Summer Reading Recommendations (For People Who Hate Summer)

At this point the summer reading recommendation post has become as hallowed a national tradition as other perennial summer activities, like telling your wife you put on sunscreen even when you didn't, or pretending to be interested in baseball. I thought I would mix mine up a bit, though, and write a reading recommendation list for people (like me) who don't like summer. Because let's be honest: summer is the worst season. Don't blame the messenger, it's just statistics.

What follows are a list of books I thought would make for exceptionally terrible beach reading (though, to be fair, every book makes for terrible beach reading because you constantly have to adjust yourself to hold the book up right, and sand is always getting in between the pages, and on top of everything else you have to be at the beach to do it, and the beach is like summer on steroids, so...). It's a melange of things I've read recently or not so recently, but they all come with a stamp of approval. So sit back, turn the A/C up as high as it will go, and grumble about kids getting off your lawn as you hunker down in the basement with one of these classics.

The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy

This book hits all the right notes for summer haters. First off, it's set not only in England (already a place inhospitable to the truly warm) but more specifically on Egdon Heath, a location that brims with ancient doom and gloom. People light so many bonfires in this book, you'll think the sun never comes out, blessedly. Plus Thomas Hardy has the perpetual feel of a crotchety old man, even though he wasn't even forty when this book was published. Everyone knows that crotchety old people are the mortal enemies of summer, so embrace this tale of doomed love, quixotic educational systems, and reddle (it's a type of natural red dye) and fight off even the cheeriest of summer days.

The Driver's Seat, by Muriel Spark

Nothing says summer like vacation to your favorite spots. For we ugly Americans, Europe has a special lure during the summer months, when we fancifully imagine we can dodge the awful heat and pick up some culture along the way. Lise, the protagonist of Muriel Spark's acidly funny dark comedy The Driver's Seat, opts for a different sort of tourism, one less conducive to the desires of the Italian Tourism Board (for starters), as well as the basic dictates of good taste. Lise goes shopping and generally dallies around as she waits for an expected companion, and the book rushes toward its disturbing climax, which will instill in you a firm desire to lock yourself in your room and let your passport expire.

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset

Summer is a time for light reads, for mindless page turners, and nothing says breezy reading like a 900 page trilogy about Medieval Norway! Undset's patient (some might say glacial) descriptions of the richness of medieval life are the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of summertime, and as a bonus the books contain one of the saddest parting scenes in all of literature. Choke back some tears so you don't blotch the sunscreen you aren't wearing and blanket up as you read through a tale as frostily refreshing as a slow slog through a Scandinavian blizzard.

Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney

Who doesn't have fond memories of visiting the family farm, making hay with Uncle Verner and milking the cows at four in the morning? Hopefully you, because that sounds like a terrible fate, and no amount of rah rah local foodie propaganda can outweigh the disheartening spectacle of stepping in every cow patty on the farm (Uncle Verner probably arranged them like that on purpose, the jerk). For those with mixed feelings about farm life, Seamus Heaney's first poetry collection will give voice to your ambiguity. Heaney's often touted as a poet close to the land, but he displays a real uncertainty in Death of a Naturalist about the supposedly idyllic countryside of Northern Ireland in which he grew up, and the legacies foisted upon him by his farming predecessors. Best enjoyed with the most artificial food you can find.

The Present Age, by Soren Kierkegaard

Ultimately summer is about forgetting your troubles, kicking back with a tasteless lager, and giving in to the relaxation all around you. This is a large part of why summer sucks. Swim against the tide by struggling against the inanity of your fellow humans, courtesy of that gloomy Dane Kierkegaard. This essay loses marks for not being as punishingly labyrinthine as most of his other works, nor quite as melancholy (both musts to set the anti-summer mood), but I'm picking this because of its relentless insistence on the crumbling of society, and what to do to stop it (go into hiding and lob truth bombs at people). This should give you the right supply of bile to stay angry at your neighbors as they shoot off fireworks at midnight a full three weeks after the Fourth of July. Plus it features an extended metaphor about ice skating, so it will fill you with hope that winter might, despite all evidence to the contrary, arrive one day soon and spare us the continued vagaries of summer.