Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Reading

Whenever I find a cartoon particularly funny, it is usually because I recognize a bit of myself within it. For instance, I have always loved an old New Yorker magazine cartoon of a fellow reading at the beach. Clad in the requisite attire of shorts and flip-flops, he is squinting up at a stern policeman standing over him who says, “I’m sorry, sir, but Dostoyevsky is not considered summer reading. I’ll have to ask you to come with me.” This in turn reminds me of the afternoon I was approached by an overly gregarious chap as I myself sat seaside, reading Edith Wharton. “Whatcha readin’?”, he inquired, displaying a rather alarmingly white smile aimed in my direction. “The House of Mirth”, I replied. With a crestfallen change in expression he said, “Oh. A real book”.

Both of these examples, one imaginary and one quite real, pretty much sum up my difficulty with what is often called,“summer reading”. Time spent with those books generally considered to sit squarely in that category is, to me, rather like being stranded in the shallow end of the pool, with no waves and no challenges. Pleasant enough, but rather uninspiring.

Books are like people in a way. You spend time with them - sometimes an afternoon, sometimes a week - and some even accompany you on your summer holiday. Occasionally, some books become so beloved, they are invited to reside in your library or on your bedside table, never far from reach, a veritable part of the family. Not unlike people, books have definite personalities. Some are secretive, as if reluctant to reveal their deeper meanings until one gets to know them a bit better - some are witty, some are strange, some whisk the reader away to another country, another world. Some change your mood. Some change your mind.

Every year, I greedily await the summer reading suggestions published in newspapers and magazines. I listen eagerly for every summertime book review broadcast on NPR. While I may not be reading textbooks in summertime, I still long to be dazzled by unique imaginations and to occasionally paddle around in the deep end of the pool. From under my sun hat, I still look for stimulating conversations with the books I chose to read, even if those conversations take place in a hammock in the garden, or on a beach chair with the sound of the surf in my ears.

Here is my list, a baker’s dozen of my favourite summer books, each one read during the summertime of a year past and each one more than worthy to be tucked in with the Vogues and Verandas on the way to the beach.
Oh, and don’t be shy....please share one of yours!!

My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
How To Make An American Quilt by Whitney Otto
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
.... every summer, by tradition, I would leave for the beach on the very day the latest HP was released, just to sit by the sea and escape all alone to Hogwarts. I do so miss those new Potter books!
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger
The Prince Of Tides by Pat Conroy
13. And, I am currently reading
Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson.
How about you?


  1. Ha, how have we managed to write similar booky-posts at the same time? And what different approaches we have - put me in the shallow end, with no waves or challenges thank you very much!
    I have to confess, the only book here I would read again is Rebecca, though I have read some of the others.
    I have a proof copy of Jonathan Strange, having reviewed it for a book magazine months before it was published. Which, although I found it long-winded and overly florid in style, (and all those irritiating foot-notes!) is worth hanging on to for value alone.

  2. i am ashamed to say...the last book i read was mostly pictures.

  3. Six of yours are on my list...also starting with My Family and Other Animals. A book I loved reading at the beach was Portofino by Frank Schaeffer. An American missionary family on holiday (highlight of every year)....a young boy growing up....a laugh a minute.

  4. I love anything by Susan Hill, she was once asked what book would she recommend for summer reading, she replied "The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford".
    This has to be the funniest, weirdest, loveliest of books, summer or winter.I also like Barbara Comyns "Sisters by a river" and my all time favourite "Our spoons came from Woolworths", completely mad. Barbara Pym is worth a read too. Maybe I am in a time warp? Oh yes, Elizabeth Von Arnim, "Enchanted April"is made for summer reading. Thanks for your suggestions.

  5. Ooo your 1 and 5 I think are perfect with their descriptions of the sea and landscape for when you are sat right by the sea. I like short story collections so I can sit and read a whole story then go off exploring a rock pool or go for a swim.
    The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco was very interesting. I didn't knwo anything about Italian history in the C20th before I read this well illustrated book.

  6. My favorite book to re-read is Robinson Crusoe. I read it for the first time when I was 10, and it has transported me to a desert isle ever since.

    "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" by Betty Smith is another treasured well loved classic and Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

  7. Ha! That’s me too. I can’t leave the house without a book. I read waiting on line at the grocery and definitely at the beach. I subscribe to The New Yorker and love the cartoons best of all. That one you described is so funny!

