For me, each year is divided into two parts: summer and not-summer. Summer, to me, is the stretch of sunny days between Memorial Day and Labor Day; not-summer is the remainder. Summer is Wiccan, loose and roaming. Not-summer is Presbyterian, the time to hunker down and be serious.
Even during the years between my own schooling and that of my children, each year’s markers were the same, Memorial Day an opening to a certain kind of freedom, Labor Day its close. I relish summer. I love fireflies and popsicles and sandals and farmers markets. I love the way my skin feels in the warm sun, the green grass under my feet. Basil. Zinnias. Bees. The way the air smells right before the surprise summer thunderstorm. Summer is my season.
As I wrote last year, the one thing I did not enjoy about summers during my youth was assigned summer reading. My son, much the same as his mother in so many ways, also dreads this annual requirement. My daughter, a voracious reader, wants to dispense quickly with the required stuff so she can get to the things that interest her, namely books about teens dying early deaths or surviving dystopian misery. A few years ago I decided to add to my summer reading list one book from each of their lists, thinking I might have two two-person book clubs, at least for the short 100 day summer spell. This summer the boy-child & mom book club read Flowers for Algernon; the girl-child & mom book club read Looking for Alaska. Yes, I used both books to talk to my children about sex. As a result, neither of them wants the book club project to continue; but I am undeterred. Also I like knowing what they are reading.
Curious to know what else I read, and perhaps what I bought but haven’t yet started? Here’s the full list, complete with short notes that either will or will not seem helpful:
- All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. One of my most favorite books of all time, ever, probably because the only reason I believe in God is because I believe in physics, which I’m certain sounds exceptionally strange. Anyway, the writing in this book is exquisite, the characters magnificent. Note that not all of my friends loved this book; in particular, my friend Harriet, who is very well-read and interesting and intelligent, strenuously disagrees with the book’s great acclaim. This is, as my mother would have said, why they make chocolate and vanilla.
- Dead Wake, by Erik Larson. The true story of the sinking of the Lusitania, told in typical spellbinding style by one of the masters of this genre.
- Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. The true story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, told in typical spellbinding style by one of the masters of this genre.
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green. Read this book only if you have middle-school-aged children in your life (in which case you really should read it, because they will).
- The Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll. Do not waste time or money on this book. Do. Not.
- Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. A beautifully written, impossibly sad story that I loved and would read again.
- The Hunting Dogs, by Jorn Lier Horst. My introduction to this Norwegian police mystery book series, which reminds me of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, devoured with delight last summer and the summer before. As you’ll see, I followed it up with the other two that have been translated into English.
- Closed for Winter, by Jorn Lier Horst. See above.
- Dregs, by Jorn Lier Horst. See above.
- Belfast Noir, Stuart Neville, editor. A fun collection of short stories for anyone who likes Irish noir.
And here’s what’s on my bedside table, yet to be opened:
- Hold Still, by Sally Mann. I can’t bring myself to start reading this, and I cannot explain why. The end.
- Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson. I’m addicted, and I know it.
- City of Bohane, by Kevin Barry. Given to me by an Irish friend who was delighted by how much I loved the Tana French series.
- In the Kindgon of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides. No, it isn’t just because he’s a Memphian (like me) who lives in Santa Fe (where my husband grew up). Hampton Sides is in the same league, to me, as Erik Larson. They are both masterful storytellers and talented writers in whose hands nonfiction reads like Tom Clancy novels.
- Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission, by Hampton Sides. See above.
- The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics, by Daniel James Brown. When five very different friends recommend the same book, I buy it.
So how about you, my reading friend? Are you a summer reader? What did you read that you enjoyed (or didn’t)? Inquiring minds want to know, especially as this summer counts down the final hours to its close.