Ah summer reading… childhood memories blur into a hazy nostalgia of endless days curled under the backyard willow tree with a book. And then another. And yet another. Adventures transported me to a big wide world beyond the Dairy Queen at the edge of our small town. The characters lingering long after the book was finished. One summer, I am not ashamed to admit, my best confidant was Laura Ingalls!
So it is no surprise then, that when the hot June, July and August months are on the horizon I look for my ‘summer companions‘. Which stories, characters and lives will become intertwined with my own, whose demise will break my heart and will there be one story that triumphs – each book filling me with deep joy and gratitude for the writers that braved to share.
This year my list is one of discovery and re-discovery. Some I will read for the first time and others I will re-visit out of a need for the wisdom they offer. It is a small representation of the reading list worthy titles and I am curious to learn about others. If you have a book or two for the list, please add it through the comment page. I will re-visit the 2014 Summer Reading List again and add the suggestions.
2014 – Here we go!
If I had to look for a common thread amongst these books, it would have to be, generally, the rebirth or affirmation of spirit. Each author explores deeply personal stories – some fully integrated into the narrative, others from a more measured distance. All titles are available through Amazon and most are available on the shelf or by order through your local bookstore (which is always the best way to buy a book!).
Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter – Growing up with A Gay Dad by Alison Wearing published by Knopf
A moving memoir about growing up with a gay father in the 1980s, and a tribute to the power of truth, humour, acceptance and familial love. Alison Wearing led a largely carefree childhood until she learned, at the age of 12, that her family was a little more complex than she had realized. Sure her father had always been unusual compared to the other dads in the neighbourhood: he loved to bake croissants, wear silk pyjamas around the house, and skip down the street singing songs from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. But when he came out of the closet in the 1970s, when homosexuality was still a cardinal taboo, it was a shock to everyone in the quiet community of Peterborough, Ontario—especially to his wife and three children.
The Western Light – Susan Swan published by Cormorant Books (available in paperback July 1 2014)
Finalist for the 2013 OLA Evergreen Award Mouse’s world is constrained by a number of factors: her mother is dead, her father – the admired country doctor – is emotionally distant, her housekeeper Sal is prejudiced and narrow, and her grandmother and aunt, Big Louie and Little Louie, the only lifeaffirming presences in her life, live in another city. Enter Gentleman John Pilkie, the former NHL star who’s transferred to the mental hospital in Madoc’s Landing, where he is to serve out his life-sentence for the murder of his wife and daughter. John becomes a point of fascination for young Mary, who looks to him for the attention she does not receive from her father. He, in turn, is kind to her – but the kindness is misunderstood. When Mary figures out that the attention she receives from the Hockey Killer is different in kind and intent from the attention her Aunt Little Louie receives, her world collapses. Set against the beautiful and dramatic shore of Georgian Bay, the climax will have readers turning pages with concern for characters they can’t help but love.
The Paper Garden – Molly Peacock published by McClelland & Stewart
Mary Delany was seventy-two years old when she noticed a petal drop from a geranium. In a flash of inspiration, she picked up her scissors and cut out a paper replica of the petal, inventing the art of collage. It was the summer of 1772, in England. During the next ten years she completed nearly a thousand cut-paper botanicals (which she called mosaicks) so accurate that botanists still refer to them. Poet-biographer Molly Peacock uses close-ups of these brilliant collages in The Paper Garden to track the extraordinary life of Delany, friend of Swift, Handel, Hogarth, and even Queen Charlotte and King George III. How did this remarkable role model for late blooming manage it? After a disastrous teenage marriage to a drunken sixty-one-year-old squire, she took control of her own life, pursuing creative projects, spurning suitors, and gaining friends. At forty-three, she married Jonathan Swift’s friend Dr. Patrick Delany, and lived in Ireland in a true expression of midlife love. But after twenty-five years and a terrible lawsuit, her husband died. Sent into a netherland of mourning, Mrs. Delany was rescued by her friend, the fabulously wealthy Duchess of Portland. The Duchess introduced Delany to the botanical adventurers of the day and a bonanza of exotic plants from Captain Cook’s voyage, which became the inspiration for her art. Peacock herself first saw Mrs. Delany’s work more than twenty years before she wrote The Paper Garden, but “like a book you know is too old for you,” she put the thought of the old woman away. She went on to marry and cherish the happiness of her own midlife, in a parallel to Mrs. Delany, and by chance rediscovered the mosaicks decades later. This encounter confronted the poet with her own aging and gave her-and her readers-a blueprint for late-life flexibility, creativity, and change.
The Heart of a Woman – Maya Angelou published by Random House
In The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers, reads her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world. In the meantime, her personal life takes an unexpected turn. She leaves the bail bondsman she was intending to marry after falling in love with a South African freedom fighter, travels with him to London and Cairo, where she discovers new opportunities. The Heart of a Woman is filled with unforgettable vignettes of such renowned people as Billie Holiday and Malcom X, but perhaps most importantly chronicles the joys and the burdens of a black mother in America and how the son she has cherished so intensely and worked for so devotedly finally grows to be a man.
Stripped Down Running by Andrea Nair published by Friesen Press
Outwardly, Hannah appears to have a wonderful life. She is intelligent, funny, adventurous, attractive, has money and a great husband. One would expect her to be happy—but she is far from that. What shows outwardly masks an inner personal turmoil. Hannah puts herself on a path to discover what is driving her increasingly destructive behaviour and finds out that what she thought she knew and who she thought she was, couldn’t be farther from the truth. What happens instead is a series of events that rip her life and her heart apart. When the chaos becomes too great, Hannah is forced to address the inner darkness that is blindly propelling her, or face losing everything.
There are other authors who I am patiently waiting for their next offering. This is just a small selection – again in no order :
Cathie Borrie Waiting with great anticipation for this title due January 2015 The Long Hello – published by Simon and Schuster
Joseph Boyden Giles Blunt Louise Penny Rohinton Mistry
Post your summer reads in the comment section below and I will compile a list of suggested summer readings in the coming weeks!