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!!
1. My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
2. How To Make An American Quilt by Whitney Otto
3. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
4. A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
6. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
7. 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!
8. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
9. Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
10. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
11. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger
12. 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?