And so, with a frantic denouement of suitcase shovelling and traffic hangovers, the academic year that was 2012-13 has hastily ceased to be. The next fortnight may have been strictly reserved for renewing acquaintances with the family fridge, but few Oxonians can repress that bookish itch for long. Whether basking in the sun, or pressing your nose against wet English windows, you will want a trusty paperback tucked in your back pocket – and preferably something that isn’t in the Gladstone Link. Here are a few of our choices for any summery circumstances:
Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises
Hemingway meets interrailing. Young folks have been tearing up the noble cities of Europe in pursuit of The Great Hedonistic Summer for aeons; and if you are planning to party your way through the continent in the coming weeks, you will be glad to know that you are in fine literary company (see also Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night). Hemingway’s first novel pithily follows the Lost Generation from Paris to Pamplona to San Sebastian, with just the right mix of cocktails, culture, and existential tourist guilt (largely about the alcohol trumping the appreciation) to appeal to your average Oxford interrailer.
P. G. Wodehouse – Summer Lightning
Of course, you may just be pottering around at home for a while; and in the (quite likely) event that your domestic life lacks the thrills of a pig-theft mystery, conniving servants or affairs with chorus girls, you can always dip into the splendidly silly world of Blandings Castle. Lord Emsworth’s farcical family and friends make great company on a rainy Thursday morning – if Wodehouse’s playfulness can’t cheer you up, nothing will – and Jeremy Kyle re-runs have nothing on Uncle Galahad’s tale of Sir Gregory Parlsoe-Parsloe and the prawns.
Raymond Carver – Cathedral
Alternatively, give in to the navel-gazing ennui of the endless empty afternoons, and get Raymond Carver to show you just how petrifyingly inane a day in the life can be. With an acute minimalism that cuts right to the core, Carver’s short stories trace their protagonists through their dead-end jobs, loveless relationships, alcohol problems and stilted conversations with the sort of nihilist coldness that makes Hemingway look like a travelling Punch and Judy showman. Consequently, the occasional touch of human warmth makes for a worthwhile emotional pay-off – and might put the various dolours of sofa-lounging into perspective.
Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse
Family holidays are never smooth affairs, and the Ramsay clan’s trip to their summer cottage is no exception. The presence of eight children and a number of guests is perhaps slightly atypical, but bickering about making a group trip, worrying about whether the dinner is any good, and messing around in the garden and on the beach are all part of the family holiday experience. The editors can only hope that your favourite vacation is never retold with all the Freudian framework, and the nasty bits about the ravishing destruction of time and war.
W. E. Bowman – The Ascent of the Rum Doodle
One of the classics in the (as yet underappreciated) mountaineering-burlesque genre – and a must-read for anyone setting out on any kind of outward bound holiday. Bowman’s book is a blatant parody of the high seriousness of the major expedition chronicles of the early twentieth century, and brilliantly undercuts the boisterous bravado of the great British orienteers. This is the Catch-22 of adventure writing, and the tale of the crew – “Humphrey Jungle, radio expert and route-finder”, “Ridley Prone, doctor”, and so on – is certain to amuse.