Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer Reading List

Summertime is reading time(!). That's what mother used to say.

She loved to lie in the grass and read paperback novels while my younger brother and sister and I splashed about in a kiddie pool in the backyard.

Mother was a compulsive reader and every time she finished a book she would proudly proclaim, "Now that was the best book I have ever read."  Until she finished another book, then that became the best book she had ever read. So the cycle continued for an entire summer ... reading, splashing, sunburns, and paperback novels flapping in the wind.

Of all the books mother ever read, the one that sticks out most in my memory is Herman Wouk's The Winds of War.

One tranquil July, sprinklers swishing and lawnmowers humming in the distance, mother put her swimsuit on and went outside to sunbathe and finish The Winds of War. Hours passed while my younger siblings and I frolicked about, until finally, down to the very last page, mother got up for just a moment, as many avid readers do, in order to give reverence and pause before finishing a good book. Then, when she returned, she found our dog, Deacon, gnawing and slobbering all over The Winds of War and the very last page was missing. 

This was tragic, I remember thinking to myself. Up until that point in time Old Yeller had been the longest book I had ever read and it seemed like a tome. I couldn't imagine what it must have felt like to read something so long as this and not be able to finish the very last page. "Whatever will you do?" I remember consoling my mother. We had no money to buy a new book, the library was closed, and lord knew no one else in our nonliterary circle of friends had this atrociously long novel lying about.

But mother was a sly one. Swiftly she threw on a blouse and some flip flops, hurried my younger brother and sister and I into a nineteen-sixties station wagon and nary a word, drove like a mad woman down to the local drugstore where she strutted in, sunburned, bare-legged and resolute, three soggy kids in tow, straight toward a spinning rack of books, picked up The Winds Of War, read the very last page then gently placed it back upon the rack, turned, and strutted out the door again.

Three elderly townsmen stared, jaws agape, at this spectacle they had just witnessed. And as our car eased from the curb, mother proudly proclaimed, "Now that was the best book I have ever read."

I was impressed with my mother that day and never forgot The Winds of War. And years later, during a late night game of Trivial Pursuit, before my husband's drunken college buddy could slur the words from his mouth, I knew the answer to "Who wrote The Winds of War?"

It was rare moments like these when I cherished my kooky, crafty mother the most. She didn't give me much, but she instilled in me a love of reading and books and for that I will be eternally grateful.

So what's on your summer reading list?

Nothing so long as The Winds Of War, I hope.

I am in need of some ideas.

These are the books I have read thus far and am happy to report that I recommend all three:

If you haven't read Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day then you are in for a treat.

The Optimist's Daughter is a classic that does not disappoint.

And My Cousin Rachel was worth feeling like a zombie the next day after staying up all night to finish.

Anymore suggestions?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Henry and Edith

As a society we seem to be stuck in the fast lane. 

Busy, these days, seems to be the norm.
Sometimes I feel as if I must convey an illusion of busyness just because one feels inferior if one is not busy. Heaven forbid one has a quiet moment with nothing to do but set beside a pond and think and read a book.

If Thoreau could see us today ... that is what I keep telling myself.

But I know better, things were probably just as hectic in Thoreau's time as they are now.

Because if there is one thing I have learned from reading books, it is that mankind, over time, has changed very little.

Henry David Thoreau escaped to Walden's pond and wrote: "Our life is frittered away by detail. ... Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"

Conversely, in a trance of endless social engagements and mindless activities, Edith Wharton wrote Twilight Sleep, a book about a family trying to escape the boredom and emptiness of life by living in a very busy world.

Now that I think about it, these two writers had a great deal in common.
Thoreau died in 1862. Edith was born in 1862. One began where the other left off. 

And each wrote about and were keenly aware of the fact that mankind, throughout time, has struggled with this burden of busyness.

So, I wonder, has mankind always been this busy? Or, are we just busy being mankind?

I know Thoreau well. Not through his books. Oh, I tried reading "Walden" once and all I could think of was Show me the damn pond so I can throw myself in and spare myself the agony of this book(!).  No, I know Thoreau because I live with him. My husband is Thoreau. He could spend two years setting beside a pond. Come to think of it, when we were dating, I lived beside a pond. And while my future husband was pretending to visit me, I now realize that he was actually more interested in fishing than visiting me. Hmm... Should have been a sign.

Perhaps it is no coincidence then that Thoreau and hubby share the same birthday.

And, coincidentally, Edith Wharton and I share the same birthday.
Each author was keenly aware of the fact that life had become too busy, too fast-paced, and too complicated in these modern times. 

Henry and Edith were definitely ahead of their time.

Hubby and I also share another trait with these authors ... a love of place.
While Thoreau loved Walden's pond and preferred a simple life in the woods, Wharton, on the other hand, appreciated the finer things in life and lived in a mansion and wrote The Decoration Of Houses. So, I guess it should come as no surprise when I tell you that hubby prefers the country life while I prefer the city with it's beautiful architecture and cultural activities.

Wharton split her time between The Mount and Europe.

Thoreau spent two years living on an isolated pond in the woods. 

zzzz ... zzzz...

So here we are, Hubby and I, the modern day equivalent of Henry and Edith, two complete opposites coming together through place and time with absolutely nothing in common but a love of place and an appreciation of books.  Next month we will be married twenty-nine years. It's a union of mutual respect. I respect the fact that he likes to go fishing and wander about in the woods. He respects the fact that I am a town mouse and prefer cafes and libraries and big old houses on tree-lined streets.

So, I guess the moral of the story is, before marrying, do some research into the author born on your future spouses birthday. It's a good indicator of personality.
                                                                Edith Wharton 


Henry David Thoreau

I think there's a resemblance!