The other day during a lull at the used book counter, Katherine and I were talking about looking forward to summer. And how that giddy feeling of freedom at the end of a school year still lingers in our minds even though it's been years since we were in middle school. Somehow, when the days get longer and hotter, we're reminded of those hectic last weeks of school and all the expectation and glee over an entire endless summer stretched out before us. I'm sure that back then we were more interested in camping and swimming; maybe a family road trip, slumber parties, or late bedtimes. But, there was also summer reading.
And not the lists of classics brought home from school to be read before the next year started. I'm talking vacation reading. Knowing I had three solid months to cram with as much Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume as possible (I was also obsessively into Fear Street)...well, for a lifelong bibliophile, summer reading meant pure joy.
Not much has changed. I still feel a little lightheaded with happiness when I think about spending a lazy day, lounging in a sunny park, and reading away an afternoon. Here are some perfectly evocative books to get you through the warm weather days.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
In The Summer Book Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.” In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life.
Tove Jansson, whose Moomintroll comic strip and books brought her international acclaim, lived for much of her life on an island like the one described in The Summer Book, and the work can be enjoyed as her closely observed journal of the sounds, sights, and feel of a summer spent in intimate contact with the natural world.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"-- and the heart of the reader-- in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
Benji Cooper is one of the few black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. But every summer, Benji escapes to the Hamptons, to Sag Harbor, where a small community of African American professionals have built a world of their own.
The summer of ’85 won’t be without its usual trials and tribulations, of course. There will be complicated new handshakes to fumble through and state-of-the-art profanity to master. Benji will be tested by contests big and small, by his misshapen haircut (which seems to have a will of its own), by the New Coke Tragedy, and by his secret Lite FM addiction. But maybe, just maybe, this summer might be one for the ages.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
When Johnny dies, leaving Katie pregnant, Francie, smart, pensive and hoping for something better, cannot believe that life can carry on as before. But with her own determination, and that of her mother behind her, Francie is able to move toward the future of her dreams, completing her education and heading oft to college, always carrying the beloved Brooklyn of her childhood in her heart.
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
The summer of '28 was a vintage season for a growing boy. A summer of green apple trees, mowed lawns, and new sneakers. Of half-burnt firecrackers, of gathering dandelions, of Grandma's belly-busting dinner. It was a summer of sorrows and marvels and gold-fuzzed bees. A magical, timeless summer in the life of a twelve-year-old boy named Douglas Spaulding—remembered forever by the incomparable Ray Bradbury.