    You must go to the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA. They have very weighty books on their “summer reading” table. I stopped by there on my way home and picked up the perfect summer read which I plan to take to the beach next week: Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead. It’s about the black community in the Hamptons and was recently released to great reviews.

    I’m an NPR junky and enjoyed Harry Potter too. I envy my daughter for reading them for the first time now. Thanks for your list – I must check out the ones I haven’t read. I loved this post!

  8. Most of the books on your list are favourites of mine too Pamela, although I must say that I do not warm to Harry Potter. I love travel books - Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger would be on my list of holiday reading (have read it countless times), as would Travels with Charley (Steinbeck) - i never tire of that. Oh and Passage to India. Happy reading!

  9. A really charming post - indeed, the blog is charming throughout. A joy to visit.

  10. As always I'm re-reading one of my Dornford Yates books, he's a forgotten author now but in the 1920s/1930s/40s he was a bestseller. He writes of a world long gone and probably never quite as marvellous as it is in his books. Most people would probably find his prose too flowery now and he is quite definitely not PC! His descriptions of rural England and areas of Austria and the South of France in the early 20th century are just marvellous - the Berry books are the ones I like best, I'm just finishing The Brother of Daphne and about to start on The Courts of Idleness. Sorry,I hadn't intended to write an essay:)

  11. I reread Rebecca in March.
    I am currently reading The Book Thief and it is one of those books that I will be sad to finish. I'll miss the characters so.
    And I highly recommend The Help. HIGHLY!!! (She emphasizes.)

  12. Tracy Chevalier-
    Fallen Angels
    Girl with the Pearl Earring

    a new one I just read by Sarah Addison Allen- Garden Spells
    (This book completely made me want to learn more about herbs, edible flowers, and such :)

    The Confessions of Max Tivoli- by Andrew Sean Greer

    The Birth of Venus
    by Sarah Dunant

    AND, if you like historical fiction with a glimpse into the seedier side... I loved
    Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.

  13. Love Kate Atkinson's books also Sarah Waters or Joanne Harris. Anything by Susan Hill but especially her Simon Serailler novels. Three of my favourites 'The Enchanted April' Elizabeth von Arnim, 'A Month in the Country' J L Carr and 'If nobody speaks of remarkeable things' Jon McGregor I have re-read those recently. Virginia Wolf's 'stream of consciousness' style can be quite soothing whilst sitting by the sea - Mrs Dalloway or The Waves perhaps:)

  14. I promised myself I'd read Jane Eyre this summer, but after the first part of the book, found myself struggling to finish. So I picked up The Winter of Our Discontent instead, at the recommendation of my mother. Both are still unread (along with Pillars of the Earth - another of my mother's recommendations). The last book I really enjoyed was The Thirteenth Tale.

  15. Quel dommage que j'ai oublié mes leçons d'anglais, elles sont si lointaines ! J'aurais aimé comprendre tes mots... C'est un vrai plaisir de découvrir des tableaux d'artiste, c'est délicat, chez toi...
    Kisses from France,

  16. Doesn't everyone read the NewYorker mostly for the cartoons? You describe a good one that I don't remember...and I have started cutting out all the book related ones too:)

    Many great book recommendations here...I just want to share a beach book memory dear to my heart...I remember reading Little Women for the first time at a rented beach house the summer I was 10...the beach, that book, and crying over Beth's death have been related ever since...

  17. Lots of book posts at the moment!!! The thought of summer holidays must be on everyones mind..a book I go back to again and again is 'The Hours of the Night' by Susan Gee it is just the moment I am reading two books..something of a challenge for me!!...a weird fantasy 'little big' by John Crowley and the ever predictable but very readable Nora Roberts, this time 'Blue Smoke' but I like her 'Key' Trilogy best. Give Edward a hug for me!!xx

  18. So glad I came upon this post.
    Behind the scenes is one of my favorite books. I loved it. Her best by far.
    I love long books. Maybe my best summer book was when I went to Poland reading War and Peace.
    No chance of running out of reading material.
    I'm afraid I couldn't get through Jonathan Strange.
    Maybe I should have persevered.
    This summer Moby Dick.

  19. Memories! I haven't read Gerald Durrell in years. Good list, some I need to check out i.e. American Quilt (seen the movie, doesn't count).

    I too prefer the deeper reads even in Summer: Animal Farm, 1984, Catch 22. Oddly enough Dostoyevsky, as you mentioned is one of those mysterious scribes who divulge more, the more you read.

