidal cortex. (a) small tufted cell; (b) main dendrite of a MC; (c) terminal branching of a granular cell; (e), recurrent collateral of a MC; (g) superficial triangular cells of the cortex; (h) epithelial cells of the nasal mucosa. From the Cajal Legacy, Instituto Cajal, CSIC, Madrid, Spain. Image from ResearchGate.  Second image: Ramón y Cajal’s self-portrait.

Fiction : Inheritance from Mother by Minae Mizumura

I originally meant to save novels for another post–and I might still do it, but in the end I couldn’t resist mentioning at least one favorite. This year has brought several memorable publications such as Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, and the aforementioned Elif Batuman’s The Idiot. Another title that impressed me was Inheritance from Mother (public library) by Minae Mizumura. Mizumura captured my attention with her incisive The Fall of Language in the Age of English (public library) and a Brontë-inspired A True Novel (public library), and I already mentioned her several times on Bois de Jasmin. Her latest novel is likewise a thoughtful exploration of relationships, mutual expectations and obligations to oneself and others.

The protagonist is a fifty year old woman who takes care of her aging mother. The relationship between the two women is strained, and as her mother’s health deteriorates, the heroine discovers that her husband is about to leave her for a younger woman. Mizumura turns many stereotypes of a Japanese woman on their heads–the demure daughter, the long-suffering wife, the self-sacrificing woman become characters who seek their own fulfillment and dreams. At times, the result is a tragedy, but at times it’s a liberation. Set in contemporary Tokyo, the novel illuminates the mores of the middle-class Japanese and their struggles in the post-Bubble economy.

Politics : On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Are we doomed to repeat history? The Yale University historian Timothy Snyder wishes that we weren’t, and his book (public library) is meant as a guide to avoid the mistakes of our predecessors. “We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the last century,” writes the historian who made his name with the magisterial studies of the European borderlands such as The Reconstruction of Nations and Bloodlands. “Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience,” writers Snyder. It’s a slim but thought-provoking book, and its twenty lessons resonate in our troubled times. Such as this one: “Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone else is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.”

Philosophy : How To Live: A Life Of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell

The 16th-century century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne would have agreed with Snyder on the need to study and remember history, as in his famous Essays he writes about the importance of self-knowledge and analysis of the past. Sarah Bakewell’s is a vibrant introduction to the thinker who influenced the French Renaissance and the subsequent generations of writers and philosophers like Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Friedrich Nietzsche. (My only regret is that the French philosophers took Descartes’s dry and overly structured writing style as a model, rather than Montaigne’s ebullient voice.)

Bakewell frames her narrative around the questions derived from his writings, which cover topics as diverse as friendships, coaches, cannibals, the custom of wearing clothes, and the fact that his mustache picks up the scent of everything that touches them. “How do you avoid pointless arguments? How do you get over the death of someone you love? How do you balance the need to feel safe against the need to feel free? How do you deal with fanatics? How do you make the most of every moment?” asks the book. And finally, how do you live? The result is a wonderful and uplifting work and a perfect tribute to one of the greatest philosophers in the world. He deserves our attention, a philosopher who was honest enough to write,”I am free to give myself up to doubt and uncertainty, and to my predominant quality which is ignorance.”

What have you been reading this summer? Please share your lists.



  • Becky: I like biographies. That’s what I will look for when I visit the local library this week. Thanks for what looks like a horizon expanding list. Will take your article with me on the off chance I find something. Just started my vacation. A good beginning. July 10, 2017 at 8:39am Reply

    • Victoria: I do too, especially when they give a glimpse of the time in which the person lived. The last excellent one I’ve read was by Dominique Bona about Gala Dalí, the wife of Salvador Dalí. July 10, 2017 at 1:24pm Reply

  • Katya: I love all of these. I am a huge fan of Maria Popova (Brain Pickings) and often go to her for reading inspiration.

