Summer Reads: Perfect Books & Secret Agents

A Selection of Summer Reads - Photo Philip Kennedy

This week on The Fox Is Black the writers are all suggesting summer reads. I’m sure you have an idea of the type of book we’re talking about. They’re those sorts of titles that make your summer great. They’re the page turners that leave a lasting impression on you and make the season so much better.

Perhaps for you a summer read is one of those buzzed-about titles, the ones that are ubiquitous on every beach and every tram ride. Each year there’s a new one from J.K. Rowling to Dan Brown, and from E.L. James to Stieg Larsson. They’re the popular titles that really take off during the warmer months and seem almost inescapable.

Maybe your perfect summer read is something different. Perhaps you prefer to come back to the same book each year and re-read it. It could be a classic novel or maybe it’s a little known title, but whatever it is there’s always something special about revisiting an old favorite. It’s odd because in a way the story never changes but as you change over time you often get to have a whole new perspective on a book and see it as a completely different tale.

I for one am never too picky when it comes to my summer reading. Often I’ll avoid re-reading book and just attempt to catch up on a classic or much-loved story that I haven’t read before. I’ve a fond recollection of that awkward adolescent thrill from reading Lolita as a young teenager and I gained a similar coming-of-age experience while discovering Houellebecq’s Atomised the following year. Last year, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex stretched perfectly over a long hot summer and I recall plenty of other years spent in the fine company of writers such as Fitzgerald, Vonnegut and Tolkien. Given the right circumstances, a summer break can be the perfect place to get lost with a well-regarded novelist.

That said, I personally think there’s a risk in turning to the classics during the warmer months. Unlike those summer book-lovers who see the sun as an excuse to read, I often get restless when the weather is good and need to keep my feet moving. For every fond recollection of a summer spent with a modern classic, I’ve had plenty of occasions where my bookmark hasn’t even touched chapter three. No disrespect to Heller, Joyce or Kerouac (I’m coming back to you guys, don’t worry), but my fickle sun-kissed mind is often a little slow then the sun comes out.

It’s for this reason that I so frequently seem to pick something a little lighter to read during the summer months. Magazines, music-biographies and short stories seem to take up the largest majority of my summer reading. I often turn to books by comedians, journalists and actors, the sorts of disposable writings your happy to leave behind once your holiday ends. Yet recently I’ve discovered something that I feel is just right for my travel-loving, mind-wandering self and that’s the writings of Ian Fleming.

James Bond 007 - Photo Philip Kennedy

For me Fleming’s Bond novels are the perfect summer read. While largely overshadowed by the movies, the books are certainty worthy of your time. Light, escapist and fantasy-fulfilling, these books should be the perfect accompaniment to anyone looking for a simple thrill during the summer months.

The popularity of Fleming in the 60s seems to have left him frequently overlooked as a writer, but the truth is he can really deliver a rea;ly good thriller. The world he creates is perfectly observed, filled with sensuous details and descriptive prose that makes for a book full of superficial pleasures. His vivid accounts of exotic locations would put Monocle to shame and his love for alcohol, cigarettes and womanizing makes Mad Men look practically modern.

The simple truth is that Fleming was the product of a Britain who had just won the war and today some of his observations seem as shocking as they are absurd. Every few pages delivers some form of mild misogyny, racism or plain naïvity and Fleming recounts it in terrific po-faced fashion. But like an episode of the aforementioned Mad Men, these dated elements frequently enhance the books and rarely distract from the thrill of the story. If anything they stand as a reminder to how well the suspense and adventure of the story has aged.

So, if you’re interested in a good summer read and want to avoid the hussle-bussle of a zeitgeist novel why not find an old bookshop and get yourself a cheap copy of a Fleming novel. After that all you’ll need to do is fix yourself a nice drink. So in the words of Fleming’s Bond you’ll need “three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel.” Got that? Good! Then enjoy your summer!

Philip Kennedy

June 27, 2013 / By

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