Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reading in the Garden (The Fun Summer Book List)

The best thing about summer is that it is nice enough out to spend a lot of time outside. It's what puts it among my top four favorite seasons. During the rainy winter months, my head often strays to wistful thoughts of barbeques, concerts on the lawn at the zoo, walks in the woods, and reading in the shade. It dawned on me yesterday that my favorite place in the world right now is my back yard. While the age worn back deck needs some work, the yard itself is, quite frankly, one of the prettiest yards I know.

It beckons to me when days are long and work is stressful. On those days, I find myself looking forward to grabbing a book and a beverage (lately a Radler or a Diet Coke) and heading straight for a chaise longue. Lately, my reading of choice is light - mysteries, Regency period zombie novels, and young adult offerings. And so, I've been thinking about what I would recommend to someone looking for a summer reading list.

So far the list in my head looks something like this:

1. Anything by Elizabeth Peters or Barbara Michaels (aka Barbara Mertz): These are all fun, sometimes spooky mysteries. The Peters books tend a little more toward spooky with a rational explanation, the Michaels ones are happy to leave ghosts ghosts or at the very least leave the question open. Some of the early ones can feel a bit dated with their plucky, feminist heroines, but both are great fun.

2. Mary Stewart's gothic novels à la Thornyhold, Nine Coaches Waiting: Although best known for her Merlin books, it's her gothic fiction that I adore (if you can't tell already, I am a fan of gothic!). Written largely in the 50's and 60's, they manage to escape the kind of dated feel that sometimes rears its head in the Peters/Michaels books.

3. Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle: Words may not exist to adequately capture just how charming this novel is. It tells the story of an impoverished family's life in a ramshackle castle on the English countryside via the perspective of the smart and witty younger daughter's journal. Set in the 30's, the novel brings to mind it's 19th century English cousins written by Bronte and Austen (alas without zombies) with a little bit of Stella Gibson thrown in.

4. Young adult/kids novels like Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, etc.: Having just recently read it, Inkheart readily comes to mind, but there is something really pleasing about reading a kids' book when you just want to get away from the real world. I think that's probably why the Harry Potter books and the dreadfully enticing (until book 4) Twilight series are so widely read among adults - even those without children. Even now there is something I find vastly comforting about reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when things are not going well and my childhood copy of The Hobbit is so worn I'm not sure how the pages still manage to hold together, but they do and they are there waiting for me anytime my mind needs to escape from something horrible that has happened, like life.

5. Anything by Neil Gaiman, but especially Stardust, Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book. Oh, and American Gods and that delightfully funny one he wrote with Terry Pratchett (the Discworld guy), Good Omens. Really, you're pretty safe with any of his novels. All of them are imaginative, well written and a great escape.

6. William Golden's The Princess Bride
. The book is as charming (maybe even moreso) as the movie, which is pretty faithful to the original. If you have not read it, you owe it to yourself. Your brain will thank you for the escape into a fairy tale world.

John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.
One of my favorite pieces of fiction, and definitely my favorite bit of Southern fiction (God bless whoever came up with the idea of categorizing, because it allows me to proclaim pretty much allows me to proclaim all my bookish loves favories in one way or another!). Sadly, its author committed suicide barely into his 30's, which is not very summery or fun, but before he went, he left behind this amazing, wonderfully entertaining and well written book about New Orleans that posthumously won him a Pulitzer and has subsequently influenced another generation of Southern writers.

8. Joe Keenan's
Blue Heaven and Putting on the Ritz . It has been ages since I read either these, but I remember loving both of these light hearted novels from Frasier producer and writer, Joe Keenan at the time. The books are laugh out loud funny, with a style akin to P.G. Wodehouse meets Will & Grace (though that is perhaps unfair, since Will & Grace came later). Apparently Keenan has released another title (My Lucky Star) since the last time I looked at either of these, so I may be adding him to my summer reading list as well. Bonus recommendation: They also share much in madcap spirit with Marc Acito's more recent, but equally zany Edward Zanni novels (How I Paid for College, Attack of the Theater People), which I've talked about here before. They also make for some good summer reading and have cheered me up considerably when I needed a lift!

11. Sarah Waters' Affinity.
For someone who is straight (but not narrow!), I apparently have a fondness for the gay fiction. Personally, I prefer to think of it as a fondness for a good book - period. But I digress . . . Affinity has all the makings of a good read - it's smart, spooky and centers around 19th century spiritualism, which also reminds me of another fun non-fiction book about the real life New York spiritualist community of Lily Dale.

12. Christine Wicker's Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead.
Founded in 1879, the community has been a center of Spiritualism for the past 130 years and still offers workshops and programs centered around mediumship, healing, and psychic phenomena. Over the course of the book, reporter Christine Wicker explores not only the history of the town but the reasons why people flock to such places, looking for love and connection with the departed (and in doing so her own beliefs about spirituality - but don't let that scare you away it's subtle) as she visits with its residents and visitors of the community. (Just as an aside: Man, do I wish that place were closer! If it were, I would be feeling a serious road trip coming on. Hmmm. A cheap flight to the East coast, a good deal rental car. It's not beyond the realm of possiblity. All I need now is some money and a cohort!)

And thus ends (part 1?) of my summer reading list - not because I have run out of books, but because I am peckish and feeling a deep need for lunch. But, while I am away (and knowing my erratic commitment to blogging of late, it could be an hour it could be a month), what are your favorite summer books?

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