Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Summer Books and Where to Read Them

Summer Books and Where to Read Them
The date of June 3rd is filed away in my head, brightly circled in red.  No, I am not attending a fancy dress dinner that night.  I do not have a dentist’s appointment, and no house guests are expected that weekend, at least none that I know of at present.  So what is the significance of June 3rd, you may ask?  Well, that’s the day the New York Times publishes their deliciously fat, irresistibly tempting, Summer Reading issue of the Book Review.  And I cannot wait. 
For a satisfying summer reading program, it is vital to match the book with the setting.  No one wants to read Ethan Frome at the beach, for instance. With its harsh landscape, buried in snow, that book is best savoured in the grey days of winter.  And as for The Snow Child, the charming book I mentioned a few months ago, it’s a much better fit for a January day.    But summer.  Ah, summer is different.   The books of summer must be carefully chosen, must fit perfectly in the setting in which they are read.  We take them along on our summer holidays, those few lazy, languid weeks just meant for floating along on a breeze.  They go with us the the beach, carried along in bright cotton totes.  They lie open across our chests as we doze, swaying slowly back and forth in a hammock. 
 Just the phrase, Summer Reading, calls up images of....
 Long, sand-scuffed porches with tall rocking chairs facing out towards a crashing blue sea... 
Plump cotton cushions piled high on a sunny windowseat....  
A row of weathered suitcases lined up by the car, holding scores of new books  tucked around white linen trousers and sun hats.... 
 An extravagant four-poster dressed all in white in a room with bay windows where just outside a July thunderstorm is raging.  Mysteries are stacked high on the night table, their colourful spines lit every now and then by a flash of summer lightning.
Oh yes, one must choose carefully for settings such as these.  So, to do my bit in aiding this process, I’m jumping a couple of weeks ahead of the Times and sharing some of the books I highly recommend for this summer.  Some of these I’ve read and some I cannot wait to read, and all are paired with the most sublime settings in which to read them.  I hope this may entice you to perhaps begin your own summer reading list soon!  June will be here before we can blink.
Oh and do tell me one I’ve forgotten.   
I do love your reading suggestions, too!

The rest of the family has gone kayaking,
 their voices are slowly evaporating in the salt sprinkled air as they drift away.
 But you, quite wisely, have opted for a late morning on the bedroom windowseat, the window open wide to catch the breeze sailing in from the sea, just visible beyond the green marshes.  You sit with your chin resting on your palm, trying to decide between these books.
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
A wonderful book to get lost inside.  You’ll travel from Scotland to England, from Malaya to Australia and never be bored for one second.  A well-deserved classic.  
Binocular Vision, the stories of Edith Pearlman
Highly recommended, one of my own new purchases for summer.  Can’t wait to start these.
What There is to Say We Have Said:
 The Correspondence Between Eudora Welty and William Maxwell.
Entertaining and illuminating letters between two great American writers.  I’m in the middle of this one now and love it.
On my own list, to be released on July 24th.

The Ile Saint-Louis is just as wonderful as she told you it would be.
  Why haven’t you come here sooner? All morning you’ve wandered down the winding streets, stopping here for strawberries, there for a huge bouquet of white lilacs.  An extravagance, you know, but they do smell so delicious in this gorgeous room.  You are ever so grateful to your friend for lending you her apartment while she’s in Africa for the month.  One whole month here, alone.  Days and days that stretch out before you like a silk ribbon.  Leaning out of the window you smile as your hear the laughter rising up from the cafe down below.  You pour a glass of pink lemonade and walk to the bookcase.  So many to choose from!......  Will it be.....
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
I actually read this book last summer, but it was such a perfect book for a holiday read I had to mention it, particularly as it’s just out in paperback.  Patchett’s imagination is ambitious and far-reaching and this tale reflects that wonderfully.  A literate adventure story for grown-ups.
The Hare With the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
Near the top of my own list, this book has been pushed into my hands several times. I finally picked up a copy of my own. 

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton
What happens when a mother runs into a burning school to save her daughter trapped inside on the third floor?  A wonderful read, absorbing to the end, and a fitting follow-up to Ms. Lupton’s equally pleasing first novel, Sister, published just last year.  Both are great choices for summer reads.

