The Books of August

As summer winds down and many of us are preparing for the busy fall ahead, we are looking for reading suggestions for these last weeks of August. (Of course, I am in the midst of The Clash of Kings so that should keep me busy until September.) Summer never seems to live up to the promise of endless reading time and beach vacations so we thought we could use a little help from someone who spends most of her days with books. We’ve asked Deanna McFadden, Associate Director, Digital Content for HarperCollins Canada, for her picks.
Summer reading has always been a kind of an enigma for me. For most, a tasty beach read will do — something light and frothy that’s meant to entertain and not necessarily be too taxing. But I tend to go in the opposite direction for summer reading. This year, I’ve got a stack of books about as high as my cottage to get through by the end of the summer, and I’ve been determined to do a lot of “off the shelf reading” — getting through those books that have been collecting dust for two, three, ten, years. So, here are five really terrific reads that I’d consider perfect for the waning days of the season:

The Award Winner
A Visit From the Good Squad
Jennifer Egan’s novel remains a rare thing in the book world – a novel completely and utterly deserving of all its accolades and praise. It won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction as well as the 2011 Pulitzer Prize (also for fiction, natch). It’s a multi-perspective novel that ¬†circles around two or three main characters who are each either directly or indirectly (as in they are publicists etc.) involved in the music business. Let me just warn you — there’s an entire chapter that’s almost speculative in its nature, containing charts and graphs written by a pre-teen girl, and it was utterly charming. This in itself speaks to the power of Egan’s prose. It’s a marvellous novel.

The Book That Will Change Your Life
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle might feel like an odd choice to read at the end of summer — but we’re reaping the rewards of farmer’s markets and backyard gardens at the moment. Who doesn’t love to bite into summer fresh corn this time of year? Barbara Kingsolver’s amazing book follows her family as they move from Arizona to their family farm halfway across the country and make a very honest, serious attempt to live off of the land. It’s an eye-opening account that makes you think from the first page until the last. Kingsolver keeps company with the other great food-as-life writers, Michael Pollan and Canadian Sarah Elton (, who have a talent for spinning non-fiction into incredibly entertaining and informative reads.

The Simply Great Novel
State of Wonder
I continually fool myself into thinking that I’ll read the classics in the summer. Currently, I’ve got two Dickens novels, a chunky Russian doorstopper, and James Joyce on the shelf by my bed at the cottage. I will probably not get to any of them. I did, however, devour Ann Patchett’s latest novel in one sitting (which is a feat considering I have a 10-month old son). She’s painstakingly writing back to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the resulting novel is both fascinating and frightening at the same time.

The Canadian Wunderkind
Light Lifting
Alexander MacLeod isn’t necessarily a “wunderkind” — he’s a grown man, but it can’t be easy publishing your first book of short stories as the son of the great Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod. Yet, Giller Prize shortlist aside, Light Lifting remains my favourite book of short stories that I’ve read so far this year. They are diverse, emotionally intelligent, and utterly captivating, and I dare you to find a dud amongst the bunch. Perfect for sitting on the dock as the sun sets just before the bugs come out, these stories will keep you up late into the night, and that’s not a bad thing.

The Classic
The Diviners
There can be no doubt that you will find a dog-eared copy of The Diviners in the local second-hand bookstore in your neighbourhood and/or cottage town. And with good reason, Margaret Laurence’s tour de force will break your heart in a thousand different ways, which is always how I judge the success or failure of a piece of fiction. It’s my favourite Canadian novel and I have been ignoring the bad sex scenes for decades to revel in the fiercely independent Morag Gunn — and because my cottage is located near Lakefield, I always think of this book in the summer when I’m up north without a phone and cable. It’s the perfect distraction.

Deanna regularly blogs about books at Thankfully, she still has two months of mat leave to finish reading all of the books on her shelves in alphabetical order. At last count, she had only reached the B’s.