Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Challenge Week Two: Books

Challenge #2: What is your favorite summertime book or reading experience? By the end of the week: dig up, check out, find, or purchase and begin re-reading your favorite summertime book or series. The book can be recent or from your childhood. Exercise your imagination and use all your senses as you rediscover your book, its plot and characters. Record the experience, memories, and thoughts of revisiting a favorite book or character in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass.

For me, summer is the season for reading. You can find me whiling away many weekend afternoons or mornings on the back porch, deeply engrossed in the imaginative activity of reading. It is not that I don’t read all year long—often, it is hard to find me without several books on my person at once. It is more that the long lazy days and evenings of summer seem the perfect permission to escape into a book.

To prove to you what a bibliophile I am, I will confess that one of the things I liked most about the summers of my adolescent and childhood were the school and library summer reading goals and the academic summer reading list. Meant to inspire kids to read, I needed no further urging and would set lofty numerical goals checking out half the books at a time, or plan out how I was going to read every book on the list. The summer reading list is how I discovered summer classics such as Tuck Everlasting and The Great Gatsby, along with many other books that now line the shelves of my bookcases.

From the summer reading list, I developed the ritual of reading classics in the summertime. While the “perfect beach read” is often eagerly devoured, I still continue to set goals to work my way through some of the classics. One of my favorite haunts in the summer before and after my senior year in high school was the Book Rack, introduced to me by my friend Crystal. It was a used book store in a dated strip mall, shadowed by a massive Banyan Tree, off of PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Packed floor to ceiling in a semi-organized fashion, the store smelled of dusty paperbacks, linoleum and air conditioning that was so strong it caused the front plate glass to be covered with condensation. Our destination was the wall at the front of the store that held used literary fiction, the volumes somehow less intimidating with their dog-eared covers and yellowing pages. This is where I purchased Sylvia Path’s The Bell Jar, Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, and where Crystal introduced me to J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories.

Another highlight of the Book Rack was that, on lucky occasion, if you asked the woman at the front desk if they had any original Nancy Drew books, she would reach into a bottom drawer and pull out a small plastic basket of the increasingly rare blue-backed girls’ serial novels from the 30s, 40s and 50s.

Back in the summers of 4th and 5th grade, I devoured my mom’s collection of Nancy Drew Mysteries, sometimes one a day, and developed a lifelong fondness for the girl sleuth. The liberation of summertime seems to echo the freedom of Nancy and her chums, racing ahead of a storm in Nancy’s roadster, a mystery just around the corner. For me and my overactive imagination, slow ordinary summer afternoons especially seem to simmer with the expectation that an adventure is right around the corner...even if it is just in the book that I am currently reading.

All of this is the inspiration for the second Summer Challenge: Books. Reading is (or should be in my humble opinion) an integral part of summertime whether it is for leisure or to pass time when traveling. Revisiting a favorite summertime book from your distant or recent past can be a great way to unlock your imagination, be inspired by a remembered character, or revisit an old favorite from a new perspective.

This week make time to visit your bookcase, library or local bookstore to obtain a previous summer favorite. Exercise your imagination and use all your senses as you rediscover your book, its plot and characters. Record the experience, memories, and thoughts of revisiting a favorite book or character in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass.

I will leave you with one of, what I think, is a quintessential summertime passage from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, when Nick first meets Daisy and Jordan:
“A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags…The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few minutes listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear window and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtain and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.”

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