    That said, lately I’ve been back to an old love of mine, which are young adult books (yes, yes, all of the puns) which can be beautiful, or light, or dark, or hopeful, or hopeless (sometimes all of those things at once) as well as fantasy (Robin Hobb’s Ship of Magic waits for me). It takes me back to when, as a teenager, I’d go with my dad to Slaveikov square (the open-door book market in Sofia), we’d but a load of books, and then sit in a cafe to read. It is, to this day, one of my favorite things to do, and he is the one who first put Terry Pratchett in my hands. July 10, 2017 at 9:54am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s such a nice memory! 🙂
      Which other YA books have you been re-reading? July 10, 2017 at 1:25pm Reply

      • Katya: Well, actually it’s new ones. Yesterday I read “The King Slayer” which is the second book of a duology by Virginia Boecker (Medieval fantasy, not sure on how I feel about it) and “Mind Games” by Teri Terry (which made me really sad because of the ending). The week before I read “This Savage Song” by V. E. Schwab (very good urban fantasy) and “The Tattooed Heart” by Michael Grant, which is the second in his “Messenger of Fear” series, and it is possibly my favourite because it is about karma literally turning around to get bad people. Highly recommended, although quite creepy at times. July 10, 2017 at 2:20pm Reply

        • Victoria: Fun! I’m a firm believer in exploring all genres. 🙂 This summer I re-read Jules Verne, and I had a great time doing so. I also realized how thorough of a researcher he was. No doubt that my interest in history and politics was inspired, in part, by him. July 10, 2017 at 11:07pm Reply

  • One-of-five: Again, Victoria sets a mood for us of elegance and reflection. I have learned to trust your sensibility and judgment in many areas, so I will “get busy” by slowing down with this menu of well-chosen books. Thank you! July 10, 2017 at 10:47am Reply

    • Carla: Elegance and reflection, definitely. For whatever reason the only one that peaks my interest is the book on Montaigne. I just finished The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks because my husband enjoyed it and sometimes I like to read a book he liked. Now I’m reading The Soccer War by a Polish journalist. I can’t recall his name. One of my best friends, who was a journalist in the Middle East, and like me was once an adventurous traveler and now schedules her days around naps, gave it to me. It brings me back to travels in Africa, although written during all the violent coups! (Victoria, makes me think the Belgians have something to atone for in the Congo, etc. I suppose you’ve visited that African museum near Brussels, I found it unsettling.)
      I’ll next read a book my other best friend, a voracious reader of novels and an editor, recommeded – O Caledonia. It seems quite unknown, a slim little novel, but she said it’s the best she’s read in a while. So lately I’m choosing books to connect with my husband and friends. July 10, 2017 at 1:06pm Reply

      • Victoria: Belgium was the worst of all colonial powers, which already says something. The African art museum is organised in a very old-fashioned way–everything about Congo is counted and tabulated, with hardly any explanation or context; quite creepy. It’s been undergoing renovation, but the exhibits won’t be changed. They will be kept the same deliberately in order to show how the colonial enterprises saw the people and their lands–as resources to be extracted. There is now more information on the colonial period. July 10, 2017 at 1:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! Hope that you can find something. I look forward to hearing about it. July 10, 2017 at 1:26pm Reply

  • Jillie: As soon as I finish typing this, I will be ordering The Hidden Life of Trees!

    I am in love with these wonderful beings. A landscape seems dead to me if no tree exists in it; their beauty and life-giving properties are so important to the world and all the creatures in it. The theory that they can also teach humanity a thing or two is compelling and I will relish reading this. Thank you! July 10, 2017 at 12:01pm Reply

    • Carla: Lately I have been really appreciating the birdsong where we live – thanks to the trees. July 10, 2017 at 1:17pm Reply

      • Victoria: Our neighbors in Poltava cut down two large linden trees and this year there were no nightingales. July 10, 2017 at 1:35pm Reply

        • Jillie: Oh no, that’s tragic. We are surrounded by woods and our garden is teeming with birds of every description – we are quite besotted with them.

