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The perfect summer book
Preferably read in bed, for maximum opulence
I’ve always felt that there is something luxurious about reading in bed in summer. Whether you’re sneaking away for half an hour, or spending a gloriously languorous afternoon shifting from elbow to elbow, there is an undeniable opulence to it.
“We read in bed because reading is halfway between life and dreaming,” Anna Quindlen writes in How Reading Changed My Life—“our own consciousness in someone else’s mind.”
Sun flares through the oak branches, casting shadows on the sheets. Clouds fill the sky and rain sizzles against the window. In bed, you’re safe from the storms, the wet heat of July and August, immersed in other worlds. Perhaps the bed you’re lying in is not your own: you’re visiting family and have retreated upstairs for a breather, a few stolen pages. Or you’re in a hotel, the sheets crisp and white, your body sprawled, the air conditioning raging. The bed becomes a vehicle, a portal promising voyage with a safe return.
I recall certain summers by what I loved reading most. Ask me what happened in summer 2016 and I’ll have to think on it. Tell me that was the summer I read a specific book and it will all come flooding back. Oh, that was the summer of Maria Wyeth. My “summer book” will inevitably chart the happenings of that season, encapsulate memory and mood. I don’t remember in years, but in books. It’s become a question, a murmuring that arrives early as late June - which book will it be this year?, though it’s not something I can plan. The perfect summer book arrives serendipitously, and I’m not sure which is more accurate: that I find it, or it finds me.
Last July I was spending time at my father’s cottage and read They by Kay Dick. It’s a short book, and I took my time with it. Hours ceased to exist. Ahead of me the ocean was a field of gold static. I read beneath the patio umbrella and if an elbow or toe strayed from the shade, they would immediately burn. By my side, a bowl of yogurt and raspberries. A small plate of gruyère and cashews. A slow morning breakfast ritual of snacking and reading. Perhaps a reader feels safest reading disturbing books in the summer. Something about the sun, the chatter of birdsong. A sweet illusion.
Later that summer, I was visiting family and a week long visit unexpectedly turned into a two week stay. I had a trio of books in my backpack - one of them was Sula by Toni Morrison. It was the point in August, the apex of summer, when dates stop mattering and everything blurs together. I spent long, glorious afternoons in the spare bedroom with Toni, shaking my head at her perfect sentences, needing to set the book down to digest what I had read, bewitched by the power and beauty of her words. Sometimes you get lucky: there’s not just one book that defines your summer. There’s two.
I recently asked Girls on the Page readers a question—
What is the quintessential summer book?
Here are the books that you said capture the essence of summer:
Outline by Rachel Cusk
Sula by Toni Morrison
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
Another Country by James Baldwin
Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
Speedboat by Renata Adler
A Shower of Summer Days by May Sarton
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
The House Guest by Ampara Dávila
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Armin
In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
3 Summers by Lisa Roberton
Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
Summer Solstice by Nina MacLaughlin
Bear by Marian Engel
Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion
Mermaids and Ikons: A Greek Summer by Gwendolyn MacEwen
Feel free to add more recommendations in the comments.