Summer Books and Where to Read Them

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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.
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!