Summer begins on Friday and there's something about the hottest part of the year, especially the Christmas holidays, that makes me want to settle down in air-conditioned comfort with a nice cup of tea and bury myself in a book and pretend it's not 40°C outside. The books I read in summertime usually seem to be set in the English countryside, where a "hot" day is no more than 25°C and the shade of a convenient tree and a glass of something sparkling brought to you on a lovely tray by your maid is all you need to keep cool. In other words, pure escapism!
Searching for some perfect summertime reading today, I stumbled on an amazing treasure trove, Dean Street Press, who mainly seem to republish lesser known, out-of-print books, including a series called Furrowed Middlebrow, reprinting titles by British female writers of the 20th century, 1910-1960. Check out some of these glorious covers!
I can't wait to work my way through these books (and the crime section too!). The Kindle editions are surprisingly inexpensive, which suits me, because I have no bookcase space left, and my poor ol' eyes prefer the Kindle nowadays (although I miss the physical presence of a book, especially that paperback smell!). While I contemplate which of these to read first (I think it might be The Lark by E. Nesbit) I've downloaded The English Festivals by Laurence Whistler. It appealed to me because I love the parts in the Candleford books where Flora Thompson remembers the festivals throughout the year, where the cottages are decorated with boughs and flowers and the villagers get dressed up for the day. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be a 19th century farm labourer, but through the nostalgic lens of Flora Thompson (and Laurie Lee) I can dream of the simple life of hay and hedgerows.
The Furrowed Middlebrow series is published in collaboration with the author of this amazing blog. There are so many writers to discover and so much beautiful book jacket design to admire! Through the Middlebrow Syllabus I've already been inspired to download E. M. Delafield's Collected Works (it seems somehow indecent that so much should cost so little!) so I could read the very dry and witty Provincial Lady series, and Elizabeth von Arnim's Collected Works (again, so crazy cheap!) purely on the strength of having watched the film Enchanted April about a squillion times. So much to read - suddenly summer's looking too short!
Do you have any recommendations for me? I have some for you! A few of my favourites from summers past are... E. F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia series, which are hilariously scathing satire in a pretty English village setting (the best of both worlds!). These books are so funny and entertaining, I can't recommend them enough. E. F. Benson also wrote really great ghost stories if you're that way inclined (I am!). If you want to get lost in a between-the-wars English country house, you can't go past Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate (and The Pursuit of Love), which is funny and sad and everything in between. And speaking of sad, one of my very favourite books of all-time is The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley, which is so beautiful, heart-breaking and evocative (the 1971 film is also really good). Not so much of an escape weather-wise though, since it's set in a very hot summer at the turn of the 20th century.
And that's my summertime reading sorted. You'll find me in my hammock under the wisteria.