          There is an area being “developed” not far from here and the scene of desolation almost physically hurts me and reminds me of the destruction of woods in The Lord of the Rings – Tolkien must have felt for the spirits of trees too. And he created the Ents! July 11, 2017 at 2:17am Reply

          • Carla: I think I maybe besotted too – it seems there is more birdsong this year than in the past, a good thing. My French father in law wonders why we don’t consider cutting the huge oak next to our house down and selling the wood. This shows the cultural differences. In France the woods are separate from the homes, you don’t live amongst the trees like in the US. Never would we cut down our “witness oak”! July 11, 2017 at 7:12am Reply

            • Jillie: So pleased to hear that! July 11, 2017 at 9:57am Reply

            • Victoria: Oh, yes! It’s a totally different approach. I’m glad that you’ve kept your oak. In Poltava there is an oak that was planted sometime in the 17th c. Can you imagine what it has witnessed? July 11, 2017 at 11:53am Reply

          • Victoria: I can relate, Jillie. I couldn’t watch when they cut down those old splendid trees. July 11, 2017 at 11:52am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a marvelous book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I picked it up at Waterstones just because the title attracted me, and I finished reading it the same evening. I will never look at a tree the same way again. July 10, 2017 at 1:35pm Reply

      • Gisela: I agree, a wonderful book – eyeopening and astonishing. Also very much recommended:
        A Future with Natural Wood: Traditional and Scientific Facts about Trees by Erwin Thoma.
        He developed further his grandfather’s knowledge about building with natural timber and has realised quite a lot of projects around the world in the last two decades, from family homes to university buildings and hotels. July 10, 2017 at 3:10pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you! Adding it onto the list. July 10, 2017 at 11:08pm Reply

        • Jillie: Seconding Victoria, Gisela, thank you! July 11, 2017 at 2:17am Reply

      • Carla: Ok will look into it! July 11, 2017 at 7:12am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: The “Possessed” sounds right up my alley. I read so many Russian novels at one point I thought I had a past life in Russia. I was so intrigued by War & Peace I had to look up all the history behind the book, facts about the Battle of Borodin, etc. I read Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekhov, everything Dostoyevsky wrote, I want “whole hog” as we say in Southern USA. Not sure if I would relate to any of these works now, but they resonated when I was age 18-20. July 10, 2017 at 1:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Wow! You really did. Which was your favorite? Or which stood out?

      I don’t know if I myself relate to much in Tolstoy or Dostoevsky’s novels, but they are thought-provoking and their literary mastery is still impressive. I know of few writers who could describe nature as well as Turgenev. July 10, 2017 at 1:39pm Reply

      • rickyrebarco: I think War & Peace is a really good story even though Tolstoy’s philosophizing gets rather old after awhile. My favorites of the Russian writers are Turgenev and Gogol. I adore satire and “The Inspector General” is just brilliant. “Fathers and Sons” is also wonderful and I need to read it again. July 10, 2017 at 2:30pm Reply

        • Victoria: Gogol is very different in that he was one of the first writers (if not the first) to truly introduce humor and satire into the Russian literature. Most of the other classics are a depressive, morose bunch, whose chief worries are the salvation of the soul and the state of the Russian agriculture. There is no duller character in the world literature than Tolstoy’s Levin. Of course, I’m facetious. Still when it comes to painting personalities and even their quests, dramas, anxieties, dilemmas, the Russians excel. I could do with the chauvinism, misogynism and anti-semitism (this latter bit especially struck me on the re-reading of Turgenev this summer). July 10, 2017 at 4:37pm Reply

  • Lori: The Diaries of Anais Nin (unexpurgated) are not truly diaries in the sense that MUCH is left out. To REALLY view her diaries, read the unexpurgated ones beginning with Henry and June which starts in the 1930’s in Paris. July 10, 2017 at 2:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve also read Henry and June, but it’s out of print. July 10, 2017 at 4:29pm Reply

      • Lori: Please forgive me if I came off sounding abrupt. I concur wholeheartedly with your book selections and especially the diaries. I have read all of the unexpurgated volumes and am now reading Trapeze. One of the reasons, probably the biggest reason, I enjoy them so much is you can feel, smell, practically taste what it was like during those times, almost better than a history book 🙂 Thank you so much for the list and beautiful writing and suggestions you have given us. July 10, 2017 at 8:28pm Reply

