What I am Reading This Summer and Why

Novels, mysteries, thrillers, philosophy, and one big book of travel essays are on my summer reading list. How did I choose the books?
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Novels, mysteries, thrillers, philosophy, and one big book of travel essays are on my summer reading list. How did I choose the books? Some were recommended to me from readers of my book reviews and visitors to my book review site, www.readallday.org; friends provided another pile of books, either through suggesting their favorites or through gifts. My desire to plunge into philosophy was inspired by a speech given at a high school awards ceremony, and a stack of books is devoted to authors I already love. Summer is the time to indulge and going back to writers whom I know will satisfy me is an indulgence of the best kind.

One reader of my website recommended The Crazy School by Cornelia Read; set in a boarding school for disturbed teenagers nestled deep in the Berkshires ("deep in the Berkshires" actually sounds like a metaphor for deranged parents, doesn't it? I can hear my kids describing me as "deep in the Berkshires"), The Crazy School promises dark humor and a darker adventure of survival. Affinity by Sarah Waters was also recommended via email from a Read All Day reader. Best known for The Little Stranger, Waters' Affinity takes place in a Victorian Prison, where a do-gooder meets up with a spiritualist: "Now you know why you are drawn to me - why your flesh comes creeping to mine, and what it comes for. Let it creep." Who can resist such prose? Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and Stoner by John Williams were both recommended by readers: stone as a theme but not a unifying one.

A woman who used to be my boss and has stayed a good friend recommended that I read Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth (an epic and brutal story of the Triangle Slave Trade) and another old friend facebooked me that I must read anything by Madison Smartt Bell. I chose Bell's All Souls' Rising, which tells the story of the Haitian slave rebellion of the nineteenth century. I recently read Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende which was also set in Haiti during that time period. I look forward to seeing how the two books complement each other.

Another friend gave me her copy of a book she loved as a teenager, North to Freedom by Anne Holm: a young prisoner in a WWII prison camp is given a chance to escape to Denmark. A woman who has been my friend since middle school recommended American Rust by Philipp Meyer. It is about two friends from a dying steel town who take off on a cross-country trip and find only trouble: Debbie insisted it is a must-read.

My third pile of books is made up of books written by authors who are just plain wonderful to read. I loved Tana French's In the Woods, a mystery about disappearing children and the guilt of those left behind; The Likeness picks up on characters from In the Woods and takes them further. I found In Search of England by H.V. Morton at a library book sale and snatched it up. Morton wrote his travel guides in the mid- twentieth century and his writings are as much a history of his times as timeless books about his travels. I will also read books by my new favorite thriller writer, S.J. Bolton, including Sacrifice and Blood Harvest. Bolton writes about eccentric and gutsy women facing off against greed and evil, and throws in enough thrills and chills to ensure edge-of-the-seat reading. I'll read A Darker God by Barbara Cleverly (I love her Joe Sandilands mysteries and this mystery starring a young female archeologist in the 1920s sounds intriguing) and Interrupted Aria by Beverle Graves Myers. Myers' mysteries feature a soprano castrato in eighteenth century Venice: he might be minus balls but he's amply endowed with guts and brains.

And finally, I plan to immerse myself in the philosophy of Cicero this summer, reading, from Penguin Classics, Selected Political Speeches and Selected Works by Cicero. While attending an awards ceremony at my local High School, I was blown away when the Latin teacher had his students recite in Latin Cicero's speech, Pro Archia. The teacher, Dan Sullivan, then translated it for us plebeians, explaining that Cicero was extolling the virtues of learning: "these studies sharpen us in our adolescence, delight us in our final years, add lustre to favorable times, offer refuge and comfort in difficult times, bring pleasure at home, offer no hindrances to our public lives, go through the nights with us, travel abroad with us, go to the countryside with us."

Cicero was talking about education but he could have been talking about books and summer reading: delight, pleasure, refuge, comfort, and company provided through travels and at home.

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