    For laughs,
    The Plums of P G Wodehouse,
    3 Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

    Just for adventure - I adore "The Riddle of the Sands" and have been searching for a 1st edition for ages.

    I chortled at "Oh. A real book" !

  20. Pamela - your posts are so lovely, so inspiring and thought-provoking all at once. A new magazine called Book Club has recently been launched here, and I managed to get hold of a copy with high hopes, hoping to find something along the lines of what you have just written - but it was so disappointing. You would have done a much better job. Now, as to your book list - I have a few nods (yes, I read and enjoyed that, too - nos. 1, 5, 8, 10 & 13), a few 'hmmms, I'd like to read that sometime (nos. 2, 3 & 9) and one or two 'oh, no - not my cup of tea's (7 & 11). Really enjoyed no 13, though - beautifully written. I'm currently reading Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, which for some reason I never read when I was younger. Totally enjoying it, but suspect your alarmingly-white-smiled man would not approve.

    Excellent post.

  21. I love several of those on your list! A Prayer for Owen Meany and To Kill a Mockingbird are two of my favorites, and I also love to read Enchanted April every summer, as well as Walking Across Egypt, Bailey White's books, and anything by Fanny Flagg. I loved Olive Kitteridge (didn't you tell me that I would?)
    Oh, and mine!

  22. I love your blog so much. It is truly beautiful!

    I have read almost all of the books on your list... Great picks.

    I am reading up all of Alice Hoffman. I recommend Blackbird House. It is wonderful.

  23. Oh I have been away too long Pamela and have missed your glorious descriptive writing. I read 'Cancer Ward' on one holiday by Solzhenitsyn! Geisha was a great read.

  24. a very good list - I have read some of them - I also prefer the deep end of the pool most of the time - I'm currently reading my bestest friend's new book, Among Friends - she just had her book launch a week ago! will post about it as soon as I finish reading it :)

  25. How funny, I've written about books today as well. There truly have been some that I've resented giving my time to, while others have, as you say, become friends.

    I hope you find some good ones this summer

    Kim x

  26. Hello P&E,

    A dreamy picture to accompany your post. When it comes to the shallow or deep end, I suppose it depends on what one enjoys reading. When covered with sand and suntan lotion some folks want a book that can be read and left behind or even thrown away! You wouldn't do that to a member of the family! Nothing too deep, would be my choice.

  27. some of my faves are in your list! I just picked up Orbit...have you read that one?

  28. I am going to keep a list of "To Read"
    and I love your list.

  29. Oh what a good post, I have similar thoughts about summer reading. I would agree with several of your choices. Currently I've just finished reading The Engineer of Human Souls by Josef Skvorecky for the second time and am just about to start Heart of Darkness because it makes an appearance in The Engineer of Human Souls. Neither of those books are really summer reading....

  30. A hefty list. I think all of John Irving's books are due a return read for me. I think to kill a mockingbird might be my favorite coming of age book. great list. la

  31. i re-read "Hens Dancing" by Raffaela Barker every summer...

  32. Pamela...I cannot wait for July & August! Two hot months that I read all the time! I must get to "Shades of Gray" by Jessica James! It is the first book to ever un seat "Gone With The Wind" in Historical/ fiction /romance on Amazon! also I have to read " The
    House At Riverton " & The Forgotten Garden" both by Kate Morton. Also "Five Smooth Stone"
    by Ann Fairbairn. Hurry July, I need to read!All of these are large books and it will take several weeks to read them all!

    Stay cool, keep E & A cool too!

  33. I once went on holiday with a friend hiking round the Peloponnese, we read The Odyssey out loud to one another. He later begged my forgiveness when he told me he'd been reading 'Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow' on a beach in the Maldives, since he knoew I'd consider it most inappropriate!

    'My Family and other animals' is a wonderful summer read, I think, with the strawberry pink, lemon yellow and snow white villas, which always sound like ice cream. I liked reading Mary Renault's ancient historical novels, including the Alexander Trilogy, on Greek holidays too. During the heatwave three years ago, I read most of AS Byatt's Frederica books lying on the tiled kitchen floor, which was the coolest place I could find.

    I didn't really like 'Jonathan Strange' much, 'The Shipping News' was great but not very summery... I think both the setting and the climate have to be right! 'The Pursuit of Love' is fine anywhere, as is anything by Salley Vickers...

    I must stop now, I could go on and on! Lovely to catch up.

