A summer reading list

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C.S. Lewis once said ‘You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.’ This is a maxim which suits our Library team very well indeed; there never seems to be enough tea, and in spite of working in a library with over 150,000 books and printed items, we seem to race through good books all too quickly!

However, fear not! Should you also finish your books too quickly, and be in want of some recommended reading, the staff of Gladstone’s Library have banded together to bring you a suggested summer reading list. From Outlander to Greek mythology, we have quite the range – and hopefully something to suit everyone.

Are you reading something you think others might enjoy? Why not share it with us by tweeting @gladlib using the hashtag #Gladstonereads. 

Peter Francis, Warden

I am currently reading Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities - it is an attempt to define and defend liberalism in these Trumpian times, and is well worth a read. I have also enjoyed dipping into Tracy K. Smith selected poems – Eternity. And for summer relaxation I enjoyed Salley Vickers' The Librarian – just a very pleasant and surprisingly gripping tale of love, life and libraries in the 1950s.

I have also recently read and would urge you to read Alix Nathan’s wonderful historical novel The Warlow Experiment: a true story from the late 18th Century set in the Welsh Marches, and a slightly mad philosophical and scientific experiment that has devastating consequences – I was gripped.  

Note to readers: Both Salley Vickers and Alix Nathan are appearing at this year's Gladfest. You can find details of their talks here. 

Louisa Yates, Director of Collections and Research

I’m currently re-reading some of our Writer in Residence shortlist before the judging in August, as well as Outpost by Dan Richards (2019), which is a very amusing but also perceptive examination of isolated spaces and why we are drawn to them. I recently read Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie (1959), which I read every year when the weather gets really hot, the dust gets kicked up and I begin yearning to sit in a pond.

Next I’ll be reading One Fine Day by the unjustly almost-forgotten novelist Mollie Panter-Downes (1947), discovered in 2018’s heatwave and now something I’ll read every year, I think. The whole novel is one perfect summer’s day in 1946: Laura Marshall gently kicks the door shut on a house that needs cleaning, and goes to walk up a hill instead. A fine lesson for us all. 

Note to readers: You can find details of Dan’s Gladfest talk here. 

Gary Butler, Assistant Librarian

At the moment I’m reading Rumi - Selected Poems (Penguin Classics) in the amazing translation of Coleman Barks (best read slowly), and Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism Without Beliefs (Bloomsbury) -  and also have finally got to reading W.S. Graham's New Selected Poems (Faber).

I've also recently finished David Runciman's How Democracy Ends (Profile) - sobering thoughts, stylishly put - and Seamus Heaney's The Cure at Troy (Faber) which seems essential in these times. 

Dawn Ridding, Archivist

I’m reading The Fiery Cross, one of the Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon. Set against the background of American colonies and their fight for independence, it combines historical romance with adventure. I really liked the TV series, and thought I would give it a try!

Amy Sumner, Marketing Manager

I’ve been reading, at intervals, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905) and Outpost by Dan Richards (2019). I was given The House of Mirth as part of a compendium of Wharton works and this is the first of those that I’ve read. Over 100 years since its publication, its themes of society and what society tells us we should be unfortunately seem as pertinent as ever.

Dan Richards is a writer who’ll be speaking at Gladfest this year. The Guardian describes Outpost as ‘a book about the romantic, exploratory appeal of cabins and isolated stations, places far from the noisy world where people can find clarity and connect with nature.’ I’m certainly enjoying retreating away with it and Dan is a hugely entertaining speaker so I’m looking forward to hearing all about the journeys that went into writing it at the festival this year.

Sarah Wright, Graduate Work Experience

I’m currently reading Mythos by Stephen Fry – it’s a witty and concise retelling of the Greek myths. It contains all of the thrills, grandeur, and unabashed fun of the Greek myths, without losing any of their original wonder. Stephen Fry’s humour just adds an extra touch! 

Amy Cooper, Graduate Work Experience

I’ve just finished a mixture of books: Underland, by Robert MacFarlane; H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald; There is no Planet B, by Mike Berners-Lee; and Circe, by Madeline Miller.

