Summertime evokes many of the traditional joys for me: sipping freshly squeezed lemonade, playing in the surf on a pretty New England beach, blueberry picking, corn on the cob, and roasting marshmallows over a fire pit under a star sprinkled night.
But I think one of my favorite summer traditions is finding myself utterly lost in the folds of a well-written book.
Of course, reading is a part of life and I tackle a few books a month all year long. But there is something distinctive about the summer yarns. My selections this time of year are more deliberate, more thoughtful.
Summer books are the ones to linger over, the ones to savor. They are the novels that I read at a down-tempo pace, seared into memory as the warmer months turn cooler and the days grow shorter.
I still remember the summer books I plowed through during the middle school years. My best friend, Joanne, and I would tend to devour the same novels at the same time and then engage in long talks about the plots and characters while walking along Newport’s Second Beach.
Together we dove into Gone With the Wind (I swore to name one of my future daughters Scarlet or Melanie, though it turns out I forgot to do so), Evergreen, The Thorn Birds (who can forget the description of Meggie’s dress “ashes of roses” at the big party?), and Testimony of Two Men.
In high school, I picked up my sister’s copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and promptly developed a crush on Atticus Finch. Was there ever a book that melded so expertly the themes of childhood innocence with rape and racial inequality?
It was during these years, as well as the summers that interrupted eight college semesters, that I read some amazing books that I found in my basement: Dracula, The Portrait of Dorian Grey, Wuthering Heights, Ethan Frome, and Little Women.
A lot of the ensuing summers are a blur for me, with regard to books read and life led. I think the business of working and finishing graduate school, coupled with getting married and having kids, became all consuming.
I do, however, recall reading with some sense of urgency and desperation during the summer of 1998 one particular book: Dr. Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleeping Problems.
I can more easily bring to mind the excellent books I’ve delved into over more recent summers, including Possession, Sons and Lovers, Lolita, Angle of Repose, The Grapes of Wrath, Anna Karenina, and The Old Man and the Sea. All worthy of cracking if you haven’t gotten around to reading them yet.
A few summers ago, my friend Kristen handed me The Road.
“It’s intense,” she said, “but worth reading.”
Hmm, I thought, how intense can it be? From the initial pages, I found this to be among the most beautifully written and heartbreakingly rendered books I’d ever encountered. The experience of reading this post-apocalyptic father and son journey was both transformative and haunting. I was so moved by this novel that I recommended it to my book group. Alas, they mostly hated it and found the subject matter too bleak for a summer read.
Last summer, I fell in love with Let the Great World Spin. It’s a masterfully written set of interconnected short stories. If you liked Olive Kittridge, you will love this one. This novel was happily followed up with Cutting for Stone, an interesting escape. So thank you, Kim M., for these excellent recommendations.
And what is this summer’s selection? Well, I am currently slogging through a rather large non-fiction tome, The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. I can’t imagine that a more comprehensive analysis on the topic of cancer exists. The disease is analyzed from multiple perspectives including science/research, social, ethical, philanthropic, and medical fronts going back to the beginning of time. It’s fascinating, and I’ll admit, a little tedious.
I think I like my summer reads to be somewhat less edifying, but I fully appreciate the author’s commitment to a methodical, careful, and complete exploration of this engrossing subject.
Enough about my selections. What are you reading this summer?