Memorial Day also marks the beginning of summertime. The days grow longer, the weather warm (or hot and muggy here), and thoughts turn to relaxing by the pool or on the shore. And for many of us that means a book in hand to while away a sunny afternoon, a book to rest in our laps while we close our eyes for just a moment.
Summertime reading differs from books enjoyed at other times of the year. We have let down our guard, put on those ridiculous shorts and sandals, and made another mint julep. We are a little less serious, and so are our books. Potboilers while broiling on the sand, maybe a mystery or two, and, for the children, the latest Harry Potter (what do you mean, there aren't any more?).
For a writer, summertime is one long busman's holiday. Read for pleasure, yes, but pleasure with a purpose. Two summers ago, I was reading William Strachey's A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight, and Sylvester Jourdain's A Discovery of the Bermudas — accounts of the shipwreck of the Sea Venture in 1607. Hardly relaxing, but fascinating, and I was able to use that material to write "The Woman Who Swallowed a Whale," a chapter in my new novel Centuries of June.
But, lest you think that Jack is always such a dull boy, last summer vacation I read True Grit, the wonderful and funny novel by Charles Portis, and David Mitchell's epic The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a romance that takes place almost entirely on the artificial island of Dejima in the bay of Nagasaki in 18th-century Japan. Now that I look at it, maybe I am a reading nerd.
This summer I've got Téa Obreht's The Tiger's Wife on my To Be Read pile, but precious little else. For the first time in years, we won't be down the shore (as we say here in Maryland), so I can put off Moby-Dick for another year. We will be heading north to the Adirondacks or Vermont's Green Mountains.
Any ideas on what books to bring this summer?
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Keith Donohue is an American novelist, the author of the national bestseller The Stolen Child and Angels of Destruction. He also has written reviews for the Washington Post. He lives in Maryland near Washington, DC.
Books mentioned in this post
Keith Donohue is the author of Centuries of June