Summer is the perfect time to completely lose yourself in fictional worlds, delve into the historical, or gain more knowledge about the current state of the world. Whilst it might be difficult mediating between academic reading, and reading for pleasure, easing yourself in is often the best way to navigate yourself in this refreshing time. Here are our six recommendations to get you started this August – we hope you enjoy!

1. The Secret Life of Bees (2001) by Sue Monk Kid [Famke]

' I found myself breezing through the pages and sympathising with each step of her journey'Famke Veenstra-Ashmore

With my first read of the summer, I was keen to stay away from anything intense or classical, and found myself settling on this renowned text about a girl running away from her abusive father and seeking refuge in a honeybee farm owned by a family of black women. Set in the rural American south, the book handles many serious themes such as racism, domestic abuse, and trauma in a considered and engaging way, partially facilitated by its child-narrator. Reading from Lily’s perspective also makes it an easy read; I found myself breezing through the pages and sympathising with each step of her journey, seeing myself in her immature mistakes and, contrastingly, feeling for the pain which she suffers and witnesses; it’s the perfect sympathetic summer ready.

2. Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) by Thomas Hardy [Emma]

In contrast, my first read of the holiday was a classic, and one that I love to return to in the summer months. Set in the idyllic countryside of Hardy’s Wessex, Far From the Madding Crowd portrays the life and relationships of Bathsheba Everdene, a fiercely independent woman who, following the death of her uncle, takes up her position as the farmer of the largest estate in the vicinity. Through her steely determination, she flourishes in this role and before long has amassed three suitors in what can only be called literature’s greatest love quadrangle. While Hardy’s descriptions of the rural landscape are admittedly lengthy, his prose is so sumptuous that I found myself fervently soaking up his every word.

“The novel has a wistfulness, a sense of what could have been, which I think suits summer perfectly.”

3. A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway [Famke]

I had recently watched Hemingway, a new documentary on the troubled and fascinating American writer. Inspired by its detail and coverage of Hemingway’s art and times, I picked up a copy of A Farewell to Arms (1929), previously buried in my (embarrassingly) extensive to-read pile. Succinct and with heart-breaking subtlety, the novel portrays the life of a soldier during the First World War, who abandons his life to escape with a nurse he falls in love with. Whilst inherently tragic, the book is a deeply enjoyable read, and reveals the internal strife of a soldier – coming from a group which we tend to view as homogenous – in a sympathetic and striking way. The novel has a wistfulness, a sense of what could have been, which I think suits summer perfectly.

4. Where the Crawdads Sing (2018) by Delia Owens [Emma]

If you’re looking for a book that will remind you of the joys of reading for pleasure, I highly recommend Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. Situated in a quiet fishing village on the coast of North Carolina, the plot alternates between two converging timelines: the first, a coming-of-age story that follows Kya Clark, a young girl who has learnt to survive in the marshes on the outskirts of town, after her mother leaves her alone with an abusive and often absent father; the second, a murder mystery that ensues after a popular young man from town is found dead. While, for me, the outcome of the story was not wholly unexpected, I still felt that this was a truly heartfelt read that kept me turning pages right until the last word.

5. Becoming (2020) by Michelle Obama [Famke]


Mountain View

Reading celebrity book recommendations

Becoming is a fascinating summer read. Its brilliance lies with its pure authenticity; Michelle Obama’s personality penetrates through the pages and underscores each word – her voice is tangible and inspiring. How often do we get to see ‘the other side’ of the White House, the domestic sphere, what’s behind closed doors? Without a single hint of sensationalism, the former First Lady gives her perspective on the Obama presidency, outlining what she hoped to achieve, alongside the inevitable doubts and frustrations that evolved from being in such an exposed and scrutinised position. Having read her husband’s literary works the year before, I found Michelle’s version of events extremely refreshing. Furthermore, learning about her roots, and truly recognising that her brilliance was evident decades before meeting Barack affirmed in me a certain female pride which I am sure that readers all over the world would have shared in.

6. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019) by Ocean Vuong [Emma]

During the summer holiday, I often find myself trying to catch up with all the books that I haven’t had time to read during term, and this summer is no exception. This book has taken me an embarrassingly long time to pick up, after sitting for months on my ever-increasing reading list, but I finally got around to starting it this week. Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a brutally honest exploration of what it means to be caught between two disparate worlds, tackling important questions of race, class, and masculinity. Written in the form of a letter to his illiterate mother, Little Dog’s voice radiates from every page, making it so easy for me to become transfixed by his story – one that mirrors Vuong’s life in many ways. This is such a truthful, poignant book that I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it already.