The rain has been relentless all afternoon.
  Lunch was held in the formal dining room, each damask covered table adorned with clear glass vases of peonies cut only this morning.  You have wandered back up to your room, glad you decided to spend the few extra pounds that gave you this view.  Standing at the window you gaze out over the gardens, a dazzle of colour made even brighter by the rain.  You open the window to listen as it hits the slate roof just above you.  Turning, you spy the deep bed, its cool linen sheets stretched tight, its pillows fat and soft.  Kicking off your shoes, you crawl up inside it and reach for the books you’ve brought along just for an afternoon such as this.  Now let’s see.... which one to choose....
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Oh boy, have I been waiting for this one.  Having adored the captivating, Wolf Hall, Ms. Mantel’s first book set in Tudor England during the reign of Henry VIII, I have been counting the months till this sequel was released.  I’ll save it for the perfect summer setting.  
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
One of my all time favorite reads, Wharton’s beautiful words spin a web impossible to escape, for reader and characters alike.  Truly magnificent.  If you’ve missed it, give it a try.  I’m planning to reread this one this summer myself.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Another one I’ve heard great things about.  I should get to it by July.

Nothing here ever changes,
 yet somehow it always manages to appear fresh and new.  Your great-aunt has lived in this grey shingled house on Nantucket for years and years, as long as you can remember anyway.  There are always flowers on the table by the lamp, always a compote of fresh fruit on the little round table.  The room always smells like lemons.  You’ve wandered in from the library, your arms full of books to choose from.  There’s time for an hour, or two, to read before dinner.  Hmmmm, now these look intriguing.....
The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen
I loved this book.  A first novel, it is both highly imaginative and unexpectedly touching.  Narrated by a little girl, it explores many topics including fatherly love, childhood guilt, the ugliness of bullying and the often razor-thin line that occasionally divides religion and madness.  Plus, the UK edition has a cover that is absolutely gorgeous.  That’s the one I bought.
A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
A remarkable little book, more of a novella actually, that follows a middle-aged man as he revisits his past and asks the question, “Has my life increased, or merely added to itself?”. Beautiful writing and compelling story.
The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly
A contemporary mystery with an old-fashioned sensibility.  A well-told tale just made for summer.

Why can’t you sleep?
 It’s already way past midnight and still you’re mentally wandering the streets of Oxford, unable to get this story out of your mind.  Getting up, you tiptoe your way down the curving staircase, pausing briefly on the landing to stare out through the fog.  It’s so thick now the streetlamp has no more power than a firefly.  Entering the library, you switch on the reading lamps, pour yourself a small glass of sherry, and curl up on the velvet paisley sofa with your bare feet tucked underneath your nightgown.  You pick up your book once more.... now, where were we?

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
I admit it.  I was a total snob when this book was recommended to me.  Witches and vampires?  Again with the witches and vampires?  No, not for me, I thought.  But because this book was recommended by someone whose tastes I generally trust, I checked it out from the library to give it a try.  By page two I was interested.  By page six, I was hooked.  Picturesque and blessedly literate, A Discovery of Witches is a fabulous summer escape.  Particularly on a foggy night.  (I liked it so much I bought my own copy after returning the book I read to the library.)   And even better, you won’t have to wait long for the sequel.  Shadow of Night is being released on July 10th!

Also, I should mention, my out of town classics book club recently read Dracula by Bram Stocker.  Given my vampire prejudice, I was reluctant to participate, but as I’d never read it in school, I decided to give it a go.  Such a revelation.  Nothing like any movie you’ve ever seen.  (Why DO directors insist on so drastically altering the classics?  Francis Coppola, I’m talking to you!) 

Remember now, add a selection or two!


  1. Exhaustively complete for every taste and weather dear Pamela--I'm currently reading "Fer-De-Lance by Rex Stout (the first of the eccentric and brilliant Nero Woolf detective series, set in an older New York City where I live, so finding mention of places I pass is a treat)--and, I'm revisiting Jane Austin--here is a link to the audio book beautifully read (love being read to when my old eyes can't focus) Chapter 01 - Persuasion by Jane Austen

  2. I eagerly await the Globe and Mail list of summer books - a delicious double page of books and more books.
    To your list I'd add The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence and Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. Enjoy!
    I'm still trying to decide which room in your post would suit me best....

  3. Of all those books you mention, I've only read one! Age of Innocence...I haven't read it for some time, maybe it is time to read it again. I'm going to the library this week to see if I can find some of those on your list. Excitement. Anticipation. Have you read The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett? How about The Lemon Jelly Cake by Madeline Babcock Smith? Both good summer reads. Buy a dozen eggs and make an Angel Food Cake from scratch to go with the second one. I love your blog, Pamela.

  4. Thank you so for recommending the books. I have tried to get through so many of late, only to have put them down because they were terrible. You just can't believe some of the reviewers. But, I trust you.

  5. What wonderful settings you've chosen, I love the first image of the lady in the red dress and the apartment in the Ile de St Louis looks fabulous. I could happily settle down in all these places with a good book.

