The summer holidays are nearly at a close; I can’t quite believe it. It’s been a summer that should belong only to a distant, slightly hazy childhood memory, where every day was full of blue sky and shimmering sunshine, and all I remember is the sound of my feet splashing in the paddling pool and the tinny tinkle of the ice cream van. For it has actually been hot, consistently, in a way that British people can’t cope with and complain incessantly about, providing a good two months’ worth of excellent conversation starters when forced into occasions where awkward small talk is required. My flat, made largely of glass, has become a greenhouse and I the wilting plant, and hence I have spent most of these leisurely weeks camped out in the countryside. I’ve been off exploring Scottish castles in Dumfries and Galloway, pretending to be Elizabeth Bennet avoiding Mr Darcy in the Peak District (no handsome hunk rising out of the lake for me, sadly), and lying in my sister’s garden hammock with a view of corn-cropped fields in Kent. I’ve written a 15,000 word MA dissertation on Jane Eyre and radical Christianity, finished writing my second book for English teachers, on teaching nineteenth century literature (coming out in March, if anyone’s interested!) and also read a lot of books. It’s been a very literary summer.
It’s always at the end of the summer, when the lavishness of those early days of dazzlingly bright greenery and bright blue skies begins to edge into weary wiltedness, leaves crisping and curling at the edges, blackberries beginning to ripen, the waving stalks of yellow corn shorn into stubble and the streets of London full of grey dust and dead leaves, that I remember all the wonderful favourite summer books I should have spent those glorious weeks of leisure re-reading. Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge, The Go-Between by L.P.Hartley, A Month in the Country by J.L.Carr, Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim, Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf…I could go on and on. Instead, I’ve picked books at random from my shelves, and bought undemanding indulgent treats from second hand book shops, devouring them guiltily in one reading like a child with a box of chocolates.
I finally read Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford, which was a marvellous romp through her absurd childhood and fascinating first few years living in America, and an intriguing insight into the thinking of aristocratic socialists in the 1930s – apparently not an oxymoron, though they did all fail to see the irony in their leisured existences being down to inherited privilege and good connections! I read two adult novels by A A Milne, Four Days’ Wonder and Mr Pim Passes By, for the podcast Simon and I record, Tea or Books? (you can listen here if you haven’t done so before) – I really enjoyed the lighthearted, very inter-war tone and sense of humour – perfect summer reading! I found Coronation by Paul Gallico in a second hand bookshop while on holiday in the Peak District and absolutely loved this short but brilliantly told and characterised account of a family’s disastrous trip to London for Coronation day. I’ve also read a lot of murder mysteries, which I always seem to devour in the summer – it doesn’t seem seasonally appropriate somehow, but there you are! I picked up a lovely old copy of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, also while on holiday, and had great fun being reimmersed into the world of Poirot, but my real discovery has been Dorothy L Sayers, whose books I’ve been tearing through after starting to read Five Red Herrings in my holiday let in Scotland. I have to say, so far, I’m enjoying Sayers far more than Christie – she is a better writer, I think, and Peter Wimsey is a proper character who I actually care about rather than the rather cardboard Poirot. Having time to sit in bed in the morning and sneakily read a few chapters of a murder mystery while having a cup of tea is such an indulgence. I am savouring every moment until I am brought back down to earth with a very large bump next week and my days will once more be ordered by the ringing of bells.
So, I’ve now finished my MA degree – I can’t quite believe it – and as much as I loved the experience, I do feel that a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m no longer going to have to come home after work to a load of research or essay writing to do, and I won’t have to wait to read books I really want to read while I plough through a 900 page novel I’d rather not for my course. I have lots of reading plans and I also want to become a more regular blogger. Excitingly, I’m moving in a few weeks’ time to my very own flat – finally my own place that is actually mine and not a landlord’s – and some very nice built-in bookshelves have been made to fit my lounge so that finally all of my boxes of books in various storage facilities and family members’ houses can be reunited. I’ve forgotten what I even have, so there’s going to be a glorious reunion and many happy hours of rediscovery to come! I’m also hoping there’ll be some spare room to give me an excuse to go book shopping…