Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer Reading: Installment 1

"Lying on top of the car with my face to the black sky was like lying on a closed trunk on a summer night. For the first time in my life the weather was not something that touched me, that caressed me, froze or sweated me, but became me. The atmosphere and I became the same."
-On the Road
Jack Kerouac

My friends moms have been asking me for book recommendations since I was roughly 15 years old. It wasn't until I got to be about 18 that my friends themselves started asking me. So, over the past 10 years or so, I've learned a little about people and their reading habits. One of the many things I've learned is that come about mid-June, everyone is looking for a recommendation. And it's not the people with whom I talk about books on a regular basis--it's the people who finally have time to sit down and read on vacation. This is a primo opportunity for me to dig into the archives of my reading past and pull out some great things that made my own summers so vivid and lively.
Last weekend was Memorial Day, meaning that the summer reading fever has begun, and thankfully so! So, in anticipation of the summer reading onslaught, I thought I'd get ahead of the game and make some recommendations for great summer reading.
I want to split this post into several installments because I have quite a few and didn't want to be overwhelming.

I figured I'd give you an instance in which you might desire a new book and then go from there. This was a fun exercise for me--worked my brain a little.

So, here are some books for you if you are...

Sitting at the beach for a week:
The beach is the best. Sun, booze, bathing suits, sand in places that probably shouldn't see sand, sun hats, and water. So when you're at the beach, enjoying yourself and escaping from the reality that is your normal life full of bills and work and other people's needs, you just need a book to take you somewhere else. Recently, I was sent an advance copy of The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri and I finished it in about 2 days. The story is an easy read and well-written. You can tell from the book that the author knows the sea well--it is the most constant and steadfast character in the novel. Barbieri's writing about the sea is lovely and lilting and if you're sitting near the beach while you read it, then I imagine it would come even more to life. The story surrounds a woman whose powerful husband has cheated on her, so she leaves with her two young daughters to visit a long-lost aunt in a very small beach town where she has to learn to find her own way. The novel goes quickly and would be perfect for a sunny, hot day.

Another great beach read is One Day by David Nicholls. Warning--you will cry like a baby behind your sunglasses. Nicholls has a great approach to telling the story of two people who meet in college and become best friends. Each chapter takes place on the same day over the course of twenty years. During those twenty years, Dex and Emma graduate from college, get crappy jobs, get better jobs, fall in love, fall out of love, and find that the other is still there. It's a heartwarming story that goes perfect with a relaxing day at the beach!

Ann Brashares wrote The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants which I un-guiltily love. Right after she finished the last of that series, she wrote a book called The Last Summer of You and Me which I also loved. It's Brashares first book for adults. The story follows two sisters and their childhood friend Paul on a summer that changes all of their lives. It's a well-told and insightful story of the tragedy and beauty of becoming an adult, often sooner than we want to.

Missing school:
Don't lie. You miss it. Just a little bit. Well, if you don't yet, you will if you're anything like me. I loved the freedom of summer as a kid, but in reality, by mid-July, I was ready to go back and have someone to talk to about books! If you're missing school (even if you've been out for a while), here are some books that might take you back to your summer reading days.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I had to read Kate Chopin's The Awakening which was life-altering. Edna is stuck in a life that she is supposed to love but there is something missing for her. While summering in New Orleans, Edna discovers a passion for life that she can't quite fulfill herself because of her duties to her family and to the society that she loves and hates.  I loved this book because it made clear to my 18 year old mind how lucky I was to have been born when I was, post-feminism. The language is lovely and the story may be sad, but if you're looking for a little symbolism and feminism, this is the book for you.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has to be one of the better books ever. For me, this is a perfect summer read--what could make you feel more free than reading about men in a mental institution testing the limits of their humanity against the man?!

Another book I read while I was a senior in high school was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad which remains one of my favorite books to this day. Kurtz, horrors, the Congo, humanity. Boom--English 101. So awesome and quite short, so a good, quick summer read.

Work is killing your soul:
It happens. We all know it. And what better way to alleviate that soul-strangle than with a completely obsessive, engrossing, all-encompassing book that you basically keep on your person at all times hoping to get a minute to yourself during the day or at least during lunch so you can sneak in some more pages? I know of no better way.
I've already talked about The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, but I loved it so much, I had to tell you to read it again. Sorry. But you will not regret picking this book up. I actually considered skipping New Years Eve so I could finish it. Here's what I wrote in my previous post: "The Night Circus is actually a little hard to put into words. There is a magical element to the story, but I wouldn't call it magical realism and I wouldn't call it fantasy either. But that's kind of what I loved about it--it is uncategorizable. The premise of the book is that two older men agree to hold a competition in which they choose a pupil to whom they will train for a big duel although they are not told what form it will take. It ends up becoming the Night Circus which only opens at dusk and closes at dawn and contains magical tents, amazing characters, and the beautifully woven story of the competitors who make it real. My favorite part is that the book turned out not to be what I thought it was about the whole time (at least in my interpretation) and I love when things surprise you like that." Just go get it.
I loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It was one of the first books I read after graduating from college, so maybe that's why I associate it with summer. Or because it takes place in the South, I don't know. But either way, if you are one of the 5 people on the planet who hasn't read it, you should grab it. I loved the story--it was heartbreaking and funny at the same time and was something you could sink your teeth into rather than just brush past.
I used to be in a book club and one of their picks was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon which I fully anticipated hating. I ended up loving it and it earned a spot in my Top 10 list for 2010 post. I'm not a big mystery person, but this one grabbed me and held on tight. The story is beautifully translated and follows a boy whose father owns a bookstore where he finds the book The Shadow of the Wind and begins to realize the mystery behind it and its author. It's lovely, particularly if you're a book lover by nature.
Those are the first three instances in which you might need a good book recommendation, but I have more, so stay tuned for future posts next week!
I hope that your summer reading has begun and that you're able to sit down on your front porch or a pool deck or a beach chair and read while just feeling summer.

Happy Reading,

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