I am on vacation, although I prefer the term holiday, in Northern Ontario at the family cottage. It is unbelievably beautiful and serene and I sleep in a little screened in cabin on the water where I can hear the loons, the white-throated sparrow, the waves lap and the poplars rustle in the breeze. I even shared a moment with a deer this morning while I walked down the road, picking wild flowers. We looked into each other's eyes and for a brief moment I understood the universe. Then a car came and I had to yell at it to get off the damn road (the deer, not the car – I'm not in Toronto, on my bike). Anyway, it is wonderful and I am thisclose to being relaxed (it is a process, often uncomfortable). Since we're a couple days from July and the official 'start' of summer, kicked off by Canada Day and the 4th of July, I thought what better Friday Fiction than a list of summer reads. It will be a short list because the sun is hot and I will need to dive in the water pretty soon. /end brag
Deliverance by James Dickey – Who doesn't love some horror/suspense stories in the summer? I mean, campfire stories are all about terror (there is a reason I need to gear myself up before I make the trek from the cabin down to my sleeping quarters in the dark. Alone). And Deliverance is all about a camping trip gone wrong. Plus Dickey was a poet so there is a lot of beautiful prose about nature. Something for everyone!
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead – Colson Whitehead is one of my favourite living authors. He is also one of my favourite people to follow on Twitter (the modern age, amirite?!). Sag Harbor is another book about summer vacation but it's also about fitting in, growing up and the examination of racial divides and politics in America. It is also sweet and hilarious and poignant. A bit of a change of pace from Deliverance.
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy – If I had to choose between Suttree and Blood Meridian as to which was my favourite McCarthy novel, I'd probably just have to choose death. Blood Meridian is like an epic poem and Suttree is like an epic tragedy, both of which, given my background in the Classics, are my jam. I read Suttree last summer, while I was camping and it was pretty perfect camping read. The descriptions are gorgeous and pure McCarthy: The river, of the sumac, of basically urban camping (not to mention the occasional bloated floater fished out with graphic, painstaking detail – classic Cormac!) while mixed with a story reminiscent of William Kennedy's Albany trilogy: Tragic characters carving out hardscrabble lives.
The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel – There is no reason that this should be a summer read, instead it should be a carry-with-you-everywhere read. She made me want (and start to) write stories. Every time (which is about bi-weekly) I reread The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried, I weep and after I pick my heart up off the floor and send letters and messages to all my loved ones, I sit down and write. When I used to work in a bookstore there was a line from Nashville Gone to Ashes that I would read aloud to customers I deemed deserving of Hempel: "Here's a trick I found for how to finally get some sleep. I sleep in my husband's bed. That way the empty bed I look at is my own". *deeeeeeeeep exhale* Get this book and read it this summer. Then reread it forever.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner – I know this is just turning into a list of books by people I always rave about but hear me out! Crossing to Safety is painful and gorgeous and lush and vivid and a testament to friendship and a harsh lesson in aging. You will finish it and be stunned by the fact that (outside of numerous Friday Fictions), you have never heard much about Stegner. He writes people as they are: Imperfect, often terrible, but loved. He writes scenery in a way that makes the reader want to take off their shoes and feel the grasses and mosses between their toes. His writing is textured and makes my heart ache.
Kindred by Octavia Butler – It always boggles my mind when people start bellowing about the way things used to be, wanting to return to a time when things were better (*cough* Aaron Sorkin *cough*). Like when would that be? When women were denied the right to vote? Pre-civil rights? The cold war? WWII when Japanese citizens were locked in internment camps? Trail of Tears? SLAVERY? It's a bit of a tangent but that line of thinking just sticks in my craw, real bad. In Kindred (part sci-fi, part fantasy, part historical fiction, all eviscerating commentary on racism in America), a young modern day Black woman is randomly transported back in time to the antebellum south to help her enslaved ancestors. Each time it happens, though, she is further damaged and changed and it becomes harder to come back to the present. Butler is a fantastic writer and science fiction is, like horror, a pretty hot summer trend. Read it.
Antigonick by Anne Carson – Because it wouldn't be a summer reads list without a new book on it, albeit one I haven't read. Anne Carson is a genius and I want to lick her brain and then have tea with her and talk about Greek mythology and literature. A novel in verse, Antigonick is a new interpretation of the story of Oedipus and Jocasta's daughter Antigone, a story that has been turned into many a Greek tragedy. Carson blew my mind with The Autobiography of Red and I cannot wait to read this.
Great weekend to all and to all a great weekend!