Bibliofiles: Pick some ambitious summer reads this year

Bibliofiles: Pick some ambitious summer reads this year

Somehow it’s now summer. The last couple of months haven’t exactly breezed by during the pandemic, but finally I am able to focus on reading. I’ve been able to carve out periods of time to take a break from the endless news cycle and (often harsh) comments on social media with a few books. But I’m not using books as escapism.

In a 2007 Guardian essay by Zadie Smith I stumbled upon, this struck me: “A novel is a two-way street, in which the labour required on either side is, in the end, equal. Reading, done properly is every bit as tough as writing – I really believe that.”

Rather than passively blow through beach books this summer, I’m going to slow it down (because I’m not going to the beach, anyway). I want my summer books to help me grow, and help me become a better writer – and a better reader. Maybe even a better person. And after being a slug for three months, I’m ready for some challenges.

Here’s my plan (and I’m sure I won’t get to all of these):

More Toni Morrison. I’m going to reread some of “The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations” and “Toni Morrison: Goodness and the Literary Imagination,” which is a compilation of essays about her moral and religious vision. Too bad she’s not here to share her wisdom on the most recent Black Lives Matter events.

“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern is a welcome fantastical relief after having to write about and read many coronavirus-related accounts. Set in the late 1800s, the story largely takes place in a mysterious circus that pops up at night in various locales and involves a competition between two young magicians.

“Let Me Tell You” by Shirley Jackson is a collection of previously unpublished writings. I’m a little obsessed after seeing “Shirley,” the movie staring Elisabeth Moss. Like many, I read “The Lottery” in high school, but being a horror/ghost story geek, I also read “The Haunting of Hill House.”

Speaking of horror and ghost stories. Dennis Mahoney’s new book “Ghostlove” is getting raves and I am looking forward to spending some summer evenings with this local writer’s work.

“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo won a Booker Prize in 2019. The book features 12 characters, and Evaristo's specialty is the African diaspora. After reading the first few pages that I downloaded from my library, it's so good I might have to purchase a paper copy to underline it.

“The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs is one of those books I’ve picked up from time to time and read portions. It’s time to read the whole thing, along with Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time,” which has sat on my shelf since I heard him speak a few years ago. I love walking around my neighborhood and, with the closing of roads for outdoor dining, we may be onto something.

“Entangled Life” by Merlin Sheldrake is a book about fungi. Yes. You heard me. He actually sprinkled a dampened copy with spoors and ate mushrooms that sprung from the pages. That alone hooked me. I read a few excerpts. It’s a little challenging, but that’s what this summer is about, so yeah, I’m going for it. I’ve always wanted to be able to learn about mushrooms so I can gather them; this seems a pretty good source.

Speaking of nature, I just picked up a copy of the “Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America.” The Peterson books are my favorites for identifying birds, trees, shells, etc. This is a different kind of reading. Rather than weeding, I’m sure I will be spending many more hours with this book in my overgrown garden, where wildflowers and weeds rule. I want to know all their names. Chances are I will leave this book outside and it will grow some interesting fungi too. And that’s OK. I’m sure the Sheldrake book should help me not poison myself.