A pillow-lined nook on the porch overlooking open water or a garden.
The warm breeze carrying the scent of seaweed, or pine, or fresh-cut grass clippings.
And some books.
As a job, it didn't pay very well, but I did get to keep the books.
These days, I don't gobble up piles of reading material. Even with the bounty of the public library easily within reach, good books seem thin on the ground. When I do find one, I wish I were still writing reviews. Word of mouth only goes so far.
And hence, a couple of summer reading recommendations.
The parallels –– each a brick-sized opus with a New England setting, a fatal plague devastating the country, a pregnant heroine –– are entertaining but not distracting. Both books take place in the near future and tackle deceptively complicated moral dilemmas –– as is the wont in apocalyptic fiction.
The disruption of society in Stephen King's The Stand sets the stage for a showdown with capital-letter Evil in the form of Randall Flagg. In The Fireman, the enemy is less showy (not a Big Bad, as Buffy would say), which gives Hill's suspense an edge: what does victory look like when the evil is not separate?
Hill's take on the calamity is not a super-flu but a fungal plague that sets its victims on fire. His descriptions are vivid, his pacing brisk (hold on!), and the characters reveal themselves with a nice, writerly economy.
Hill's novel also offers plenty of cool cultural references*, and it's worth noting that Hill is the son of King –– a fact he didn't make public until he had himself earned a little success.
But isn't that what you're looking for in a summer read?
If you've never read The Stand, that's your other half of summer reading about the end of the world.
What? You don't like speculative fiction?
Even though I think all fiction is to some extent speculative fiction, okay, okay.
Try Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett.
Grealy and Patchett attended Sarah Lawrence at the same time and then were thrown together more or less by chance as roommates at the Iowa Writer's program.
Their friendship is marked by contrasts: mercurial, feckless Lucy and methodical Ann, both ambitious writers, so very unlike one another, and yet...and yet. Thereby hangs the tale.
Patchett tells the story with the kind of unflinching honesty that at first shocks: chapter one introduces us to Grealy as she embarks on sexual adventure with a repellent older man.
Patchett's affection for Grealy, however, carries her readers beyond this to the enduring camaraderie and deep understanding that makes a friendship extraordinary.
I take it as a recommendation for the book that it was the source of quite a kerfluffle when assigned as the freshman reading book at Clemson University. (Friendship between girls not a suitable topic, evidently.) Likewise, I admire Patchett's sensible, kind approach to all things literary (just found her blog. Dang, she really is cool).
"We were a pairing out of an Aesop's fable, the grasshopper and the ant, the tortoise and the hare. And sure, maybe the ant was warmer in the winter and the tortoise won the race, but everyone knows that the grasshopper and the hare were infinitely more appealing animals in all their leggy beauty, their music and interesting side trips. What the story didn't tell you is that the ant relented at the eleventh hour and took in the grasshopper when the weather was hard, fed him on his tenderest store of grass all winter. The tortoise, being uninterested in such things, gave over his medal to the hare. Grasshoppers and hare find the ants and tortoises. They need us to survive, but we need them as well. They were the ones who brought the truth and beauty to the party, which Lucy could tell you as she recited her Keats over breakfast, was better than food any day."