        • Victoria: Can’t agree more! History books, the way they are written traditionally, can’t capture the daily life to the same extent the way a person sharing their own experiences can. And with a writer like Nin, it’s really a treat. July 10, 2017 at 11:11pm Reply

  • Maya: You summarize each book so beautifully- I will be referencing this list again in the future. Currently I’m midway through book 2 of Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels, midway through Phillip Roth’s American Pastoral, and at the beginning of Saul Bellow’s Augie and March. Loving all three, and they are different and compelling enough to read together. I urge you to read The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (of Moomin fame)- a very simple but beautiful and languid book about a relationship between a young girl and her tough grandmother. Finished it a few months ago but miss its presence in my mind. July 10, 2017 at 3:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: Ferrante deserves all of the attention she received and more. I so enjoyed the Neapolitan novels, and I’m glad to see them on your list. Also curious about the novel by Jansson. I did love the Moomins, but her other writing is supposed to be very good, too. July 10, 2017 at 11:15pm Reply

      • Carla: Ferrante is to follow for me since my voracious reader friend fisnished them all already and I’ve only read one – she always beats me 😉 July 11, 2017 at 7:14am Reply

        • Victoria: Ah, you’ll have a wonderful time reading. My mom is starting on the first novel. July 11, 2017 at 11:54am Reply

  • Alicia: Splendid list Victoria. I have been familiar with the Anais Nin diaries for a long time, since my late husband was a close friend of her brother, Joaquin, a superb musician who introduced my husband to Pablo Casals; the three of them were fast friends. Never read all the diaries, of course, now I remember vaguely that Anais ‘s favorite perfumes were Mitsouko and Narcisse Noir. I’ll have to buy that Vanishing Velazquez. I adore the painter, and have often taught him together with Cervantes. Their aesthetics and boldness have much in common. Victoria, I enjoyed immensely the book on Montaigne, one of my favorite thinkers by far; perhaps I have a crush on the man. Thank you again for this post. July 10, 2017 at 4:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: What instrument did Joaquin play?

      I can imagine Anais Nin wearing Narcisse Noir and Mitsouko! I didn’t know this, so thank you for mentioning it. What have you been reading lately? I imagine that with your research your reading load is intense. July 11, 2017 at 11:38am Reply

      • Alicia: Victoria, Joaquin was a pianist. Since most of the internet data on Joaquin is wrong, here you have the IN Memoriam written by his colleagues in the music department at the University, which is absolutely accurate: http://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/_files/inmemoriam/html/jninculmell.htm

        I have been writing, dear. Most of the reading was done before I came to California, and it was in Latin and Renaissance Spanish. Lots of Virgil (Bucolics and Georgics), . A book I reread just for my pleasure was a masterpiece of literary criticism that you might enjoy: Erich Auerbach, Mimesis. It was written in Turkey, when he had to exile himself from his native Germany, since he was Jewish.He ended his days teaching at Yale., before Yale became, alas, the temole of deconstruction. July 11, 2017 at 3:36pm Reply

        • Alicia: I meant “temple” of deconstruction. July 11, 2017 at 6:09pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much. I’ve just opened it, and I’m going to read it shortly.

          Good luck with your writing! The topics sound fascinating. Ah, yes, thank you for a reminder of Mimesis. I read it in grad school, but for some reason–perhaps, because I’ve been reading more fiction, I’ve been thinking of revisiting it. July 12, 2017 at 10:16am Reply

  • Hayley: I am chuffed to see “How to live: a life of Montaigne” on your list; I really enjoyed reading it a few years ago. Coincidentally, I downloaded ‘At the Existentialist Cafe’ yesterday, which is Sarah Bakewell’s newest book. I am looking forward to reading it along with ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ and ‘The Vanishing Velasquez’. Both sound fascinating. July 10, 2017 at 4:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve started At the Existentialist Cafe, and it’s just as good as How to Live.

