Alexandra nailed it when she said that summer reading "isn’t the time to try to impress people - it’s the time to remember why you loved reading so much in the first place." That especially rings true for me this summer, because once school started I was so consumed by coursework and reading that I really didn't do enough reading for pleasure. The New Yorker was my escape from business case studies ("On a cold and windy morning, Kathy looked out her window and realized she had a working capital problem") and spreadsheets. I did manage to read Jonathan Bates's Ted Hughes biography, which is excellent, but that was about it. So this summer I made a point of assembling a list of books I've wanted to dive into for awhile.
Martin Eden by Jack London
Martin Eden isn't one of London's better-known novels, and I hadn't heard of it until it was recommended on a podcast I listened to. The summer seemed as a good a time as any to read about a man of the sea, and so far I'm really enjoying it. In short, Martin Eden, a poor and rough sailor, is introduced to a wealthy San Franciscan family and falls in love with the daughter. Despite the obvious challenges, he sets out to become a man of letters and have her fall in love with him in turn.
Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Summer booklists always seem to include a "bodice ripper" or some other scandalous romantic thriller. The number of contemporary novels about depressing love stories is, frankly, depressing, and so I reached farther back in time for something more interesting and came up with Madame Bovary. The book helped introduce Europe to the first-person narrative style that became emblematic of the Realist novel. I suspected the Virginia Woolf, whom I love, was inspired by Flaubert's ability to create an illustrative and thought-provoking commentary in a plot where nothing seems to happen. It's character-drive and can most certainly give 50 Shades a run for its money.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
I couldn't completely tear myself away from business school reading, and this one is a compromise between a dull management book and a crazy autobiography. Horowitz is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, and he brings to life the challenges that entrepreneurs face by using his own difficult, and at times shocking, experiences as examples. In the chest-pounding world of business school and the industries that surround it, Horowitz's book is a refreshing and honest exploration of the mistakes and decision-making that real people experience while striving and clawing for success and the chance to build something incredible.
A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
This one was both recommended by a friend and given to me by our mother. A peek into 20th-century British life and culture, it's said to evoke both Proust and The Great Gatsby. Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh were my first ambassadors to the trials and tribulations of upper-middle class Brits, and Powell's stories should further this exploration by focusing on mid-century England. While not as long as Infinite Jest, this isn't a quick read, and as ambitious as I would like to be with my summer list, I have a feeling that this one might the first title on the autumn one.