In Search of a Good Paperback Summer

Girl Reading by Charles Edward Perugini
Girl Reading by
Charles Edward Perugini

You know those magazines and online sites that tout the latest barrage of fast summer reads? My eye goes to the catchy title or tagline with an avarice that is a tad embarrassing. It’s like a magnet, each sizzling, promising list. (But, then, I read book revioews for fun as well an info on the latest offerings.) The books on the beach lists are intellectual lightweights, perfectly breezy. They fit snugly in one’s hands. I keep waiting for a “Beach Bonanza Bingo” fold out, one I can play to win a freebie. Because the truth is, as I finish the brief reviews I’m rarely compelled to fork over cash on the suggestions.

Okay, I do find myself momentarily stalled by a book cover design and author bio, the blurbs. I do think, now this one or that might whisk away vestiges of the miasma rising from a too long winter and spring’s instability. Such a book might enable me to dog paddle in ultramarine waters of the mythic Mediterranean, a place I dearly long to visit. Or might I accompany someone who has distilled her strength via harrowing trials? I may then fly with her as she flexes new wings generated by… what, really? a mad love affair? Or perhaps I’ll get the inside story on the powerhouse CEO who takes ownership of a Cape Cod manse–which is inhabited by ghosts, one of which is an old business partner. I might even skitter down alleyways for a rendezvous in the humid beauty of Rio de Janeiro. Or outwit a detective in solving a latest pop-up murder on a lakeside wayside in noir, majestic Norway.

But I think not. There is not enough to keep me riveted, most times. Still, jewel thieves interest me; where is that paperback? That might be in non-fiction, another fine creature altogether.

Yes, I think, pack two or three in a colorful bag along with my bikini (alright, one piece: over fifty, not fearless and foolish) and head out to the sandy stretch of coast for a day of reading and SPF 30 sunning. But I had my four-day summer trip last week. I found little time for books. And I don’t own a quaint cottage. So it is off to my easy chair or bed. Or my balcony, under the shade of, well… I haven’t yet bought bamboo blinds to hang from roof edge so I don’t scorch under remarkably high temperatures. I’ll read indoors, enjoying a moderate blast of air conditioning. Iced tea at hand. A sort of oasis, afterall, in the midst of my day.

Reality, however, or the intrusion of same: that is what stops me when I peruse the June/July lists. As often as I seek fiction, my real life can’t seem to comfortably accommodate those light flights of fancy, where good folks come out unscathed and bad guys get their comeuppance every single turn. Where love is as delicious and satisfying as fresh-squeezed lemonade sipped on the sun-dappled veranda: “Oh, thank you, darling. I do want it to be that way, sometimes, who wouldn’t? The momentary weakness of considering books that command brief attention, tales frothy and forgotten as soon as I close them–all it is, is a slight pull to a life that is painted as sweet and easy. I know, millions of people devour these novels. But the basic falseness leaves me even cooler than usual this year.

Death, illness, heartache, a ridiculous car accident garnering a hefty co-pay at the body shop–these have been interwoven throughout the first six months of 2015. Life occurrences; we all have them, ready or not. So have I longed for escape, maybe beyond that of aforementioned cotton candy books? Of course. The brief coastal respite after my heart issues was a good thing, as upon our return, there have been family troubles that ring unmistakable alarms. It is being sorted. Solutions hunted. I can reach into a stubborn, deep resolve when it comes to problems, as can my spouse. We have each navigated thorny issues for our careers, but family members’ well-being is a whole other concern. It requires fast action, then careful reassessment. It requires patience and presence to be alert to unthinkable possibilities: sea changes or more loss. With the bottomless well of Divine Love, more compassion will be gathered and given.We are bulking ourselves up with prayer and faith in God, plucking insights and resources from a tangle of feelings, of shifting priorities.

As in the best fiction, in actual life the truth of an individual is often not what is imagined “authentic”. Rather, it can arise from a murk of human error and need, then one’s willingness to take healthier risks. Half the challenge of living is its awkward unpredictability. Even as we think matters are being perceived well from our outward and inward selves, there is usually something not observed or defined correctly. I could almost envy those with prodigious memories, who can reel in every sight, sound and signal by gleaning mental files and then tapping their fine heads with an: “Aha, there’s the telling moment, the unadulterated truth. Reality, naked as it is–can all not see it?” All I have is intuition and years of honing observational skills; I am not all that accurate.

Yet, why can’t my being and doing equal entirely the shining creation that once, long ago, seemed probable? That’s the wraith of my youth whining, excuse me. But the diluted lives that those breezy novels offer up, with quips and fabulous fixes? Not so much my cup of tea, you must see. It’s serious, the business of being a human, if ridiculous, too. One can be an adult a long while and yet there comes a day or evening when one is still unreasonably, foolishly jarred. Flummoxed and humbled.

