It’s summer again here in Victoria. And when I say “summer” I am, of course, defining that term not by the weather outside (windy, rainy, cold mixed with moments of pure sunshine) but by the state of my education: finished for another academic year! For me, this means April 6-September 2, 2013.
Summer in Victoria can mean many things. The cherry trees have been in blossom for nigh on two months already, but the geese are starting to make their return. Some people never stopped wearing shorts and sandals, but now many of those sandals are not lined with socks and are instead accessorizing those summer dresses that make most young men thankful for our mild climate. And of course, school children are venturing outside to play (and university students on my street are, annoyingly, venturing outside to party…).
Summer among my friends also means a chance to bury their noses in books. It seems contradictory to the freedom warm weather may bring, but for students reading for fun is a godsend. Many of my compatriots are, like me, history students, so reading for pleasure is something we cannot possibly do during the school year as we have so much reading for classes and projects. Ironically, many of us go right back to reading history, however the point is we are choosing to read it and don’t have to if we don’t want to. But we do…
My friends who are English students read all year and seem to have it easiest (from the distant, precocious tower us history students hide in) and have this strange affinity for old, difficult, avant-garde works, probably explaining why most regular people feel inadequate displaying their lists of Tom Clancy knock-offs and 50 Shades of whatever is the current sexual scribbles. English students keep on trucking with middle English poetry, Nobel-winning literature, and the types of books that have them gushing “you’ll understand why it’s the most important book once you read it” (the feeling that for some reason can never be put into words). They go back to their bookstores (once again, I am deeply sorry to have missed the UVic English Course Union’s used bookstore crawl) and their alcoves, picking up volumes upon volumes from their overflowing, ever-growing piles, and they continue to read as well.
Summer to the English student also brings a challenge: how many books can be read before school starts again. I use “English student” loosely because my friend Simone, who put forth this challenge last year, is in fact a writing student. Once again, Simone is challenging her friends to this (slightly modified) extreme goal:
Summer literary challenge: Read 15 books and write either 20 poems or 10,000 words of fiction. Additional stakes would be to submit 4 pieces a month to literary publications.
She is insane. I cannot imagine doing this much work in the four months that are supposed to be holidays! But, nonetheless, I do love a challenge… As I am not a writer, I am modifying it in this way:
Summer literary challenge: Read 15 books, write 15 non-book review blog posts and shoot 15 rolls of film. Additional stakes would be to mail 5 postcards a month.
This is quite a challenge for me. We all remember how quick I was out of the running last year (“Reading in Defeat” was one title of my ultimate failure). The 15 blog posts should be easy enough as I hope to blog about coop experiences once a week (13 weeks) and will continue to update both photos, postcards, and television reviews. The 15 rolls of film could be a challenge, but I hope to get creative this summer (and still have some money to spare for tuition in the fall) and the postcards should be easy enough what with my Postcrossing limit being 10 cards at a time.
The books? I am a slow reader, and a busy person… But I hope to be purposeful in my reading this summer, setting time aside specifically for that activity, and I’ve already gotten off to a good start. I would not be sad if I ended the summer with only 10 read, but I’m still gunning for 15. My list below will be updated as I finish my books, as will this Goodreads progress bar:
- The Sheriff of Yrnameer, Michael Rubens. Finished April 10. This is a really funny, engaging, Douglas Adams-esque sci-fi romp, a good way to start the summer.
- Vimy, Pierre Berton. Finished April 27. A classic of Canadian history, both social and military. Vimy is a very important read for any Canadian interested in the First World War or in the formation of the Canadian identity.
- Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Srrantonio. This collection of fictional and fantastical short stories is edited by two of the biggest names in the industry and it has a great cover! I’ll be reading some of these in between my other books.
- The Russia House, John le Carré. Le Carré is one of the biggest names in the spy thriller genre and while I’ve read lots of Ludlum and Clancy, I have never read one of his.
- Götz and Meyer, David Albahari. A novel, but one of a deeply important and troubling portion of history: the extermination of Jews in Serbia in 1942. Told from the perspective of a teacher generations removed as he explores his family’s past and that of Belgrade with his students, and discovers the story of the two men who carried out most of the killings.
- Long Way Down, Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman. Two actors go on an adventure around the world on motorbikes. Great HBO special that I hope is even better in book form.
- The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45, Stephen E. Ambrose. One of the most prominent and important American Second World War historians (Band of Brothers anyone?) tells the stories of a bunch of pilots flying over an almost-defeated but ever-dangerous Germany.
- Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian. This is the start of a massive series of books about Captain Aubrey, R.N. and his ship’s experiences through the Napoleonic Wars.
- Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, Samantha Power. My mom gave me this book when I was thinking of going into international relations/humanitarian aid work. I think I should finally get around to reading this inspiring and important biography. Maybe it will rekindle the flame of wanting to change the world.
- The Madness of Nero, Tacitus. Every history student reads Tacitus. Every history student worth their salt reads Tacitus for fun. This is me trying to match my English student friends for classic works, and I love the small Penguin format.
- Operation Napoleon, Arnaldur Indridason. An Icelandic author writing a story of intrigue and backroom politics both in the Second World War and at the turn of this century. “A lost plane. A buried secret. A lethal truth…” I couldn’t resist!
- Wind, Sand and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This book about the romance and emotion of flight, one of the most popular ever written about the subject, is one I put down a few years ago. I hope to revisit it and enjoy it more than I did before.
- Stormchasers: The Hurricane Hunters and Their Fateful Flight Into Hurricane Janet, David M. Toomey. This non-fiction look into the original storm chasers explores the sacrifices made by a specific flight in 1955. What was supposed to be a routine weather reconnaissance mission turned into their last flight into the eye of a hurricane…
- The Green Lantern: A Romance of Stalinist Russia, Jerome Charyn. I’m not huge on romances, but I need at least one good one on this list and Jerome Charyn is the accomplished writer who will make it an interesting one. His work about a prop manager who falls under the eye of Joseph Stalin is said to be a great framework for exploring Shakespeare and Stalinist culture.
- The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion, Douglas Brinkley. This look at the men who stormed Pointe du Hoc and the President who honoured them 40 years later seems a good way to transition back into my studies on history, especially since I was at Pointe du Hoc two years ago.
As you can see, I’ve made an effort to bring a broad variety of books to my list for this summer. I’ve got fiction and non-fiction, biographies, classics, romance, thrillers, memoirs, fantasy and the oh-so-real, European, Canadian, American, African, Caribbean, Russian and out of this world stories (and around the world stories), and many more. Of course you can’t take the history out of the historian, so most of these represent that interest as well.
Wish me luck!