I’ve always been that type of person who, no matter how many books they have already stuffed into their hand luggage, still insists on paying the airport’s book shop a visit to stock up on even more. However, this only results in a heavy rucksack and a pile of books that remain an untouched dream of leisure reading once I return to the world of Shakespeare and Milton (my degree).
But this summer, partly as an attempt to speed up my reading for university but also because I’ve missed having the time to read for pleasure, I devised a vague list of books that I was determined to finish before the summer was over. This list consisted of books I’d always wanted to read, ones I had tried reading before but gave up on and then some that just kind of found their way into my hands.
The Beach, by Alex Garland
I am slightly ashamed to say that I watched the film adaptation of this book before reading it, but I was nonetheless hooked by its enthralling and twisted plot. A young English backpacker ventures to South East Asia, searching for the wonders he has heard of from his traveler friends back at home. As an experienced traveller, he is looking for something a little more off the beaten track. He finds it in a dingy hostel room in Bangkok, in the form of a hand-drawn map by a strange Scotsman who mysteriously commits suicide the next day. He then embarks upon a wild journey seeking an idyllic, isolated beach on an unknown island in the Gulf of Thailand. But his journey is nowhere near as interesting as what he finds there…
Perfect for… when you need an exhilarating escape from your 9 to 5, or if you are indeed sitting on ‘The Beach’ at Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh. I read it whilst surfing in France, and I must admit that the set up at Star Surf Camps made me feel like I was in the book sometimes (minus the shark attack).
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom
I found this short book in a cupboard at the house I stayed in on the Greek island Lefkada, and the title immediately caught my eye. I had never heard of it before, but after finishing it I felt like I should go back to it every year, to remind myself of the precious lessons it teaches the reader. Check out my separate review of it here.
Perfect for… some light reading on the plane or train to your next destination. I started reading it on my last day on a Greek island and finished it the next day on the plane home.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
An autobiographical memoir of one woman’s journey from lost to found, this book follows author Cheryl Strayed hike over 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. Following the death of her mother, an addiction to cocaine and a long divorce, the heroine’s journey is as much about becoming a stronger woman as it is about returning to her old, childhood self. From the beautiful but harsh wilderness that takes her three months to trek through, to the gruesome details of bloody blisters, lost toenails and sweat-drenched shirts, everything about this book is very real.
Perfect for… reading by a campfire in the woods, or by torchlight in a warm tent. I read this book whilst on my camping road trip through North Devon and Cornwall.
Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
I first tried reading this book a few summers ago in Ibiza, but I got to the India section and all the meditation talk was just mumbo-jumbo to me, so I gave up. But, having looked into meditation techniques through mindfulness over the past year, I thought I’d give it another go. This time I literally devoured it, much like how Liz devours half of Rome’s spaghetti supply in the Italy section.
Similarly to Cheryl in Wild, Liz Gilbert has just gone through a pretty nasty divorce and decides to embark upon a journey of self-discovery across the globe. She indulges in the culinary pleasures of Italy, scrubs marble floors in an ashram in India and learns to love again with the help of an Indonesian medicine man in Bali. Even if you have already seen the film, the book reveals much more about Liz’s healing process and goes into fascinating detail about what she learns of meditation from her Indian guru.
Perfect for… when you’re feeling a little lost in life or need some inspiration to travel- I had to stop myself from booking a one-way flight to Bali when I finished reading it.
A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
Nicely wrapping up my rather unintended feminist reading spree this summer was Woolf’s famed extended essay about the rights of women as writers. I have been meaning to read this for a while, but it was all the more interesting to read after finishing two great works by modern women authors. It made me realise how far they have come, when not so long ago women weren’t even allowed into a university library without being accompanied by a male scholar. Woolf explores the relationship between women and fiction; women as characters in fiction and women as authors writing fiction whilst highlighting that, at her time of writing, women were the most written about subject in the library; and all the writers were men.
I managed to get through it surprisingly quickly (my speed-reading plan must have worked!), not only because it is fairly short but also because I found it gripping. But not in the same way as Alex Garland had me hooked onto the excitement and mystery of Richard’s journey to a secret island; I was hooked by the rapidly developing ideas of Woolf as she delves deeper into the history of women in fiction. It’s amazing how easily I can write and publish my thoughts and opinions today, when many gifted women suffered from stifled talent years ago.
Perfect for… when you’re in need of some inspiration to keep writing.