For as long as I can recall, books have been an especially important part of my life. I like the ritual of selecting and reading through book jacket blurbs. I like the smell and the feel of the pages between my fingers, and of course, the story itself. Years later, a book’s jacket design catapults me back to a certain place and time, inspiring a flood of memories.
Summertime reads are somehow even more delicious. No matter what the subject, reading on a hammock, in a garden, or while curled up in an air-conditioned nook, have made summer reads memorable.
My parents ensured that we viewed our books as a passport of sorts - to other places. They carefully crafted memorable conversations to get us thinking about what we were reading long after we'd put the book down.
When I see books such as A Wrinkle in Time, or Nancy Drew mysteries, it instantly takes me back to my own childhood. I can recall where I was when I read a particular book, along with tidbits of conversations with my parents. Our family viewed outings to bookstores and libraries, even on vacations, as special. That’s why we still savor the choice of a good read and some of the favorites from our childhood.
I’m also fan of technology and the access it grants especially to those on the go. Yet there are many reasons I prefer a clothbound book. I like recognizing the cover with my bookmark poking out over the pages, as if to say, “I’m waiting, come back soon.” There’s something refreshing about slipping into a place between the covers of a book and shutting out the world’s demands.
Recently, I discovered another unexpected reason to appreciate traditional books. During the past few months, I’ve been settling in with some of the books in my father’s vast and storied collection. The books have a comforting papery smell. His notes - sometimes in the columns, and sometimes on scraps of paper, make the read seem more like a visit with him. In most, he has inscribed his name and what city he was in when he started the book. This treasure trove of information inspires so many memories and recalls invigorating discussions about books. When I open the cover, I am revisiting summer memories, and inhaling our family’s shared history. You just can’t find that kind of surprise in a Kindle.
The magic that transports me into a story seems especially appealing when the heat reaches its peak. I like settling in with a good book with a glass of lemonade nearby. Being surrounded by well-loved books churns up a swirl of memories connected to family, place and time. It’s not just reading a well-crafted story, it’s the ritual of thinking, remembering, celebrating and making sense of the world. And the familar colors of certain book jackets instantly starts the swirl of remebrances.
Recently, I also discovered Lines from Neuchatel, by local poets Peter and Jeanne Meinke. I'd read that Peter was the 2009 Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg, Fla., but his writing soon made me realize he had once been a professor at the college I attended up north. The linkages that literature and poetry bind together can stimulate thought and transport you on an unexpected journey.
What Others Are Reading
For Gulfport’s Reference Librarian, Alex Hooks, classics came to mind. He recommended Ernest Hemingway as a way to beat the heat.
“You get action-oriented stories and an athletic kind of writing," said Hooks, who suggested reading The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
“The Gulfport Public Library has a pretty extensive collection, and we’re happy to help guide those looking for a recommendation.”
Hooks also mentioned that the library is both quiet and air-conditioned and has an array of newspapers and magazines that beckon those looking for a respite from summer weather. He also recommended David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, two Charles Dickens classics.
“They take you away from the realities of Florida heat, and off to chilly England," he said.
In that spirit, I have been re-reading My First Summer in the Sierra, by John Muir, during these sultry summer days. The Sierra Club founder first stumbled upon the High Country of what is now Yosemite National Park, in 1869. But my copy, a gift from my father when I was a park ranger just out of college, also contained an unexpected surprise. Nestled between the pages, I rediscovered a sheaf of my dad’s writing about his first trip to Tuolumne Meadows. It was a neat summer surprise that transported me to cooler climes at higher altitudes.
Hooks reported that mysteries have been popular in Gulfport this summer. The more light-hearted books by Janet Evanovich have been flying off the shelves, he said. With her colorful characters, she offers a quick read that is often humorous. For those with nostalgia for southern yarn spinning, Hooks suggested Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.
“They’re challenging to read, but descriptive and rewarding,” he said.
Hooks recommends doing a little research when looking for the right book. For those seeking tips on the Internet, he recommends searching the Amazon site, since it uses keywords to make recommendations and help you build a personal list. He invited Gulfport readers to bring that list to the library. Currently, he’s reading Phillip K. Bick, whom he describes as a “mind-bending sci-fi writer offering insight into how technology will change the way we perceive things.”
Lesley DeMuth, Gulfport’s City Clerk, is also an avid reader. She’s engrossed in Old Wounds, a mystery. Recently, she finished Stephen King’s Duma Key, where she discovered references to Florida’s west coast.
“I probably wouldn’t have purchased the book, but someone in line at the library’s book sale recommended it... and I liked it!” she said.
DeMuth noted the connection between books and the thoughts they inspire.
"I leraned that Stephen King has a place on Casey Key," she said.
James Clark, proprietor of the T and Me Tea Co,, is a self-proclaimed bibliophile currently reading three books. He’s enjoying Animal Farm a by George Orwell, one he always meant to read. His list also includes Zen Bones and Zen Flesh, by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. It's a translation of stories that easily explain Zen philosophy The Clutch, something he describes as a compilation of life observations, was edited in part Gulfport's Daniel Hodge.
“Reading is a ticket to a whole different land,“ said Clark.
The Newport, R.I. native recalls reading Kurt Vonnegut during his teenage summers and enjoying references to his hometown.
“Books offer another view through another window,” he said.
Because I’ve found so many good reads in his independent book store during the past decade, I spoke with Ray Hinst, longtime proprietor of Haslam’s Books on Central Ave. in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“I read all the time,” he said, “I enjoy it, and for me, it’s as much education and entertainment as edification,” he said.
He recently finished reading Fighting in the Shade by local author, Sterling Watson.
According to Hinst, it’s about a young man in his senior year of high school who is going out for football. and it’s a well-crafted “coming of age” piece” .
Hinst said readers will be treated to a geography and feel that is reminiscent of Florida’s west coast.
But he also has eclectic interests and likes reading local authors. For entertainment, he’s currently reading All the Little Birdies by Dan Allison, which he pronounced, “quite good”. He’s also reading Cold Sun, by John L. Casey, an astrophysicist warning against the fallacies of global warming predictions.
“Books can give folks a means by which, they can experience things in their minds that they’re otherwise not likely to do, or see,” said Hinst.
When we spoke about my recent discoveries within my father’s books, he offered his thoughts.
“The printed word is how we as a society, a culture and a civilization, pass down what we know.”
Whatever genres you enjoy, a good story and a good writer can offer a refreshing respite and a welcome break. That’s why you’re invited to share your recommendations.