  34. A real book...haha...this is a very fun post..and what am I reading...Madame Bovary...again!

  35. Took the boat out a few days ago...just me and a book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Quick read!
    Love this post Pamela- I too will keep this list!

  36. There are so many..I have never read my Family and other animals but always intend to. Several of yours are on my list too but i don't often repeat becasue there are so many out there. I am currently enjoying 'Espresso tales' by Alexander McCall Smith, sufficientlt episodic to dip into for short bursts, and a sequel to 33 Scotland street.
    One of my favourite books is called 'Till we have Faces' a re telling of the myth of Eros and Psyche by CS Lewis, but its a long time since I read it, I may not like it now.
    I spent a summer holiday in Brittany glued to Captain Corellis mandolin and wouldn't move off the sunbed until I'd finished it.
    My all time favourites are the Mapp and Lucia books by EF Benson and of course, Wind in the Willows.

  37. PS Having been a supply teacher I would avoid harry Potter . I seem to have been asked to read this or that chapter to every class I supplied in.

  38. What a great list Pamela - I am going to save it for my summer reading. I am going to re-read ' Marjorie Morningstar' by Herman Wouk this summer, it is a favourite from years ago, xv.

  39. Anything by Dame DuMaurier is wonderful.Scout and the mysterious Bo Radley is another favourite from To Kill a Mockingbird.When the weather is extremely hot I find solace in the dark brooding tales of the Bronte sisters.
    So much pleasure to be found in the written word bound between the leather covers that carries us on adventure around the world, both present and past.
    I hope you and Edward are enjoying the Summer and all it's glory.
    xo Susan

  40. I won't list any books as you read about them on my blog but I enjoyed your list, many of which I also love. I also enjoyed your descriptions of books.

  41. I'm reading "pope Joan" at the moment - a novel, but with a real background about a female pope in the 800 AD.

  42. For some reason, unknown to me, I went to my bookcase at 7A.M. and chose Gauguin's, 'Noa Noa'. It's a thin book, so I skimmed it, but it put me in a mood for walking around in a pareo. I just happen to have a handprinted batik from Bali that I bought in Bloomingdales in the '70's. It used to wrap around me twice. That is as nostalgic as I am going to get. Hey - Thanks for the tip about the cork floor.


  43. Darling friend we almost but not quite have read the same books and many of the ones you have listed are favourites.

    I recently read a book that I think you may like. Sorry I can't remember the author off hand but the book is entitled 'The History of Love'.

    Cheers to summer reading.

    Love Renee xoxo

  44. Awesome summertime reading! I've read most of these books too.

    My favorite all time book is Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

    Btw, I just love your blog...such a delight! So glad I found you. :)


  45. This bakers dozen is perfect for the season no calories only reading pleasure. Enjoy! xoxo

  46. I just finished a very good summer book: Love in Idleness, by Amanda Craig. It takes place on a summer holiday in Tuscany, and loosely follows the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Great atmosphere: How holidays (and heat) can transform us.

    I've enjoyed almost all of your previous summer choices as well. And I recognize a bit of myself in that New Yorker cartoon, because The House of Mirth is one of my favorites.

  47. I smile with pleasure at your selection. At Uni. I read War and Peace and Vasari's Lives during the holidays. When our life was packed and going at the pace of the Bullet Train I stole a morning to gobblu up a Georgtte Hayer period romance with her delicious wit. They often saved my sanity. Now I don't bother so much about the mundane and indulge whenever facinsting books come my way. i too loved Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. The Narnia books I had missed out on as a child kept me fascinated as an adult. Lately I have enjoyed Alister McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series as well as his mastery treatment of university in-fighting in others.
    Most of Steinbeck and Hemingway, O.Henry's Short Stories and the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer have accompanied me through many a summer.
    A lovely post to make us remember.

  48. oh reading your post reminds me of a time when I USED to read, other than blogs of course..I rarely get the chance to read a good book -2 kids under 3 - my eyes can't stay open long enough after they go down.

    Thanks for reccommends - I'll be badk for more ..

  49. We share some favorites! Have you read Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon? Have you re-read Charlotte's Web lately? So many great books, and only one lifetime. Tomorrow I'm going to the library.

  50. Re-reading old friends like Harry Potter -- and even older dearer ones likes those by E. Nesbit and Enid Blyton. But I do highly recommend "Garden Spells" by Sarah Addison Allen -- similar in storyline to Practical Magic!

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage


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