      That Velazquez book is going to make my top 10 readings of 2017. July 11, 2017 at 11:40am Reply

      • Karen A: The Velazquez book was fascinating! Read it a few months ago. I love it when a non-fiction book reads like a fiction one, in that you can’t put it down. July 12, 2017 at 6:22am Reply

        • Victoria: Poor Snare! I really felt for him, especially when those Scottish nobles started harassing him and using their powerful connections to deprive him of his painting. July 12, 2017 at 10:22am Reply

  • Gisela: I always love those lists of books – very inspiring!
    I just finished a biography, unfortunately only in German, about Georgette Tsinguirides, Germany’s first choreologist. She was a ballet dancer in Stuttgart and the choreographer John Cranko sent her in the sixties to London to study the new Benesh Movement Notation. She then recorded almost all his choreographies and over decades was and still is indispensible for companies and dancers all over the world to study Cranko’s works. Her life is amazing and now aged 89 she is still working and it’s incredible how agile she is. July 10, 2017 at 5:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: I will see if I can find it. Dance is another topic I love reading about, and I have a long list of books that are among my favorites such as Apollo’s Angels. July 11, 2017 at 11:41am Reply

  • Alexandra Fraser: Wonderful list. Thank you July 10, 2017 at 5:35pm Reply

  • Eric: I was just thinking about you! I bought an English translation of Kawabata’s “The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa” this weekend. I actually have it in hand as I comment. Having made it through the introduction, I’m very excited. The last novel I read was so dismal I’m ready for something satisfying. July 10, 2017 at 6:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, you just changed my reading plans for the weekend, Eric. I need that novel.

      What was the last novel you read? July 11, 2017 at 11:42am Reply

  • Steve L.: I keep returning to Sarah Bakewell’s book; it’s so well done. I’m heartened to see someone mention the Neapolitan novels — far and away the finest fiction I’ve read in a very long time (which makes them my number one recommendation). Less substantially there are Ian Rankin’s ‘tartan noir’ Rebus titles. And I, too, have put The Hidden Life of Trees in my shopping basket.

    I sure would like to see your bookshelves. July 10, 2017 at 8:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: I will take some photos for my next book post. I don’t know if it’s a pretty sight, though, unless you see aesthetics in chaos. 🙂 We can’t bolt shelves to the walls in our apartment, so my bookshelves are more like book piles.

      I’m on the last Neapolitan novel. So good! July 11, 2017 at 11:44am Reply

  • Clair: An absolutely wonderful post, Victoria.Dear to my own predelictions, especially regarding the arts and sciences. I feel we are coming back to understanding the relationship that these two areas shared in the Renaissance. Also, it is so inspiring to read writers and readers book lists. I love this feature in NYT’s Sunday magazine, and I love reading reviews for inspiration. Thank you for your inspiration! July 10, 2017 at 10:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also love the Guardian’s book section for reviews and mentions of new releases. Or I go to my local Waterstones/Tropisme and get inspired this way. July 11, 2017 at 11:47am Reply

    • Karen A: Isn’t the By the Book in the NYT book section terrific? I frequently get my reading lists from the authors that are interviewed. It’s fun reading what they are reading and who they have been influenced by. July 12, 2017 at 6:25am Reply

  • rainboweyes: Have you ever considered starting a literary blog, Victoria? 😉
    Your book recommendation list are always full of treasures.
    Sarah Bakewells book was one of my reading highlights this spring, I’m so surprised how modern and deeply humane his thoughts and ideas were.
    I was hesitant about the Hidden Life of Trees but now I’m sure I will enjoy it. Especially since the Eifel is not far away from the place we live.
    My summer reading list includes Sapiens – A Short History of Humankind by Noah Yuval Harari (just finished it, actually; a highly recommendable book!), The Hidden Landscape by Richard Fortey (a journey into our geological past), Judas by Amos Oz and 4,3,2,1 by Paul Auster. July 11, 2017 at 1:05am Reply

    • Carla: This is the only blog I read – the everything blog for me! July 11, 2017 at 7:15am Reply

