Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Summer of the Book

Memories of certain summers taste of certain books. These are the summers that held A Book so memorable, I can never think of one without the other. To reread a particular passage is to bring back the bright sweltering day I first read it. Where I was. What I was doing. The colors and flavors of that time.

Anna Karenina. I was between my first and second years of veterinary school, supporting myself as a lowly tech in a campus research lab. The work was beyond tedious--it involved counting lesions on microscopic sections of rat lung, section after section, hour after hour--and every free moment I had, I dove back into Tolstoy. I read Levin's marriage proposal to Kitty on a lunch break. I was more than captivated; I was transported. I felt for Anna, but Levin--Levin to me was real, more real than almost any other character I've ever met. I felt as though he drew breath next to me, with his passion and temper and terrible longings, and the battles he waged within himself about what it means to be a good man.

Middlemarch. Oh, Dorothea... while you were in Rome, stuck on a joyless honeymoon with that empty husk of a husband (really, darling, how could you?), we were on a road trip through the Carolinas. I broke my toe the day before we left. The doctor told me to stay off it or it wouldn't heal. Instead, I limped with my sweetheart through the Biltmore estate in Asheville and up the spiral stairs of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. We swam in the Atlantic, explored Fort Sumter, walked the Battery in Charleston. We were newly in love, learning each other day by day. I felt sorry that Dorothea (and poor Lydgate) hadn't chosen as wisely as we. (A bit smug, was I. About the toe, too. The doctor was right: it never did heal.)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. My agent had sold my first novel that spring. I spent the summer working like mad on revisions. Every afternoon, I took a short break in the backyard sun and immersed myself in Susanna Clarke's incredible imagination. The world she built is so rich in detail and nuance, its characters so alive, that reading it is like a master course in fiction writing. Not to mention it's funny and heartbreaking as hell.

A Suitable Boy. By now, I was blogging. I wrote a whole post about this one. Picked it up by chance, read the first couple of sentences, and was hooked. A Suitable Boy remains one of my top arguments for bookstores. I'd never heard of this book; browsing shelves is the only way I would have found this sprawling, gorgeous novel. I spent that summer in the dust and heat and rain of 1950s India, following the lives of four families, dozens of characters, coming back always to Lata Mehra as her mother seeks a suitable boy for her to marry. Sheer reading joy...which I couldn't possibly keep to myself. To date, I've made Vikram Seth fans out of five friends. All of whom gasped when they saw the 1,348 pages, and all of whom loved it as much as I did. We've had some passionate debates about the boy Lata finally chooses at the end. (I still say she made the right choice, Laura, I don't care how hard you argue.)

And this year? This is the summer of fantasy series. I grew up with fantasy novels, read them all through college. And then, for some reason, I just sort of stopped. Now I'm catching up with a vengeance. I just finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and just started A Clash of Kings, second in the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin. HP and the Order of the Phoenix awaits, and then A Clash of Swords, and then... It won't stop with the books, either. Then it'll be the HP movies, and after that, Game of Thrones when it comes out on DVD... *rubbing hands in delicious anticipation*

What about you? What book is keeping you up nights this summer?

This post was inspired by Melissa over at Writing With Style, who asked, "What are you reading this summer?" Which got me thinking and writing. Thanks, Melissa!


Melissa Amateis said...

I'm glad I inspired you! :-)

I never have enough time to read all the books I want, gosh darn it. And now, after looking at your list, I realize there are MORE that I need to read.

I, too, have found some terrific books just by browing at the bookstore or the library. Those are the absolute best finds, where you know nothing about the author and haven't seen any marketing on it - but are just picking it up on a whim. LOVE it when that happens.

Christine Fletcher said...

Melissa, I have a bookmark on my desk that says, "The buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching for infinity..."

Makes me feel better about the stack on my bedstand. :)

Walter Rowntree said...

My favorite bookstores to browse through are the ones on university campuses. Weird? Perhaps, but I have found some real gems, written by professors on some topic completely outside their fields. And where else would you find these? For example, /u/ Unmentionable Cuisine /-u/, my favorite cookbook (though seldom actually used), by Calvin Schwabe, an epidemiologist.

Christine Fletcher said...

Ah, Calvin Schwabe. Haven't thought about him in years. I remember I really liked his lectures.

The UC Davis bookstore was where I found Princess Bride and A Confederacy of Dunces, among other treasures.

Lisa Nowak said...

Sounds like you're in for some great summer reads. I can't really remember when I read what I've read.

Christine Fletcher said...

Lisa, for some reason summer is the only season I remember what I read when. I don't know why that is. Something about a great summer book, I guess.