Saturday, June 5, 2010

From The Tree To The Garden

At the edge of the forest, behind my childhood home, there was an old sweetgum tree that was perfectly made for climbing.   On each and every summer day, I could be found there, about three limbs up, balanced comfortably with a book on my knee, my dog resting on the lawn down below, dozing, with her head on her paws and her brown ears twitching at the occasional fly.  It was second nature to me then, but I realize looking back that it was really no small feat to scale such a tree with a hardback copy of Jane Eyre in my arms.  I can still remember how it felt to be hidden away in a secret world of green leaves, unseen by anyone but my dog, lost deep inside the world of a book.

Just the merest thought of summer conjures up so many different images to us all. Strawberry ice cream and lazy days by the sea,  baseball, bare feet and surfboards -watermelon, beach music, and lemonade.  But for me, summertime will always mean books.  When school closed for the year, we would head to the big downtown library to fill our arms with books for the hot summer months.  How well I remember ascending the stairs of that imposing old structure.  It loomed up before me with its stone facade glowing silver in the sweltering heat, set apart from all the other buildings in the city by a dignified bearing that declared it to be a southern temple of thought and ideas, a bethel that sheltered a holy treasure of books.  No longer bound to the required reading of the school year, I was now free to follow my curiosity down every mysterious aisle of that library, pulling out books I had never heard of, books with covers that captured my imagination in colourful nets of faraway places and landscapes unknown.

Some of these books I can no longer remember, but some left such an impression I have no doubt they became part of my soul.  Such is the way with art.  The English art critic, John Ruskin, once said “Books are divided into two classes, the books of the hour and the books of all time.”  That was true when I was little, and I know it remains so now.  I have read a lot of books so far this year, some I barely remember, but some have remained - I am thinking about them still.

I no longer do my summer reading in the treetops, preferring the garden instead.  But I still regard this time of the year as a special time for reading. I wait impatiently for those recommended lists of summer books, hungry for tempting new titles, knowing each one is a possible passport to lands ripe for visiting in summer, searching as I did when I was little, for that one special book that will carry me away on a holiday of the mind.

For those like me who love lists of summer reading suggestions, here are five of mine, along with an enticing quote from each one.  The last book on the list is one I’ve just finished, and one I know will be with me for a long, long time.


1.  “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones."
from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

2.  "The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea."
from The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.

3.  “It would presently be his task to take the bandage from this young woman's eyes, and bid her look forth on the world. But how many generations of the women who had gone to her making had descended bandaged to the family vault? He shivered a little, remembering some of the new ideas in his scientific books, and the much-cited instance of the Kentucky cave-fish, which had ceased to develop eyes because they had no use for them. What if, when he had bidden May Welland to open hers, they could only look out blankly at blankness?"
from The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

4.  "I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a christian because of Owen Meany. "
from A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving

5.  “When our mother, a nun of the Diocesan Carmelite Order of Madras, unexpectedly went into labor that September morning, the big rain in Ethiopia had ended, its rattle on the corrugated tin roofs of Missing ceasing abruptly like a chatterbox cut off in midsentence.”
from Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese


  1. Well, my comment ended up in your previous post, nevertheless I just love your list and I had to laugh, because only a few days ago I admitted to reading books in a special maple tree as a girl in grandma's garden...'Robinson Crusoe',and Goethe's 'Lotte in Weimar'...

    Big hug!

  2. I long to have a summer reading list again, but summers have been overtaken with a feeling of being as busy as the bees. Now it is winter that becomes the time for reading and retreat.

    Your tree memory reminded me of the huge willow that used to grow in one of our hay fields. It surrounded massive boulder, and I used to love to sit there for hours and just watch the world.

    A wonderful post - thank you!

  3. The Wind in the Willows is one of my all time favourites and when I think of it I remember myself starting it, sitting on a rug on the lawn in the sun and knowing I would love it.

  4. your list is my list...For some strange reason I have never read Jane Eyre...I think its odd as you would think it would be required. We had a not so wonderful Catholic education in the midwest..

  5. I do love A Prayer for Owen Meany. It's one of my favorites.
    And I'm another tree reader. Sometimes I still wish I had a tree to climb. It would need very strong limbs though. :)

  6. Owen Meany. That's a book I haven't thought of , let alone read, in years and years.

  7. Great post.
    Do climb a tree once again safely, even if just a branch! I for one, never want you to grow up.
    You make me want to have a small happy adventure right now.

