My Search for an Epic Summer Read

Now that the semester is over and I am on summer vacation, my usual feelings of restlessness have set in. Sinking into a novel of epic proportions, like War and Peace which absorbed me for weeks during the winter months, would be just the cure. I took to literary Twitter to ask for suggestions and I was given so many wonderful recommendations I thought I would compile the ones that were the top contenders for me. To see the full thread go to my Twitter feed @magistrabeck.

The following are books that are sitting on my bookshelves that I was already considering:

The Balkan Trilogy, Olivia Manning
Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman
Zibaldone, Giacomo Leopardi
Alberta Trilogy, Cora Sandel
Memoirs, Alexander Herzen
Daniel Deronda, George Eliot
The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

These are my favorites from the Twitter suggestions:

The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal
Don Quixote, Cervantes
The Idiot, Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky
Parallel Stories, The Book of Memories, Peter Nadas
Three Trapped Tigers, Guillermo Cabrera Infante
The Glastonbury Romance, John Cowper Powys
Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Doblin
In Search of Lost Time, Proust
The Transylvanian Trilogy, Miklos Banffy
The Death of Vergil, Hermann Broch
Parade’s End, Ford Maddox Ford

And Anthony at Times Flow shared a link to his excellent list of “Monsters” he intends to read:

And finally, my husband handed me a copy of The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth. Knowing his very wry sense of humor I assumed it was a joke, but he swears it’s a serious suggestion. Speaking of joke recommendations, Tony Messenger suggested I crack open my copy of Bottom’s Dream. But I am afraid that might be a little too epic for me at this point.


Filed under Opinion Posts

34 responses to “My Search for an Epic Summer Read

  1. I am going a different route this summer and tucking some more conventional narrative novels into my TBR and it’s very refreshing because I have some focused critical review reading ahead (and quite a bit of other life stuff). But I thought of a book to suggest—Agaat by Marlene van Niekerk (sometimes called The Way of the Women). It’s fairly recent (2004 in Afrikaans/2010 in English) but it is a magnificent, complex, epic novel and a masterful translation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Miklos Banffy you have listed is only the first volume of a trilogy… longer than W&P in total. But it drew me in and kept me hooked throughout; it’s one I think I will go back to.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I missed your Twitter feed on this but the first book I thought about when you mentioned War and Peace is the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy. (They Were Counted is the first volume)

    Then there’s always Alexandre Dumas, he goes well with “epic”. And also Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire.

    In Search of Lost Time is wonderful but not epic, in my opinion.


    • xyzzzz

      Yes – Lost Time (and Quixote and Death of Virgil (from the list above)) never felt epic. Within a few pages you knew you would finish. Its a communion of voice and your ability to receive that voice at the point in your life in which you encounter it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really struggle with Don Quixote, it’s a good read but I always find it hard to keep going. Not sure if you’re looking for some other suggestions (I see you have plenty already) but I would highly recommend Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigrid Unset which I found completely absorbing and I would recommend to anyone who is willing to give a chunkster a go. A much underrated book (except Undset won the Nobel Prize, so perhaps under-known is more appropriate. And there’s The Tale of Genji, of course, but I think (controversy) Lavransdatter is better.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I read Portrait of a Lady on a 2-week holiday in Tunisia and it did me very well there. I also loved reading Middlemarch on a Spanish beach holiday and Seth’s A Suitable Boy in Montpelier. I’d suggest Deronda as an excellent read, or A Suitable Boy. I am allergic to Don Q after having had to aquire and catalogue over 100 different editions / books about it in my library job years and years ago! Happy choosing and reading!


  6. Most of those I haven’t read on your list are hopefully in my future.

    The Magic Mountain is one of my favourites and I am pondering a second re-read. Don Quixote is stunning, especially the Edith Grossman translation. I’ve yet to re-read Proust, read in my early twenties – it must be read end to end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Apologies but my last remark was not intended to be so bombastic. What I meant was I didn’t read Proust well until I read it from start to finish, without reading other books along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t take it as bombastic at all. I agree that if I am going to read it then it will have to be all three parts in a row. I am tempted to give it a go this summer. I will definitely read the Eliot and Mann.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Ali

    I love this post. I vote for The Portrait of a Lady. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and I have read it twice. The Magic Mountain is very good, too, and I’m currently reading Daniel Deronda.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. lizzysiddal

    If it helps you cut down your list of candidates, I’m planning a NYRB fortnight for the beginning of October … you could save one of your “monsters” for then.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. i can definitely recommend the Manning. As for your other possibles, what wonderful choices. I own all of John Cowper Powys’s books and they’re enormous but I so want to read them. Dostoevsky is, of course, epic. Interestingly, I was looking at one of the Cora Sandel books yesterday and considering – I’ll be intersted to hear what you think if you read them!


  10. Look forward to your choice of summer reading

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I look forward to hearing what wins out. I echo the recommendation of the Undset, which I feared would feel rather onerous, but it ended up being quite engaging (in a quiet way) and I really missed her when I was done reading. From your list, I haven’t heard of the Cora Sandel and they sound very interesting! (Although they are all reference-only in our library system. Bah.)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. In Search of Lost Time! I need a reading buddy. Just finished The Guermantes Way yesterday. But still looking forward to whatever you choose. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. So many wonderful choices! The Magic Mountain is remarkable. I’m really intrigued by the idea of the Undset. Might have to try that myself. Proust is one of life’s great experiences, but I can’t imagine reading it all at one go. Not sure if it’s epic (600 pp) but can I pig in a plug for Women in Love?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a great list of suggestions! I read Life and Fate during the summer last year and certainly didn’t regret it. (I didn’t post on it as I was inspired to read it by Dorian’s posts and couldn’t really add much!).
    I suppose I’m duty bound to add to the suggestions my favourite book, Alasdair Gray’s Lanark.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I can second Liz’s recommendations of Portrait of a Lady and Daniel Deronda, and I’ve had multiple recommendations of Life and Fate since I finished Was and Peace. I plan to read Banffy first, and I like the look of Cora Sandel, so I would be very pleased I’d you could nudge me towards buying them.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Such Constant Attention: Some initial thoughts on The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James |

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