Summer has arrived and with it my annual project of picking an author and reading all her books. This year, I’ve chosen Imogen Edwards Jones’ Babylon series and Amanda Cross/Carolyn Gold Heilbrun’ Kate Fansler mystery novels.
In the past, with various degrees of academic pursuits, I’ve spent my summers reading Kathy Reichs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (mostly his Sherlock Holmes and Challenger work), Emile Zola (never got to the end of it), Guy de Maupassant (it carried on into the school year), Molière, Agatha Christie, Freud and biographies of queen Victoria (the only time I picked a theme over a name).
Initially, reading all an author’s work had a purely school-related purpose: the books were on the curricular and getting a head start made sense. Reading Agatha Christie somewhat changed my motivation and set the theme for my summer projects ever since. After reading four of her mystery novels in a row, I discovered that her writing always followed the same structure and that I could pick the culprit quicker than Poirot or Marple, generally within the first two chapters. True, it somewhat defeats the purpose of a mystery novel, but the smugness more than makes up for it.
Ebay, Amazon, my local library, my local charity shops and Wikipedia are my best friends during the summer projects. The first four because I refuse to ruin myself in books (yes, I do feel slightly guilty for all the royalties authors won’t earn despite my enjoying their writing) and Wikipedia because reading books in the order in which they were written, rather than in the chronological of the series, is key to understanding how the writer’s style evolved, to pick up on slight inconsistencies (I’m looking at you, Sir Arthur and your John/James Watson) and to track character development.
Kathy Reichs was my 2011 summer project, motivated by my love of the TV series Bones. This year, Jo Nesbo was strong contender after seeing and reading Headhunters but I settled on Kate Fansler thanks to Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University, describing the series as a “murderous take on academic life [which] has provided me with a great deal of pleasure” in a New York Times “By the Book” interview. The Babylon series I’ve wanted to read since tasting Fashion Babylon five years ago. I don’t expect any surprise from the rest of the series: the recipe is tried and tested, an industry we’ve all used at some point surrounded by urban myths with anonymous insiders willing to spill the beans.
Both book lists display a quality key to the success of the summer projects: their flow of writing and page count ensure they are quick and light reads. This is not about writing quality. Zola and Molière were all good when I could pack up my books to a farmhouse in the French countryside, or when Fashion Carrousel and I could take turns reading aloud while ironing but right now, my summer projects are leaning more towards trash, entertainment and instant gratification. I need to know today that no matter the menswear shows, womenswear prep and other work-related projects, comes 21 September I will have read what I planned to read and it will have taken my mind off things and relaxed me the way holidays in the sun would. This is summer after all.
Picture: “Girl Reading Under an Oak Tree,” oil on canvas, 15 1/2 by 22 1/2 inches, 1879, Winslow Homer