Summertime is for travel. Either on the road, or as Karen Blixen put it in Out of Africa, as "a mental traveller."
Like many of you, I spent a good deal of my summertime's of youth reading. I was an armchair traveler. Every Saturday when our mother did the marketing she would drop us off at the local library and pick us up again on the return.
One summer I selected The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas merely because it was the thickest book on the shelf. I still remember it's plain green library cover. The cottony soft pages rounded at the edges from its having been lent to such a long string of borrowers.
The journeys I took through those silently turning pages shaped me as much as any actual trips I took in the same years. I suppose it was then that I developed a taste for long evocative narratives.
I have found that you really can't recommend reading. We are all so diverse, and have such distinct appetites for books and films, that all you can do is offer up a taste of your own experience, and let it stand on its own.
For moody summer reading here's an excerpt from the first lines of The Sea, by the living Irish writer John Banville:
"They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes. The rusted hulk of the freighter that had run aground at the far end of the bay longer ago than any of us could remember must have thought it was being granted a relaunch. I would not swim again, after that day. The seabirds mewled and swooped, unnerved, it seemed, by the spectacle of that vast bowl of water bulging like a blister, lead-blue and malignantly agleam. They looked unnaturally white, that day, those birds. The waves were depositing a fringe of soiled yellow foam along the waterline. No sail marred the high horizon. I would not swim, no, not ever again."
A perfect read while on a bay side vacation. . . .
(From The Nest: An Artists Sketchbook by Maryjo Koch)
And another from Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, Time Passes:
"So with the lamps all put out, the moon sunk, and a thin rain drumming on the roof a downpouring of immense darkness began. Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness which, creeping in at keyholes and crevices, stole round window blinds, came into bedrooms, swallowed up here a jug and basin, there a bowl of red and yellow dahlias, there the sharp edges and firm bulk of a chest of drawers. Not only was furniture confounded; there was scarcely anything left of body or mind by which one could say, “This is he” or “This is she.” Sometimes a hand was raised as if to clutch something or ward off something, or somebody groaned, or somebody laughed aloud as if sharing a joke with nothingness.
Nothing stirred in the drawing-room or in the dining-room or on the staircase. Only through the rusty hinges and swollen sea-moistened woodwork certain airs, detached from the body of the wind (the house was ramshackle after all) crept round corners and ventured indoors. Almost one might imagine them, as they entered the drawing-room questioning and wondering, toying with the flap of hanging wall-paper, asking, would it hang much longer, when would it fall? Then smoothly brushing the walls, they passed on musingly as if asking the red and yellow roses on the wall-paper whether they time at their disposal) the torn letters in the wastepaper basket, the flowers, the books, all of which were now open to them and asking, Were they allies? Were they enemies? How long would they endure?"
We've had an active summer so far, with more to come. Not much time for books yet. But I get a deep longing on white hot afternoons, when the pace slackens, and the world stops. I want a few cushions, silent pages, and a wandering journey across a landscape of beautiful words.
I like to revisit places I have traveled as much as going someplace new. I find I'm the same way about books. There are the volumes that you pass on to someone after you've read them, and then the ones you love and return to again and again. Where do your summer travels take you?
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