Underland is a study of all things underground, from caving to myths to glaciers, and from the ways trees communicate – through underground fungal mycelial networks, a bit like the internet! – to the growing problem we have in disposing safely of nuclear waste, and how to communicate the danger to future civilisations. It’s definitely a book that requires a lot of brainpower, but fascinating. It was complimented nicely by There is no Planet B, which I would say is a must-read in today’s political and ecological situation. Immensely sobering, but with a glimmer of hope, it includes some useful tips on what can be done to work towards solving our climate situation.

H is for Hawk is different again – a memoir – and tells Macdonald's story of the year she spent training a northern goshawk in the wake of her father's death. The book explores relationships - Macdonald’s relationship with her father, and with her hawk, Mabel; but also her relationship with T.H. White (best known for his Arthurian novels, The Once and Future King), and his failed relationship with his own goshawk. It is an immensely personal book, and the amount of courage it must have taken MacDonald to write is staggering. I found it a gripping and very enjoyable read – in spite of my lack of knowledge about birds!

Circe is the only fantasy I’ve read in a long time, and it was – fantastic! A retelling of the events of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the sea-witch, Miller’s book challenges our perception of the gods, of women, and of autonomy – whilst giving us a heroine we respect and root for. 

Kit Johnson, Graduate Work Experience

I’m reading The Power by Naomi Alderman. The Power is a book within a book: a manuscript of an imagined history of a tumultuous era during which women across the world developed and shared the power to emit electricity from their hands. The manuscript is submitted by Neil Adam Armon to another author named Naomi, approximately five thousand years after the power emerges and revolution reassembles the world into a matriarchy. This historical fiction chronicles the experiences of Allie, Roxy, Margot, Jocelyn, and Tunde, as they navigate their rapidly changing world. 

Judith Rigby, Volunteer Gardener

I’ve just finished reading War in Val d’Orcia by Iris Origo which depicts the impact and turmoil of World War II on the daily life of the peasants in a small rural village in Italy through Origo’s diary. Because I grew up so close to the war, my impressions of the various sides and factions were given to me by older relatives who had lived through the war, and not through the more objective lens of history lessons. As a result, I had a very stereotyped view of the Italians during the war, and this book changed my perception entirely.

Elizabeth Fife-Faulkner, Digitisation Project Manager

I’m currently reading a book called The Vinegar Cupboard: Recipes and History of an Everyday Ingredient by Angela Clutton.

Working away from home I find I don’t have a lot of time to read for pleasure, so this book is interesting to pick up at the end of a long day. The focus is 100% on vinegar. There are some recipes, these show the flavours you can achieve with the use of different vinegars. It is well researched and informative on the history and use of vinegars from across the world.

I’ve enjoyed ploughing through cookbooks since I received my first one, The Bero Cookbook, as a young teen. Since then my collection has grown to a point where I have a self-imposed rule that I’m not allowed to buy any more cookbooks. This one slipped through as it was a birthday gift from a friend, for which I am very grateful.

Hopefully that list will help inspire some summer reading! We’d love to know what you’re currently reading – or if you’ve read any of the books we’re currently working through! Join the conversation by tweeting @gladlib using the hashtag #Gladstonereads

A Full and Comprehensive Gladstone’s Library Summer Reading List


Fiction (prose):

Alderman, Naomi, The Power (2016)

Gabaldon, Diana, The Fiery Cross (2001)

Lee, Laurie, Cider With Rosie (1959)

Miller, Madeline, Circe (2018)

Nathan, Alix, The Warlow Experiment (2019)

Panter-Downes, Mollie, One Fine Day (1947)

Vicker, Salley, The Librarian (2018)

Wharton, Edith, The House of Mirth (1905) 



Barks, Coleman, Selected Poems – Rumi (2004)

Graham, W. S., New Selected Poems (2018)

Smith, Tracy K., Eternity (2019) 



Batchelor, Stephen, Buddhism Without Beliefs (1997)

Berners-Lee, Mike, There is no Planet B (2019)

Clutton, Angela, The Vinegar Cupboard: Recipes and History of an Everyday Ingredient (2019)

Fry, Stephen, Mythos (2017)

Gopnik, Adam, A Thousand Small Sanities (2019)

MacDonald, Helen, H is for Hawk (2014)

MacFarlane, Robert, Underland (2019)

Origo, Iris, War in Val d’Orcia (2010)

Richards, Dan, Outpost (2019)

Runciman, David, How Democracy Ends (2018)


Compiled by Amy Cooper, Graduate Work Experience