Reading list: Books of summer

Memorial Day, like New Year’s Eve, is one of the more somber holidays. In both cases, we look back, reviewing the past year or remembering those who have died in the service of our country. But 24 hours later matters are quite different. On New Year’s Day we celebrate new beginnings, make all those resolutions to improve ourselves, look forward to good things in the months to come.

In a similar manner, as soon as Memorial Day is over, summer begins. The official date is, of course, June 20, which is the solstice or something. But in our hearts the holiday season of sun and fun begins right now. School kids will have to wait a little longer, but for the rest of us it’s time to think about slowing down, relaxing, getting out our swimsuits (and possibly hitting the gym), and planning our vacations and our summer reading.

And there’s the rub.

Every year about this time I think: This summer I’m really going to read a few books just for pleasure. I never do, of course, which is discouraging, but just now I always imagine that, yes, this time I’ll manage a couple of weeks off, maybe a week at a borrowed beach condo, and I’ll take with me — what?

Well, I know just what. Throughout the year my issues of the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books have been been carefully piling up, week after week, awaiting my attention. Oh, I’ve glanced at them, even read a few reviews and articles, but I’d really like a chance to kick back and enjoy 30 or 40 of them, at least two a day, while sipping a beer or a lemonade under a beach umbrella, in between watching the bikinied beauties strolling along the sand.

It’s a simple, uncomplicated enough wish, but somehow it never quite happens.

As for books: Well, I’ve been meaning to read Carter Dickson’s The Punch and Judy Murders and William Sloane’s thrillers To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water and Clayton Rawson’s four Great Merlini whodunits for quite some time. (I have read Death from a Top Hat, but want to go through it again before going on to its three companions.) People always assume that I’ve devoured and gushed about the 12 volumes of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. Nope, I haven’t. I’ve also long wanted to plunge into Horace Walpole’s letters and Lord Byron’s letters. I’ve enjoyed one-volume selections, and know how good they are. Then I’ve got books by a score of authors I really want to learn more about: John Cowper Powys, his brother T.F. Powys, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Leonard Merrick, Arthur Morrison, Talbot Mundy, Julian Maclaren-Ross, Ernest Bramah, Martin Armstrong, Stella Benson, David Lindsay and Stanley Weyman. Among others.

Sigh. If I get through one or two books and five issues of the TLS, I know I’ll be doing better than usual. I know myself. If I’m not meeting deadlines, I figure I should get away from reading all the time. Which means that I’ll end up driving to some used bookstore instead, spend hours happily browsing the shelves, and bring home still more books I won’t ever have time for. Oh, well, hope springs eternal and all that.

Besides, I can always read when I’m retired and not playing shuffleboard.

But what about the other members of the Reading Room: Have you thought about the books you’ll be reading for fun this summer? Share some recommendations. Do you feel obliged to keep up with the latest best-sellers? Or do you return to favorite classics? Which ones? Suggestions and recommendations are always welcome.

— Michael Dirda

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