Notorious literary critic Danny Demompere once said that only people who normally don’t read take big fat books to the beach. I’m inclined to agree with him. Much as I like hefty books that take weeks to read, I believe they’re best saved for the long dark nights of winter, when I want to be huddled up by the radiator with a pot of tea within reach. In summer, when the days are long and the sunshine rules – well, one can hope – I prefer lighter reads. Lighter, it must be said, comes in many different forms. These are just three of the books I’ve read recently, on an actual beach.
- Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible
I’ve been a fan of Kingsolver’s work for a while now. It always strikes me how I tend to regret my choice when I start reading one of her books – language too flowery, not much of a plot – only to be sucked in once I’ve made my way past the first few chapters. This is supposed to be her magnum opus, the story of an American Baptist family moving to the Congo in 1960, only to be confronted with the effects of the country’s sudden independence.
I’d put off reading this book because I thought it would be a historical novel, a genre I don’t tend to be too fond of, but of course I was wrong. The story is both funny and sad, taking the concept of culture shock to a whole new level, and offers an impressive range of female voices. While the themes it covers could hardly be more complex – racism, death, and love, to name just a few – the novel did not feel “hard”. Yet I’m still thinking about it, over a week after I flipped the last page.
- Jilly Cooper – Mount!
I’d heard a lot of good stories about Cooper. Of course she’s not the kind of writer you’re supposed to like as a literary person. But I’d been told she writes books about happy rich people who have loads of sex, which is a concept I can certainly get on board with. This particular book is about happy rich people who have loads of sex and ride horses – not at the same time – and a lot of fun it was.
Sure, the plot is wacky, the characters overblown, the writing style bombastic. But if you’re looking for entertainment, Cooper is your woman. Every time the story appears to slow down, she introduces a sudden twist to keep you hooked. I am not particularly fond of horses and know next to nothing about the equine lifestyle, but reading Daily Mail articles about Ascot will never be the same.
- Laurell K. Hamilton – A Shiver of Light
Now here’s a book I desperately wanted to love. I’ve been dipping in and out of the series the book is part of – about elves and magical creatures wreaking havoc in contemporary LA – for years. This book reminded me while I love Hamilton, and while I have so much difficulty liking her books. The narrative universe she creates is mind-blowing, the characters are fascinating, the stories are deliciously dark. But there’s just too much sex.
You read that correctly. I don’t mind the occasional sex scene, as long as it’s a logical part of the plot, but Hamilton’s books don’t have much of a plot to begin with, and the tiny amount of plot they have is slowed down by endless accounts of its protagonist getting it on with a range of beautiful men. It’s just too much. It gets in the way of the story. I would love to read more about the politics of the magical world the characters live in, their individual stories, the reasons for them being so magnificently twisted. Instead we get more scenes about bonking elves. All in all this book left me disappointed. It’s not bad but it could be so much better.
Even if you do believe that summers should be spent reading difficult books you normally don’t have time for, think again. Use summer as an opportunity to shake up your reading habits, try out something you’re not sure you’ll like, and don’t worry too much about what constitutes a good book. And by all means, put whatever book you choose aside from time to time to enjoy the sunshine. It will be gone before you know it.
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