      • Eudora: This is the only blog I read and re-read. Time went when my husband “teased me”…again reading that perfume blog?….but now he knows this is not only a great perfume blog. It is much more: “At its heart is our fascination with scents, but Bois de Jasmin covers everything that makes life richer and more interesting” (Victoria dixit).
        Thanks! July 11, 2017 at 10:16am Reply

        • Victoria: 🙂 Thank you for all these warm comments. I have varied interests, and I want to continue growing as a writer, so I set new challenges for myself. July 11, 2017 at 11:58am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you! July 11, 2017 at 11:55am Reply

    • Victoria: I prefer to keep it all in one place, especially since I have no time to maintain more than one platform. Even a sporadically updated blog is a massive investment of time.

      Yuval Harari’s book is very good. I contemplated adding it onto my list, but in the end, I decided to keep it for another post.

      Wohlleben started out as a conventional forester, and he talks about the way his views changed over time and how the forest taught him. We look at nature in the same economic terms as at everything else, with sad outcomes. His book is a discovery. July 11, 2017 at 11:51am Reply

  • spe: Probably my next book will be Milosz: A Biography.

    It’s always interesting to see what others find compelling to read. July 11, 2017 at 9:24am Reply

    • Victoria: I just started it, and yes, it’s promising to be excellent. July 11, 2017 at 11:54am Reply

      • Kate: Thank you for this tip; I’m just finishing ‘The Captive Mind’. One of the great anatomies of totalitarianism and how it deforms the soul. Still compelling and completely relevant. I must seek out this biography. July 11, 2017 at 7:41pm Reply

        • Victoria: Timothy Snyder mentions The Captive Mind in his book, On Tyranny, as an essential reading for the times. The biography is good so far in that it really gives you a sense of Miłosz’s times. July 12, 2017 at 10:18am Reply

          • spe: You know that excited anticipation of going to a bookstore and purchasing and reading a book? That’s what I’m feeling right now. Milosz biography, The Captive Mind, and On Tyranny. That’s my reading list for now. How great is that!?

            No, I have not yet moved to a Kindle. 🙂 July 12, 2017 at 11:52am Reply

            • Victoria: Fantastic! I love it. 🙂 July 17, 2017 at 1:19pm Reply

  • Bastet: Thanks for the great suggestions, Victoria. My summer reading list includes The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert and All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. July 11, 2017 at 12:04pm Reply

  • Aurora: Such a diverse list, thank you. I’m especially interested in Inheritance from Mother and thought immediately from your description that it would have been a perfect book for Ozu to film. I’m in the middle of my summer reading with a great British saga The Cazalet Chronicles (full of details about England before during and after the war) with engaging characters and I’ve reread Henry James The Wings of the Dove. July 11, 2017 at 1:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, wouldn’t it!
      I’ve reread James’s Daisy Miller this summer. His writing style is so baroque and yet he paints such vibrant, memorable, crisp images. July 12, 2017 at 10:12am Reply

  • maja: Hi Victoria, thanks for the wonderful recommendations. I am so curious about the secret life of trees and will put it on my reading list. I am also always distracted by other things outside my list so recently I picked up The Book of Fate by P. Saniee. I liked it very much.
    My other two readings in the last month included re-reading The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon and The Master and Margarita. My translation of the latter is impeccable this time.

    ps. About The Possessed (the original one) – so underrated in favour of other Dostoevsky’s masterpieces. I think it is the one that is the closest to what we are living today. July 11, 2017 at 2:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! Are you reading The Master and Margarita in Italian or Serbian?

      Agreed on Dostoevsky’s The Possessed. I read it this summer for the first time, and it felt just right. Eerily so. July 12, 2017 at 10:14am Reply

      • maja: In Serbian. I don’t know if it is just me or what but I think our translations are inferior these days when so many books are being translated and quickly, too. This one is just perfect. An old one. July 12, 2017 at 12:18pm Reply

        • Victoria: I noticed that too in Russian. Many translations are terrible. July 17, 2017 at 1:21pm Reply

  • Toni: Your summer reading list is great, especially since you categorized the selections. That is so helpful. I do appreciate nature, so I’m looking forward to “The Hidden Life of Trees.”

