Sunday, 15 July 2012

Summer reading

From Rattlesnake Island on Okanagan Lake
There are certain books I can open and find sand between the slightly wrinkled pages. Books I've read on beaches. Opening them instantly evokes memories of summer, lying in the sun lost in the story, occasionally looking up when someone runs by spraying water, moving the towel every now and then to follow the sun or find some shade, getting up to go for a swim, coming back to the towel and the book and the spots of water dripping from wet hair onto the pages.

When I look for a book to read on the beach, I open it up and read the first few sentences. As a writer, I feel a little guilty doing this. I know that there are many books worth reading that take a little patience. But in the summer, I don't have that patience. I want to drop immediately into another world. The setting is important. I like a sense of place that's stirring, maybe a bit disturbing. That desire must come from my history with Nancy Drew mysteries, which gave me some of my fondest, earliest memories of summer reading, on a lawn chair under the trees in the backyard in Winnipeg, thunderheads building after days of relentless heat.

I found The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott a few days ago in the amazing secondhand bookstore in Penticton. The first sentence is a whopper: Imagine, then, a flat landscape, dark for the moment, but even so conveying to a girl running in the still deeper shadow cast by the wall of the Bibighar Gardens an idea of immensity, of distance, such as years before Miss Crane had been conscious of standing where a lane ended and cultivation began: a different landscape but also in the alluvial plain between the mountains of the north and the plateau of the south. Novels don't begin with sentences like that anymore. When I read it, I didn't even completely make sense of it. I just knew that I was there and wanted to stay (for 518 pages!).

Other great books I've read in the summer: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood; Lord of the Flies by William Golding; Fools Crow by James Welch; The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston; House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momoday: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I went on a du Maurier jag and read several others. I loved Jamaica Inn too. And will read these two beauties this summer: The Scapegoat and The Flight of the Falcon. The bookstore had these lovely old copies for $4 each. I love the Nancy Drew-esque cover on The Scapegoat.

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