Summer Reading 2012: Responses to a Questionnaire

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Back in mid-April, while living those few glorious days beside the ocean's gentle roar, I was asked some questions about my hoped-for summer reading.  Two months have passed, and some of my predictions for myself have held true. Some predictions are still waiting to be fulfilled.  Some books were in fact what I hoped they would be.  Some (or, to be specific, one) severely disappointed.  

This beautiful girl lives, by the way, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  She's one of my teaching aides for the upcoming VAST Teacher Institute.

But here is who I was or thought I'd be, in mid-April, when contemplating these questions by the sea.

What are you reading this summer?

I have an exquisite pile of books waiting for me—Cheryl Strayed’s WILD, Katherine Boo’s BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, Adam Gopnik’s WINTER, Loren Eiseley’s ALL THE STRANGE HOURS, and the GRANTA BOOK OF THE IRISH SHORT STORY (edited by Anne Enright and including such gems as the Colum McCann class “Everything in This Country Must”).  I like to mix it up—new and old, memoir and fiction.

What was your favorite summer vacation?

Favorite is a hard word for me.  Love is easier.  I loved my family’s summers at the Jersey shore when I was a kid and my father taught me how to dig for the clams with our toes.  I loved Prague and Seville with my husband and son.  And last summer I fell head over heels for Berlin.  Anybody would.

What’s your favorite book about summer?

Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD isn’t about summer, per se.  But all of its most lush and important parts happen within and under the summer heat.

What was your favorite summer reading book as a kid?

How boring, how obvious, how true to admit that it was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY that enchanted me, again and again, as I sat collecting sun on my face with a piece of tin.

What is your favorite beach read?

I never read on the beach.  I walk and look for dolphins.  I read at night, when my body is still.

What’s the last book you devoured on a long flight?

The last time I was on a long flight I re-read BOOK OF CLOUDS by Chloe Aridjis.  I was glad I did.  I took off from Heathrow.  I landed in Philadelphia.  And in between I’d lived Berlin.

What’s your go-to book to read when you know you only have a few uninterrupted moments of peace?

I read Gerald Stern’s poems.  They fix my migraines.

What’s a great book about discovery or travel to read on a long road trip over several days?

Steinbeck often works.

What would you re-read?

I will be re-reading Alyson Hagy’s BOLETO when it comes out in May from Graywolf.  I read it in galleys, my Christmas Day present to myself.  I was literally jumping off the couch to read phrases to anyone who’d listen.

What are you stealing from your kids’ shelf?

I wish my kid would steal from my shelves!  I have even offered enticements, but he’s refused. In any case, two of my most loved books of all time — THE BOOK THIEF (Markus Zusak) and CARVER (Marilyn Nelson) — were published for younger readers.  Which is to say, they were published for the best parts of all of us.

What book transports you to another time or place?

Anything Michael Ondaatje writes, but let’s stick with his memoir, RUNNING IN THE FAMILY, which takes readers to Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  All right.  I can’t stick with just one.  Let’s add his remarkable COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER, the fictionalized life of Buddy Bolden.  That one takes you straight to the wild songs of New Orleans.

Who is your favorite character/hero/heroine?

Hana from Ondaatje’s THE ENGLISH PATIENT.  I fell in love with her.

What’s a classic summer book?

Don’t all girls read THE SECRET GARDEN (Frances Hodgson Burnett) in summer?

What’s a book that truly taught you something?

Marilynne Robinson’s HOUSEKEEPING taught me that it was okay to be fierce with language.  I’ve read it several times.

What’s a first line from a novel that you’ll always remember?

The first line of Colum McCann’s novel DANCER, about the life of Rudolf Nureyev.  It goes on for two pages. The first bit ends in a colon.  What was flung onstage during his first season in Paris: ......

What’s a book that thrilled you/surprised you/scared the living daylights out of you?

A WOMAN IN BERLIN: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary.  Published anonymously, this heartbreaking and still somehow gorgeous diary recounts the life of one particular German woman in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russians.  It scared me to death.  


bermudaonion said...

I love your answers! I'll read from my son's shelves but he generally won't read from mine.

Becca said...

What an interesting glimpse into your reading and your life :)

Summer reading memories for me involve Madeleine L’Engle’s books - The Wrinkle in Time Series, all the books about the Austins. Also Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy-Tacy) and L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables).

I’m perusing my summer bookstack this morning, looking at what’s ahead...Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake, a first reading of Housekeeping don’t know how I missed it before), a re-read of Her Mother’s Daughter by Marilyn French, a short story collection, Shout Her Lovely Name.

And of course anything else that comes along.

Q said...

I wrote one of my final papers about Housekeeping.

Serena said...

Great answers and I love Book Thief and Secret Garden...if you love Secret Garden, you can see some of that in The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair, which is set in India, which I adored.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I love Marilynne Robinson! I've only read Housekeeping and Gilead but they were enough to convince me of this love.

Have you read Wild yet? I'm anxious to read.

Liviania said...

I've never read on the beach either.

patti.mallett_pp said...

I loved reading your answers and imagining you jumping on the couch, trying to get someone to listen to your favorite lines. :<)

The book I'm reading now is pure cotton candy for a light and airy lazy summer day. It got me in the perfect frame of mind for a slow and easy nap. ("In the Bag" by Kate Klise) Simply, with wit, fun!

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