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Reading List: Summer Classics for a Classic Summer


For many people a holiday is often the only decent chance that they’ll have in the year to invest some time in the pages of a book.  The rest of the year real life tends to get in the way or squeeze reading time into fifteen minute slots before sleep, but give us a week or two away, perhaps with a bit of time spent in transit, and we can actually get immersed in a story.  It therefore seems a shame to squander this annual opportunity on an airport novel or “this year’s summer must-read”, when there are so many contemporary classics appropriate for time spent on the sand, in a hammock, or on the warm rocks beside the ocean.  Here are a few titles that, if you haven’t read already, should probably be contenders for space in your carry-on this August.


For the Weekend Away

The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

Described as the best short story that Hemingway ever wrote, this fable of an old man’s battle with a giant fish won the famed author the Nobel Prize for Literature.  It’s a pocket-able paperback, and perfect if you’re not going away for very long.


For the Naturalist

The Log from the Sea of Cortez – John Steinbeck

In 1940, author John Steinbeck self-funded a 4000-mile scientific expedition into the Sea of Cortez to collect intertidal specimens with his best friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts.  This is a rare work of non-fiction co-authored by the pair that details their six-week adventure with the crew of the Western Flyer along the Mexican coast, collecting and cataloging scientific specimens and discussing the philosophical and ethical issues that went on to inform much of Steinbeck’s later work.


For the Literary Grazer

The Jungle Books – Rudyard Kipling

Kipling is a master of the short story, and The Jungle Books are perhaps his most famous collection.  If you’re venturing anywhere near the tropics then they’ll be relevant reading material and you can consume them in bite-size chunks.  Including both the Mowgli stories and other assorted animal tales, they are rich in narrative, often complex, and full of adventure.


For the Adventurer

The Ra Expeditions – Thor Heyerdahl

Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl’s 1969 and 1970 expeditions to test his theory that the Indian cultures of central and south America were influenced by ancient Egypt saw Heyerdahl and a crew of seven cross the Atlantic (twice) on papyrus reed boats.  His expeditions were the ultimate practical tests, and the Ra Expeditions a fascinating account of his adventures.


For the Gentleman Surfer

Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life – William Finnegan

Described by its publishers as “an old-school adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, a social history, a literary road movie, and an extraordinary exploration of the gradual mastering of an exacting, little understood art”, William Finnegan’s 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning memoirs walks the fine line of writing about surfing whilst remaining appealing to both surfers and non-surfers, incredibly well.  This should come as no surprise, as Finnegan has been a staff writer for the New Yorker for over a quarter of a century, and Barbarian Days looks back on his life as a surfer and how he has balanced that with his career as a political journalist and a desire to “be a useful citizen”.  

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