Some summer days are warm and sunny and others are cool and rainy, but all summer days are perfect for reading. Here are some suggestions for books to take to your favourite reading spot. (Above: a favourite summer reading spot in the author’s backyard . Photo supplied.)
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is a perfect read for our times when terms like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ are part of everyone’s vocabulary. Count Alexander Rostov is given a life sentence of house arrest: he will be killed if he ever leaves the confines of Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. The novel spans 32 years during which Rostov makes his whole world out of the hotel and the people in it. At the end, you’ll wish you could meet this gentleman.
To people whose books of choice are mysteries, I’d recommend How a Woman Becomes a Lake by Marjorie Celona, an American-Canadian writer who appropriately sets the story “in a small fishing town a stone’s throw from Canada.” Leo Lucchi takes his sons for a walk in the woods where, shortly after calling the police about finding a young boy, Vera Gusev goes missing. Do Leo and the boys know something about Vera’s disappearance or is her husband responsible? For the reader, there’s a mystery to solve and a question to answer: What would you do in a similar situation?
Readers who prefer romances might consider Broken Man on a Halifax Pier by Lesley Choyce. This is a love story about two middle-aged people, each of whom comes with baggage. Though not entirely light-hearted, there is humour. From the beginning, you’ll be humming Stan Rogers’ “Barrett’s Privateers” and tasting the salt of the Atlantic.
If you like historical fiction, Days without End by Sebastian Barry is a must-read. The famine in Ireland motivates Thomas McNulty to immigrate to the U.S. where he meets John Cole. The two become saloon entertainers before fighting in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. They also adopt a Sioux orphan whom they name Winona. The novel is action-packed but is also a story about friendship and love. Recently, a sequel was released: A Thousand Moons. Winona is the focus of this follow-up. She lives on a hardscrabble farm with her makeshift family which includes Thomas, John, an army buddy, and two freed slaves. Winona’s life changes dramatically when she is attacked.
If family sagas appeal to you, you can’t go wrong with The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. It focuses on two siblings who cannot forget their childhoods in the grandiose mansion from which they are evicted by their evil stepmother. The once-wealthy brother and sister are thrown into poverty and have only each other. Their bond saves them but impedes their moving forward. Another family saga worth reading is The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames. An unnamed family member tells the story of two sisters before and after they emigrate from Italy to the U.S. A rift develops between the two sisters who were once inseparable, and the family member sets out to unravel the reasons for their estrangement.
Those who like books with thematic depth should try Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. It begins with the abduction of two young girls on Russia’s remote Kamchatka Peninsula. In 12 interconnected stories, we learn how this abduction impacts the lives of other women and how so much attention is given to finding the girls, as opposed to the virtually non-existent search for an Indigenous girl who went missing four years earlier. It brings to mind the plight of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. Another serious book is The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. It is a timely read because it addresses the mistreatment blacks receive from police and the criminal justice system. Two boys are sentenced to a juvenile reformatory where they are subjected to brutal punishments. The book is based on documented occurrences in a real Florida reform school.
One final recommendation: Love by Roddy Doyle. Just released (June 23), it can be summarized as a pub crawl by two middle-aged Irishmen. Two friends reunite after 40 years and revisit old haunts and discuss their lives. It’s a challenging read because of meandering dialogue with unconventional formatting, but it’s full of humour and (some rather drunken) meditations on love.
Whether in the backyard, at the cottage, on the beach, or in a boat in the middle of a lake, may you have many hours of enjoyable reading.
Complete reviews of all these books can be found on my blog: https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/.
About the author: Doreen Yakabuski, a Barry’s Bay native, credits the Barry’s Bay Public Library and the Madonna House Lending Library for cultivating her love of reading. After a career as an English teacher/teacher-librarian in Timmins, she and her husband, Jack Vanderburg, settled near Cornwall. Now, Doreen reviews books on her blog (above).