By Beth Green
For the last few months, I, ever the book lover, have been hunting down and web-snipping lists of “summer books.” As happens every year, celebrities, newspapers, National Public Radio and many blogs have weighed in on what they consider summer reads. Like Santa Claus, I’ve been checking them twice―looking for that elusive, definitive, capital-L List of books guaranteed to whisk me off to fantasyland on an e-ink carpet.
I haven’t found that List yet, but I discovered a few worth mentioning here.
For example, Slate.com has a list of books for the beach, about the beach.
The NPR has many lists, including lesser-known books for kids’ and teens’ books, and funny ones too for summer.
A chapter of the Sisters in Crime mystery writers' group (all of us Novel Adventurers are proud SinC members) has provided a list ofbeach-worthy reads written by authors in the group.
Perusing these lists and compiling them into my own List made me ponder what a “summer read” really signified for me.
Before starting high school, I was home-schooled and read non-stop, no matter the season. When I entered public school, I welcomed the summer months as a time when I could read something for pleasure, school weeks being hectically full of social activities. During summers in high school, I practiced Spanish by reading Harlequins from the bilingual section of the library and rummaged through garage sales for ten-cent books. At university, I decided summer reads should be more Educational (yes, thinking of it with a capital E), and I slipped into all the classics I could find: Anna Karenina, Thornton Wilder’s plays, Chekov, ancient Greek poetry, Ayn Rand, and a lot of literature that I’m glad I read but perhaps didn’t so much enjoy reading.
But, after my school days, it’s been hard for me to keep track of what books I’ve read in what season. Books snatch me up and carry me so far away from my normal life on their storylines that, while I realize that I must have been in some way aware of the passing of the seasons, I don’t connect it to the book I was reading at the time. It’s my favorite part of reading for pleasure―the journey outside my here and my now to wherever the writer has mandated.
So, I’d like to offer my own short list of books to the panoply of (probably better) lists on-line. The books I’ve selected perhaps at first glance seem dissimilar. They don’t fit in a particular genre and probably wouldn’t attract the same readership. But all of them are about getting out and doing the things we all want to be doing during the summer. They, at least in me, stirred up that last-day-of-school tingle of excitement.
Even if you haven’t got the time to sit down and read these books before summer greenery turns into autumn’s yard work, they’re worth finding and keeping aside until winter (or perhaps just until a forlorn bad-weather day that needs a touch of sunshine) because, if you’re like me, they will transport you to an endless summer.
1. Beach Music by Pat Conroy
I did read this book during summer―when I was still in school. Now, more than 10 years later, I remember the passages about food and the way Conroy evoked the feeling of walking on the beach, at night, even though I was actually on a bus, driving through the rain, on my way to a summer job.
2. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Perhaps because he wrote it during the summer, this, more than Hemingway’s other novels, pulls me into summertime feeling. The parties, the travel, the crazy nights―it all spells s-u-m-m-e-r.
3. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I get laughed at every time I mention this travelogue to my bookworm friends, but I will continue to sing its praises. In the summer, who doesn’t want to jet off to Italy for pasta and romance, to India for some spiritual cleansing, and to Bali for enlightenment and, yes, more romance?
4. Across China by Peter Jenkins
Travelogues almost always make me feel summery, so that’s why I’m including two on this list. This thick description of Jenkins’ trip to China when the country was just beginning to ‘open’ to foreign influences again is a pleasure as much for his physical journey from his farmhouse and pregnant wife to the Mt. Everest Base Camp as it is for his emotional journey as he sees and experiences new things.
5. The Vision by Heather Graham
One of my favorite warm-day activities is scuba diving. So, I knew I was going to like it when I picked up this paranormal mystery. Graham serves up plenty of scuba adventures, a strong female lead character, and a great backdrop of the Florida Keys. Sounds like sunny vacation time to me!
6. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George
I do love a detective-on-vacation story and this one and the next book on my list are good both for thrills and for vicarious traveling. In this novel, George’s main series character, Thomas Lynley, seeks the remote Cornish coast to help him recover from the loss of a loved one (trying not to put in any spoilers for those who haven’t started the fantastic Lynley series). Though the fog-swept bluffs and rocky beaches described in the book won’t make everyone’s heart sing “summer,” I certainly got the feeling I was on vacation while reading.
7. The Web by Jonathan Kellerman
A different type of holiday is in store for amateur sleuth (and professional psychologist) Alex Delaware, Kellerman’s main series character, when Delaware accepts a short assignment on a tropical island in the Pacific. The island itself may be a figment of Kellerman’s amazing creative powers but it doesn’t feel like it while you are reading the book. The foliage, the beaches, the reefs…if you want an island vacation but your budget doesn’t, this book is a quick way to get a taste of beach-side living, with a thrilling storyline to boot.
What books make you feel like summer?