Summer Readings

by Pasquale G. Casullo

TORONTO – Why, yes, it is a tad preposterous that, every year, once summer arrives, I reach for a book which magnifies the season’s hot hot heat; living without air-conditioning, this is especially a silly tactic for surviving a sweltering August day.

However, while dusting-off these book-picks, as well as swapping trousers for shorts, I am reminded that I’ll have yet another reason to drink a frosty Negroni, followed by a gin-and-tonic or three – or, okay, for you kids, some iced-tea – for refreshment from a not-so-easy-breezy “beach read” is necessary, and always a pleasure. Please, stay hydrated in the middle of the summer while reading.

“Summer Crossing” by Truman Capote 

Capote’s first-written, last-published novel is just a good a treat as an ice-cream cone. Posthumously released, in 2005 – the manuscript was tossed away by Capote, around 1950, then subsequently found by a house-sitter at his Brooklyn Heights apartment building – “Summer Crossing” follows seventeen year-old rich girl Grady McNeil as she grows-up, very quickly, over one steamy NYC summer. There’s love, boys, and society-conundrums – being a Capote novel, of course there’s love, boys, and society-conundrums – which makes young Grady’s summer much more dark as summer wears on.

“The Waves” by Virginia Woolf

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It may be either the “waves” in the title, or the coastal-scene interludes throughout, or that I once read it while on a Caribbean cruise, one early-winter, which makes me think summer! But, I warn, this Woolf mind-shaker isn’t exactly a bright, playful day in a park. It is a dark, experimental “playpoem,” as Woolf liked to call it. And, as a friend noted: “It isn’t summer-y. It’s like DEATH.” Yet, the way Woolf weaves together time, stories, and consciousness (at which she is so adept, so spider-like), of six lives from childhood through adulthood makes reading “The Waves” fit for a feverish, brain-altering day under some sun. And once you’re through with it, may I suggest Woolf’s sunshine-flavoured “To The Lighthouse” and “Mrs. Dalloway”?

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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I give the jazz-age novel a once-a-year read, in this season, because ’tis the season. “Gatsby” is so very hot that it is possible to cook a sunny-side-up egg on its cover. A sizzler through and through, jammed with hazy passion, ice-cold gin, and sweat dripping down each page, this is forever a novel for summer – every word in it is summer.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith

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Italian seaside town. A pretty boy. Another pretty boy. A pretty girl. Adventure. Much deceit, danger, murder, murder, and murder. Ah, summer.

“Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” by J. D. Salinger

“While I worked on the air-conditioner switch – with my hat still on my head, I remember the others circulated rather suspiciously around the room. I watched them out of the corner of one eye. The Lieutenant went over to the desk and stood looking up at the three or four square feet of wall directly above it, where my brother and I, for defiantly sentimental reasons, had tacked up a number of glossy eight-by-ten photographs. Mrs. Silsburn sat down inevitably. I thought-in the one chair in the room that my deceased Boston bull used to enjoy sleeping in; its arms, upholstered in dirty corduroy, had been thoroughly slavered and chewed on in the course of many a nightmare. The bride’s father’s uncle-my great friend-seemed to have disappeared completely. The Matron of Honor, too, seemed suddenly to be somewhere else. ‘I’ll get you all something to drink in just a second,’ I said uneasily, still trying to force the switch button on the air-conditioner.

‘I could use something cold to drink,’ said a very familiar voice. I turned completely around and saw that she had stretched herself out on the couch, which accounted for her noticeable vertical disappearance. ‘I’ll use your phone in just a second,’ she advised me. ‘I couldn’t open my mouth anyway to talk on the phone, in this condition, I’m so parched. My tongue’s so dry.’

The air-conditioner abruptly whirred into operation, and I came over to the middle of the room, into the space between the couch and the chair where Mrs. Silsburn was sitting. ‘I don’t know what there is to drink,” I said. “I haven’t looked in the refrigerator, but I imagine-‘

‘Bring anything,’ the eternal spokeswoman interrupted from the couch. ‘Just make it wet. And cold.’ The heels of her shoes were resting on the sleeve of my sister’s jacket. Her hands were folded across her chest. A pillow was bunched up under her head. ‘Put ice in it, if you have any,”‘she said, and closed her eyes. I looked down at her for a brief but murderous instant, then bent over and, as tactfully as possible, eased Boo Boo’s jacket out from under her feet. I started to leave the room and go about my chores as host, but just as I took a step, the Lieutenant spoke up from over at the desk.”

Bonus! “The Elements Of Style” (Illustrated by Maira Kalman) by William Strunk & E. B. White

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At this age, this stage in life, we non-academics are no longer free from school for summer, spending days rolling down grassy hills, splashing in water, bicycling on bicycles, letting our brains melt in mid-day sunshine. And since we won’t be back in school any time soon, we are always in need of a good grammar boning-up. But never fear, going through “The Elements”, with charming drawings in the illustrated edition, isn’t as stifling as being in Mrs. Miller’s closed-window classroom. You’ll learn, and re-learn, a lot.

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