What I Read This Summer

What I Read This Summer.

Did you ever have to write an essay during your early school years on What I Did This Summer? I don’t recall ever having done so. Either my teachers were more imaginative than that or I have forgotten. Here’s what I set out to read over the past few months:

  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Jules Verne)
  • Middlemarch (George Eliot)
    • also, potentially, The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot) and
    • The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
  • The Spirit Ring (Lois McMaster Bujold)
  • Barrayar (Lois McMaster Bujold)
  • Dawn Wind (Rosemary Sutcliff)
  • Sun Horse, Moon Horse (ibid.)
  • The Silver Branch (ibid.)
  • Frontier Wolf (ibid.)
  • Flame-Coloured Taffeta (ibid.)
    • possibly also Song for a Dark Queen (ibid.) and
    • The Mark of the Horse Lord (ibid.)
  • Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
  • Under My Skin (Charles de Lint)
  • The Islands of Chaldea (Diana Wynne Jones)
  • Year of the Griffin (Diana Wynne Jones
    • Also, potentially, Dark Lord of Derkholm (ibid.),
    • Castle in the Air (ibid.), and
    • House of Many Ways (ibid.)
  • Carpe Jugulum (Terry Pratchett)
    • also, potentially, I Shall Wear Midnight (Terry Pratchett)

How did I do? I read just over half of the books I planned to, and well more than quadruple that number that I had not planned on. Not surprising, is it? Books do that – leap off the shelves at you and make you carry them home.

I enjoyed Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth quite a lot. The writing style is hugely different from what I have become accustomed to in these days of reading recently written books, and making the mental shift was a pleasant diversion. The science behind Verne’s story is amusing. He posits that the earth is not made of layers of molten rock, but [*SPOILER*] contains a vast underground ocean. I found this fascinating, as our protagonist’s uncle vehemently disputes the claims of the scientists who adhere to the former theory, all the more because both beliefs were considered viable in Verne’s day; he was on the cutting edge of science. It was further refreshing to read about a protagonist who isn’t a “manly man.” Axel is cautious and dubious about the whole expedition, but is carried away by his uncle’s enthusiasm and agrees to go because he is in love with Grauben, whom he cannot marry without his uncle’s permission and without some source of wealth, both of which he can obtain by accompanying his uncle on the journey. The language is descriptive and lends itself to the imagination.

I didn’t get to the George Eliot novels or to The Count of Monte Cristo. My excuse for the former is that they are long and probably depressing (Middlemarch features a heroine trapped in an unhappy marriage to a soulless shell, okay?) and that I was BUSY. I have no excuse for the latter. A friend loves The Count of Monte Cristo and I really do want to read this swashbuckling tale (okay, technically not swashbuckling; that would involve a whole different kind of sword); the only reason I can give is that I kept forgetting about it when I was at the library. Totally lame excuse.

Bujold’s The Spirit Ring was pretty neat, although not quite what I expected. Some nice dilemmas and plot twists. I particularly appreciated the different perspectives our two protagonists have on each other, which was one of the things that threw me; the synopsis suggested that Fiametta is the sole protagonist, but Thur’s perspective is, as far as I remember, the dominant lens for the second half of the story. The natural co-existence in this fantasy world of magic and faith, practicality and piety, is also worth noting. Erm, and Fiametta’s mother’s snake belt, well, who wouldn’t want one?  (I didn’t get around to Barrayar, though.)

I’ve written elsewhere about Rosemary Sutcliff’s (post)Roman Britain. I was disappointed by Flame-Coloured Taffeta, though. It promised so much – a wounded spy/smuggler and the two children who find him, set in 1750s England- and there were some alluringly tense scenes and moments of nobility; the ending was disappointing, though. Or maybe my annoyance at [*SPOILER*] the way Damaris has to stay behind while the menfolk (boyfolk?) see Bonnie Prince Charlie’s man to safety has tainted the rest of the story for me. I did like the details about the fox scenes, and the off-scene conflict between Peter and his father.

It turns out that I liked Jane Eyre infinitely more this time around than when I last read it, which was in the summer before grade twelve. Yep, it’s been a while. The manipulative, (borderline? or not-so-borderline) abusive behaviour of St. John Rivers stood out in particular. I found it difficult to separate actual events from Jane’s experience of them; I found it difficult to gain perspective on her adventures, since there are pretty much no breaks from the close first-person narrative (Bronte doesn’t let the reader know more than Jane does). I missed that detachment, as its absence made Jane’s character harder (for me) to determine, but this very closeness made her sufferings at the hands of her Reed relatives and later, her male Reed cousin (her female Reed cousins are wonderful, and I would have liked to see more of them) all the more real; Jane’s sensations of being caged is shared by the reader. I then had to read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Rhys’s striking, experimental anti-colonial prequel widens the horizons of Bronte’s world. Read it if you’ve read Jane Eyre.

Didn’t get to Under My Skin by Charles de Lint, nor to rereading the Terry Pratchett books. It’ll happen.

Diana Wynne Jones’s novels, on the other hand, are another story. There is more to appreciate with every rereading. I read the books listed that I had read before, and more, and loved them even more than I had prior. What I have not finished is The Islands of Chaldea. I read a chapter, loved, it, and put it away because I still want to linger over the last (so far) published story by Diana Wynne Jones.

On the plus side, there are still books by her that I do not own (quite a lot) and do not have memorized. So there is that to look forward to. Oh, and I did read more by Elizabeth Wein. Her Aksumite books (Arthurian Ethiopia, for the most part) are fascinating, full of twists and turns and political intrigue.

What about you? How has your summer reading gone?