The Blagger's Guide To: Books to remind you of summer

Turn back the page to those lazy, hazy days of childhood

Saturday 10 August 2013 16:04

Remember when you were young and the holidays were always sunny and went on forever? You could lose yourself in a good book, which was always brilliant. Well, guess what? Those books still are amazing. And whatever happens to the weather this summer (probably everything all at once), they're worth re-reading, if only for the nostalgic value of remembering summers past.

It was always sunny on Kirrin Island, which is why Enid Blyton's "The Famous Five" needed to drink so much ginger beer. Expect your children to want to go camping and have adventures with pirates in coves if they get their hands on these books, from a more innocent age. In this kind of children's book it is also always sunny at boarding school, where Darrell Rivers is the games captain of the fifth form in Blyton's Malory Towers, and Cassandra Mortmain dreams of romance in Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. Tove Jansson's The Summer Book is a beautiful story of a grandmother and granddaughter from the land of the midnight sun. However, the best nostalgia for the childhood you never had, can be found in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons. The Blagger's favourite detail is that the Amazon's chief sailor Ruth Blackett has changed her name to Nancy because she has heard that pirates are "ruthless".

It may always be sunny in the classic works of children's literature, but don't forget that no good ever comes of a heatwave in adult literary fiction. In Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O'Farrell, which was presciently published this spring, it's 1976 (the last time we had a July as hot and dry as this one just gone) and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he's going round the corner to buy a newspaper, only to disappear. In Kate Clanchy's Meeting the English, also published this year, a 17-year-old Scot comes to stifling London and finds himself in the middle of a cauldron of family angst. Barry Hines's A Kestrel for a Knave and Marcel Pagnol's La Gloire de mon père both feature boys and birds, against rather different backdrops. But the classic beach-lit gone bad is Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene, a particularly dark take on a trip to the seaside from 1938. "Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him," is how it begins. For an intense journey around Brighton's Lanes and piers, this slim novel is worth taking on holiday – but perhaps not on honeymoon.

Speaking of books that could really spoil a lovely holiday, you might not want to take Alex Garland's The Beach to Thailand, Peter Benchley's Jaws (which was inspired by several real-life events) to Long Island, or Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock to Australia. However, if you must take a classic novel to Venice, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice will probably terrify you less than Daphne du Maurier's short story "Don't Look Now" from the collection Not After Midnight.

Do, however, take E M Forster's A Room With A View to Florence (especially if you don't have a view), and Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals to Corfu, especially if your family are. If you're going somewhere hot, it's always weird to read a convincing book about a really cold place, and Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, by Peter Hoeg, is perfect. Such is the power of a good book that you can read yourself cool.

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