Looking Back at Summer Reading
by Laura Bloxham
When I was in grade school I lived for summer reading programs at the local library. If I read so many books or so many pages, I could qualify for prizes. Usually the top prize was a ride through town on a fire engine. I qualified for that prize after the first month.
When I was in junior high school I looked forward to reading in bed all day, reading classics with big classic stickers on the spine. I read Crime and Punishment and Mansfield Park until my eyes were bleary. Then I’d put a sweatshirt over my nightgown to make myself presentable for supper with my family.
In my adult years I’ve had various summer reading plans. During my college summers, I read Faulkner novels. For ten years or so I read Dickens novels. Of course I read many other books as well.
Because most of my life has been governed by the academic year, I start collecting books in February. These books are my companions, stacked next to me on the couch. They give me hope that I’ll be able to finish my semester’s work and have leisure to read.
This summer, the first book I read was Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread. I have adored Anne Tyler ever since Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Was it Ladder of Years where a middle-aged woman, sick of her life and burdens, runs away from home? She starts over with a new identity. There is no way to convey the humor and the depth of understanding Tyler presents in her novels. I love the quirky jobs and occupations—the travel writer in Accidental Tourist who does not travel himself—together with gritty family relationships. I am a better person for knowing the pain and redemption in Saint Maybe.
I always read a lot of beach trash, although I don’t go to the beach. I defend the right to read anything—cookbooks, cereal boxes, and instruction manuals. No sci fi for me, but I insist on the right of others to read whatever trash one prefers. The idea of beach trash is to be absorbed elsewhere, to get as far away from one’s own life as possible. My trash of choice is mysteries. I’ve just finished Ruth Rendell’s From Doon with Death, the first Inspector Wexford mystery. The whole Wexford series covers four decades. I’m considering reading all 24 Wexfords in order over the next few years.
I’ve not given up on my junior high pursuit of classics. Nineteenth century literature is often so well-written, so full of richness, that I need to nourish myself with some in between the trash. I read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White earlier this summer. Quite compelling. Soon I’m going back to Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, which I read last in the late 70’s.
My plans are already turning to next summer. Ah, anticipation.
Laura Bloxham was born in Seattle and raised in the Seattle Public Library. She loves baseball and reading mysteries.