From my bookshelf to yours: A definitive summer reading guide | 9Lives
Reading Time: 5 min

Due to studying languages and then doing my Honours in English literature, I used to have no shortage of books that had to be read – in fact, I didn’t really have a choice as I soon learned that SparkNotes wouldn’t cut it anymore. Now that I have graduated and I have all the time in the world (read: after 17:00 on weekdays and an occasional Sunday) I’ve found that I’m significantly spoiled for choice. My to-read list on Goodreads is endless, but for some reason I can’t commit to anything for longer than two chapters. It should also be noted that buying books and reading books are two entirely different hobbies. 

While I do pay attention to some book reviews, I realised I need a short, concise list explaining to me exactly which mood to be in, the exact amount of time needed, and the desired emotional effect a specific book will have on me. As my Christmas break is drawing near, I thought, you know what, I’ll be my own hero, and hopefully set the example for book reviewers to come. So here is my summer reading guide for this holiday – may you find many a page turner here. 

When you want to read a little, but think a lot. 

Conversations with Friends and/or Normal People by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney’s two admittedly very Insta-famous novels aren’t long reads but they do pack a hefty punch. Where Conversations with Friends follows the romantic relationship between Frances and a significantly older married man, Normal People is as the title describes, a narrative about the trials and tribulations of the romantic relationship between high school friends Marianne and Connell. Both narratives are effortlessly written with no tumultuous highs and lows, however Rooney’s insightful descriptions and musings about the banality of life casts you into an existential dilemma you didn’t even know you asked for. 

While I may classify these as beach-friendly reads (no heavy hardbacks with big words here), it will follow your sunburnt thoughts all the way back home. 


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When you want to read the book before watching the film.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I read The Goldfinch while driving through the Northern Cape and Southern parts of Namibia. And while the landscape didn’t exactly match the setting of the novel which is predominantly set in New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, something about the quiet and destitute nature of the Namibian desert added to the melancholic feel of Tartt’s narrative. This is probably why it is one of my favourite books to date. The Goldfinch follows the coming-of-age story of Theo who lost his mother during a bombing at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. As he moves through a troubled childhood, many different homes, and an eventual addiction, he carries with him the portrait of the goldfinch, originally painted by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius. This portrait is what drives the narrative, but which also leads Theo to eventual redemption.

This was one of the biggest novels I approached this year (856 pages to be precise) yet I still had stamina for more after its ending. Tartt is a master at storytelling and evoking emotions you didn’t know were simmering. The film, however, is only worth watching after reading the novel. 


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When you want to solve a murder mystery, but already know who dunnit. 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

We can pretend that I didn’t add Donna Tartt to this list twice, but I like to give credit where credit is due. As a complete opposite to The Goldfinch, The Secret History spooks with intrigue and mystery. Told from the first person perspective of Richard, a freshman at a Liberal Arts college, the story revolves around his friendship with an eccentric group of friends, one of whom they will eventually end up murdering – the intrigue to the story is therefore not who did it, but why did they do it? 

While it is at times a convoluted mess of Greek history and folklore, the eventual a-ha! moment leaves you reeling and solidifies the notion that Tartt loves to have her readers hanging from a cliff, fingertips bleeding. 


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When you want to laugh until you cry.

Anything by David Sedaris

David Sedaris (hopefully) needs no introduction – his portrayal of his life events are written with stark, sometimes dark humour while also touching on subjects we have all dealt with at one point or another in our lives. His novels are short and punchy with each chapter touching on a different topic or event. I would suggest reading this after a more thoughtful read, as there’s a lighthearted quality to his portrayal of, especially, his family members and partners that’s hilarious while also very endearing. 

While his novels are technically written in the order of his life’s events, you don’t feel like missing out on anything if you skip a book or two. My favourites are Calypso and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. 


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When you want to get back to basics.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Confession time: my snobbish reluctance to read anything that’s literature and not Literature has prevented me from ever attempting to get into J.K. Rowling’s need-no-introduction magical series. After binging all of the films, however, I feel very excited to get into the books and really delve into the nitty gritty details of the wizarding world which the films (apparently) didn’t have time for – or so I have been told by everyone in the office including their extended families. 

If , like me, you haven’t felt the need to be in the know ( or you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years) then might I suggest a 2020 challenge: completing the entire Harry Potter series followed by an extensive debate on Pottermore about the moral outlook and character development of the Malfoy family. 


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When you want to read about reading.

The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan

After reading Sally Rooney and Anna Burns’ Milkman, novels both set in Ireland, I was intrigued by the prospect of novels set in different countries – countries I will only really afford to visit in my 50s but whose culture I’ve always been interested in. Luckily for me, Ann Morgan did the heavy lifting for me and wrote a book about her journey around the globe. Reading across many boundaries, the author compiled a book to talk about her experience with books. 

Her explanation of how stories are written the world over and how place, geographical, historical, and virtual, shapes the way we read and view the world inspired me to read more, and read more widely. 


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The girl with the sleek cut that can shop up a storm in a second-hand store. I love a good story, and I love it even more if it is told well. Don't like my blazer? Don't care. Looking to be impressed? You should see me fly a drone.

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