Whether we enjoy a book doesn’t just depend on the book itself but the time and place in which we read it. I packed a copy of The Secret History by Donna Tartt for a hiking holiday ten years ago, and whilst this may have been an error due to its weight, I loved it. Now, alongside murder and ancient history, I will always think of imposing mountains whenever I spy the spine on my shelf. Likewise, The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow will always be the audiobook that kept me company while I painted my flat, and The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith the novel I read late at night during a thunderstorm.
Similarly, there are books I now associate with particular seasons. Either because I read them at that time of year, or because something about them evokes warmer or colder months. Here are ten books from my shelves that I instinctively link with summertime.
The President’s Room is a wonderfully bizarre book by Argentinian author Ricardo Romero, translated from the Spanish by Charlotte Coombe. Set in a nameless town, every house has a secret room reserved for the President, on the off chance he wants to visit. The narrator, a young boy, wonders why these rooms exist, then why anything exists at all. It has hints of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, and Italo Calvino; reading it feels like wading through someone’s dream.
100 Queer Poems edited by Andrew McMillan and Mary Jean Chan is the first LGBTQ+ anthology from a UK trade publisher in 40 years. Split into poems about childhood and adolescence, nature, cities, and futures, it’s a fantastic collection of queer voices that will make your heart sing.
Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo is a book I read several years ago and still think about often. A folklore-inspired family drama about fertility, betrayal and self-worth, with clever imagery and anger-inducing relatives. Mrs Gaskell and Me by Nell Stevens is a book that defies genre. Part memoir, part creative nonfiction, this is a book about chasing both your heart and literature all around the world. Think Sally Rooney meets Xiaolu Guo. The crime novel The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka is perfect for fans of the TV series Mare of Easttown, plus it’s the first in a series, with four books already published, so if you love it as much as I do, there’s plenty more to lose yourself in.
What Willow Says by Lynn Buckle and Lanny by Max Porter are both experimental novels that play with nature. What Willow Says beautifully depicts the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter who live in a forest. The pair explore Deaf culture and sign language through the movement of trees. Lanny is a fable, told partly by a chorus, set in a commuter town where a young boy goes missing. He’s thought to have been stolen by a Green Man-type creature, and the locals take turns to blame each other, their disembodied voices floating across the page.
Severance by Ling Ma is unrelated to the new Apple TV series of the same name, though I’d recommend both. It’s an ambitious dystopian novel, a social satire about immigration, capitalism, and a virus that sweeps the world. It all feels very of-the-moment. By contrast, The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis is visceral historical fiction, so atmospheric you really feel as though you’re striding through London in 1763, where 19-year-old Anne Jaccob is seeking bloody revenge on a man who has wronged her.
Finally, This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik is a warm and wise novel about family and community. Bilal is having a midlife crisis. His mother recently passed away and her final wish was for him to build a mosque in their village near Birmingham, but when his neighbours hear about it all hell breaks loose. Malik moves seamlessly between laugh-out-loud and sob-into-your-breakfast moments. It is a delight.
Jen Campbell is a bestselling author and disability advocate. She has written ten books for children and adults, the latest of which is The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers. She also writes for TOAST Book Club.
Images courtesy of Jen Campbell.