Summer reading recommendations from the Library: part one
We asked our Library team to give us their summer reading suggestions. In part one, Matt and Felix share their hot reads for the Long Vac.
This summer I recommend the novels of Elizabeth Bowen, an Irish writer who dipped in and out of the Bloomsbury group but went on to become someone entirely distinct. The books I’ve read of hers are set in hot weather around big empty houses. The Death of the Heart (1938) is one of these, a near-perfect, textured, intelligent novel about an orphaned teenage girl thrust upon two relatives in London who do not much want her there. She is innocent and kind-natured, but when she falls intensely in love with a rakish ad man the result gives the book its title.
Another scorcher is L P Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953), set in 1900 on a Norfolk estate where the temperature just climbs and climbs. The pre-Edwardian rich try to keep cool by taking tea in the shade and swimming in the river. The outsider narrator Leo is thirteen years old and too embarrassed to write home to his mother to get a change of clothes, so he swelters in his winter suit. It’s about schoolboy infatuation, manipulation, class, the invocation of magic (curses performed to get back at bullies), but principally memory – hence the famous opening line, ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’.
For summer, a book about reading: Emma Smith’s Portable Magic: a history of books and their readers (2022). Prof Smith's book is an entertaining guide to the roles that books have played in all our lives, from Julius Caesar’s invention of the codex to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, ‘in which that is being gobbled up is not so much the – to me in the 1970s, unspeakably exotic – pickle, watermelon, salami and cherry pie, but rather the book itself’. Unlike the caterpillar’s snacks, Portable Magic is easily digestible, with the chapters able to ‘be read in any order, depending on whether you think you are interested in Madame de Pompadour or the Gutenberg Bible, school library censorship or queer collage, diaspora or design’.
The Times Literary Supplement reviewed Isaac Rosenberg’s Poems in June 1922. The texts had recently been gathered together and published after the painter and poet’s death on the Western Front in 1918. A century on, it might repay revisiting over summer, not least as the possible overcooking of the First World War Centenary has faded away, but many of that age’s concerns are still with us. Introduced by Laurence Binyon, who championed the Rosenberg, the book’s poems take the English pastoral form and feeds it through the horrors of the war. The original book is now very rare, but you can easily find it digitised online.
And, if you can get hold of a copy, Wendy Red Star’s new book, Delegation (2022), combines a retrospective of the Apsáalooke/Crow artist’s photography with related essays, stories and poems, and is another example of what a book can be.