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(Pat Wellenbach)
(Pat Wellenbach)

A Globe Books special

It's summer, not dumber Add to ...

Peter Stothard is editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

MICHAEL RUSE I read Dickens at Christmas, but in summer it is Anthony Trollope all the way. And of his many, many novels, my favourite is Barchester Towers. Set in the imaginary English county of Barsetshire, the story revolves around the clash between the Tory Anglican establishment, led by Archdeacon Grantly, son of the just-deceased, much-loved old bishop, and the newly appointed (by the Whigs) interloper, Bishop Proudie, his dominant wife and his greasy scheming assistant, the evangelical Rev. Obadiah Slope.

There are two battles, one over the appointment of the warden of an old men's home, the other for the hand of Mr. Harding's widowed daughter, Eleanor Bold. These battles are played out against wonderful descriptions of the cathedral, its town and the county, and with a terrific sense of the strengths and weaknesses of human nature.

For so many reasons, Barchester Towers is the perfect book for summer: a terrific story, intelligent without being ponderous, and incredibly funny. It is totally compulsive, like eating hot, boiled, salted peanuts. You want to get the barbecue cleared away, the dishes done and the kids in bed, and settle down for another hour in Trollope's world. Best of all, it is one of a series; there await you five more novels about the clerical doings in Barsetshire.

Michael Ruse pretends that he is altogether too busy and serious to read novels, and if he does it is purely for research into the 19th century and Charles Darwin.

MARK KINGWELL In the summer of 1991, having defended my PhD dissertation in the chairman's office one muggy day, I suddenly had mental freedom for the first time in years. I sat on the porch that summer drinking apple cider and reading all of Kingsley Amis's novels in chronological order. Not great literature, but hilarious and bracing. Most people know his first, Lucky Jim, and it may remain his best, especially if you are an academic untermensch just about to look for work. But follow-up satires such as That Uncertain Feeling, which I later learned had been made into a Peter Sellers comedy, Take a Girl Like You, One Fat Englishman,I Want It Now and Girl, 20 are all small comic masterpieces.

Difficulties with Girls, a sequel to Take a Girl Like You, was probably his last really good novel. Other later efforts - Jake's Thing, Ending Up, Stanley and the Women - have their pleasures but are too much given over to trademark Amis crankiness and reactionary venom. The Old Devils, for which he won the Booker, is frankly unpleasant, even if still funny.

My sober friends deprecate it, but I have reread these books, even the subpar ones, many times over the years. I always tell them that, for those hot lazy days, you can't beat a first-rate example of a second-rate writer, especially if he makes you spill your cider laughing.

Philosopher and cultural critic Mark Kingwell's most recent book is Opening Gambits: Essays on Art and Philosophy.

MARGARET CANNON Summer, for me, is lounging in a chair, gin and tonic at hand, and drowsing off into dreams of faraway places. That makes In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin, my perfect summer book. I've read it so many times my copy is in tatters.

In Patagonia has everything: marvellous characters, wonderful descriptions, exotic arcana (Dan Brown should be so good!), gauchos, red meat and a house at the ends of the Earth with china dogs on the mantel. In addition, Chatwin has a wonderfully intimate prose style. It's like being by the fire, listening to his voice.

When I read this book the first time, I dreamed of going to Patagonia, following in his footsteps. Now, I don't think I'll ever make the trip. I'm afraid it won't be as good as the book.

Margaret Cannon writes about crime fiction for The Globe and Mail.

FRASER SUTHERLAND As you sway in your backyard hammock, the lilting leaves of a Manitoba maple shading your transit and doing their best to imitate French impressionism, there can be only one book to read: Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Marcel's waking dream will be yours as both of you sink into a reverie of sun and shadow, time drifting into timelessness.

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