As the days get warmer, there’s nothing I look forward to more than sitting outside and reading. Though not all of the books explored below are necessarily summer-themed, they each encapsulate the comforting aspects of the summer months. Given our limited ability to travel this summer, it’s particularly handy that many of these books have allowed me to mentally experience exciting locations over the years, from Greece to Egypt and even the Canadian countryside.
When I first read My Family and Other Animals at the age of twelve, I fell in love with Gerald Durrell’s eclectic childhood and the fascinating life he inhabited during his time spent in Greece. Inspired by his years in Corfu between 1935 and 1939, the book not only describes Corfu’s impressive natural wonders, but also the often hilarious dynamics of the Durrell family. Figures such as Durrell’s oldest brother Larry, most famous for having written The Alexandria Quartet, and sister Margo make the book considerably more remarkable and engaging than simply an analysis of Corfu’s animals and plants. Durrell’s adventures around the island with its various characters and pets in many ways encapsulate the simple joys of childhood, making this novel an endearing summer read.
Also incorporating themes of childhood, nature, and self-discovery, Anne of Green Gables is one of my favourite books to read outside. Anne is a character who truly appreciates the outdoors and creates short stories to accompany the places she visits or passes through on a regular basis, such as the ‘Lake of Shining Waters’. Though the first book of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s six-part series follows only the initial stages of Anne’s childhood in Avonlea, it sees her grow to a capable and loving adult. Anne’s arguably mundane adventures with her best friend Diana allow this book to prove an extremely comforting and rewarding read. Despite contending with broader themes of belonging, the novel’s beautiful setting of Prince Edward Island also makes it worth taking outside to read in the sun.
Much like Anne of Green Gables, My Brilliant Friend explores themes of female friendship alongside the fascinating setting of 1950s Naples. The novel tells the story of two girls navigating post-war Italian society. Whilst Elena and Lila both have relatively different backgrounds, their friendship flourishes from a young age, making this story incredibly insightful and heart-warming. The opening book within Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, My Brilliant Friend can also easily be read as a stand-alone story as it explores themes of childish innocence in the context of social instability.
A rather different tone is set by one of Agatha Christie’s best books, Death on the Nile combines my love of classic murder mysteries with the intriguing setting of a tourist boat travelling down the Nile. Death on the Nile is a Hercule Poirot novel and a great way to get into Christie’s characterisation of this famous fictional detective if you have not previously met him. Like Murder on the Orient Express, the book captures many of Christie’s central tropes: an isolated murder location and Poirot’s inevitable success as he unpicks the complexities of the case. Whilst Death on the Nile is a comforting summer read due to the sense of catharsis it provides after Poirot comes to a solution. The description of the heat of Egypt in the summer also effectively heightens the plot’s intensity and drama.
I hope that the books detailed above will act as inspiration for summer reading, whether it be outside or inside according to the whims of Britain’s notoriously tumultuous weather. All the books mentioned also have accompanying television or film adaptations, providing the opportunity to experience these immensely enjoyable summer stories on both the page and screen. Although summer books are hard to define, in general, plots revolving around notions of childhood and nature seem to have proven most enjoyable, perhaps alongside the occasional fast-paced detective mystery.
Illustration: Ruo Yu Ow