Summer is a time for taking it easy, spending time with the people you love, and recovering from the trauma of exam season. It’s also a time for catching up on the things you love. For all of the bibliophiles out there, here are our required reading picks for this summer.
One book that I recently read and loved was André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs, which was recommended to me by my chiropractor. The plot starts with two Gods, Apollo and Hermes, who make a wager on whether or not animals, if given human intelligence, die happily. They decide to play out their bet by granting human consciousness to fifteen dogs in Toronto. The story follows the lives of these dogs, examining their emotions, decisions, and thoughts as they navigate their new reality. The book is described as an apologue – an allegorical story meant to convey a moral or lesson. Released last year, it won both the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. The story was fairly short in length, but very engrossing.
Fates and Furies
Good summertime reads are often fluid, intense, and expertly crafted. If there is one book that embodies all of these qualities, it is Lauren Groff’s 2015 release and National Book Award finalist, Fates and Furies.
Lotto and Mathilde are young, daring, and complicated characters who fall deeply in love – fast. Fates and Furies is the story of Lotto’s rise and fall as an aspiring actor and playwright, with Mathilde standing fastidiously by his side at all times, doting on the genius of her husband. The first half of the book, told from Lotto’s point of view and entitled “Fates,” is intense, sensual, and moves at a rapid pace. Years pass, and Lotto and Mathilde weather their storm of a marriage.
The true power of the novel, however, lies in the second half, told from Mathilde’s perspective and entitled “Furies.” Suddenly, what appeared to be a rather wholesome marriage fraught with few cracks is split wide open, complicated by secrets and dramatic pasts. We are forced to question what is real and what is not, the nature of the personas we craft for ourselves, and whether or not an embodiment of such a personality is true.
Groff’s writing is elegant and intense; every scene she crafts is heavily laden with intent, and while at times she pushes the reader too forcefully towards a certain conclusion — especially when Groff writes with Mathilde as narrator — the novel is overall a seamless piece of art and well worth a read this summer.
The Travises Series
It’s undeniable that romance as a genre leans heavily on the prospect of marriage at the end of the story. This doesn’t mean that romance novels can’t be page turners, but it does mean that a reader has a basic expectation of a happy ending. It’s precisely because of this that romance is a perfect addition to anyone’s summer reading list, so here’s a recommendation that I myself have returned to again and again.
Lisa Kleypas is a prolific romance writer who has written several book series, but my personal favourite will always be the one with the simple name: The Travises. Comprised of four books — Sugar Daddy, Blue-Eyed Devil, Smooth Talking Stranger, and Brown-Eyed Girl — the novels follow the four siblings of a powerful Texan family in search of love.
Against the backdrop of larger-than-life Houston, Kleypas makes subtle efforts to explore complex issues, such as race and class, through charming characters that she deftly steers towards the finish line. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself letting out more than one contented sigh, or flipping back to the beginning immediately after finishing a book. In the end, the journey is the destination, or something like that.
Lovers of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and other rich people shenanigans are sure to appreciate this book. François Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse revolves around a character named Cécile, who attempts to thwart the newly announced wedding of her womanizing father. It might just be the shallowest book of the twentieth century, with the most unlikeable character I have ever encountered in my literary career, but there is something in its ambience that attracts me to it.
Toward the end of the novel, I found myself even relating to Cécile. She is a teenager who is full of solipsistic nonsense and is obsessed with her relationships with the people around her. She is always striving for an ideal love that is only available to those who exist in the universe of romantic comedies, which is why she finds herself doomed to fail. Cécile is the dissolute anti-hero that we can all relate to, even though the novel was written in 1954.
You’ll feel three things at once upon finishing this book: shame, because you identify with the shallowest character of the twentieth century; guilt, because you secretly want to watch all these rich characters meet their end; and unaccomplished, because François Sagan was only eighteen when she published this classic.
“Call me Ishmael” — the first words in Herman Melville’s 1851 adventure-epic Moby Dick are regarded by many as one of the most memorable opening lines in classic literature.
Told from the perspective of a young sailor known as Ishmael, this American Renaissance novel centres on the exploits of the whaling ship Pequod and its captain’s relentless quest to seek and destroy Moby Dick, the great white whale. Hot at its heels, captain Ahab and his crew are led on a daring chase through the great oceans of the world. But, all that glitters isn’t gold, and soon enough, Starbuck, the good-natured chief mate begins to question Ahab’s state of mind. Is the captain’s extreme infatuation with the whale the characteristic of an experienced killer, or rather the sign of a tormented soul, pushed to the brink of self-destruction?
The story of Moby Dick is culturally significant because it epitomizes what was largely missing from the industrial societies of the nineteenth century: meaning in life and respect for nature. Staying true to the writing style of the times, Melville develops a rich, comprehensive account of the whaling industry that brilliantly complements the extraordinary adventures of the Pequod. Truly, Melville’s genius lies in his ability of giving the story an intimate feel despite its grand scale. Emerging from a tumultuous period in history, Moby Dick triumphs as one of the great novels of its time.