Sundays in the Park
July 21, 2007
Beach books. The expression has come to mean a light, fluffy read that you can put down every now and again and watch the waves or the gulls or the children building sand castles. They are paperback, usually, so you know it is not a tragedy when a beverage spills on the pages or the covers. They get passed around from vacationer to vacationer or just left at the cabin or on the boat for the next guest to pick up and flip through. I have been, at more than one vacation home, the recipient of such literary gifts, and they are not always silly fluff. In fact, from time to time, there is a real jewel on some sagging shelf that I have returned home and bought as a hardback to have on a shelf in my house to share.
But for those not beach-bound, a good read on the porch swing or under a patio umbrella is often a sturdy hardback. A book we meant to read early in life, or even earlier this year. On a warm, lazy summer afternoon cracking the back of new hardbound book is extraordinarily satisfying. Taking a journey to another country perhaps, or a step back or forward in time and falling in love with characters is a poor woman’s vacation, available equally to anyone who can read.
In the past few, hot, uncomfortable weeks when falling asleep didn’t come easily, I threw open the windows, the bedroom door that leads to the tiny porch and I let the night creep into my room. And I read. I turn the face of the clock away so I don’t have that critic’s voice telling me I should put the book down and turn off the light and go to sleep. Sometimes I just catch up on all the periodicals that have stacked up on the floor next to my bed. But when I have a new book — ah, well, more than once I have dozed off, woke and started to read again until the early morning sun started to creep into the room.
Most recently, it was a novel I picked up a few months ago while waiting for a flight in the airport. I was strangely without a book after a long winter reading sporadically. I hadn’t been able to focus on anything longer than articles that taught me "how to create your own spa at home." Which is, of course, really a foolish idea. The whole idea of a spa is to run away from your home and the phone and the folks who might stop by when they see your car in the driveway. A place where people are paid to pamper you. Not you, mixing up leftover fruit in the blender to form some kind of facial that will no doubt have you breaking out in a raspberry rash the day before you have some important engagement.
But I digress.
The book, I remembered, had been featured in the book review section of the Sunday "New York Times." I recalled it was a new author, maybe even a first-time author, and the title of the book, the reviewer had stated, was a bit off-putting. Which is why, when I picked up the copy of "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," I hoped I would be going on a good ride. I was not disappointed. Many nights I would hurry though my chores to sit on the porch swing until I came inside and kept flipping pages until I fell asleep. Calamity physics, as the young female narrator describes it, is something we’ve all experienced — a series of events that start to unravel, so like dominoes, when one bad thing happens you fall upon many more.
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The novel is satiric and dark and witty and literary and fresh and thoughtful. It is part coming-of-age, part road trip, part SAT cram course, part mystery, part romance. It is a perfect summer read for someone who doesn’t mind working a little. When I reached the surprising, satisfying, stimulating conclusion, I was exhausted and energized all at once. I needed a new fix.
So I set off to cozy Dolly’s, where I always find more books to my liking, in a more comfortable space than any chain multi-floored store. And I hunted and gathered as if my survival was depending upon it. I managed to lift up the weighty new biography of "Einstein." Reviews have been glowing about the new discoveries about his life that are included in this book. I set that on the counter right next to "The Dangerous Book for Boys," a book my neighbor was reading to her sons last week. It is British and meant to get young children reading about how to do things and make things and learn things that force you to interact with people and bottle caps and pieces of string and your imagination. There are sections on secret ink and card tricks and things you can’t do on a computer. It sounded like essential reading to keep up with and inspire my grandchildren.
The new Lynn Stegner book, "Because a fire was in my head," has also been getting good reviews and I added it to the pile. It has received a shelf full of awards, and besides, books about female characters who are slightly mad have a way of making me feel remarkably sane. But the most important thing I did last week at Dolly’s was to sign up for two copies of the final version of the Harry Potter series. My daughter and I will begin our reading just after we secure the books at one second after midnight. In fact, by the time you are reading this, I suspect I will be deep in the halls of Hogwarts listening to the drama unfold with Ron and Hermione and Harry. I will wish that I too could take out someone making my life miserable with a wand and the word, "Stupefy."
The Harry Potter series was something I introduced my adult children to, who thought at the time, it was rather odd I was reading a young adult novel. We all take turns reading and waiting until all family members have finished to conjecture on the spells and the spirits. Rather like we do with the television series "Big Love," but those are different conversations. I’m not exactly certain how the author J.K. Rowling chose to release the book on what, for many here in Utah, will turn out to be a four day weekend but, I, for one, am grateful to her. I will shop for beverages and berries and plump up the patio and bed pillows and prepare for a multi-day trip to England with castles and forests and animals that have never before been seen. There are thundershowers in the forecast, which make for perfect reading weather and I might have to break down and stir up a batch of brownies to complete the read-a-thon.
The one true thing I know is that reading any book on a summer day is its own form of magic. Especially if that day happens to be Sunday in the Park