Book Keeping: A Reader's Community

Summer Reading

old books

Deep in the quiet stacks were books that hadn’t been read in decades. The books would be so surprised when I took them off the shelf. I would open them up and hear the spine crack like it was clearing its throat and then it would cough out a little puff of dust. They were sort of like finding genie bottles and when you wiped off the dust, a genie would emerge, ready to grant you all sorts of imaginary things.


I’m going to read Proust again. I confess that I’ve never made it through the entire series, though I’ve read Swann’s Way twice, and In a Budding Grove once, and I’ve started Sodom and Gomorrah. This time I’m going to read Sodom and Gomorrah and go right on to the end.


For me a holiday is not a chance to switch off, crash out, and dumb down with a blockbuster thriller, but rather a precious opportunity to confront that monumental read that is just too daunting at other times.


I can remember cracking open my first Nancy Drew in the back of a van, winding up a mountain road. That summer, I read one Nancy Drew book after another, ignoring my assigned summer reading.


When Order of the Phoenix was first released (way back in 2004), the kids’ pediatrician made news for identifying a syndrome he coined “Hogwarts Headaches,” when a half-dozen 9-year-olds showed up in his office complaining of eyestrain and sore wrists.


Here’s a confession: sometimes, when I’m bored by a movie­—let’s say it’s a strained romantic comedy—I’ll pretend that all the characters on screen are androids.


I started All The King’s Men in early spring—I picked up a used copy in the sale bin outside of a public library in Memphis. I paid a quarter for it and read it on the plane back to New York. I don’t know why I didn’t read it when I was twenty.


Certain books are so strongly associated with the places and times we read them, we cannot imagine having been in that spot or subsequent events having transpired without them. This was the case for me with Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession.


If my physical life was lived in Volkswagen microbuses, the Dairy-L drive-in, and Crider’s Variety store, in my mind I repeatedly took tea, hunted grouse, rode slow-chuffing trains and wore a maid’s white pinafore. It was but too true: I had become an Anglophile, and it was all Agatha Christie’s fault.


This summer I’m going to start rereading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, about life in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. This isn’t the kind of fiction I usually read, and yet my first pass through the series was the best reading experience of my life.


When I was eleven, one Friday afternoon a friend at school put a huge, battered paperback in my hands and said “You must read this!” I’d read The Hobbit and hadn’t thought much of it, but a friend’s recommendation was not be ignored.


Obviously we all have piles of summer books in our memories, but what I recall best was holing up in a Vermont cabin twenty-odd years ago with a stack of Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries that I steadily burned through.


Mysteries are one of my favorite summer indulgences, and these days it’s often a Scandinavian mystery.


Books are like pop songs. You remember them through a scrim of nostalgia. Where you were when you read them. Which cities, which apartments, which ex-lovers.