    I also just discovered that my neighbor is a reader. When I mentioned that I usually prefer non fiction, she offered me several historical novels. “Secrets of A Charmed Life” by Susan Meissner was one I found captivating and would recommend. July 11, 2017 at 10:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s wonderful to read with someone else, not even in the sense of reading the same books, but simply sharing and inspiring each other.

      Thank you for your recommendation. That’s why I love posting about books here. 🙂 July 12, 2017 at 10:20am Reply

  • Inma: Hello Victoria,

    Thank you for this beautiful article.

    I find “The hidden life of trees” very appealing for me at this moment.

    And I feel like reading one of Jhumpa Lahiri´s books. I read “Unaccostumed Earth” and I loved her sensitivity.

    Thank you! July 13, 2017 at 8:13am Reply

    • Victoria: I very much enjoy Lahiri’s writing, although I hope that she would give up Italian and start writing in English again. July 17, 2017 at 1:22pm Reply

  • Jack Sullivan: As a research scientist in plant science, the plant kingdom is a constant source of wonders to me – although they can’t speak or move the way us mere animals do, plants can indeed communicate and send parts of themselves away to improved the overall survival or their species. Also, they not only tolerate far more parasites than animals do (and without as many negative consequences, mind you), they collaborate with them to increase their fitness. And they can fully regenerate themselves, which no animal can under natural conditions. Now, who’s the height of evolution, I’m asking you?
    As for Montaigne, one of his quotes saw this formerly lonely teenager through many a heartbreak: “In my life, I never had a single sorrow that one hour of reading could not cure”. July 15, 2017 at 2:35am Reply

    • Nora Szekely: Interesting way to look at plants. I just visited a park where 200 year old trees live, I can only imagine what they think about humans 🙂
      Do you have any suggestions what to read about plants if one is not a scientist but simply interested in knowing more? July 17, 2017 at 10:46am Reply

      • Victoria: Richard Mabey’s The Cabaret of Plants is a fantastic book for anyone who’s interested in the flora around us. It’s well-written too. July 17, 2017 at 10:49am Reply

        • Victoria: Oh, and I hope Jack has other suggested for us, non-professionals. July 17, 2017 at 10:50am Reply

    • Victoria: One of my favorite philosophers, hands down. His writing can be so moving.

      Fascinating! Yes, one does wonder, who’s the height of evolution. Another book I like for its appreciation of the wonders of the plant kingdom is L’intelligence des fleurs by Maurice Maeterlinck. July 17, 2017 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Nora Szekely: The highlights of my summer reading list : (apart from rereading Agatha Christie crime stories and Sophie Kinsella’s chick lit for fun)

    1. The secret history by Donna Tartt – so far a spine-chilling novel about six university students who emerge too deeply in the ancient Greek culture with devastating consequences

    2. Birthday by Magda Szabo – a reread for me. Not sure if it’s translated to other language, it is a young adult book by a Hungarian author about a spoiled girl who finally learns the value of friendship and community

    3. Still Alice by Lisa Genova – the story of a middle-aged linguistics professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease

    4. Miss Pettigrew lives for a day by Winifred Watson – also a reread, a hilarious, feel good comedy about a shy governess accidentally hired by a night club singer and handles the situation surprisingly well

    I wish you all a nice summer holiday ! July 17, 2017 at 11:02am Reply

    • Victoria: I read The Door by Magda Szabo thanks to you, and it was such a memorable book. Iza’s Ballad is next for me.

      Thank you for your list, and especially for the short explanations. July 17, 2017 at 2:21pm Reply

  • SilverMoon: Victoria and all, have you seen this story on the BBC? It made me think of some of the beautiful books you have on your lists/posts.


    Apparently, reading can be seen as a dangerous activity. The level of prejudice and ignorance is sad too. July 22, 2017 at 3:41am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s just depressing that reading a book on the culture and art of Syria is enough to raise suspicions. And all the more reasons to expand one’s reading horizons. July 24, 2017 at 10:36am Reply

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