Summer Reading Projects

A “Project Book” is one that is long, challenging or simply a famous one that we have always wanted to read, but never got round to. During the academic term, or while we are working, it can be difficult to find time or muster the energy to read these heavy books, but the summer holiday gives us the perfect opportunity to take on these monsters. Reading is both intellectual and relaxing, but having a project or goal can also give us focus and direction when faced with an expanse of time with nothing to do, making these books ideal for the preservation of good mental health. Whether you are spending the day in bed, in your garden, on the train or lying on a beach, these books will grip your attention, focus your mind and leave you feeling accomplished. (All page counts are approximate and will vary from edition to edition).

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 1847

Page count: 500

For the literarily inclined this is a novel that has most likely been on your “to read” list since the age of 16 and the summer is the perfect time to tick a book off the supposedly obligatory “must read before you die” list. While it is one that I, in particular, avoided like the plague for many years, it is in fact a heartfelt and beautifully written story of Jane’s development from youth to adulthood, as she faces the struggles of life, including difficult family members, love, class, sexuality and religion. Bronte’s novel was groundbreaking in its approach to the representation of the individual internal experience, its discussion of class and social issues and it is generally considered to be a work of proto-feminist literature.

Ulysses, James Joyce, 1922

Page count: 750

Ulysses, not for the faint of heart, is indeed a great challenge. A masterpiece of high Modernism, it is considered to be one of the most difficult works of literature in the English language. In it, Joyce explores the human experience, attempting to represent, in writing, how we genuinely experience and perceive the world. The novel follows the protagonist Leopold Bloom on his journeys and experiences around Dublin on the 16th June, 1904. While this mountain of a novel is daunting, even just attempting the task is an adventure in itself and will leave you feeling worthy, accomplished and will make those around you think you are ever-so-serious-and-intelligent. While at first it may scare you, or even just seem like pure gobbledegook, perseverance and tenderness brings out the true genius, humour and exhilaration enclosed in this text.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, 2009

Page count: 670

 Wolf Hall was the Man Booker Prize sensation of 2009. Mantel sensitively and impressively builds a biography and character-study of the usually-maligned Thomas Cromwell – a key figure at the court of Henry VIII – and makes him into the sympathetic protagonist. While it is technically historical fiction, as it fabricates/extrapolates dialogue and feelings and deliberately puts the reader on the side of the protagonist, its historical accuracy has been highly praised, making it perfect for the historical reader.

Mademoiselle de Maupin, Theophile Gautier, 1835

Page count: 400

A lesser-known novel, but with a highly influential Preface, Gautier’s novel is vastly underrated. Its Preface propounded his belief in “art for art’s sake,” influencing later generations of writers, artists and musicians. Few people flick past the Preface to the actual novel, however, which is a sexy, exciting and, sometimes, downright ridiculous (-ly funny) story of nineteenth century gender-bending, queer sexuality and ménages a trois. It follows the experiences of Chevalier d’Albert, a wealthy and bored Frenchman with sexual urges that nobody seems able to satisfy. However, when his lover, Rosette, brings back a mysterious and handsome young man, confusion, both sexual and intellectual, is let loose. Who is he? Is he even a “he”? Does it really matter?

Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994

Page count: 790

What’s better than an autobiography to read in the summer and to re-inspire you for Uni or work? And whose life is more fascinating and inspiring than Nelson Mandela’s? He was the central figure in the anti-apartheid movement and eventual President of South Africa. Having been in prison for 27 years, his release in 1990 was one of the most significant moments of the twentieth century. Four years later he was elected President in the country’s first fully representational democratic election. Mandela has made an indelible mark on the world, being known for his work to end apartheid, the resulting incredible life story and his equally incredible wisdom and compassion.

I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, 2013

Page count: 320

Another autobiography worth reading is that of Malala Yousafzai. Being an accomplished activist, assassination survivor, the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the most famous teenagers on the planet, Yousafzai has achieved more in her nineteen years than the vast majority of us can hope to in a lifetime. This is her bestselling and award-winning autobiography, co-written with Christina Lamb. She has campaigned for girls’ rights to education, particularly in her home of the Taliban-occupied Swat Valley in Pakistan, spoken at the UN and at the Canadian House of Commons.  It is the shortest book on this list, but it is well worth reading her inspiring story.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari, 2011

Page count: 520

For those with a more science-y edge, Sapiens may be a better fit. This was a #1 bestseller in 2011 and it tells the story of how humans came to be the most powerful, and destructive, species on earth, from our co-existence with Neanderthals to the present day. Harari tells the scientific history of our species with an authorial and philosophical edge.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, Jung Chang, 1991

Page count: 720

For the sinophiles out there, this is a must-read. Even if you are not a sinophile, it is worth taking a summer’s interest in the second richest country in the world, and this is a good place to start. Being a story that tracks three generations of Chinese women, from the warlord period to Chang’s own youth during the Cultural Revolution and Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, Chang presents the Western audience with an engaging history of China’s twentieth century. On publication it became a bestseller, went on to sell thirteen million copies and has since become a seminal work for anyone interested in China.