    I do like summer, even if ours are exceedingly hot here!

  8. Pamela, how well you articulate the pleasures of reading and how your idea of summer resonates with me. Thank you for the list and I shall search out the last title for my summer read, xv.

  9. Dear Pamela,
    Your reading books in that tree after going to the library for your reading material has bought back many childhood memories, sights, sounds and smells. Little snippets of children's books came back to me, warm sun, orange juice and the shorts and plimsolls that I used to wear.
    That's another trip down memory lane that you have taken me on !!

  10. a worthy list and I will definitely add the last one to my list this summer - wonderful post Pamela :)

  11. Oh, I think I'm up for reading Cutting For Stone...sounds intriguing.

    As a child, I read in my treehouse, a wonderful getaway I built from scraps of wood. You made me remember it while reading this lovely post.

  12. What a joy to read as ever. You know that books and libraries mean as much to me as to you. And the joy of summer reading aaahhhh.... I will try and get hold of your last suggestion, thank you Pamela.

  13. What a fabulous idea to introduce each book with a quotation - it really restores the memory of those one has read and whets the appetite for those one has not yet discovered. Cutting for Stone sounds most intriguing!

    Love the idea of your sweetgum tree. We had a eucalyptus in our garden that was perfect for climbing - now sadly cut down by the people who bought our house. Many happy hours there, though.

  14. I am intrigued with summer reading and scan lists in the paper, ordering great armfuls from the library.

    But alas, I am like Purest Green and find summer is not a time of leisure. Already I have taken three books back to the library, unread, - a case of eyes being bigger than my capacity for reading time. It breaks my heart to do this, but I will re-order them for wintry days when demands are not so pressing.

    Not the best time for tree reading, but then 85 year old ladies are not the best candidates for being hoisted into a tree of any sort!

  15. Owen Meany was such a delightful read, so much better than the movie.

  16. I just finished reading Cutting for Stone, and I loved it.

  17. ah Summer reading, bliss!

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral

  18. I've never read a book on a tree but is definitely something i would do now, even though i'm a bit grown up!!! xx

  19. My childhood reading was in the almond tree,shelling and eating almonds, and sitting on top of the bicycle shed, now and then eating grapes from the vines growing over it. I guess my family were permaculture enthusiasts before there was a name for it! There were many books but the two which stand out in my mind the most from those days are The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,and Anne of Green Gables.I was completely lost in my imagination with these two. Thanks for reviving the memories Pamela.

  20. I love your reading list, replete with quotes. What a clever idea! I keep a log of books I read and you just gave me the idea of including a quote.

    Cutting for Stone has been recommended to me at least 5 times in this past week. I do believe I will have to add it to my teetering pile of to be reads.

    Owen Meany was such a wonderful book, made even better in our little neck of the woods as the young man who played Owen in the movie lived in our community and The Wind in the Willows first came to me, not as a child, but as a college student. My best friend and kindred spirit, abashed that I had never read it, gave it to me for a birthday present. I still have it.

    I wasn't a tree reader, but would read in my bedroom or on the steps or anywhere that I could find, including under the covers late at night, sure my parents couldn't see the flashlight shining.

    Thanks for a lovely post of summer days and reading.

  21. We are made up of that which we have experienced, we must be influenced by what we read across the years, and our experience of life coloured in some way, made richer, our world becomes extended by the real and by the imagined (our brain cannot tell the difference)...I like the thought of this, as I love your pages..and your reading list..
    Hugs Lynn xxxx

  22. Summer is still my season for reading too! Isn't that funny. There are things about our childhoods that stay with us all our days.

    Thank you for sharing the wonderful memory and for the list.

  23. I love sitting outdoors reading in the summer - under the trees rather than up them:) I seem to read more than in the winter. I loved visiting our local library as a child - it seemed huge with its glossy brown wood counter and polished floors with shelves full of inviting and exciting books - bliss!

  24. I envy you your sweetgum tree, but it's a post to gladden the heart.

  25. I love this post Pamela...beautiful!


  26. How I wish I'd gone to your school I'm positive I'd have been right alongside you at the library. I remember climbing to the tree-tops but not with a book on my person...that's scary to think now we've grown.


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