A shelf's worth of writers, from Ruth Ware to Linwood Barclay, reflect on the books that mean 'summer' to them
For me, nothing says summer like Paul Quarrington's Home Game. It's about baseball, after all! I read it in the summer of 1988, about five years after it was published, during a hot weekend at our cottage on Georgian Bay. I barely stirred from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. I fell in love (and laughter) with Nathanael Isbister, the failed and struggling professional baseball player who leads a motley crew of side-show circus performers in a high-stakes ball game against a religious cult known as the House of Jonah. (So, yeah, just your typical, garden-variety baseball novel.) High jinks and hilarity ensue, and you'll shed a few tears, too. What's not to love?
– Terry Fallis is a two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. His latest novel, One Brother Shy, was published in May.
It was the summer of 1981, we were staying with friends of my parents at their cottage, and as a shy and awkward 11-year-old I found myself at loose ends. And then I came across it: John Irving's The World According to Garp. Someone, or several someones, had read it so often that the cover was falling off, the pages were dog-eared and an unmistakable odour of lake clung to its pages. I remember my surprise when, contrary to nearly every book I'd read before, weird and awful and upsetting things happened to its characters. Garp made me think, and wonder and feel a bit afraid, but mostly it made me curious about the great, wide world that I first glimpsed in its pages – and what better place to contemplate the great, wide world than from the rocky shore of a Canadian lake?
– Jennifer Robson's latest novel, Goodnight from London, was published in May.
L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between is set during a long, hot summer in 1900. Thirteen-year-old Leo Colston has been invited to Brandham Hall in Norfolk and, as the temperature rises, he finds himself manipulated into carrying secret messages between wealthy socialite Marian and a local tenant farmer, Ted Burgess. The weather and the endlessly rising barometer are an essential part of the book … all the way to the inevitable storm that effectively destroys three lives. There are white flannels and cricket matches, swims in the local lake, fans and lemonade, summer suits (Leo is too poor to afford one) and hammocks. I cannot think of a novel that more exemplifies the beauty and the challenge of an Edwardian summer. Brilliantly filmed in 1971, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, it was the first great literature I ever read. "The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there." So runs the famous opening sentence and this is most certainly a novel to rediscover … a country whose brilliant sunlight ushers in the darkest shadows of despair.
– Anthony Horowitz is the author of the novels Trigger Mortis, Moriarty and The House of Silk. His new novel, Magpie Murders, was published this month.
Each summer, my extended family congregates at our cabin in the Interior of British Columbia. I love to read by the lake, but there are a lot of distractions: kids, dogs, beckoning gin and tonics … I need a book that will hold my attention. Two summers ago, I read Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson. Although it was the fourth book in her Jackson Brodie series, I was still rapt. Her characters are so engaging, her writing so sharp, so witty and yet, still so accessible. Last summer, I devoured books one and three. This year, I will read book two. Even in random order they are riveting. And nothing says summer like murder in the English countryside.
– Robyn Harding's latest novel, The Party, was published this month.
When I first read Alex Garland's The Beach, I was travelling on my own around Australia. Those were long sunny days in 1999 and the book was a bible for backpackers: It was everywhere, in every hostel lending library, stuffed in among swimwear in every backpack. The Beach is such a subtle, intelligent read and so suspenseful. Not only does it shine like summer to me, but it captures that search for the idyllic paradise, the tropical hideaway that can be perfect and secret, until it all starts to unravel.
– Roz Nay is the author of the novel Our Little Secret, which was published this month.
The books that mean summer to me are my favourite beach reads in recent years. The first is The Vacationers by Emma Straub, which is about an upper-middle-class family that goes to Majorca in Spain for the summer. It's a phenomenal story about a completely fantastical set of dysfunctional parents and their grown children. It's escapist, smart, funny, a real page-turner. The setting is a glorious, sun-soaked Spanish coastal island. I absolutely loved it. Another favourite, which also takes place in Europe in the summer, is Siracusa by Delia Ephron. This book is about two couples who go on vacation to Italy during the summer, and – oh my goodness! – all kinds of things go wrong. They have so much complicated history and it all comes out during this vacation. It's a fantastic, gripping story. These books mean summer to me because they're true escapist vacation reads – set overseas during sun-soaked European vacations. I absolutely loved them.
– Elin Hilderbrand is the author of almost 20 novels, including The Identicals, which was published this month.
The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: One of the stories in this brilliant, often overlooked collection, The Offshore Pirate, is perhaps my favourite short story ever. It's about a spoiled, young (and exceedingly chic) girl and takes place onboard a sultry, languorous yachting trip. The stories are the perfect length for reading as you luxuriate on a deck chair with an ice-cold cocktail before taking a nap.
– Kevin Kwan is the author of the novels Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, which was published in May.
By 1970, after years in the bush addicted to its labours and weathers, this boy was rife for summer fun. Still, I wrote by day, sorted mail in Vancouver for income; then revelled the hippie-heyday night away. Various mind-blowing experiences were prevalent; mine included reading an unknown writer, Leonard Gardner. Now a classic, Fat City arrived as pure California heat, a novel that perspires with humidity, swelters in the onion-topping fields, drips sweat in the boxing gym. The compass needle of my work veered off the true north of its habit. Homage paid to lives forsaken, largely by themselves, lingers still.
– John Farrow is the pen name of Trevor Ferguson. His latest novel, Perish the Day, was published in May.
The book that means summer to me is, perhaps weirdly, Clockers, by Richard Price. I read it years ago while on a camping trip. It's about a homicide detective and a drug dealer named Strike. The novel is a murder mystery and a vital portrait of street life and an indictment of the opportunity structures available to poor people. Clockers made me a terrible camping companion. I wouldn't do anything until I'd finished it. I just moved from camping chair to sleeping bag and back again, completely immersed in the world Price captured. It's still one of my favourite books.
– Susan Juby is the author of several novels for adults and young readers including The Fashion Committee, which was published in May.
My mother first gave me Elizabeth von Arnim's The Enchanted April as a holiday read, and ever since then, it's summed up vacation for me. It's not only a book about a holiday, it's a book about the importance of holiday, the way a really good one can change not just your life, but you as a person. Four very disparate women with different reasons for wanting to escape their lives agree to leave everything behind, and rent a small medieval castle in Italy for one month in April. At first they are beset by squabbles over the best rooms and what to cook, but gradually the magic of the place begins to work on them. A simply perfect read for any holiday.
– Ruth Ware is the author of the novels In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game, which will be published in July.
Size matters when it comes to summer reads. I pick shorter novels the other three seasons, but when the waterside deck beckons, there's time for something with heft. The new John Irving, say, or all three books in Justin Cronin's vampire trilogy. Something you can get your teeth into, as it were. My first big summer read, which I tackled in my late teens in the 1970s while running my family's cottage resort in the Kawarthas, was Lawrence Sanders's The First Deadly Sin. New York cop Edward X. Delaney methodically tracks down a serial killer who's using a strange, unknown weapon to dispatch his victims in what remains one of the best police-procedural thrillers I've ever read. Ever since, any thick book that's just as deadly and sinful is a winner.
– Linwood Barclay's first novel for young readers, Chase, will be published in July.