By all the signs by which I count, summer is here. Our roses are blooming, the farmer’s market has begun, the days are so long we often go to bed before dark, and it’s so hot some days I can’t be in my house in the afternoon.
The heat isn’t as much of a problem on days when I can be in the air conditioning so kindly provided by Paulina Springs Books, where I work. But on my days off, which are really my days on extra duty as a farmer’s wife, cooking at least three square meals a day, taking care of the household, and exercising our Australian shepherd (this could be a job in itself!), I have to develop coping strategies.
I wake up around 5:30 in the morning most days, make breakfast, and help my husband get off to work on the farm that employs him. By then it’s 7 or 7:30, which means I have maybe a few hours before the house is unbearable inside. First I take the dog for a walk. Then I try to accomplish as much cooking and other indoor chores as possible while I can. By sometime in the early afternoon, I’m forced to flee the house for the sanctuary of the rosebushes in the side yard or the aspen grove up by the garden. And there I remain, in the shade, trying not to move too much, with nothing to do but write or read or try to sleep.
If this sounds idyllic, it’s not. Oh, there are days when the roses and mock oranges release their fragrance into the summer air, birds and butterflies obligingly flit about in the chokecherry, and I have the perfect book to make the time go by. But there are also days when it’s at least a hundred in the shade, with very little air movement, and I’m so worn out from the heat I’d like to sleep, but I can’t sleep because it’s too hot, and I have a headache, too. On those days, there’s no cure but evening.
Many days are somewhere in between, and I can tolerate the discomfort okay, or pretend it’s not there, if I have a really good book. So I’m on the hunt for a string of just-right books for the summer. The problem is that what I’m looking for isn’t so much a type of book as a type of feeling, where I can still notice the rustling aspen leaves, the chirping of birds, or the pink rose blossoms on their arching green branches while also being so absorbed in a story I forget about all the chores I’m not getting done inside.
I remember some of the books in which I’ve found this feeling. I started reading Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire in the neighbors’ hammock and finished it that night, or perhaps the next morning, at some ridiculous hour, captured by this novel about a young woman who must go deep into the Amazon to retrieve samples of nine powerful medicinal plants.
Another fun plant-related read was Lucinda Fleeson’s memoir Waking Up in Eden, which details her time living and directing a famous botanical garden in Hawaii. I probably wouldn’t like the heat in Hawaii, but it does sound like a fascinating place, and Randy Sue Coburn’s novel A Better View of Paradise made me want to visit. At the same time, her writing is so evocative of place I felt like I’d already been there.
I distinctly remember the scent of roses surrounding me while I read Menna van Praag’s The House at the End of Hope Street, a completely charming novel about a magical house for women who are adrift in life and need a refuge while they figure out what to do next. I may have never had a more perfect summer shade read than this book, and wish I could find something that would give me the exact same feeling.
This must be the elusive thing my customers are trying to capture when they wander into my store and say, “I’m looking for a really good book.” When I try to get them to tell me more about what they want, they often say, “Well, I just read_____________. Something like that.” But it gradually becomes apparent they’re not looking for a book like that last book; they want to re-capture the feeling the book gave them when they read it. Finding a book that will re-create that feeling is often a matter of serendipity, and can be hard for someone else to guide you toward.
But we can try. I’m sure some of you fellow booksellers, librarians, and other readers have suggestions for magical, restful, enchanting books to read in the aspen grove. Send them my way!
Amanda MacNaughton is a bookseller at Paulina Springs Books in Sisters and Redmond and a regular NWBL contributor. Amanda is also a fan of riffs on Sherlock Holmes, classic heroines, and merrie olde England. Share what you think she should read this summer in the the comments below.