Whether it's the indulgent hours or lighter genres, summer reading is characterized by its reverie. In My Summer Books, NPR hosts and reporters talk about their summer reading. Today, Day to Day correspondent and book editor Karen Grigsby Bates.
Do you have a favorite memory of summer reading?
I'm a winter person, and have many more fond memories of being squirreled away somewhere cold while nasty New England weather raged outside, but I do remember two books, on two different summers, quite clearly.
The first is the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school. I was taking summer school classes because I was too young to work and my parents thought I needed something constructive to do other than hanging around the house. For some reason, I bought a paperback copy of Gone With the Wind. It had a bright red cover with Scarlett in Rhett's arms, as Atlanta burned in the background. I took it to summer school every day, and instead of eating lunch or lounging on campus during breaks, you could find me sitting beneath a tree or in a stairwell or wherever there was a little quiet, reading about Scarlett O'Hara's adventures.
To this day, I have no idea why I was so enthralled with GWTW: Its racial politics were appalling (something my mother, raised in the segregated South, never failed to point out when she saw me reading it), the plot was over-the-top melodramatic and Scarlett was one of the most unlikable heroines ever dreamed up on paper. But damned if I didn't just blaze through all 800 some-odd pages to the (literally) bitter end. (I didn't see the movie until I was in my mid-20s, and it was a complete letdown. Even Clark Gable — he just wasn't the Rhett Butler of my adolescent imagination.)
The second summer book I clearly remember is one I read on Martha's Vineyard, where I shared a house with a bunch of friends. I'd brought along a copy of this book someone had told me about, by a newly discovered black writer named Walter Mosley. So I read Devil in a Blue Dress in a hammock on a sunny side porch. And by the time I closed the cover, the next person who'd expressed an interest in it had his hand stretched out. That book got around more than I did — it showed up on the beach, at backyard cocktail parties, in the house library on the afternoon it stormed.
On one of our last nights there, we cooked a mess of lobsters and opened several bottles of champagne and sat around cracking, dipping and sipping — and discussing Easy Rawlins and Mouse and speculating on whether Hollywood (which we were certain was going to make this book into a movie) would manage to find an actress believable enough to portray the mysterious Daphne Monet. (They didn't.)
Could you name an all-time favorite summer book?
I'm always trying to recreate the total engrossment I got when reading Gone With the Wind at 14 or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at 10. I want a summer book to take me someplace I can't get to myself (physical or mental landscapes) or tell me a really good story — the literary equivalent of a NPR Driveway Moment. And I do have a list of favorites:
Jane Eyre, a perennial favorite by Charlotte Bronte
The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen Carter
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
A Venetian Affair by Andrea Di Robilant
Sally Hemings by Barbara Chase-Riboud
Erasure by Percival Everett
Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch
Is there a genre you reserve for summer?
I'm as likely to take a book on 16th-century Venetian life and culture to the beach as I am a gossipy novel. If I'm at the beach, whatever I'm reading is a beach book. I read for work and pleasure year round.
I do like rereading classics in the summer (you can catch me with a Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott at some part of every summer). And though I'm a year-round mystery reader, I read more of them in the summer, because I stay up a little later and travel for fun a little more.
Is there a book on your shelf just waiting for this summer?
Quite of few of them:
Isabel Allende's Zorro
Lisa Grunwald's Whatever Makes You Happy
David McCullough's 1776
Sean Wilsey's Oh the Glory of It All