Canada has turned its northwest wind toward Minnesota and we are finally enjoying real Minnesota summer days with dewpoints in the 50’s, temperatures in the upper 70’s and low 80’s, and that wonderful cool Northwest breeze. This weather brings a flood of memories — not of baseball in the sun, swimming, playing tennis or boating. No. It brings a flood of memories of reading, usually outdoors in the shade either on a porch or under a tree, the sounds of swimming, water-skiing and boating on the lake in the background, a lawn mower grazing with a buzz nearby, and the smell of suntan lotion laced with coconut oil. Urban noise pollution wasn’t a part of my childhood, but a lake house, a library card, and lots of free time were.
Today, I’m reading a classic science fiction novel published in 1977 that reminds me of the mid-1970’s rage for disaster movies — Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It’s a fat paperback — my favorite kind — full of characters I can relate to in some way, caught on a planet in the path of an ancient comet. Will they all survive a direct hit? What will that hit be like? And who cares just how plausible the premise is, right?
Summer reading. Book marketers go immediately to the stereotypical beach reads: thrillers, mysteries, more thrillers, and action adventure stories set in lost worlds of the past or far future. What are your favorite summer reads? Is there really such a thing?
I have a particularly potent memory of one week in August when I was in junior high school. My family was at our lake house. I had been to the library and checked out a pile of books, among them, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a collected works omnibus of Sherlock Holmes stories. That August week was unusual for its weather: cool, overcast, often foggy from the humidity, with especially damp chilly nights. We had built a fire in the fireplace and hunkered down inside. I read on the squishy soft sofa upholstered with pink flowers on a dark green background about 6 feet in front of the fire, engrossed in The Hound of Baskervilles. The weather outdoors with its cool enveloping mist created the perfect environment in which to read this scary story. And wild hounds could not have roused me from that sofa.
When I was ten, I discovered the romantic suspense of Mary Stewart in her novel The Moon-Spinners. It was blistering hot outdoors, too hot to sit in the sun or go boating, and after a swim, I would curl up on the rocking lounger (upholstered in dark green vinyl) on the front porch and read about the rugged landscape of Crete, the heat of the Mediterranean sun, the beautiful beach, a small inn run by a Greek family and the mystery surrounding a young Englishman named Mark. From that summer on, I was convinced that the British were the masters of mystery stories.
The year after I graduated college, my first year living in Minnesota, I picked up a book with a strange title: Watership Down by Richard Adams. It was the title that caught my eye. Once I began reading, I couldn’t put that book down, and to this day I’m still amazed that a novel about rabbits could have so powerfully held me in its grasp. A friend had invited me to spend a week with her and her family at their lake cabin in the north woods and I took the book along with me. Now I associate that specific location in northern Wisconsin with reading Adams’ novel.
When summer rolls around, I feel my attention as a writer and a reader circle away from anything heavy or philosophical and toward fun. And fun means mysteries primarily, although this summer I’ve added a science fiction disaster thriller to the mix. In addition to the Niven/Pournelle novel, so far this summer I’ve read The Private Patient by P. D. James, Death and the Maiden by Gerald Elias, Finding Moon by Tony Hillerman, and Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart.
What have you been reading this summer? Any recommendations?