Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Reading

1.     Summer reading should be light, some say. The listers recommend flimsy stuff but I believe summer reading should be engrossing, so when, every once in a while, you look up and see the beach or the camp or the lake or the rainy windows on an inside day, you can breathe in the wonder of the northern Ontario summer, sigh with pleasure and drift back into the book.

Here are my picks for engrossing enjoyable summer reads. Some are old and some are not.

1.     This One Summer by brilliant Canadian graphic novelists Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, the creators of Skim, another fine book. A young girl meets up with her friend at the cottage community but the two discover a secret. A coming of age, beautifully drawn, tenderly written.

2.     Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She walked the Pacific Trail and then wrote about it. This book charmed me.  I admired Strayed’s guts, her winning fight against fear, her ability to endure pain and her attitude to her poverty. I also liked her candour when she spoke about her sexual desires and her sexual life. She had little money to use on the trail and mailed forward boxes with a 20$ bill in them, all she could afford.  I missed her once the book was done.

3.     A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. I saw the movie many years ago but the book took my heart. It’s 1912, and young Lucy Honeychurch teeters between dull respectability and authentic living. She is drawn to conventionality but then, in Italy, she meets George Emerson and his iconoclastic father. The characters of her fiancé, Cecil Vyse (deadly dull) and Aunt Charlotte Bartlett (ditto) are marvelous comic inventions. I found so much humour in the writing, almost Jane Austen like, that was omitted from the movie, proving once again that the book is always better.  

4.     Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. In the small Colorado prairie town of Holt, an elderly widow visits her neighbour, also elderly, also alone, and suggests he come over sometimes so they can sleep together. A simple book of love and caring carries you along by the clear and simple language, the descriptions of the natural world, the depth of the characters. Anything by Haruf is worth reading. This was his last novel. He died of cancer soon after it was published.

5.     The King’s Curse by Phillipa Gregory.  For the lover of historicals who will not spurn another visit to the court of Henry VIII. Gregory, an historical master, introduces Margaret Pole, a woman with unfortunate family connections. Henry wants to divorce Queen Katherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Margaret Pole is a friend of the queen. The king is portrayed as childish, spoiled, conceited, arrogant and above all lazy, a slacker king who loves to play and party. He would have done well in the 21st century.

6.     Euphoria by Lily King. In the steamy New Guinea jungle, anthropologists Nell Stone (based on Margaret Mead) and her unpleasant husband meet a fellow anthropologist, a lonely and depressed young man (based on Gregory Bateson). It is 1933 and things get steamier as Nell’s brilliant mind and her passionate concern for the local people add up to a multi-layered story of intellectual and physical desire.

7.     Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. A Japanese classic. Written in haiku-like language the story describes a rich, married, and rather feckless man who, from time to time, travels to the mountains to meet the geisha who works at a mountain spa in the snow country. From the start, both the reader and the two lovers know their romance can go nowhere, a fact that gives the book its strange, delicate feeling of sadness.

8.     A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. George’s long time partner has died and George, a professor in LA, is bereft. Over the course of a single day, we meet his neighbours, his students, including the teasing Kenny, a strange young man attracted to George but whether sexually or just as a needy student is not entirely clear, a woman friend in a hospital, a drunken very needy woman friend (based on the poet Iris Tree) who he treats with patient kindness and then a chance meeting with Kenny in a bar which leads to the great swimming scene when he and Kenny go swimming in the ocean. During the single day, Isherwood tracks George’s mood fluctuations, his hatred of the homophobia around him and the difficulties of living in a society saturated with it. George is an alienated man, lonely and lost, but still retains a kindly stance towards the people he encounters.  I have never read Isherwood before but now I am drawn to him.

9.     Rust is a Form of Fire by Joe Fiorito. Standing on the corner, watching all the world go by. That was Joe Fiorito who spend many hours on a busy Toronto street corner observing—just observing. His collection of short observations hypnotized me. You might have to search around for this book which was published this year. Try on line. You won’t regret it.

10.  The Fixer by Joseph Finder. In the summer, many people turn to mystery novels. Joseph Finder is always a good choice. After Rick Hoffman lost both his high paying job and his fiancé, he is reduced to living in the abandoned and dilapidated house belonging to his father who is left speechless after a stroke and who is confined to a nursing home. But why are there three million bucks hidden in the walls of the old place? And why did the father, a lawyer, consort with seedy characters linked to municipal corruption? And what about this gang of thugs who follows him around with murderous intent?

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