There’s no such thing as a “summer read”

It’s July, the academic year is over, it’s been solidly sunny for a good few weeks and I’ve already had to buy more sun cream – clearly summer is properly upon us. If you’re anything like me, summer always marks the beginning of a reading binge; when you can barely move without breaking into a sweat, what’s better than finding a shady spot and relaxing with a book? Summer also means that for once my reading choices aren’t dictated to me by the reading list for my course. As much as I enjoy the majority of what I read at university, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make my own reading choices once in a while. So from May to September, my bookshelves are my oyster and I delve into them with glee.

It’s for this reason that I get annoyed by the idea of “summer reads”, those light hearted, easy to read novels that every bookshop tells us we should be reading on the beach. It’s not that the books marketed this way are bad themselves, and I’m not implying people shouldn’t read happy books. With the current state of the world it’s probably a fantastic idea really. What I take I take issue with is the idea that this is the only kind of literature that should be read in the summer and whilst on holiday.

My holiday reading choices have a tendency to fall in the opposite direction to those suggested. As a teenager, on a family trip to Devon, the books I packed included both Othello and We Need to Talk About Kevin, so if nothing else came out of that holiday, it did make sure I was never, ever, going to consider having children. Both texts were amazing and their dark mood in no way dampened the delights (if we can call them that…) of Devon. But another of the books I read on that trip was Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, a bit off-piste from my other choices, and perhaps a more traditional holiday book. But it is this diversity, this ramshackle collection of genres, eras and forms, that I love about my summer reading. The sheer glut of books that can be enjoyed over the warmer months is what allows for this.

We live in a busy world and – tragically – not everyone is an English Lit student and thus required to spend their free time reading. But in the summer we have time, even if it be just for a week’s holiday, to read and many people still turn to books when they have that free space. By suggesting “summer reads” (and yes, I will keep putting that in derisive scare quotes) that have so narrow a focus, that don’t look beyond the mainstream and the safe, the literary world is failing us. The sun is shining and you can read what you like; serious or funny, poetry or prose, classics or the experimental – just make it interesting.

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