Summer is vacation season for most people – a time to slow down, get away, and relax. Conventional wisdom has it that what is good for the body and soul is also good for the mind; accordingly, summer is often seen as a season to put aside heavy literary tomes in favour of so-called “beach reading”: thrillers, romances, and lighter fare.
Personally, I’ve never understood why people think their brains should shut down simply because the temperature rises. And it appears I’m not alone. According to a recent article in The Guardian, U.K. booksellers say that this year’s book buyers are looking for more challenging fare to occupy the dog days. This is partly due to the immediate sales success of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, though The Guardian points out that those more literary sales are somewhat offset by the popularity of this season’s other runaway title, E.L. James’s self-authored work of Fifty Shades of Grey fan fiction, Grey.
However, U.K. booksellers are suggesting that some other, less intuitive titles are also finding success at the cash register (whether this means buyers will follow through and actually read the books is another question). The Meursault Investigation, Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud’s reworking of Camus’s L’Etranger (somewhat more highbrow fan fiction than James’s), is a surprise hit according to one buyer for U.K. chain Waterstones. Other more literary authors who are experiencing healthy summer sales include Kazuo Ishiguro and Elena Ferrante.
Two Canadian authors are also named in The Guardian piece. Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven is a big seller at the independent bookstore One Tree Books in Petersfield, Hampshire, as is Emma Hooper’s picaresque debut Etta and Otto and Russell and James.
Here in Canada, recent bestseller lists from The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s both feature Lee and James, as well as somewhat more traditional summer fare from popular authors such as Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Judy Blume, and Daniel Silva. The Maclean’s list does, however, include Birdie, the debut novel from Tracey Lindberg, and Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, both of which tilt away from the easy-reading fare that summer is best known for.
Absent from any of these lists are Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May, the 880-page first volume of a projected 27-volume novel sequence, or Dancing in the Dark, the fourth volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s minutely detailed Proustian opus My Struggle. It appears there are some lines even adventurous summer readers are unwilling to cross.