Rory Shares Her Favorite Summer Reads
There is possibly no greater pleasure than reading a good book while in a state of absolute relaxation. I look forward to my own summer break in August – papers are still being written, as are articles for this beloved Attic of ours, and my first conference is just behind me. In less than a month, I will get on a plane and I will leave Switzerland for my home-country, Italy. There, I will embark on a week long seaside holiday. Naturally, all is planned, including the list of books I am bringing with me. In this list, in fact, there will not only be my go-to summer staples (from summers past) but also the books I plan to read. For some of them, I will explain why I have come to love them; for others, I will share my hopes for future love.
I hope you’ll enjoy – and, I hope I will too!
A New Model, Ashley Graham
This is a book I have been looking forward to reading since I first learnt of its existence. Ashley Graham is the model and it girl that is revolutionising the beauty and fashion business. On her Instagram account, Ashley shows her beauty and confidence in her body, inspiring every woman to do the same. This book is supposed to do just that, albeit in a different manner. It will show the struggle behind the glam, the work behind the kind of self-love that allows you not only to accept your body but to embrace it. Did I say that I really look forward to reading this?
Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
I am currently writing a paper on Wolf Hall (the first book of the Cromwell trilogy by Mantel) and, therefore, achieving a life-long dream of expounding on my love for Anne Boleyn (real and fictional). This, to me, is a perfect example of how a book can absolutely enthrall you even though you know the end. Even more than that, I find myself going: ‘you know what, maybe she won’t die this time, maybe all will be well’. The sense of being overwhelmed diminishes in this second installment, and in its wake are instead a sense of entrapment in the world (re)created by Mantel, like walls closing on you as they close around the newest victims of an orange tyrant and its flawed system (all references of facts and events are purely casual).
Grit, Angela Duckworth
I got this book last year as a gift for a friend that I was going to visit for the weekend, and I happened to read a couple of pages on the journey. After the weekend ended, the first thing I did was buy a copy for myself. Now, I know it must sound weird and absolutely inappropriate to include a book on success in a list of summer reading but hear me out: Angela Duckworth’s study is not only brilliant and insightful (they don’t give the MacArthur Fellowship Award to everyone, don’t they?), it is also presented in a way that, I find, releases much of the pressure we tend to put on ourselves. Success is not achieved by geniuses and prodigies – gifted people can achieve success of course, but being gifted is not what has made these people successful. It is all about passion and perseverance: a balance of pigheadedness and love. This is a read for those who want to approach the end of holidays with a new perspective.
Ayoade on Ayoade, Richard Ayoade
Just a couple of days ago, I watched Richard Ayoade being interviewed by Graham Norton about the release of Ayoade on Ayoade back in 2015. Having been a fan of his for quite some time, I was surprised that I’d missed that he’d written a book. (Mr Ayoade, if you happen to be reading this, I apologise from the bottom of my heart.) In this inspired work of art, Richard Ayoade interviews Richard Ayoade about… Richard Ayoade. This is the kind of book that will make you literally laugh out loud – I know the extract I read on the bus made me laugh and cry and hiccup all the way to my destination.
If We Were Villains, M.L. Rio
This book is a perfect summer read – the kind that completely takes you in only to then make you jump when you realise you’re actually, physically, not inside the book. I read Villains only a month ago, and I am sure I’ll read it again before the summer’s over. ‘Shakespeare, murder, and mayhem’ is how I would describe it without giving away the plot. There's more to it than that, though. The depths of human greatness and human baseness mingle in a world where the line between the two gets blurred, where you can’t help but wonder how can it be that the latter seem to be perpetually followed by the former. A veritable wheel of fortune – of events, emotions, destinies, but also, alliances, and even time-lines – that would have impressed even the Bard himself.
These Old Shades, Georgette Heyer
This is a book I fell in love with almost ten year ago. If you ask my friends, they’ll tell you I’m not the most romatically-inclined person around here, but this romance by Georgette Heyer gets me every time. A formidable English Duke at the court of Louis XVI and an heroine stripped of her own birthright but not of her spirit are the protagonist of this historical romance. Successful from the very first day of its publication, These Old Shades is not any less popular today. This is the kind of book you read, for example, when you feel the withdrawal symptoms from lack of a new Austen novel. Literally, I’d say it is not as important as Austen; that does not mean, however, that Heyer’s writing is less enjoyable nor that her heroes are any less swoon-worthy.
Jane Austen, The Secret Radical, Helena Kelly
This book has received a lot of attention lately, and I picked it up because, as Jane Austen’s anniversary approaches, I’m looking forward to immersing myself in Austen as much as I can. This study in particular has had very mixed reviews, but I look forward to reading it: the premise is based on the ‘subversive’ quality of Austen’s work, and it seems like something I can get on board with.
Still Star-Crossed, Melinda Taub
This is yet another book I haven’t red but am excited to. I am a ‘book first’ kind of person and with the TV series produced by Shonda Rhymes being ‘gif-ed’ all around the internet, this is the first time I find myself wondering at the wiseness of this mantra. I would not have guessed that a Romeo and Juliet sequel would make me this excited – while I appreciate the craft behind Romeo and Juliet, I am not a fan (see the ‘not so romantically-inclined’ bit under Heyer’s short review). Yet, here I am, craving my holiday as much as I am craving this book.
King Charles III, Mike Bartlett
I bought this book on a whim, the day before my first big conference started. I hoped it would be the kind of light read that hits the spot when you’ve overdosed on critical thinking, but I was surprised. Written the way Shakespeare might have written his Histories in the current day, Charles III imagines the first days of reign of Charles, the current Prince of Wales. Verse and prose mingle in the same way the ghost of HM Queen Elizabeth II and that of Diana intertwine in the narrative. As witty as it is bizarre, and as bizarre as it is well-crafted, this books is all I never knew I needed this summer.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
As my fellow Editor Lauren pointed out in her list, this is the 20th anniversary of J.K. Rowling’s first installment in the Harry Potter series, The Philosopher’s Stone. This a series that has shaped my life, as it has shaped the lives of so many around the world. For this reason, I couldn’t not include my favourite Harry Potter book. The thing that possibly makes The Prisoner of Azkaban the perfect book for me is the balance between darkness and light. This is the only book in which Voldemort does not appear in any shape or form, yet I feel this is the book that really establishes the impact and the extent of Voldemort’s malice. This magical world that at first seems to snugly fit Harry’s own narrative expands to include others. The sufferings of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black (both past and present) are in some way or another due to Voldemort’s actions: they are deprived of their loved ones, misunderstood, imprisoned. Voldemort moves away from his role of Harry’s personal antagonist to become a larger villain that threatens an entire world. This is a book that puts some distance from the narrative structure of the two previous books in order to move forward, while interrogating itself precisely on what it means to move forward.