I’m sitting on my deck, birds flitting here and there, a tiny fawn at the heels of her mother in the grassy patch along my driveway, bicycles instead of school buses on the road. All of which I take note of only in passing, the real concentration saved for the book in my lap. Summer reading — a phrase, an idiom, a state of mind that conjures memories of my favorite bench, one of the many dotting the middle-income housing project, Brooklyn, NY, where I grew up, me reading one of the seven or eight or ten books I got from the library. It was a defining element of the season. A break from school. Twice as many books to be checked out for twice as much as time. The heft of them in my arms, the library binding that practically creaked when you opened a book, no better reminder of that wonderful shared experience.
So imprinted is the notion of summer reading that it speaks to a certain license, more often than not light reading at the beach, sprawled on a towel or in a chaise. Sometimes, though, there are summers when that very same ‘license’ suggests the really hefty book, the one I’ve been wanting to sink my teeth into for oh-so-long if only I had the uninterrupted time. Maybe it’s all that daylight, a circadian shift that conjures the overriding rhythm of the school year (long gone if not forgotten), making two weeks of vacay feel (almost) like two months. One summer it was Anna Karenina. Another summer, when I lived in Sag Harbor, it was Moby Dick. Call me crazy.
Call me curious. Or just call me delighted to join in the summer reading link-up for bloggers hosted by Jennie @ Life is Short, Read Fast and Kelly @ Reading with Martinis. Summer is, after all, party time, and this party is about the books that entice and excite, the ones we read and blog about.
I don’t know if it’s the power of suggestion, but something Russian has taken a hold on me. The premise of Daphne Kalotay’s novel, Russian Winter, is nothing if not intriguing: a Bolshoi ballerina star, precious jewels, the mystery of of something from the past coming back to haunt the heroine. Did I mention an escape from Stalinist Russia?
A great story demands being read more than once; in his introduction to The Essential Tales of Chekhov, Richard Ford writes, “The more you linger, the more you reread, the more you’ll experience and feel addressed by this great genius who, surprisingly, in spite of distance and time, shared a world we know and saw as his great privilege the chance to redeem with language.” This is the summer I plan to reread the Chekhov stories that hooked me in the first place, and discover a few new ones as well.
Then there’s that other great literary heroine who fascinates me, the French one, Madame Bovary, all the more compelling (to a writer at least) for being written by an author known for his obsessive revising and all the more alluring in a new translation by Lydia Davis. Put together le mot juste with the “original desperate housewife” (so says the jacket copy) and I’m sold. All I need is a glass of good French wine (or a martini).
How can you resist a title like this? Doesn’t hurt that I love stories alluding to mythology and Buddhist and Zen tales (even in parody) or that cover cross-cultural, intergenerational terrain. And if the title isn’t enough, there’s the twin protagonists Moonie and Mei Ling Wong (known as the “Double Happiness” Chinese food delivery girls) and their coming-of-age via the tales Marilyn Chin weaves together in Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen.
I had the pleasure of meeting Masha Hamilton when she received the 2010 Women’s National Book Association award for her work as a journalist and novelist as well as her literacy projects, including the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and the Camel Book Drive. I read her latest novel, 31 Hours, which I found riveting, and am now following with The Distance Between Us, the story of a journalist in the thick of it, the Middle East. Such is the appeal of her work, I may well end up reading all of her novels.
Now, lest you think your eyes are playing tricks on you, take another peek at the image at the top of the post. I admit it, I’m a sucker for a beautiful bookmark, all the more reason to be delighted when I chanced upon the whimsical In My Book bookmarks that double as notecards. Printed on heavy-duty watercolor paper, they come in fifteen different designs, each one as charming as the next. Doesn’t every good book deserve one?