Monday, June 24, 2013

What Is Your Most Memorable Summer Reading?

"The rites of summer are, by definition, fleeting: the summer romance, the summer job, or [the summer] vacation. Only the books seem to stick." What I Read That Summer chronicles the summer reading experiences of twelve well-known writers: Louise Erdrich, Alexander McCall Smith, and Junot Díaz, among others.

My most memorable summer of reading was the summer I turned eight. I was taken down to meet an English Literature professor. From the university library, she borrowed a heap of twenty Classics for me by: Jane Austen, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, and others I have since forgotten. I was given two months and was instructed to not only read all of those unabridged books, but was to discuss each of them at the close of summer.

It was a painful summer. I was too young to understand many of the themes and theses of the stories. This was my first introduction to The Novel, and I found it to be, in Tom Wolfe's words,"big, poetic, strange, disorderly, 'a story of the buried life.'"

But on the flip side of that summer, I gained a love for a well-crafted story with complex characterization with motivations beyond the immediate and beyond the sundry. As Pico Iyer said, "Books seldom so possess you as when you’re a kid, alone and eager for transformation." And so it was with me. I luxuriated in the stories, while I lolled on the sofa with my legs up on the arms, sitting in a fashion deplored by my mother.

It turns out, eight was the right age for me to have read those books. I, as Joy Williams puts it, "was on the verge of maturation, [like the] summer, the season that eternally promises and confounds so much."

Everyday, the door to the living room would stay shut, and, as Jorie Graham put it, "I began to cross that other doorway, that frame filled with lines of black on white, and began to forget. My hands disappeared, my head, the room, the garden, its bursts of sparrows..." I would be immersed in the stories and would barely surface to eat. I have no memory of what I ate that summer or what I did other than read. I do remember my mother scolding me a few times to go down and play. I remember my friends calling my name in the evenings from below (our apartment building had only two floors and we lived on the top one), urging to come down and play. But I have no memory of playing or gossiping with them.

I read and read and read, and the only memories that exist from that summer are from within the pages of those books. The twelve writers in the article, What I Read That Summer, also prove that "perhaps if you’re looking for an enduring summer romance, a good book might be your best bet."