Despite this, I praise every morning’s light gliding through windows and evening’s violet twilight, welcome mysterious darkness. I can and do find it lovely to laugh and it is summer, anyway, with lavish air slipping over me after Oregon’s wet chill winds. I am spellbound by all variations of light and shadow, greenness enveloping each linear or rounded space, the buzzing and sneaking about of so many insects. My daily walks and hikes are that much more amenable.

Well, I may not have the most leisurely, beachy paperback summer that others may have, but it will be a remembered and valuable summer. And there will be time for more good reads. Must be; it is mandatory especially in challenging times.

Yes, more books call to me, just not summer bestseller lists. Currently there is a surprising novel on my nightstand that should be on a beach list. But there is a meatiness of themes concealed within well-written entertainment. The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston contains Celtic symbolism, shamanism, albinism, grief recovery, time travel (or historical synchronicity) and intuitive powers, the creative life of a potter, danger, and the healing forces of love. I am halfway through it and though I am not a usual fan of fantasy novels about magic, I am rooting for this protagonist. She is strong. She is willing to learn from spiritual challenges that meet her every step. It is escape reading, yes, but it resonates right now, provides me interesting moments without too great an investment of time. And I do like the author’s turn of phrase. Brackston is a Welsh writer; I’m half Irish so perhaps that inflates my pleasure.

But since I am writing about lists of books that elicit appreciation, slight loathing or, worse, indifference, I herein offer a half-dozen titles, some in paperback. If you like reading fare that challenges as well as lingers, try these. They abound in plot and character, hold intrigue of a variety. Maybe you’ll find and like something new.

1. Power by Linda Hogan.

An endangered white Florida panther is killed. It is sacred to a Native American’s clan, and a teen-aged member knows who the murderer is. She intends on finding out why such an act was committed. There is a hurricane, there is mystery, Native American spirituality and unusual perceptions. There is, happily, Linda Hogan’s always transcendent use of language. This book is a challenge that mesmerizes.

2. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver.

Ahh. A family of coyotes, a female wildlife biologist who is absorbed by wildness, surprising human connections and the landscape of southern Appalachia. There is heart, the lush natural kingdom and surprising revelations. A departure for Kingsolver, perhaps, lighter and still very fine. One of my favorite fiction reads of the last fifteen years.

3. The Small Rain by Madeleine L’Engle.

You may know her for YA books, or only for the lauded A Wrinkle in Time. But she has written over 60 books and this one is a treasure. If you are fascinated by artistic families and how their children manage to survive and thrive, please read these moving pages by a wizard of words. Her careful touch, her probing into human psychology and an underlying respect for faith in God make her books a rare treat.

4. Mr. Lynch’s Holiday by Catherine O’Flynn.

One of the oddest and best books I have read in awhile. Here we have an English widower who visits his avoidant, lying son on the coast of Spain. All is not well in paradise. But he, patient and accepting, discovers peculiar beauty amid ruins and nurtures tentative bonds of love amid his losses. Besides, there is a secret held close to the derelict community where they reside. You will keep reading and appreciating the author’s deft skills, the human carnival that is revealed.

5. The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro.

Okay, this may be the lightest one. But it’s 1955 and from London to Paris we are taken on a multi-layered journey to discover what and why Grace inherited something important from a benefactor, of whom she has never heard before. It is about war and its aftermath, hard choices that have long reaching effects, and also the power and intricacies of perfume. How could I not have read this one and passed it on?

6. The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth. It’s for children, it seems at first, and has only 88 pages. It has pictures! At the start, a Japanese artist and an unwanted white cat have problems galore. But compassion wins out and that cat…well, she is one strange and awesome creature. A good thing to read when you are feeling overwhelmed by our clunky material world. First published in 1930.

There are my June’s half-dozen. If you have a favorite title or author, please do leave it in the “Comments” section. And if it is a fat paperback beach read, give me your recommendation–I am always open to a good tale nicely turned out. If there is any interest, I may offer more titles at another date, as I tend to seek writers or books often less popular or well-known and would love to share them with you. Indulge yourself in a glorious summer of reading–I’m soon checking in on the Seer and the potter. And after the respite of reading, I’ll be looking for right and good results of work on family needs. I hope you make your way well this summer, too, and have strudy support if needed beyond the world of books.

5 thoughts on “In Search of a Good Paperback Summer

  1. Beautifully written, Cynthia. I’d be hard put to choose a favourite, so here’s the first that came into my head: James Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man’. I was pretty young myself when I read it, so I don’t know if I would still like it so much.

    1. Ah, well, of course you would name a classic written by a genius, putting me to shame! Not a lightweight, absolutely literary. Good one, Derrick, thank you for sharing your choice–I may have to list the ones I love that DO keep company with this one. (And I wonder, as well: would I adore Hermann Hesse’s work as I did as a teen?…)

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