Light Reading for Hot Summer Days

 Air conditioners are for wusses, we used to think.

Now, alas, we need them.

It changed very fast – about 10 years ago in the U.S.  The temperatures are very hot now.  Day after day of 90-plus. Storms, wildfires. Yet it seems “normal” to everybody:  no one is driving less, no one connects the information about climate change with our actual life-style. In fact, Biden cut the price of gas to placate American drivers – and lost a chance to educate and ask Americans to make sacrifices.

Remember Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Meanshile , stay cool, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! 

And here’s a list of light fiction for hot days of summer.


1.  Try Anthony Burgess’s Enderby and Enderby Outside, the first two novels of the Enderby quartet.  Enderby, a dyspeptic English poet, is happily writing poetry in the lavatory, writing on toilet paper, and storing pencils in the TP roll, until an arts maven, Vesta Bainbridge, seduces him away from his lavatory and dominates him. In  the second novel, Enderby Outside,  Enderby has been cured by a psychiatrist of writing poetry, but when a pop star, Yod Crewsley,  launches a book of poetry that turns out to be an unpublished tome of Enderby'(stolen by Vesta), Enderby goes berserk.

2.   The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter, by the Norwegian writer, J. S. Drangsholt, is a very funny academic novel. The narrator, Ingrid Winter, is a harried English professor whose students accuse her of “mindfucking” when she talks about Lacan;  a frazzled mother of three who is always the last mom to pick up her pre-schooler; and  so in love with her dream house that she commits funds they don’t have in a bidding war –and wins!   When the head of the department sends Ingrid to a meeting in Russia with two unlikable colleagues, the situation is hilarious.

3.   Doris Langley Moore’s A Game of Snakes and Ladders, first published in 1938, is an utterly charming novel about two women in a traveling theater company.

At the end of World War I, Lucy and Daisy become friends:   Lucy, a charming vicar’s daughter and talented actress, finds an acting  job for Daisy, a lower-class woman stranded in Australia after a bad marriage.  When the company arrives in Egypt, the social gap between the two widens: Daisy climbs the social ladder by having  an affair with the owner of the theater company, while Lucy falls down the social scale as she tries in vain to save money to return to London.  Lucy loses her money, her looks, and job after a long illness, but she is courageous.  You will love Lucy’s story–she never loses hope but is stranded for years–and you will  admire Moore’s graceful, dazzling prose.  

4.  Elaine Dundy’s witty novel, The Dud Avocado,was ublished in 1958 and has been reissued by Virago and NYRB Classics.The narrator, Sally Jay Gorce, an aspiring American actress in Paris, has thrown herself into the bohemian life. She has a middle-aged lover, Teddy, Alfredo Ourselli Visconti, so she feels that she has left behind the stuffy mores of women’s colleges. And she doesn’t consider herself a tourist until she runs into Larry, a handsome American actor she worked with in a stock company. This time around, Sally falls in love with him at first sight, but he is less impressed with her. She has dyed her hair pink and and happens to be wearing an evening gown in the morning (everything else is at the laundry). Larry lectures her on the perils of “going native” and then tells her about the the different types of tourists. Sally won’t admit she is one.

5.  Mariana Leky’s lovely novel, What You Can See from Here, translated from German by Tess Lewis, is another charming book.  This gem-like novel, set in a village in Germany, is narrated by Luisa, whom we first meet at the age of 10.  Picture a group of quirky Anne Tyler characters, only not in Baltimore. In the first chapter, Luisa’s grandmother, Selma, divulges her dream of an okapi the night before.  (The okapi belongs to the giraffe family and is known as the zebra giraffe.) 

6.  The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks. Pragmatic Jane Graham is respected at her public relations job. A sexual slip-up–an unplanned pregnancy–forces her to examine her life. In a bug-infested L-shaped room, she befriends some unconventional Londoners and makes peace with her disapproving father. (Two sequels published in the ‘70s, The Backward Shadow and Two is Lonely, relate Jane’s further adventures.)

7.  Bassett by Stella Gibbons.  In this delightful novel, two middle-aged women go into business together. Miss Hilda Baker, a Londoner who works in a pattern-cutting office, wants to invest her savings of 300 pounds.  She sees an ad in Town and Country that might offer what she wants:  Miss Padsoe, a spinster in a country town, needs a partner in the conversion of her house into a rooming house. Miss Baker cautiously visits Miss Padsoe, but doesn’t decide to invest until her boss fires her (he is downsizing).  And thus the adventures of Miss Baker and Miss Padsoe begin. 

8.  Charlotte Armstrong’s A Dram of Poison is at heart a gentle comedy of suspense. The hero, Mr. Gibson, a middle-aged bachelor who teaches poetry at an obscure college, marries Rosemary, who is 22 years younger, for altruistic reasons. Poor Rosemary is sick, hopeless, helpless, plain, destitute, and about to be evicted, because her late father, a cranky professor emeritus who spent his latter days writing angry letters to the editor, left her nothing.  And so  Mr. Gibson to the rescue!  they fall in love, but this is not a romantic comedy:  it is a comedy of suspense.  

9.  Elizabeth Goudge’s A City of Bells is a charming, once popular  novel of the 20th century.  Set in Torminster, a Cathedral town based on Wells in the UK, this well-written post-war novel is rich with comedy, descriptions of the city, and witty, believable dialogue.

 The hero of the novel, Jocelyn Irvin,  has been physically and psychologically damaged in the Boer War.  He has no vocation, so he goes to Torminster to stay with his grandfather, a canon of the cathedral. And while there he falls in love with Felicity, a charming, well-read actress who is visiting her aunt.  Due to the influence of Felicity and Grandfather, he opens a bookshop.  And there he finishes the manuscript of a poem by the former tenant;  he and Felicity produce it as a play in London.  When Jocelyn goes to London for rehearsals,  Grandfather runs the bookshop.

Goudge writes,

 Grandmother was outraged … That she should live to see her own husband on the wrong side of a counter was really the last straw in a married life strewn with straws.  “A Canon of the Cathedral serving in a shop,” she said indignantly to Jocelyn.  “I never heard of such a thing in my whole life.  What the Dean thinks I don’t know and don’t want to know.  And what your poor Grandfather, who has never, let me tell you, been able to subtract a penny from three-halfpence since the day he was born, gives in the way of change I’m sure I don’t know.”

  10.  The action of Grace Dane Mazur’s exquisite novel, The Garden Party, is set in a single day.  Two writers, Celia and Pindar Cohen, host a wedding rehearsal dinner in the garden for their son Adam, a professor poet, and his bride, Eliza Barlow.   

But the Cohens dread the party.  Celia is a literary critic and Pindar is researching a book about Babylonian cookery;  the Barlows are lawyers with whom they have nothing in common.  Celia would like to put the Barlows at a separate table.  She is still brooding over the seating chart and the menu as the guests arrive.

In the course of the day, there are many uncomfortable interactions.  The whimsicality of the Cohens’ garden does not appeal to their future in-laws, the Barlows.  And the bride and groom, Eliza and Adam, so dread the huge wedding that Eliza’s brother, Harry, a former seminarian, offers to officiate at a private ceremony to reduce the pressure of the big day.  An utterly brilliant novel, full of surprises, and slightly reminiscent of Virginia Wool!

3 thoughts on “Light Reading for Hot Summer Days”

  1. Thank you for all these. Yes it can be dangerous to be without air conditioning nowadays. It’s too hot — especially for the elderly or anyone at all disabled (heart, lung conditions &c)..

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