Summer Reading: One Gift of Staying at Home
As the summer has heated up and unspooled its now-emptyish days across our lives, I keep feeling a bit of déjà vu. This summer, with its lack of commitments and appointments, is the closest thing I've had to the summers of my childhood since I was, well, a child.
In April, I wrapped up my time as an editor at Gyroscope Review. The idea was to refocus on my own work, devise a new routine, head in a new direction. But the pandemic, and then the riots that began in Minneapolis and spread all over the world, made concentration on anything but what was going on impossible. Like many other writers and artists discovered, accomplishing creative work in this time was a bigger challenge that anticipated. Adjustments were required.
Summer has that kind of magic for internal adjustments, even in a pandemic. Even when the whole world seems to be a mess. As I wrote last week, I've surrendered to summer and to quieter days. Part of that surrender includes immersing myself in books.
I've always been a reader, but when I'm busy with a lot of other things reading tends to involve newspapers and magazines rather than books. Books require a different time commitment, one that allows a story to unfold with proper space to consider its message. Poetry, in particular, requires that quiet space free of distraction.
I'm having the most fun rediscovering novels. I haven't been reading much fiction these past few years; I tend to pick up nonfiction when looking for something new to read. Earlier in the summer, I read an old Kerouac book, The Dharma Bums, and realized I don't tolerate Kerouac as well as I once did. I'm too much of a feminist. I did appreciate the parts of the story that celebrate hiking in the Sierra Nevada and a story that includes a heavy dose of some kind of nature writing is something I'm drawn to. This week's book is perfect for that nature fix. I'm reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. The writing is spectacular. Owens is a wildlife scientist and her descriptions of the setting in Where the Crawdads Sing are built on a solid understanding of what the natural world can offer. She knows that nature can teach us everything we need to know about how to live in this world and her main character, Kya, is a gorgeous rendition of that idea.
Where the Crawdads Sing was published in August 2018 and has been on the bestseller lists for quite some time. But it's the perfect sort of story for right now. Kya, living alone in a coastal marsh, is just the sort of strong survivor that I like. She is a woman who respects the natural world all around her, and gathers its lessons and gifts together to infuse her life. She's wily and tough and smart. She would have kicked Kerouac's ass in a contest for wilderness survival.
I'm not done with the book yet. In fact, I'm only about halfway through. I decided to talk about it anyway, along with this summer's gift of time and slowness. I'm not in a hurry to finish. Finally, here is a summer where I can read a little, think a little, read a little more, pace myself to wait for the story to unfold.
This is a way of being I could hold on to for a long time.