  6. Hello Pamela:
    A wonderfully varied, eclectic list with, we should imagine, something to appeal to everyone's taste. And we do so like your idea of matching the book to the setting, something about which we have not thought before.

    'The Hare with the Amber Eyes' we found absolutely enthralling and such an extraordinary story and one which, in our view, everyone should read. Julian Barnes is generally regarded as one of our best contemporary novelists but, for some reason, we have never found him to be an entirely satisfactory read. We did in fact know him whilst he was at Oxford and still recall a lunch party with him which was difficult as he was then not an easy guest.

    We should add Simon Mawer to your list.

  7. I have spent an early summer reading in a second floor window seat on the Ile St Louis, one quiet Rue from Notre Dame with a tall vase of mauve lilacs from in the room, no cafe downstairs, just me, my books, Rossini, some Diptyque candles and the odd couple walking romantically hand in hand in the street beneath me looking up to greet me. Bliss. I've earmarked four titles from your list. It's going to be great summer.

  8. Gorgeous post. hello from London. X

  9. What a beautiful way to present a list of books Pamela. I was there at every scenario !
    I am one of those people who stands in the bookshop for hours on end, reading the backs of books, trying to decide which ones to buy so, this list is a boon for me and my Summer reading. XXXX

  10. By chance were you able to attend the lecture at the Atlanta History Center when the authors of of One Writer's Garden were presenting in February? You would have enjoyed it very much.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  11. Dracula is the only book in your list that I've read. It was one of the books I chose to read for A Classics Challenge. I was surprised at how brilliant is was. I, too, was deterred by all those films.

    I would love to read a book in all those rooms.

  12. Your reading selections are top notch! Several of them I have read, but I would like to second your recommendation of "What There Is To Say We Have Said." If one wants to "hear" the voice of Eudora Welty by way of the written page, this is the perfect read. Her letters are written as if she were carrying on a conversation on paper.

    A fun read I'd like to recommend .... I was lucky enough to find an old HB copy of "The Pursuit of Love" by Nancy Mitford (1945) at an estate sale last weekend. Portions will actually make you laugh out loud.

  13. I've bookmarked this post in Evernote to remind me to pick up some of these books... I should live so long as to manage to read (and re-read - re-reading is important!) all the books I want.

    Speaking of vampires, a ballet called Dracula, performed by the Northern Ballet here in England is one of the best things I've ever seen. I've been to Whitby, but I've yet to read Stoker's book. Must do that (when Bill comes home, not while he's away! too scary!)

  14. Oh, and I meant to say how utterly entrancing I found the phrase '...always flowers on the table by the lamp...'

  15. You are so right about summer reads. I’m going to wait until next winter to read your recommended The Snow Child, which I bought after reading your review. I made the mistake last summer of trying to read the bleak, cold Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo on the beach and couldn’t get into it, even though he’s one of my favorite authors. Like you, I read State of Wonder last summer, and that was a perfect match for the season. I wasn’t that keen on that Julian Barnes book, although it was very well written.

    Yesterday at the beach, I was reading The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, which was perfect for the setting. It takes place on an island that could be off Ireland with a desperate young woman and an ambitious young man competing in a race on mythical water horses. Two other good island beach books are The Beach House by Jane Green, and Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. I read those in summers past. Like you, The Night Circus is in my summer stack.

    These books matched to setting posts are always my favorite of yours. I want to crawl into those pictures with one of your suggested books. I love that second watercolor especially. It reminds me of my part of Maine, although we live a couple of miles from the water. I’m looking forward to the NYT summer list too and plan to post one myself in a few weeks.

  16. Pamela, your wonderful list immediately reminded me of the first time I read Nevil Shute's 'A Town Like Alice' - there was a time when I couldn't read his books fast enough!

    I am about to start Joanna Trollope's latest book, 'Daughters-in-law'. Having always loved my daughters-in-law dearly I am looking forward to spending time to reading it in the shade of the back garden. There isn't a lemon amongst them, - my very dear daughters-in-law.....

  17. As I am always looking for new authors, I really appreciated reading your lists. The rooms are delightful! Thanks for sharing the titles with all of us.
    Still think about you driving around in your little green car with Edward's head hanging out the window. What a lovely picture that would make!

  18. Thank you for this list and the settings; the one which most spoke to me was the first, the window seat by the water. Someday I hope to vacation on Chincoteague Island and find a room such as this.
    Your list gives me courage to give up my home computer, use WiFi at the library and coffee shop which then will enhance my reading at home (instead of watching TV on Hulu+).
    "Dracula" was one of the best and surprising books I've ever read; another favorite is "A Tale of Two Cities" by Dickens.
    My "little" brother twice has surprised me with amazingly adroit gifts: one, the complete Brandenburg Concertos and two, a year's subscription to the NYT Book Review. Aaahh.

