It’s sticky here in the middle of the summer. We have had some long sweet sunny hot days and now we have rain. Big gloppy drops falling fast and hard with thunder and lightening in the background. It let up this morning for a little while and that has been the story all week. It stops for a while and gets its second wind before the next round. The rain following and marrying all these hot bits has left a mist wrapped around the mountains. It looks like a fairytale forest where you’d expect some strange horned creatures to emerge and invite you to a supper with their wizard.
Rainy summer days send us all to the bookshelves. Summer is a great time for rereading anyway and especially the rainy misty days we are having up here now. As I get older rereading is a particular pleasure. I read a couple hundred books every year, but there are some books I read again every few years. I spent the better part of my adult life in the book business and we have thousands of volumes to show for it. We have a modest collection of modern firsts and among those are the favorite authors who lure us again. JL Carr is nice for summer. Month in the Country is a slow little novel where nothing much happens except a mural in the Italian countryside gets restored by an Englishman looking also to shine up and sort out his own life. There are sweet little village characters whose lives quietly move along. Like all of us they are interested in romance and children, philosophy and good food.
Dick Francis writes horse racing mysteries set on the great racetracks and in the famous stables of England. He is a former jockey who knows the horse world intimately and is a close and careful observer of every kind of humans. His characters are rich and deep and quirky. When there is nothing much to do as the evening cools and the rain persists but drink hot thick coffee on the porch, these stories always serve up an evening of clever comfort.
Ellen Gilchrist writes about smart exuberant zany southern women who love men. Her men are strong and funny, wild and kind. I can open an old novel like the Anna Papers and learn something new my Gram might have taught me had I just been paying better attention. Her characters don’t always behave well, but they look for dignity and kindness and respect in whatever messes they have dreamed up for themselves. There is often unrelenting heat in her stories and they are best read with a pitcher of mint tea on any steamy afternoon watching the hot summer rain from the porch.
I know some people who save summer for the big reads. They bring out the list they made on New Year’s a few years back promising to read more of the classics. These people carry Thomas Mann to the beach and feel virtuous if the lightest thing they carry is an old Edith Wharton. I think they must live where there is no winter. Because those books are made for the long cold days when the landscape never changes for weeks on end and the short slippery crunching walk to the chicken house in the morning makes you imagine the lives of those Puritan settlers.
Summer is for light reading that can stand to be punctuated by a fifteen minute nap that picks up right at the next sentence without ever losing anything much at all. This is the time for thriller movie blockbusters and books that sort of sweeten up to you like a bowl of strawberry soup. Big thoughts cannot be thunk when it is 100 degrees. This is why those of us living in the North feel so smug. The brain, at least the northern ones, on weeks of heat and sunshine loses their sharpness. They get lazy when the body is cosseted in purple t shirts and orange flip flops with little whales swimming around the toes. Big thoughts need tweeds and serious clothing that really only works in the winter. When you are wearing something with tiny straps or walking barefoot, or the men are wearing short pants, try Dick Francis. Take a little nap along the way and then have a big bowl of this soup for supper….
Puree 4 cups of Strawberries into 1/4 cup of white wine. Chill for two hours
Then add 1/2 cup of sugar
1 1/2 cups cream
1 1/2 cups of buttermilk
3 cups of apple juice
1 TBS. lemon juice
1/2 cup of honey
Chill for two more hours and serve as an appetizer or dessert. Or eat a big bowl on a hot summer afternoon after work and instantly feel exceedingly cheerful and almost virtuous…