Every year, the columns of magazines and newspapers and the airwaves of NPR stations across the country are filled with suggestions for “Summer Reading”. There’s an inherent assumption in all these pieces that I’ve never understood, which is that “summer reading” is different from fall or winter reading – it’s lighter, and less demanding. But this confuses me. Does the presence of the sun in the sky or the proximity of sand reduce our capacity to digest longer, denser, more complicated books?
Quite the opposite, I would contend. On those (all too rare) occasions when my wife and I are able to finagle a kid-free trip to a distant beach somewhere, we pack more books than clothes, and always stay somewhere with no internet or phone service. Hammocks, on the other hand, are an absolute must. The enforced break from the incessant demands of our busy lives is just as pleasurable as bobbing up and down in the waves and drinking margaritas. And we read up a storm.
When I’m at home it can be a struggle to claw out time to read even a few pages a day – to my wife’s amusement I often fall asleep with my book still in my hands. I wake up in the morning unable to remember what I read the night before, and for obvious reasons, this makes it challenge to keep track of a novel’s plot. But with all that glorious, uninterrupted vacation time, I’m able to immerse myself in books in a way that I simply cannot with the usual distractions of everyday life. So for me, vacations (at least vacations without my children) are an opportunity to get my teeth into all those long, dense novels that I have been eyeing on my shelf for the rest of the year.
So, a suggestion. When you pack for this year’s spring break or summer vacation, forget this idea that beach reads should be fluffier fare than what you read back at home. Experiment. Take a risk or two. Pack a book you’ve been meaning to read for ages but just never had the time for. Dive in. When you come up for air, that margarita will be waiting for you.
In signing off, I’d be remiss not to mention (one last time) the Unbound Book Festival, which takes place on the campus of Stephens College on April 23. This event, which is completely free to the public, will bring dozens of nationally renowned and bestselling authors and poets to Columbia to talk about their lives and books. There is something for everyone – including an amazing program just for children. More information is at www.unboundbookfestival.com. I hope to see you there!
Without question, my favorite book of short stories of last year, ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN is a deliciously quixotic collection of tales of women lingering just out of the limelight. The characters that populate these stories – conjoined twins whose show business career has faded, Oscar Wilde’s niece, Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter – are all real, but Mayhew Bergman has reached into the shadows of untold history to conjure up these bewitching stories. The results are spellbinding. Not to be missed.