Posted 08.07.11 in Features
Hattie reads Simon Armitage
T. S. Eliot claimed that April is the cruellest month, but for me, it’s definitely May. Cruel, because my birthday is on the 3rd, and every year I am gifted with a huge pile of books with unbroken spines and that wonderful papery smell; but then I must endure at least a month of revision, exams and general hard work before I can even open them. That is why the summer is the greatest gift of the reading year, because I can finally push aside my schoolbooks and give myself a real literary treat.
After a long school year, there is nothing more indulgent than kicking back with the book of your choice and getting a little bit lost. I always like to read a few chunky novels over the summer; there is something immensely satisfying about finishing a book that could stop a bullet at ten paces; I recommend Middlemarch by George Eliot for this purpose (reading, I mean, not as a bulletproof vest). If you’re going on holiday, however, you probably don’t want to be paying extra because you’re carrying so many novels; my favourite suitcase novelist is Joanne Harris, who tells a great story in language that is so sensual and evocative it reads like poetry.
Poetry is the perfect summer read; you can drift in and out of it while dozing in the sunshine and working on your tan. There is some poetry that should only ever be read in the summer.
One of my favourite poetry volumes is Summer with Monika by Roger McGough, stolen from my mother and now unfortunately out of print, although the poems have been republished in his Collected Poems and many are also included in anthologies. It consists of 43 short poems playfully detailing the summer of one relationship; it’s fun and light-hearted and the words taste of sunlight.
Summer is a great time for returning to old favourites; a combination of the heat and being outside a lot often conjures up a powerful sense of nostalgia in me. When I go on holiday, there are some poetry books I refuse to leave without – one of them is Brian Patten’s Collected Love Poems, another is Interlunar by Margaret Atwood. Re-reading books you have loved is highly enjoyable, and having the time to read several back to back can mean you read them in a new light; I know plenty of people who re-read the Harry Potter series or the complete works of Jane Austen every summer.
But it’s not all about relaxing with a paperback by the pool. All that free time means I can finally tackle those reading projects I’ve been putting off all year. I’m fascinated by Greek and Roman literature, where a lot of English poetry finds its roots, and one summer I read The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Aeneid back to back, as well as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is often overlooked but my personal favourite as it’s witty and packed full of stories. Maybe this summer is the perfect opportunity to read Paradise Lost or all of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The thing that makes summer reading so great is the freedom to choose, to balance the heavy with the light, poetry with prose. I keep a reading log, and at the start of the summer I list in it my reading plans (I always set myself a challenge of reading 52 books in a year, and summer is where I make up the time I lost in May). But if I don’t finish it, or find other things I want to read, it doesn’t matter – in a way, that’s the whole point.
“Summer is the best time for reading because you can sit out in the sun with your books on park benches looking intellectual, if you like that sort of thing. This time around, I’ll probably be taking advantage of my A-level texts and reading through them, if exams haven’t ruined them for me. So that’ll be William Blake from this year, and Larkin and Dannie Abse from last year. I’m very much looking forward to getting properly stuck in to my copy of the Being Human anthology, which I’ve had lurking about in my house since April but haven’t had a chance to look at yet.
But what I’d most like to do this summer, in terms of fresh new reading material, is get my hands on an audiobook I’ve been eyeing up, which has recordings of various American greats reading their own poetry. Perhaps that’s not strictly reading, but I imagine (since Ginsberg’s on there) I can ‘read along’ with my copy of ‘Howl’. I’m also going to read some Keats and get the odd dose of rhyming poetry: I tend to lean towards free verse, but I like having some variety now and again.”
Lenni Sanders, 18, Studying for A-levels in Cheshire
|Over summer I’m planning to read Ruth Padel’s anthology 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, which contains 52 contemporary poems and short analyses of how each poem is written. I hope that reading it will teach me more about poetry, especially modern poetry, help me to understand the technical aspect of writing poetry in a way that I can use to make my own poems better, and introduce me to some new modern poets whose books I might enjoy. I’m also going to read The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn, which my brother gave me for my birthday.|
I really enjoyed her first novel, What Was Lost, but I haven’t had time to read this one yet because of revising for my A-levels. My family and I are going on holiday to Dorset during the summer holidays, and since I like to read books by writers who are connected with a place I’m staying in, I’m going to take The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardywith me.
Rosemary Collins, 18, studying for A-levels in Cheltenham
“Jo Shapcott’s Of Mutability is my current obsession, although I can’t buy it until after my exams have finished, for fear it will prove to be devastatingly effective procrastination. I’ll also be revisiting Caroline Bird, most probably Watering Can and Laura Dockrill’s, Mistakes in the Background. I want to buy some Seamus Heaney, probably a general anthology or District and Circle. I also recently browsed through a friend’s Norton Anthology, looking at my A-level poetry texts, so I think I’ll most likely reread some Tennyson over the summer, to remind myself. I keep a little personal anthology, jotting down poems that have been consistent favourites or new ones that I stumble across. I need to start a new one this summer so I’ll start it off with some solid choices. Keats will definitely go in there to begin with, a Shakespeare sonnet or soliloquy, some T. S. Eliot and Philip Larkin.”
Hattie Grunewald is currently studying English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she is secretary of the Creative Writing Society. She was a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2009, and winner of the Young Poets on the Underground competition, with her poem displayed on the London Underground. Her favourite poets are Brian Patten, Margaret Atwood and Sarah Kay.
What will you be reading this summer? Have you made a list or will you be selecting books as you go? Is there a particular book you would recommend?
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