Here's some books I'm going to call summer reading but truth is only one was actually read poolside. They provided an escape from my life that felt summery, however, and that's what we're talking about, right? Escape, either to some fabulous beach or at least something figurative, a time to abandon routines and relax and recharge. It’s completely bullshit. There is no escape, but I'm the moron who every year does this. I envision that this summer is going to be the summer I write for an hour every morning before 7 am; this is the summer my children and I go on countless life-altering adventures; this is the summer I lose 25 lbs.; this is the summer the unstructured time inspires glorious creativity and personal growth.
Yea, right. Unstructured time sucks. Every year, I yearn for summer, and every summer I end up grumpy and frustrated with myself. I'm not rising at 6 am to write. In fact, when I finally do wake it seems the most pressing issue for me is to read the latest Refinery29 email. I get queasy at how many hours the kids sit slack-jawed and drooling while they play Wii, Xbox, Clash of Clans, or Netflix, yet I lack the initiative or brute force to compel them to do something else.
Rather than a season of growth and adventure, or even just fucking chilling out, summer is a time of self-recrimination for me. It’s a time to confront the fact that I’m a fundamentally lazy person. I know there are incredibly motivated Type A people who are achieving all sorts of impressive things every day--workouts, professional goals, deeper bonds with their offspring. I'm more than halfway done with my life and I'm still struggling with my essential truth: I'm a Type A wannabe. Summer is a great season for people like me, who read too many novels, succeed at not reaching their potential, and aren’t as firm and trim as they could be. It’s my prime time, yet I feel guilty.
Here we are in the season that favors Type not-As, and I can’t embrace it.
Which is why I like reading. It takes me away from my brain. It's my real summer escape and yet I can do it all year long. I'm not reading these books RIGHT NOW, but with propulsive plots, the right dose of humor, and terrific characters, they make perfectly beachy summery fun. So whether you’re hiking in Acadia while on a week off from your high-powered job, woke at 5:30 am to kayak 10 miles down the Hudson, or you you’ve laid on the sofa for the last 45 minutes scrolling through Instagram, here’s some escape:
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz—have a real affinity for what is known as "cozy mysteries," the name given for Agatha Christie-esque mysteries. I guess cozy means low on gore, high on Englishy settings and quirky characters. Magpie Murders is a mystery within a mystery, and is partly told by the editor of the bestselling cozy mystery manuscript within its pages. The witty writing is most fun when we're with the editor who gets pulled into the role of amateur detective.
I know it seems like this affinity for cozy mysteries is evidence of my creep toward decrepitude but I think it’s the reverse. As a girl, my first foray into the adult section of the library was to read Agatha Christie, and reading this mystery reconnects me to my girlish reading days, as do the Maisie Dobbs series, which I adore, or the mysteries set in the Shetland islands by Anne Cleeves.
Siracusa by Delia Ephron—This one I did actually read poolside just last week. Why it’s a perfect summer read: Tolstoy would approve of how specifically unhappy these two couples are. They take their shaky unions to Italy so the settings are terrific. And it’s clear early on that something bad is going to happen before everyone is back on the East coast. The uptight Upper East Side blonde's voice was particularly sharp and amusing to me. She's full of her own certitude and tragically hovers over her weirdo daughter. Two of my favorite fellow bookworms read this and pressed it into my hands (“You can read it in two days. It’s fun.”) They were right.
There Goes Gravity by Lisa Robinson—I heard Eminem on the radio and remembered this book. It's the memoir of Lisa Robinson, who has had a huge career as a music writer. I've been reading her since my days as a pre-teen when I'd ride my light blue bike to Brown Drugs on Old Orchard Road to buy Creem magazine (when I wasn't reading Agatha Christie, that is). This book is page after page of juicy bits about John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Jay Z, U2, and on and on. A book like this makes great vacation reading because it accommodates repeated interruptions to give kids ice cream money, to dip into the conversation happening on your beach blanket, to rescue a small child from a rabid seal attack, or to keep up on the group text with your friends.
And three more...
The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller—Young couple moves in next door to a distinguished yet chronically dallying senator and his tolerant wife. Young wife is initially judgey.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks—a Haggadah is found in Sarajevo and we trace its history. Wow, that sounds so fucking boring, but honestly, it’s a really good book. Even if you don’t know what a Haggadah is.
The Good House by Ann Leary—a divorced mother of grown children is a successful realtor in a lovely Boston exurb. She’s a recovered alcoholic. Or so she’s led everyone to believe…
These are all novels I’ve read in years past that stay with me. They mostly qualify as literary fiction, but don’t necessarily require your most intense smartypants concentration. They aren’t afraid of a satisfying finish which I think is a nice quality in something you read on vacation. No need to be reminded of how fundamentally grim life can be on the same day that you’re waiting 45 minutes to pay $15 for plain pasta for your kids’ dinner at some tourist trap beachfront restaurant. Most of all, I recommend them because like I said, I read all these years ago and I still remember the ideas and emotions they provoked.
Tomorrow I'm going to undergo a dramatic transformation. I will spend several hours and all the money that should rightly go toward enriching summer programs for my kids at a fancy hair salon where, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, I will shed my overdyed flat black-brown hair and become a new woman, one with slightly lighter brown hair. I anticipate my entire life will be very different starting tomorrow afternoon. I'll keep you posted.