Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer Reading

Ahh, the sound of those two words together—what two words in the English language have a more idyllic set of associations?  And what more blissfully dreamy occupation can there be than making a summer reading list?  Janet Maslin in Friday’s New York Times suggested a summer reading list of women writers, of, well, let’s say women’s fiction.  Most of the titles are a bit too fluffy for my taste, but I have been known to read fluff now and again (and sometimes even to read crap), and could very well pick up one of them for a long plane trip one day.  The only one I would definitely put on my list is Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.  I have not read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, her big hit, but I did read Dragon Bones and liked it.

I try to keep a general to-read list going on, but there are some titles that have been there for ages and are not what I would consider summer reading.  There are some books there that I will quite possibly never read unless I have to have my leg in traction for six weeks some day.  But there are others that I definitely want to read, but for some reason would not make a summer list.  What makes a book a good summer book?  A certain lightness is desirable, but not essential, and in fact there cannot be too much lightness in the list as a whole, or it will just get unbearable.   There is of course a fantasy element to making a summer list, because I know I will never read that exact list of books, because I will end up picking up something else on a whim.   But none of that matters when I start making the list; all that matters is the vision of sitting in the shade in an Adirondack chair while my children and dog take care of themselves, the garden weeds itself, my corporeal self does the housework, dozens of yoga classes, and runs twenty miles a week. 

(In no particular order)

2666 Robert Bolano

When Skateboards Will Be Free Said Sayrafiezadeh

Brooklyn Colm Toibin

Home Marilynne Robinson (Winner of the Orange prize)

Do Not Deny Me Jean Thompson (“the American Alice Munro”—Since I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by Munro, who just won the Man Booker International prize, I probably can't go wrong with Thompson.)

City of Refuge Tom Piazza

A Mercy Toni Morrison

The Thing Around Your Neck Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Once a Runner John L. Parker

Shanghai Girls Lisa See

Indignation Philip Roth

The Forgotten Garden Kate Morton

Prague Arthur Phillips

Don’t Cry Mary Gaitskill

Those last two authors I had the pleasure of hearing read the other night at a Behind the Book event at KGB.  I confess that even though I own books by both of them, I have never read anything by either; I will try to rectify that shortcoming as soon as possible.  I'll get started just as soon as I finish Absurdistan.


  1. Summer reading for me is no different than reading any other time of year. The reason for this? My year doesn't change or feel any different from season to season; Same amount of time spent on the same tasks, same amount of leisure time, ie., none. Ok, not exactly none, but very little, summer doesn't change this.

    This is why my summer fantasy is not about the reading, but instead about how to get the reading done, become a teacher! Summer's off! This is my fantasy job, if I could stand a room full of kids and knew I wouldn't have to teach in the inner city schools, I might actually go for it. I'm too old and jaded to teach in the NYC school system, so unless we move, summer reading will have to remain a fanatasy.

  2. Ok, summers and not summer's...

  3. Nice self-correction!

    Ideally, summer reading should take place while on vacation on a paradisiacal Carribean isle. But even a sunny day in the park, or anywhere a cool breeze might blow on a hot day, can be conducive to the summer reading mood. In fact, it is more the mindset or mood that makes it summer reading, for me at least. Plus, there is an element of fantasy to making the list; I know I’ll never really have enough time in that Adirondack chair to read all those books.

    Your year doesn't change from season to season? When you go outside in winter wearing seven layers and you still freeze, it feels the same as when you can't move without breaking a sweat? Seeing snowdrifts vs. drifts of flowers in bloom? What about when the trees change color in Riverside Park? You don't have to become a teacher (god knows I could never do that) to choose a certain book instead of another depending on whether you'll be reading it snuggled under a blanket or lying on top of a blanket on the grass. At least that's what I do; for instance, Russian writers definitely read better in the wintertime. I tend to read more women writers in the summer; go figure.

  4. P.S. Regina, you should read Once a Runner.

  5. Point well taken! thanks, I will look for that book tomorrow at the library.



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New York, NY, United States
Overeducated mom, addled by constant interruptions due to demands of family and dog, trying to read books and write coherent sentences about them. Luckily, yoga keeps me centered. Sharing my love of yoga through teaching helps make sense of it all. I have a yoga blog at Since 2015, it has been my pleasure to serve as a reader for Epiphany, a literary journal publishing fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art; on Twitter as @epiphanymag.


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