Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Reading

All the Summer Reads lists that have been flying out of the woodwork recently have me thinking about some of my most satisfying summer reads. As a reader summer as a time to read isn't anything special to me. My hibernation instincts make me value fall and winter more as perfect reading times. Me cozy inside, cold weather on its own outside. What could be more conducive to reading? That weather makes me not want to leave the house, every chair in the world is made more comfortable with a blanket added to it and there are no yard work chores breathing down my neck. Those things make getting comfy with a world in your hands ready to enter a guilt free, energy conserving pleasure.

Oh well. It is tradition, longer days and the end of the school year that makes summer the acknowledged king of reading seasons. There are a few books for me that have the memory of reading them tied into summer. For some of them it is because they were read during some high school summer vacations. The others were read on day trips to local lakes with much loved, happy, loud children or on my back porch surrounded the smells and sounds of hot days and one during a summer spent in an I.C.U. while I watched and waited for my Father to recover from a dreadful illness. For those reasons and because they are excellent books these novels mean summer reading to me
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Never have I ever read a novel where the author loves the characters as much as the reader does. It's apparent on every page. There is the good, the bad, the ugly and every combination of the three throughout this western and McMurtry's affection for these people is right there as well. Lonesome Dove is essentially the story of two aging Texas Rangers taking on a multi-state cattle drive as their last hurrah. If you have never read this novel you are in for the read of your life and I am so very jealous.

Cider House Rules by John Irving

I do like a book about orphans and this book has plenty of them. This is John Irving's masterpiece. It's the novel where this talented writer gets out of his own way and tells a powerful coming of age story that takes place in the 1930's and 40's. The characters from the biggest to the smallest are well drawn, the plotline is strong and there are about a hundred mini heartbreaks throughout the story. Don't be satisfied with just having seen the movie. One of my favorite things about Cider House rules are that the boy orphans all have David Copperfield read to them and the girls get Jane Eyre.
Shogun by James Clavel

This was the first book I ever read that was set in the Far East and it started my lifelong love affair with Asia. It takes place in the 1600's in Japan. Englishman John Blackthorne and his Dutch crew are shipwrecked in a Japan that is closed to all foreigners with the exception of the Portuguese and is on the verge of a civil war. Blackthorne comes under the protection of Toranaga a feudal lord who is angling to become the leader of Japan, the Shogun. This novel is the epitome of the learn a million new to you things page turning historical storytelling. If you think you can write historical fiction and you haven't read this novel you have no idea what historical fiction should be. My fifteen year old niece is going to read this on her summer vacation this year and I cannot wait to be a part of that experience.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Does a girl ever forget her first Dickens? Not this girl. I chose Bleak House because it was chubby. I had heard of Dickens and had seen a couple movies based on his novels so I was good to go. What did I know? I was a silly high schooler. I was completely caught off guard by the numbers of characters, the individuality of each of them, the convolutions of the plot, the social consciousness, the sentiment, the morality and the humor. I was challenged. I had to pay attention or get lost in one of the many London fogs that roll through this novel. The massive populace of the novel spoke to me. I am the tenth of eleven children and here was a book that by page five was more populated than my world. Thrilling.
The House of Orphans by Helen Dunmore

I know. More orphans. What can I say? This moving novel takes place in 1900 Finland just before the Finnish rise up against the Russians. Eevie became an orphan a little later than most. She can clearly remember life with her revolutionary Father. Despite all she has lost she is lucky enough to escape the harsh survivalist orphanage and become a housekeeper for the kindly local doctor. In the doctor's household she blossoms. For the first time in her life Eevie is well fed and safe. It doesn't last. The townsfolk don't approve. Eevie has to move on. The characters are interesting, the story is compelling but what the real payoff is in something written by Helen Dunmore is the atmosphere. She can set a stage, build an environment better than anyone writing today. You feel every location, every shift in mood. Sadly, House of Orphans is currently out of print but it is so worth searching for in a used bookstore---or of course your library!

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

This novel is the story of two women who never meet but share a lover. In 1942 Englishman Will Truesdale is new to Hong Kong and having a passionate affair with a Holly Golightly-esque Eurasian named Trudy. Their relationship shocks and fascinates both the British and the Chinese communities. When the Japanese invade the city party time is over and survival is the new black. The occupation is brutal. Every choice made by these people will haunt them to the grave. Ten years later, Claire arrives in Hong Kong with her new husband. She takes a job as a piano teacher to the daughter of a wealthy, old Chinese family. She meets Will there and they begin an affair. There is intrigue to spare in this novel and the secrets that get revealed are actual surprises! Lee’s recreation of pre-war, war and post war Hong Kong with its segregated communities and unique culture is fascinating. While not always likeable, Claire and Trudy are strong, captivating women. 

Will I be reading something this summer that forever reminds me of summer? Hmmm....

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