  19. Ooooh, I love your reading spots and I've added several of your recommendations to my list. I've just finished reading Joanna Trollope's Daughters-in-Law and What Alice Forgot by Lisa Moriarty before that. Enjoyed both. But, Pamela, if you never have, you MUST read Elizabeth Goudge's The Scent of Water. I discovered it about thirty years ago in a used book store when I plucked it off a shelf, opened it, and found my name inside. It was like the universe said 'this book's for you.' And indeed it was. I re-read it every few years and am looking forward to experiencing it again this summer. Published in 1963, it's probably not at your local bookstore, but hopefully your library has it. It actually has been reprinted fairly recently and is available on Amazon. Do treat yourself to it. Like most of my favorite books, it's by a British author and set in England in a wonderfully ancient cottage.

  20. Pamela... you ahve mentioned some of my favourites... A TOWN LIKE ALICE I must read at least every 2 years... and any Edith Wharton... I love...
    Such a brilliant list... thank you... xv

  21. You have some wonderful books listed there!

  22. Pamela thank you so much, so many excellent suggestions and I too will mark the date for the release of Summer Reads!

    Art by Karena

  23. at the Oregon coast the summer of 1958(where we returned every year). I pulled Carolyn Keene's book The Case of the Twisted Candles from the loaded bookshelves; I then read nearly all of the Nancy Drew mysteries there on the porch in a big wicker chair, in bed with a window facing the ocean, or on a towel on the sand. I've copied your list...wish I had something to add..am familiar with a few and eager to read a few...you did a great job of putting that post together the way you did..I love the idea of it!!

  24. Pamela! You are killing me...I want to buy them all and slip into each and every room and stay a very long while.

    The interesting thing with your posts Madame Pamela is that I want to highlight my favourite parts and when I start to think of which parts...I end up highlighting the whole page!

    I am saving this post for my nightime reading..with my Amazon account switched on. I think I have my first few months in Vietnam well planned now.
    I thank you...

    Jeanne xx

  25. I loved every word! And those pictures. Now, where do I want to be? Hmmm ... the bedroom window seat and the bedroom with a couch and chair.
    You are the J. Peterman for readers!
    My only concrete reading plan is Edwin Way Teale's Journey into Summer, beginning on the first day and ending the last day.

  26. I haven't read any of those! Love the interior shots, though.
    Let's see... I reread a lot of Agatha Christie. And my favourite young adult stories, like Anne of Green Gables.

  27. I thank you for this enchanting post, Pamela! You'll make a reader out of me yet :)

    Bring Up the Bodies is right up my narrow little alley of 16th century historical novels! Gracias and happy summer reading!

  28. Hello Pamela

    I love the view from the image where the window is open. Perhaps such a view would distract me from reading. I love your list and find them all of interest. I was interested to read that Dracula differs in a favourable way from the movie. I shall give it a try.
    One I would add is "The Sea house" by Esther Freud.

    Again a great post Pamela


  29. oh mother of edward!!!
    i love your book posts!
    i've made a list of them all.
    i'm currently reading 'the queen mother' by lady colin campbell.
    being an anglophile i couldn't resist. and though i'm finding the beloved queen mum all too human (it's only fair. since we're all human!)she's still one of my favorite people.
    love and thank yous to you,
    tammy j

  30. Love this blog post! I am so excited for the June 3 NY Times summer book section. I am about to start "The Sense of an Ending" and am really looking forward to it. Love all your book recommendations. Now my summer reading is all sorted out. Thanks to you!

  31. I've been hoping for a DVD release of Masterpiece Theater's A TOWN LIKE ALICE for many years to no avail so guess i'll break down and read the novel. I'm sure i'll fall in love with Helen and her Aussie all over again.

    Here's my recommendation for a summer read:
    BOYS AND GIRLS TOGETHER by William Goldman, of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid screenplay fame.
    I remember seeing my Mom read this book circa 1965 so when i ran across a First Edition about 20 years ago i snatched it up....at that time it was out of print however, recently i've seen it listed on Amazon. To this day one of the characters in the very first chapter has never left my memory.

  32. I have a bad case of writer's envy going on. You have such a beautiful way with words without being pretentious or trying too hard as do some bloggers.

    Thanks for the list of books. I loved the way you wrapped your suggestions in story. You've inspired me to start my own stack of summer reading. I guess my favorite pick to recommend would be Beach Music by Pat Conroy or The Pat Conroy Cookbook. His cookbook is great fun while Beach Music is on the heavy side but so mesmerizing as are all his books.


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!